Film Review – Freaky

Posted in Uncategorized on November 13, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Freaky (MA)

Directed by: Christopher Landon

Starring: Kathryn Newton, Vince Vaughn

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

A splattery mix of Friday the 13th’s carnage candy, Scream’s self-aware comedic wit and Freaky Friday’s body-swap silliness, horror/comedy Freaky is a seamless, heady and deliciously fresh blend of genres, tones and tropes from genre mash-up maestro director Christopher Landon.

After giving the time loop Groundhog Day a slashery twist in Happy Death Day, then its delightfully bonkers sequel Happy Death Day 2U a sci-fi heavy context, Landon teams with scribe Michael Kennedy for more blended fun and it is clear the two are on the same warped wavelength.

The hulking Jason Voorhees-like serial killer Barney Garris (Vince Vaughn) is hacking and slashing his way through a collection of small town teens when he finds a magical knife (complete with glowing red eyes on the handle) in the home of one of his unsuspecting victims.

While lurking in the middle of the night on Friday the 13th (appropriately complete with excessive fog) looking for his next kill, the Blissfield Butcher targets alone and reserved high school outcast Millie (Kathryn Newton), who is still dealing with her Father’s death and Mother’s subsequent alcoholism.

But when the Butcher stabs Millie in the middle of the football field with his new weapon of choice, they wake up the next morning in each other’s body.

Millie, now a towering, middle aged serial killer whose face is all over the news, must rally her two friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and sassy gay bestie Josh (Misha Osherovich) for help.

They must get the knife back from police evidence lock-up, reverse the curse and stop the Butcher, now in Millie’s body and walking the high school halls like its a victim buffet, from hacking up more teens.

This deliriously, deliciously fun, gory and funny trip is one of the most invigorating cinema experiences this year.

The respect Kennedy and Landon have for the horror genre is clearly evident, their affection for it is infectious and their approach to film-making is some of the freshest in Hollywood at the moment.

Much like the most successful and entertaining comedy horrors, Freaky takes its time to build suspense with genuinely creepy scenarios, slots in some well timed jump scares, treats hungry gore-hounds with gallons of blood and carnage, all the while making us double over laughing at the witty dialogue.

Not only is the script packed with well-drawn characters, snappy dialogue and pauses for moments of pathos, the film has plenty of visual gags, zips along at a brisk pace and the actors are having a blast.

Its inclusion of diverse characters (a black female best friend and a gay best friend) and woke observations (a brief exchange on post body-swap pronouns) feel far more organic here in Kennedy’s script and achieve more in the way of progression than the recent Black Christmas and The Craft: Legacy, both of which struggled to do when shaping entire scripts around it. As the saying goes: “less is more”.

Vaughn gets to do some of his best work (seriously!); his huge frame making him terrifyingly convincing as the relentless and imposing killer, but also nails it as the flailing teenage girl. Newton matches him with her impressive range as the introvert teen and also as the most challenging part of the role – as the brooding psycho.

Usually in these body swap films, the younger actor having to play the responsible adult is the less fun or showy role of the two (notice that Barbara Harris and Jamie Lee Curtis get the juicier set ups in both Freaky Friday films), but with this clever twist, Newton gets equal footing to Vaughn.

Landon and Kennedy have demonstrated that there are still plenty of avenues and opportunities to take for the slasher sub-genre – all it takes is a little outside of the box thinking. Here’s hoping this divine Hollywood pairing (possibly the most exciting for the genre since Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven) gets to churn out a few more mash-ups.

Film Review – Summerland

Posted in Uncategorized on November 10, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Summerland (M)

Directed by: Jessica Swale

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lucas Bond

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

During World War II, prickly academic Alice (Gemma Arterton) spends most of her time alone in her cliff side cottage in Southern England writing and researching, while the local children think she is a witch.

When a young London evacuee Frank (Lucas Bond) is placed in her care, the spinster immediately tries to palm him off to another family, but she eventually softens and the two form a close bond.

The relationship triggers memories for Alice of an emotionally turbulent time in her past – her loving relationship in the 1920s with Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a fellow writer, whose idea of family clashed with Alice’s which eventually tore the two apart.

Making a solid feature film directorial debut, Jessica Swale gives us a fresh take on wartime set films with a female and queer perspective, and set in a three dimensional town populated with a variety of cute, quirky, sassy and likable characters.

Swale delicately and skillfully handles and weaves the queer element into the story and it slowly becomes clear how the fate of Alice’s past relationship informs her attitude and characteristics later during the 1940s.

While there are conventional elements and it treads dangerously close to melodrama at times, Summerland does pack a surprising twist towards the end that is there for emotional impact rather than just shock value, which is rare.

Summerland is also a vehicle for the talented Gemma Arterton, who shines in the lead role, exhibiting extraordinary range that she is rarely offered the opportunity to explore.

From the impeccable delivery of her hilariously cheeky and bitter tinged lines to unsuspecting townspeople (young and old) to the vulnerability displayed later on as the prickly exterior slowly fades away, Arterton achieves some of her best on-screen work.

It is an added thrill to see her in top form.

Summerland screens as part of the British Film Festival 2020.

Film Review – Honest Thief

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Honest Thief (M)

Directed by: Mark Williams

Starring: Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Skilled bank robber Tom (Liam Neeson) has been strategically hitting banks across the country, collecting millions of dollars and eluding the authorities for years.

When Tom meets psychology graduate student Annie (Kate Walsh) and falls in love instantly, he decides to come clean.

He wants to turn himself in to the FBI and give them the stolen cash in exchange for a lighter prison sentence so he can still maintain a relationship with Annie.

However, when Agent Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Agent Hall (Anthony Ramos) follow up, they decide to take the cash and brush Tom off as another fake confession – but things turn deadly

It is impressive that at this stage in his career and pushing 70 years old that Neeson is still in high demand for these action roles; and let’s face it, by this point he could do them in his sleep.

Honest Thief offers Neeson another likable family man caught up in deadly situation scenario, but this one takes a lower octane approach than the Taken series and far less bells and whistles.

It sets up an interesting story and character arc and spends more time on the romantic relationship than you might expect, but the relaxed pacing drains it of a sense of urgency at times.

It was the style over substance approach to Neeson’s silly actioners The Commuter, Unknown and Non-Stop and their tendencies to lean into their B-grade qualities that made them so thoroughly enjoyable, something that the Honest Thief might have benefited from.

Regardless, Neeson still has plenty of watchability and the thinly drawn characters are solidly performed by his supporting cast in this serviceable big screen offering.

Film Review – Baby Done

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

Baby Done (M)

Directed by: Curtis Vowell

Starring: Rose Matafeo, Matthew Lewis

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Life is fairly cruisy for 20-something Zoe (Rose Matafeo): she’s got a secure job that she loves and has a loving, long-term boyfriend Tim (Matthew Lewis).

When Zoe discovers she is several months into an unplanned pregnancy, Tim is thrilled with the news and is happy to settle down like so many of their coupled friends, but Zoe hits panic mode.

Having a baby will spell the end of flexibility and spontaneity and she realises that she hasn’t lived her life to the fullest yet so she proceeds to rush through a checklist of adventures before her due date.

Zoe’s determination to qualify for and compete in a tree climbing competition overseas causes the greatest rift between the otherwise perfect couple.

Baby Done is a charming, relatable and often hilarious comedy/drama with a touch of farce about coming to terms with change and how people handle life altering events differently.

The two leads Matafeo and Lewis just ooze likability and appeal and their chemistry with each other is among the most enjoyable you will find on the big screen; they are such delightful company to spend about 90 minutes with and you care about their journey and what happens to them.

While Baby Done keeps its characters, their predicament and actions mostly grounded in reality, there are a couple of heightened moments for comedic effect, but suggesting an arborist’s job is adventurous is its biggest leap.

Film Review – Irresistible

Posted in Uncategorized on October 16, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Irresistible (M)

Directed by: Jon Stewart

Starring: Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Former The Daily Show writer and host Jon Stewart takes aim at small towns, American politics and election campaigns in his second feature film, the political satire Irresistible.

After the results of the US 2016 election, Democratic Party strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) is defeated and desperate.

When he sees the viral video of farmer and retired Marine Colonel Jack Hastings’ (Chris Cooper) progressive speech supporting undocumented immigrants in his hometown of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, Gary sees a golden opportunity.

Gary heads there to convince Jack to run for the mayoral election as a Democrat; Gary’s plan is to finally get the edge over the Republican state in the next Presidential election.

However, Republican strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) gets wind of Gary’s plan and heads there herself and the mayoral campaign heats up.

Jon Stewart turns his eye to some fairly obvious targets – the relentless strategists, their sneaky spin on facts and small minded, small town folks. His satire is spot on but his claws are dulled, playing it fairly safe with humour set to appeal to the masses and doing his best to not offend those he aims at.

That is not to say that Irresistible isn’t at times extremely funny, particularly with Carell and Byrne in top notch form as the political nemeses, going to sneakier and sleazier lengths to one-up each other for the most votes. The two are a terrific match.

Stewart does have a couple of tricks up his sleeve with some expectation-defying twists that serve as pleasant surprises but are dropped so late in the game that they are left without room to explore further.

Timely, consistently amusing and well-performed, Irresistible is the kind of satire that takes jabs at its targets but with an apologetic tone.

Film Review – Dirt Music

Posted in Uncategorized on October 7, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Dirt Music (M)

Directed by: Gregor Jordan

Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Garret Hedlund, David Wenham

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Beloved WA author Tim Winton’s novel gets the big screen treatment in the beautifully filmed but emotionally distant Dirt Music.

Free spirit Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) finds herself at 40 and in a loveless relationship with fisherman Jim (David Wenham) in a sleepy seaside town.

When she crosses paths with mysterious poacher Lu Fox (Garret Hedlund) and the two strike up a passionate affair, it sets off a chain of events that will either drive them apart or bring them closer together.

This book adaptation sumptuously filmed in some of Western Australia’s most beautifully stark locations is a slow-moving, moody piece that those looking for a heartwarming good time may want to catch another day.

The atmosphere is oppressive with every main character fighting inner torment as they deal with the grief over losing a loved one, or loved ones. It is a striking contrast with the jaw-droppingly gorgeous and scenic landscape.

And while there is nothing wrong with a film that wants to deal exclusively in moody atmospherics (this cynical David Fincher-loving reviewer often leans towards them), there is not enough groundwork laid for us to connect with these characters.

Keeping things vague, it is never digs deep enough as to why Georgie and Lu are drawn to each other. As their relationship finally dissolves, Georgie says to Jim “I can’t do unhappy” and yet chases after a deeply depressed and grieving man with suicidal tendencies.

It becomes as much a mystery of motivations as it is a love story between these two outsiders.

The cast is good with the two non-Australian leads doing their best with the always hard to nail Aussie accent, but the highlight really is the locations shot in the widescreen format.

Film Review – On The Rocks

Posted in Uncategorized on October 7, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

On The Rocks (M)

Directed by: Sofia Coppola

Starring: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Arthouse darling Sofia Coppola takes a broody marriage drama and spices it up with a father-daughter caper twist in her latest On The Rocks.

After their fairy-tale wedding, New York author and mum of two Laura (Rashida Jones) is plagued with suspicions that her workaholic husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her with his attractive new staff member.

When Laura expresses her concerns to her charming and philandering father Felix (Bill Murray), he takes the news with glee and suggests they stalk Dean around New York and Mexico to catch him in the act.

On the scale of Lost In Translation to The Bling Ring, On The Rocks tends to lean slightly towards the Hollywood Hills heist side. Not enough resonant substance to cement itself as one Coppola’s most memorable or best, but also not completely devoid of moments of insight and charm.

While dealing with the potential of a broken marriage and the relationship between father and daughter, this film serves as a love letter to a side of New York that we never see on screen – it is peaceful, charming and almost feels like a small town or an unpopulated part of an Italian city.

Murray does what Murray does best and Coppola just lets him go, and yet the chemistry between him and Jones is what highlights this dramedy. The film as a whole may not be one of Coppola’s best but the two leads together are a joy to be in company with.

Jones herself proves her dramatic acting chops, her face long and her shoulders carrying the weight of her character’s deeply troubled thoughts. It is a side of her we have not yet seen and one that deserves more screen time.

A breezy time with enjoyable banter between a couple of charming leads, On The Rocks is more about providing giggles than digging deep into the relationships it sets up.

Film Review – Antebellum

Posted in Uncategorized on October 1, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Antebellum (MA)

Directed by: Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz

Starring: Janelle Monae, Jenna Malone, Eric Lange

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Eden (Janelle Monae) is one of several slaves held captive and mistreated on a Louisiana plantation owned by the icy Elizabeth (Jenna Malone) and run by sadistic officers of the Confederate States Army.

Attempts to escape have been thwarted with unspeakable consequences for those who tried and failed, but with the arrival of a batch of new slaves (including a young pregnant woman), plans are underway for another attempt.

After Eden is raped yet again by a Confederate General known only as Him (Eric Lange), she falls asleep and jolts awake as Veronica, a successful sociologist, author, wife and mother, who is preparing for another business trip.

Throughout her day, Veronica experiences subtly odd moments such as encountering people who look like those on the plantation and the usual racially based microaggressions black people encounter day to day.

Co-writers/co-directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz contrast the harsh treatment of black people during slavery with the way they are treated today, asking us to ponder how far things have really come and how much attitudes have really changed.

It also looks at the constant reminders around us of the horrific acts of the past and how they permeate through time and even leans into the suggestion that trauma can still be felt through several generations.

Antebellum is visually self-assured with its framing, imagery, and the terrific (seemingly) one-take opening tracking shot through the plantation. It also, working within the thriller/horror genre expectations, playfully drops visual hints throughout.

However, ultimately it all feels heavily Get Out inspired, and leads to a big M. Night Shyamalan “Gotchya!” twist, which when encapsulated in one single shot near the end, is enough to elicit a cringe.

The film also suffers from the same technique the recent Black Christmas remake was lambasted for – its viral woke Tweets and memes inspired dialogue is overwhelmingly clunky. It is so focused on appealing to a young internet user crowd, Veronica’s husband is saved as “Bae” in her phone.

Film Review – The Goddess Of Fortune

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

The Goddess Of Fortune (M)

Directed by: Ferzan Ozpetek

Starring: Stefano Accorsi, Edoardo Leo, Jasmine Trinca

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The open relationship between Arturo (Stefano Accorsi) and Alessandro (Edoardo Leo) has been an intimacy free zone for quite some time but it is finally creating tension between the pair.

Just as Arturo’s jealousy comes to the surface, the couple’s longtime friend Annamaria (Jasmine Trinca) asks them to look after her two young children while she spends time in the hospital.

The child-free couple’s lifestyle is upended as they welcome the new guests, tackle for the first time child rearing and adjust to new morning routines.

The situation puts an even greater strain on the relationship and it may not be the healthiest environment for the two youngsters, so they seek out their rich but estranged Grandmother to take over – but that could prove to be an even more toxic environment for the children.

True feelings are revealed and deep, dark secrets finally come to light that test the relationship and family dynamic.

This bittersweet Italian delight explores the idea of what makes a family – whether it is family we choose or family we are stuck with – with a fresh, queer lens.

It openly and frankly discusses open gay relationships, normalising it in a way that so few mainstream or queer films have done in the past, and yet for every progressive step forward, there is one slight step backwards.

The two male lead performances, while both solid and endearing, lack any queer characteristics. They are alarmingly straight presenting. If we weren’t constantly reminded that they are gay, there would be no way to pick it.

Regardless, The Goddess Of Fortune is a joyful and heartbreaking journey to go on as these two men learn more about themselves and each other.

The Goddess Of Fortune screens as part of the St Ali. Italian Film Festival 2020 which runs in Perth from October 1 – October 14.

For more information, click here.

Film Review – The High Note

Posted in Uncategorized on September 22, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

The High Note (M)

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Aspiring music producer Maggie Sherwoode is paying her dues as the overworked assistant to singing superstar Grace Davis, who is successfully touring but hasn’t released new music in a decade.

Grace’s next career move is up in the air – her long-time manager Jack (Ice Cube) and record label executives urge her to settle with a cushy Las Vegas residency, but she wants to release a new album.

Meanwhile, Grace meets talented but unsigned musician David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr), fibs about her credentials to convince him to let her produce his first album and the two spark a relationship.

Dakota is reliably cute, Ellis Ross is commanding and June Diane Raphael almost steals it as Grace’s ditsy staffer Gail, but The High Note’s script is more interested in trotting out taking a rom-com tropes than exploring an under-told story.

This could have been a juicy, relevant and timely exploration of the plight of a relevant black middle aged music star who’s career and creativity is being stifled by younger white male studio executives.

The High Note merely hints at it with a heartbreaking monologue from Grace (sensationally delivered by Ellis Ross) where she lays it all out for Maggie, Cliff’s Notes style.

But instead of spending more time fleshing this out, we get a meet-cute between Maggie and David and a love story that is perfectly serviceable, but by far the least interesting avenue this film could have taken.

Props where they’re due – there is a knockout twist towards the end that you won’t see coming and the songs are top class efforts (something you don’t often get in films about pop music).