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.

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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.

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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.

 

Film Review – Rambo: Last Blood

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Rambo: Last Blood (R)

Directed by: Adrian Grunberg

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Yvette Monreal

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Never one to let a popular franchise die, Stallone is back to reprise his iconic character Rambo yet again after an 11 year break in a blood drenched sequel that delivers on action, but confounds in its politics.

Haunted by his inability to save a couple of hikers from a natural disaster, Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) retreats back to his reclusive existence at his ranch, training his horse and working down in his labyrinth of self-dug tunnels under his vast property.

His college bound niece Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) reveals she has tracked down her deadbeat, criminal Dad who now lives in Mexico, and she wants to confront him for some answers.

Rambo tries to convince her otherwise, but she goes anyway and ends up kidnapped by a prostitution ring. Rambo goes looking for her, with the help of local journalist Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega), and takes on the entire cartel single-handedly.

On the one hand, Rambo: Last Blood is a tightly scripted, down and dirty, short and sharp action film that pulls no punches and in just 90 minutes, spends adequate time developing relationships and characters, with Stallone given plenty of moments to act in a melancholic fashion. It is all groundwork for the carnage that comes later – groundwork that some 120 minute action films don’t even bother with.

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Speaking of carnage, it certainly satisfies on that level. This leaves gore porn Saw and Hostel in its dust and will have audiences (guilty!) hooting at the creative and graphic on-screen slaughtering of the “bad guys”.

But therein lies Rambo: Last Blood‘s deepest flaw – the “bad guys” are particularly nasty (this movie does not shy away from the atrocities they do) and exclusively Mexican. It may have been overlooked in the 1980s, but now these kinds of attitudes are troubling.

How many times do we have to sit through film where Mexico and Mexicans are painted as the enemy? Particularly troubling is the acknowledgement of Trump’s wall with a handful of shots.

A throwback to the ultra-violent action films of the 1970s and 80s in the best and worst sense, it is such a shame that Rambo: Last Blood takes so much care with character, only to threaten to undo it all with its questionable and outdated politics and attitudes.

 

Film Review – Good Boys

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Good Boys (MA)

Directed by: Gene Stupnitsky

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

At first glance, Good Boys seems like a one-joke premise: apply the teen comedy raunchiness to a trio of primary school aged boys. Porky’s, Fast times At Ridgemont High and American Pie – but with kids.

A surefire way to get a few cheap laughs (little kids swearing – LOL!), but Good Boys goes the route of Superbad: making sure there is an equal dose of heart and growing pains to go with the smuttier elements. And as that teen hit proved, it is a winning formula.

When sixth grade best buddies Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon) are invited by the most popular kids in school to their first kissing party, the trio immediately start researching technique.

Using Max’s Dad’s strictly off-limits drone to spy on his teenage neighbours for pointers gets them into trouble and sets them off on an epic day-long adventure that brings them into contact with drugs, drug dealers, sex toys and heavy freeway traffic.

The opening moments threaten to sexualise these youngsters to an uncomfortable level with Max and his Dad having an awkward birds and bees style chat about masturbating (setting such a tone made me very anxious about where this film was going – they are 12 years old!), but my fears were soon allayed.

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Sure, these foul mouthed, F-word spouting little charmers come across p*rn, dildos and a sex doll, but they still retain their innocence (hilariously mispronouncing an*l beads and mistaking a sex doll for a CPR training doll). The three are still super sweet and angelic one moment (Lucas is a constant truth-teller) while dropping as many F-bombs as the grown ups.

Writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, very wisely, keep these character’s mentality age appropriate – they are curious, but not beyond their years. This is not a shocking, gasp inducing Kids scenario of innocence shattered into smithereens and long lost. They come of age here, but not that far.

The cast is impeccable – these are some genuinely likable kids, something that this kind of film hinges on. The filmmakers certainly struck gold here.

Williams and Noon are breakouts but Tremblay once again proving himself to be quite a young talent. He is the most angelic looking of the bunch, with his soulful and sad-looking eyes, but is still able to convincingly convey anger and intimidation and swear like a sailor with conviction like he has been doing it for decades.

With plenty of adult content that could make grown-ups blush, this is definitely not a kid’s movie and deserves it’s MA rating. But once those youngsters are of age, show them this highly entertaining comedy.

 

Film Review – Late Night

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Late Night (M)

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra

Starring: Mindy Kaling, Emma Thompson

Four stars

Review by Julian Wright 

The unlikely pairing of TV funny woman Mindy Kaling and Oscar winning writer/actor Emma Thompson proves to be something we never thought we would get, but something we need.

Trailblazing comedian Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) has enjoyed decades of success, including years on her own late night talk show – but ratings have been consistently dipping for years.

When her boss threatens to replace her if ratings don’t pick up, Katherine is forced to shake things up among her team of white, male writers. Her first step is a diversity hire.

Enter Indian-American woman and chemical plant worker Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), who has zero writing experience, but raw talent, ambition and a dream to work for her comedic hero.

The odd-couple clashing between the fish-out-of-water newbie Molly and snooty British comedy veteran Katherine provides many of the laughs, but Kaling’s script is about far more than simply sit-com moments.

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Her take on workplace diversity and the way women and minorities are treated in the office and in society is a current, vital point of view that is not being explored in cinema at the moment otherwise.

Giving her script even further weight, Kaling has fleshed out Katherine’s character far beyond what you may expect from what appears on the surface to be a lightweight comedy. But the well-rounded character allows Thompson something to flourish in and she delivers a terrific performance.

It is just a shame that Kaling doesn’t give her own character as many dimensions (she often speaks of a dowdy, embarrassing home-life that we never actually get to see). Two equally strong female characters would have made this absolutely pop.

Not exactly a 100 per cent original piece, there are echos of Morning Glory and even The Devil Wears Prada here, but Late Night surprises with some great banter, food for thought and POV that we hardly see in cinema.

 

Film Review – Midsommar

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Midsommar (R) 

Director: Ari Aster

Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor

Four and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright 

Prepare to be emotionally tormented yet again by writer/director Ari Aster.

Aster popped out of nowhere and caught us off guard with his nerve-shredding horror film Hereditary, about grief, loss and culty creeps (and a sensational performance by Toni Collette).

His second film Midsommar is another trip down the path of intense horror.

While dealing with a recent devastating family tragedy, the emotionally raw Dani (Florence Pugh) tags along with her dropkick boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his mates to a remote spot in Sweden for a festival.

When they arrive, the traditional events that the villagers act out as part of the festivities turn out to be tough to be increasingly tough to stomach and Dani senses that something sinister is at play.

It is best to keep details to a minimum because the best way to experience Midsummar, much like Hereditary, is to strap in for the ride and be surprised (and horrified) by the dark places that Aster takes us.

midsommar

Now, it is understandable that some people may not want to spend 2.5 hours in state of depression and emotional exhaustion along with Aster’s characters – he tends to throw us in the deep end from the get go so that we are immediately on edge.

There is no relaxing in an Aster film; even when these characters reach their sunny, idyllic destination, the sense of dread is still heavy.

The jumping off point in both of Aster’s films are very similar; characters experiencing horrendous tragedies that we are not sure they could even recover from, but his exploration of grief is effective.

While Hereditary was drenched in gloomy cinematography to add to its creepy atmosphere, Midsommar plays out mostly on beautifully sunny daylight. Aster’s ability to create the same terrifying atmosphere is uncanny.

Midsommar will make you gasp and squirm, and you will likely emerge at the end feeling more stressed than ever before. That is quite a cinematic achievement.

Film Review: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Posted in Uncategorized on August 2, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (M)

Directed by: David Leitch

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

There is not a whole lot of originality at the multiplex these days, what with reboots, remakes, sequels and prequels dominating, but here is a new one: a film franchise “presenting” its own spin off.

Though, that’s where the originality abruptly ends.

With rev-head outlaw Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) and his “family” of car savvy crew from The Fast and the Furious series taking the back seat, we get an all new adventure with peripheral odd couple Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham), who appeared in later installments.

But with more banter and less car-themed action, Hobbs & Shaw prove to be a nice breather from the Torreto crew’s antics.

Still burnt over their last encounter, federal agent Luke Hobbs and former assassin Deckard Shaw reluctantly team up to retrieve a deadly virus that can wipe out millions of people in moments.

The catch is, they must retrieve it from Shaw’s MI6 agent sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who injected it into herself for safe keeping from Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), who has enhanced physical capabilities and wants the virus for his own evil use.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

The beauty of the Fast & Furious films is that it started out as a low-key (by today’s standards) action drama about street racing and has gradually escalated to completely absurd scenarios and impossible stunts – much to the joy of audiences.

While upping the absurdity, these films keep one thing in mind: make it fun. Who cares that these action sequences defy logic and physics? Switch off, chug a soda and have a blast.

Hobbs & Shaw fits right into the series so perfectly, that you hardly miss the Torretos wax lyrical about family every five minutes (also much part of the series’ cheesy charm). At one point “The Rock” prevents a chopper from flying off with brawn alone.

The amusing verbal jabs between the two leads allow for many comical moments, as well as a couple of surprising and random cameos that have been successfully kept under wraps.

A nice touch is taking this globe-trotting series to Samoa (a nod to Johnson’s heritage, very likely at his insistence) to add a multicultural flavour to the climactic sequences.

We are not done with the Fast & Furious series – a couple more are already in the works – but it may have some competition with its own spin-off that it has “presented” with its winning formula.