Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Film Review – Titane

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

Titane (R)

Directed by: Julia Ducournau

Starring: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Are you ready to take this journey? Already notorious for apparent screening audience pass outs and walkouts, Titane comes shrouded in mystery and hype that suggests that only the most hardened cinema-goers can handle it.

Young Alexia (Adele Guigue) survives a car crash at a young age, but must now live with a metal plate in her head – and develops a strange affinity with motor vehicles.

Years later as an adult, she (now played by Agathe Rousselle) is a hyper sexualised dancer at a motor show, goes on a violent killing spree and has sex with car. Still with us?

On the run from the police, Alexia changes her appearance and passes herself as the grown up version of a missing boy, and is “reunited” with the father Vincent (Vincent Lindon), a fireman with his own set of deep seeded issues.

There is much more to the story and the development of the relationship between Alexia and Vincent, but seeing Titane with as little information as possible is the best way to view it.

It is a strange and strangely hypnotic experience that at times makes complete sense and then at others, challenges and baffles you.

Themes begin to emerge, but then plot elements seem to betray your hypothesis. Or perhaps this is supposed be about more than just one thing. I am hesitant to even list my own theories so as not to persuade the reading of others.

And yet, none of this feels like sloppy storytelling, because writer/director Julia Ducournau has such a firm grip on her ambitious story. She knows exactly what she is doing and saying – it is up to us to get on her level. This isa level of confidence in film making that is so rare, and it is thrilling to witness.

Titane begs to be watched more than once. Not only to confirm our theories are solid, or to be open to the possibility that we missed something on the the first viewing, but even just to make sure this is a real film that exists and not just a bizarre dream.

Ducournau’s follow up to her brilliant Raw is a provocative, bewildering and possibly for some, downright frustrating experience. But even if you cannot get on this film’s wavelength, one thing is absolutely certain: you have never seen anything like this. And for that it is a horrifyingly refreshing experience.

Film Review – A Boy Called Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized on November 20, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

A Boy Called Christmas (PG)

Directed by: Gil Kenan

Starring: Henry Lawfull, Maggie Smith, Toby Jones

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Father Christmas gets a cute and magical backstory at the cinema just in time for the festive season in this adaptation of a book of the same name written by Matt Haig.

Once upon a time in Finland, a King (Jim Broadbent) seeks a group of volunteers to go in search of a village of magical Elves called Elfhelm in hopes of restoring hope to the villagers.

Lumberjack and widowed father Joel (Michiel Huisman) volunteers, leaving his 12-year-old son Nikolas (Henry Lawfull) with his crabby Aunt Carlotta (Kristen Wiig), who torments the young chap and eventually turfs him out of his own cottage.

Nikolas goes in search of his father and discovers Elfhelm, but not all the Elves are welcoming. The person who objects most to his presence is Mother Something (Sally Hawkins), still jaded and distrustful after past interactions with humans that were not so pleasant.

This Christmas film tackles some darker themes while capturing the magic and spirit of Christmas. While these darker moments are brief, presumably to not traumatise the youngest members of the audience, it does offer a point of difference from the other treacly festive films we get.

Hope is still a pleasant and very strong theme running throughout, and the story comes together quite nicely as the more traditional elements of Christmas we now recognise begin to fall into place.

Director Gil Kenan is able to capture a delightful and playful tone with his vision and colourful cast, though he is unable to maintain is for the entire running time, with the spark occasionally dimming ever so slightly.

Time will tell if this becomes a go-to Christmas classic like Home Alone but for now it is a light and lovely film for the whole family.

Film Review – No Time To Die

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

No Time To Die (M)

Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Starring: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Rami Malek

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The hype has been real for Daniel Craig’s final appearance as British spy James Bond, perpetuated even further with numerous COVID related delays. As if fans weren’t clambering hard enough for his fifth and final turn as the iconic, super smooth and philandering character (and the 25th appearance of the character in the series – big milestones here), we had to wait a gruelling 19 months! So, the biggest question that inevitably built up over the last almost two years is, is it worth the wait?

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is enjoying a blissful getaway with his lover Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) in Italy, when he is attacked at the site of former love of his life Vespa’s grave. Convinced Madeliene tipped off Spectre as to his whereabouts, the pair split up and Bond goes into hiding.

Five years later he is drawn out of retirement and back into espionage when an MI6 scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik) is taken by force with a highly classified bio weapon that targets particular DNA – developed under M’s guidance (Ralph Fiennes).

This brings Bond face to face once again with Madeleine, opening old wounds, his replacement Nomi (Lashana Lynch) and the diabolical Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who has a history with Madeleine.

Craig era Bond had taken the series into grittier territory, going light on the cheese factor and with an emphasis on striking imagery (they are some of the best looking in the series). No Time To Die does not stray from the new look and feel that was established with 2006’s Casino Royale, when Craig first stepped into the role, but it delivers a consistently thrilling and satisfying conclusion to the era.

Those are die-hard fans of the series, and those who have only just picked it up since 2006, may even find themselves moved to a tear or two by the film’s conclusions – and at two and a half hours, it does take its time getting there.

But not only does the character sink his last signature martini for a while, he does so with additional layers and vulnerabilities revealed that the series has never dared to show up until now.

Familiar characters pop up without getting their own closure and new characters range from fun (Ana de Armas as a wide eyed newbie spy is fabulous but all too fleeting) to perfunctory (Lynch gets no room to move or develop).

Ultimately, despite it sticking fairly close to a formula, No Time To Die was worth the wait, and a great excuse to head back to the cinema.

Film Review – The Many Saints Of Newark

Posted in Uncategorized on November 5, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

The Many Saints of Newark (MA)

Directed by: Alan Taylor

Starring: Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr, Vera Farmiga

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

HBO’s The Sopranos New Jersey mob boss anti-hero Tony Soprano (James Gandalfini) gets a backstory for the big screen in The Many Saints of Newark.

With his own thug father Johnny Soprano (Jo Bernthal) mostly in jail and out of the picture and his naggy mother Livia (Vera Farmiga) showing little affection, young Tony looks up to his charismatic mafia member uncle Dickie (Alessandro Nivola) as his mentor.

Dickie has a firm handle on the family business and shows young Tony the affection and attention a growing lad needs, but he has his own demons – particularly his inability to control his temper.

Deepening riffs in the family, Dickie shacks up with his young Italian step-mother Guiseppina (Michela De Rossi) which leads to a devastating fate for his father ‘Hollywood Dick’ Moltisanti (Ray Liotta).

Creating professional tensions in his life, Dickie’s former employee Harold (Leslie Odom Jr) breaks off to create his own rival black-led operation.

The Many Saints of Newark allows us to see the early influencing factors in Tony Soprano’s life from childhood through to his teenage years, and it is a good concept for fans of the show who may have wanted more after it ended.

But while what develops and unfolds here is supposed to be seen through the eyes of a young Tony Soprano, he is missing from quite a lot of the action.

Uncle Dickie is the main focus here with Tony barely registering as a cameo character and the link between what goes on in the family and what he actually witnesses and experiences is weak at best.

That aside, the 1960s and 70s setting, characters and dynamics set up are intriguing enough to hold your attention – even for those who have not seen the series.

Vera Farmiga steals the entire show right from under her male counterparts as the annoying mob boss wife, bringing a special spark to a role that has been an after-thought character for decades in mafia stories.

Film Review – Coming Home In The Dark

Posted in Uncategorized on September 7, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Coming Home In The Dark (MA)

Directed by: James Ashcroft

Starring: Daniel Gillies, Erik Thomson, Miriama McDowell

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

A family outing turns into a living nightmare in this shocking and thought-provoking exercise in suspense with substance.

High school teacher Alan Hoaganraad (Erik Thomson) his wife Jill (Miriama McDowell) and their teenage twin sons Maika (Billy Paratene) and Jordan (Frankie Paratene) are enjoying a pleasant, scenic road trip along the coast of New Zealand, for a brief break from their lives back home.

But when they stop in a picnic area chosen for its isolation, they are confronted by a pair of sinister drifters, the gun carrying Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) and his hulking, mostly silent mate Tubs (Matthias Luafutu).

At first it seems the thugs are just keen to rob and intimidate, but the longer the group spend together, the clearer it becomes that this encounter may not be as random as it first appeared.

Eli Kent and James Ashcroft have adapted Owen Marshall’s short story into a tense, bleak and devastating feature film.

It suggests at first that it may be heading into Wolf Creek/The Hills Have Eyes territory, with the rural setting and a jolting moment of shocking and brutal violence, but the film slowly segues into more Hard Candy territory as deeply buried truths are dragged to the surface.

Kent and Ashcroft, who also directed, eventually reveal that they are interested in exploring something deeper, rather than just exposing disturbing acts of violence for cheap thrills. This is about unresolved trauma, and the ease at which some can move on from and deny a violent act while others who are impacted cannot and are scarred for life.

What does happen to those who are left to fester in their pain and rage?

The cast is impeccable, with Gillies and Luafutu simply chilling with their scruffy appearance but calm demeanor, and their complete emotional control even during their violent acts. But it is McDowell, who is given as much depth as her male counterparts, who delivers an astonishingly emotional and believable performance.

Coming Home In The Dark is more than just nightmare fuel for thrill seekers, but something that will haunt you long after its devastating revelations and conclusion.

Film Review – Respect

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

Respect (M)

Directed by: Liesl Tommy

Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Iconic singer Aretha Franklin’s life gets the big screen biopic treatment, but instead of a rousing tribute, this feels more like a middling Netflix production that would easily and immediately get lost in the algorithm.

Aretha Franklin had a noticeable vocal talent from an early age, singing in the choir for her father C. L. Franklin, who nurtured and exploited those talents.

She grows up to be a recording artist, but with nine albums and not a single hit, her career didnt go very far until she marries her husband slash manager Ted White (Marlon Wayans), whose connections and thug-like behaviour helped open doors.

Aretha eventually becomes a worldwide superstar dubbed the Queen of Soul.

It seems like a no-brainer of a cracking story – how a singer under the thumb of her preacher father and abusive husband and manager came to release an empowering hit like Respect, and yet the arc feels under developed.

Like most biopics, Respect likes to show us milestones and life highs and lows but fails to connect them. One minute Aretha wants to march with family friend Martin Luther King for civil rights, the next she just wants to “make hit records”. How her motivations and focus change remain a mystery.

And choosing to keep this a very audience friendly and respectful affair, we don’t even see how the abuse at the hands of a party guest resulting her giving birth at 12 years old shapes her. Such a significant moment in her life (albeit unpleasant) goes largely unexplored.

Jennifer Hudson has the vocal cords to pull off the singing however her performance feels stuck, which seems largely due to the script problems mentioned. How does one create a full character when so much is glossed over or omitted?

It is a handsome film to watch, but painfully long given that it ultimately treads similar paths of other musician biopics – abuse, alcohol, rags to riches etc. Points for depicting Franklin at one point as an alcoholic hitting rock bottom, turning nasty towards her family and later seeking redemption – but it is a long road to get to that point.

The most powerful moment comes during the credits with a clip of the real Aretha singing (You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman at 73 years old just three yeas before her death, as she peels off her over sized fur coat on stage as she belts out her classic just highlights that this film spent over two hours trying to capture her star power and failed.

Film Review – Annette

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

Annette (M)

Directed by: Leos Carax

Starring: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by Julian Wright

Be prepared to be put through the gamut of emotions and reactions with Annette.

Two successful entertainers, provocative stand-up comedian Henry (Adam Driver) and world renowned opera singer Ann (Marion Cotillard) experience a deeply passionate love affair together that suggests they will be bonded forever.

But when Henry’s star begins to dim due to some on-stage controversy while Ann’s continues to shine, attitudes and dynamics begin to shift, and when they have their first child, a gifted young girl, their lives take a dramatic turn.

This musical starts off as a dreamy romance built on tropes and cliches – it is in fact a tribute to classic musicals, just skewed to a modern audience. Had this been purely dialogue driven and in another director’s hands, it would have been a treacly bore to begin with.

But the way Leos Carax tells this story, which takes some surprising and unpredictable turns, is like nothing we have ever seen before; Annette is thrillingly originally packaged and yet at times frustratingly obscure. It is one of the most dream-like arthouse films that ever arthoused.

There are some truly baffling choices – Henry’s stand up is more like performance art that somehow sells out grand theatres and Ann is Hollywood royalty…and don’t even get me started on the marionette (which will make you weep!) And yet this is one of the most compelling cinematic experiences you will have this year, with the actors delivering some of the most committed performances you will see.

Annette is moving, baffling, distant, profound, tedious, exhilarating, confusing and enlightening – there is no emotion or reaction left unturned by the end. For those who crave something quirky and imaginative that will have you swooning in awe as you scratch your head, Annette is the perfect experience.

Film Review – Old

Posted in Uncategorized on July 24, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Old (M)

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The king of the third act twist M. Night Shyamalan turns his attention to a graphic novel to explore how we react to the ageing process.

Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) have taken their two young children, 11 year old Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and six year old Trent (Nolan River), to a luxurious resort in a tropical location for a family holiday.

Vicky has just had a health scare and it could be the last holiday the family spends together with her marriage to Guy on the verge of falling apart completely.

But a day trip to the beach organised by the resort finds the family and a selection of other vacationers trapped by a mysterious and invisible force and they all begin to age rapidly.

After getting off to a shaky start with on the nose dialogue setting up the theme and some questionable performance choices by the cast – under Shyamalan’s guidance – Old, eventually settles into some terrifying territory, with a focus on body horror.

Because what is more terrifying than watching your own body age and deteriorate? It is a universal anxiety, facing a our mortality and experiencing our young, gorgeous bodies slowly malfunction and crumble throughout the years. But when it is sped up? Horrifying.

Working against the repetitive nature of the set-up (there is a lot of running back and forth on this short beach pointing out each character looks older), Shyamalan gets creative with his camera and sound design, always finding ways to keep the story developments fresh.

He manages to maintain a high level of tension throughout and despite the trailer suggesting there isn’t much else to discover, there certainly is, and it is difficult to tell where Shyamalan is heading with this story.

Old isn’t top tier Shyamalan like The Sixth Sense, but it isn’t lower tier either like The Happening – perhaps around the middle with The Village. And the third act twist? It is getting old.

Film Review – Space Jam: A New Legacy

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Space Jam: A New Legacy (PG)

Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee

Starring: LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Cedric Joe

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Another NBA superstar shares the big screen with a slew of classic animated characters in this sequel to the childhood favourite Space Jam.

NBA champion and Los Angeles Lakers player LeBron James raises his sons Darius (Ceyair J Wright) and Dom (Cedric Joe) to follow in his athletic footsteps, however, Dom is more technically minded and has designed and created his own video game.

When the two visit the Warner Bros studio and become trapped in a virtual world run by an A.I. named Al G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), they must play an epic game of basketball against each other.

LeBron’s team mates are a range of uncooperative, misfit Loony Tunes characters, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweetie and more, while Dom is on Al G Rhythm’s team of virtual players based on real life basketball champions – and Al G Rhythm will not allow it to be a fair game.

There is charm to spare in this sequel that has been gestating for 25 years, and it is a thrill to see Bugs Bunny and co back up on the big screen, getting into all sorts of mischief. Director Malcolm D. Lee and his voice cast manage to capture their spirit perfectly, as if these were the original versions.

Everything in pop culture, especially characters that WB have the rights to, gets a shout out in this cameo and reference heavy film that gives Ready Player One a run for its money. Why are child tormentor Pennywise the Clown and Conjuring universe demon The Nun cheering court-side in a Looney Tunes kids movie? Who knows! And it doesn’t add up to much at all, but it is fun for the grown ups to be able to play “Spot the Character”.

The biggest mystery though is how on Earth we got a two hour Space Jam movie in cinemas. There is a reason why the original Looney Tunes cartoons clocked in at 10 minutes maximum. They were short, sharp, fast paced and hugely entertaining in small doses. Space Jam: A New Legacy is often borderline excruciating with its inflated running time.

Film Review – Fast and Furious 9

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Fast and Furious 9 (M)

Directed by: Justin Lin

Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Something something family, car chases, explosions, logic defying stunts, something something family.

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are living off the grid in isolation on a rural property raising Toretto’s son Brian, when the pair are drawn back into action with Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel).

Complicating this particular mission is the presence of Jakob (John Cenea), Dom and Mia’s (Jordana Brewster) long lost brother who disappeared in 1989 after their father – a race car driver – died.

Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) has captured hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron), but his plane is intercepted and she has been extracted so it is up to the rev heads to track her down before two halves of a powerful machine can be put back together and used to hack into every weapons system worldwide.

Now billed a “saga”, this soap opera with cars and explosions continues to be a hoot and half, so long as you are willing to be on its wavelength.

The saga, now up to its ninth installment, post Hobbs and Shaw spin-off and now Paul Walker-less, certainly has its brand and formula down pat, leaning right into the family theme, which was always there, but now is used to spark motivations. Adding a long lost brother and dad killed by a fiery car wreck are both eye-rollingly obvious additions, but by this point, what were we even expecting?

But just when you think a series should be suffering from fatigue and it could not possibly thrill its audience any further, it goes ahead and adds in surprise after surprise. The first action sequence is so pulse poundingly exciting that it plays out as the climax and then still manages to top it later on. Having Justin Lin back in the directors seat is a genius move, he has a firm handle on this series.

The only thing the makers seem to struggle with is how to handle Paul Walker’s character Brian, who is alive and still part of the story despite the actor having died. This makes for some awkward scripting that the writers haven’t worked out yet. Where are everyone’s kids now when they are globe trotting, pulverising bad guys and flying cars over canyons? Oh, they get dropped off at Brian’s place now, as we learn in a throwaway line.

Apparently his conflict on deciding between crime fighter and family man were far easier to resolve than Torreto, who struggles with it for roughly 5 screen minutes.

We all giggle (ok, I cackled for 2.5 hours) at the family themed speeches and monologues, the melodramatic stare downs, chest puffing and Diesel squeezing out the occasional tear, but without these elements, which are actually part of the charm, there would be no heart or soul to any of the car carnage.

Even relative newcomers to all this ridiculous chaos, Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron (who is splendid in her best Hannibal Lecter impression), are in on the gag. If they get it, surely we can too.