Film Review – The Woman King

Posted in Uncategorized on October 30, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

The Woman King (MA)

Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Starring: Viola Davis, Thuso Mdebu, Lashana Lynch

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

A fascinating and untold piece of history gets the big screen treatment it (mostly) deserves with a Viola Davis impressive as ever in a more physical role.

We get an insight into the West African Kingdom of Dahomey circa 1823, and in particular, the the all-female group of warriors,the Agojie, that protects it.

Led by the commanding and loyal Nanisca (Viola Davis), the Agojie liberate women who have been enslaved.

When the fiercely independent young woman Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) refuses to marry an abusive older man, she is dropped off at the Agojie community, but her stubbornness clashes with Nanisca.

A story about a group of strong, independent, self sufficient and self reliant women of colour in the 1800s is such a refreshing and compelling concept to explore in film.

The action scenes are terrifically staged and directed (if a little underlit), both thrilling and brutal allowing, us to see these fierce female warriors cause just as much physical damage as men, if not more.

And the dramatic scenes are mostly compelling.

This is a fascinating and powerful story here and yet, the longer it goes on, the more that power is slightly diluted. Perhaps some tightening in the editing may have helped prevent this.

It becomes less about how these women exist in and interact with this world and more about borderline soap opera twists.

But what is consistently incredible, is Davis, who brings both phsycial and emotional gravitas.

Film Review – Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

Posted in Uncategorized on October 26, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (PG)

Directed by: Anthony Fabian

Starring: Lesley Manville, Isabelle Hubbert, Lambert Wilson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Lesley Mandeville shines as the titular Mrs. Harris in this delightful adaptation of the 1958 novel Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris.

In 1957 London, when house cleaner and seamstress Mrs Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) receives notice that her husband, who has been MIA since he went to war almost 10 years ago, has died, she finally has closure she needs to move on.

Around this time, Mrs Harris spots a client’s 500 pound couture Dior dress, instantly falls in love with it and begins saving her pennies to head to the House of Dior in Paris to buy her own.

When she arrives, she is met by the snooty President Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Hubbert), but staff rally to make this people pleasing woman’s dream come true.

What appears on the surface to be a light and fluffy adventure aimed squarely at the older female demographic (and, to be fair, it is all these things), Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is a bittersweet charmer that unveils layers that one may not initially expect.

It has a laundry list of themes – never to old to dream or achieve your goals, fashion should be for everyone, class system, rich vs poor, karma etc – and yet manages to juggle and interweave them with such grace that it never feels preachy.

Had this been an American production, it would have had the ability to rot teeth with its saccharine tone.

But with a British sensibility, there is a certain refreshing charm and genuineness about the story and its characters.

Manville is an absolute star in the lead role, just radiating purity and goodness, but also able to dig deep and break your heart, particularly in the scene where she processes the news of her husband.

An added bonus, and it would have been a fatal flaw without it, is the jaw dropping fashions, which this movie clearly appreciates and wants to share, but does not rely solely on them to keep the audience interested – it always comes back to the characters and story.

Film Review – Fisherman’s Friends : One and All

Posted in Uncategorized on October 16, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Fisherman’s Friends: One and All (PG)

Directed by: Meg Leonard, Nick Moorcroft

Starring: James Purefoy, Sam Swainsbury, Dave Johns

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Those sea loving larrikin singers are back for another heartwarming adventure with an added love story sprinkled in.

After unexpectedly taking the world by storm and topping the pop charts with their folk music style sea shanties, the members of the Fisherman’s Friends band are faced with second album syndrome.

The head of the record label has lost interest, media training the traditional and politically incorrect members is a difficult task and the process of auditioning and hiring a new member has rubbed band leader Jim (James Purefoy) the wrong way.

Meanwhile, Jim has a little distraction with newcomer to town Aubrey Flyn (Imelda May), a pop singer herself who is looking for a low-key lifestyle away from the cameras and tabloids.

While a touch long and perhaps at least one too many complications (a rescue from an old abandoned mine shaft is something out of an episode of Skippy), this delightful and amusing second outing is an inoffensive, family friendly affair.

The cast continues to be endearing and lovely company to keep and the real life footage of the band during the credit sequence adds another layer of warmth, closing things off with some of the biggest laughs of the film.

Fisherman’s Friends: One and All screens as part of the British Film Festival 2022, which runs form October 19 to November 16.

Film Review – Halloween Ends

Posted in Uncategorized on October 16, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Halloween Ends (MA)

Directed by: David Gordon Green

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Rohan Campbell

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

It has been a highly anticipated, much debated and long windy road in the latest saga between murderous Michael Myers and his perpetual target Laurie Strode, that finally culminates in an ambitious, but unfocused finale.

After masked Michael Myers’ 40th anniversary rampage through his hometown of Haddonfield in 2018 on Halloween night, he has disappeared and left a town in ruin.

A year later (2019) when a child accidentally dies in a Halloween prank gone horribly wrong under the care of 21-year Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), he is shunned by the community and treated like an outsider.

Fast forward to 2022 and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is now on the path of healing, living with and doting on her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), flirting with local cop Frank (Will Patton) and writing her memoir about her experience with death and trauma.

When she crosses paths with sensitive but misunderstood Corey, Laurie introduces him to Allyson who is now a nurse at the local hospital.

The two are immediately drawn to each other (having both experienced different types of trauma) and a love blooms, but the timing could not be worse, as Corey has an encounter with a sewer dwelling Myers that sparks (or draws out?) an evil streak.

Ends take an entirely different approach to the Halloween formula, one that is certainly fresh, but for many, perhaps too jarring.

It certainly isn’t the batshit “druids” level nonsense that a former timeline devolved into, but it is also not the path you expect this to take, particularly when all marketing points to an all out showdown between Myers and Strode that this saga has been teasing since it launched, and has struggled to deliver satisfactorily.

Director and co-writer David Gordon Green sets up an evocative thesis about different kinds of evil – pure versus created, nature versus nurture. Are some people born evil and are some people made that way?

And yet, true to form in this overblown three part saga, the longer it goes on and the more scenes it includes to fulfill a feature length run time, the more the theme becomes muddled and even contradicted.

This often plays out like the equivalent of an unprepared high school student giving a rambly oral presentation and the more he talks, the less sense he makes.

While all the fan service was fun for a while (recreating/mirroring key scenes, revisiting iconic locations, returning legacy characters, throwback dialogue etc), a key flaw in this saga is the film makers wanting to have their cake and eat it too, often undermining their own work.

While it is lovely to see Laurie now able to move on and smile, it seems a little nonsensical that she could not heal while her tormentor was securely locked up for 40 years, but she can now despite a second rampage and close encounter, her daughter being slain and Myers loose in the wild.

Also her doomsday preparedness seems to have been completely forgotten.

In fact one could get carried away nit-picking at this timeline (many have and it is certainly deserved) but let us not overlook the good intentions behind trying to make something thematic and meaningful out of another cash grab.

At the very least, one of these movies finally lives up to its name and promise.

Film Review – Don’t Worry Darling

Posted in Uncategorized on October 15, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Don’t Worry Darling (MA)

Directed by: Olivia Wilde

Starring: Florence Pugh, Chris Pine, Harry Styles

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

A 1950s housewife starts noticing some strange goings on in her utopian community in this thriller that was plagued by off-screen drama.

Alice (Florence Pugh) lives a picture perfect life in her beautifully 1950s style home with her husband Jack (Harry Styles), who is the star employee at Victory Headquarters – though what he does there is unclear due to the highly classified nature.

The pair have everything a couple could ask for or need, but Alice begins to see signs that something isn’t quite right – a plane crashes outside of town leading her to Headquarters where she blacks out, something that everyone around her denies.

Then her neighbour Margaret (KiKi Layne) begins exhibiting concerning behaviour.

Cracks begin to appear in their isolated community and Alice is determined to find out what really is going on.

While the initial setup and some subsequent plot developments may trigger few surprises – admittedly this is clearly heavily inspired by The Stepford Wives – Don’t Worry Darling explores several thought provoking themes.

Olivia Wilde takes the reins and has a firm grip on her material, delivering solid direction, often times thrilling visuals, solidifying herself as a director to look out for.

This comes after her bright teen comedy debut Booksmart.

The cast is great to watch, with Wilde among them with an almost scene-stealing characterisation, but this is Pugh’s film and she continues to be a captivating screen presence.

Carrying the weight of her curious and strong willed character, and indeed the entire film that is visually and thematically ambitious, Pugh proves once again that she has range and conviction, making her one of her generation’s best

Behind the scenes production gossip became wildly overbearing, which is a shame, because this is a thoroughly intriguing journey that manages to hook you in.

The final resolution may not be as a satisfying as it hopes, but the ride getting there is one worth taking, and perhaps even revisiting.

Film Review – Ticket to Paradise

Posted in Uncategorized on September 15, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Ticket to Paradise (M)

Directed by: Ol Parker

Starring: Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Kaitlyn Dever

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Hollywood megastars Julia Roberts and George Clooney remind us that charm and chemistry are a winning combo that can light up a screen in their reunion rom-com Ticket To Paradise.

Bickering divorcees Georgia (Julia Roberts) and David (George Clooney) have managed to mostly avoid each other for several years, until they are seated side-by-side at their daughter Lily’s (Kaitlyn Dever) college graduation ceremony.

Thirty-seven days later, they find themselves on the same flight to Bali where Lily is to marry a seaweed farmer Gede (Maxime Boutier) in a whirlwind but traditional ceremony.

The only thing Georgia and David have in common, other than the constant verbal jabs at each other, is their desire to break up the happy couple and end the wedding plans to encourage Lily to get back on track to her career as a lawyer.

Revisiting the winning rom-com formula of the 1990s, with one of the stars that made the sub-genre the worldwide phenomenon that it is, is a refreshing trip down memory lane and an excuse to bask in the warm glow of Roberts and Clooney.

These two ooze personality and their banter as this feuding ex-couple is deliciously entertaining.

There is even a hint of My Best Friend’s Wedding, as we side with lead characters that are not exactly the purest people.

The script is typically lightweight, and could have had a couple of minutes shaved for a snappier run time, but this is a fun, gentle ride with dreamy scenery and a couple of bright guides.

Film Review – Bodies Bodies Bodies

Posted in Uncategorized on September 15, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Bodies Bodies Bodies (MA)

Directed by: Halina Reijn

Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Rachel Sennott

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

A bunch of rich brats get more than they bargained for when a fun drunken game turns deadly in this Gen Z slasher.

After a stint in rehab, Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) re-joins her group of friends, with new girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) in tow, for a hurricane party, where they drink, get high and play a murder/mystery game in one of their parents mansions while a hurricane barrels down on them.

But when one of the party-goers turns up dead and they cannot leave the remote property, they suddenly have more to face than social injustice, mental health issues and being seen and heard.

As much as it is fun to witness a group of “woke” brats get offed in an assortment of gory ways, the script is decidedly lacking in the wit department.

While they often speak in Twitter buzz words and phrases (“you are so toxic”), the script fails to go any further to poke fun at this generation – kind of like Clueless but without the sharp, affectionate take-downs.

And being that the characters are not particularly likable, or even fleshed out (most of them are interchangeable), any chance for genuine suspense is limited, save for a couple of creeping around in the dark alone moments.

The story and body counts builds and builds until the final reveal that, while slightly amusing, is hardly the shock “gotchya” moment the film thinks it is.

Film Review – Orphan: First Kill

Posted in Uncategorized on September 1, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Orphan: First Kill (MA)

Directed by: William Brent Bell

Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

With Esther, the psychotic 33 year old Estonian with a thirst for blood and daddies and rare hormone disorder that makes her look like a child dead at the end of Orphan (2009), the only option was to look backwards with a prequel – so now we are treated to her attempt to wreak havoc on her first adoptive family.

Two years before Esther was adopted by an unsuspecting family that she did her best to completely destroy, the 31 year old was locked up in the Saarne Institute.

Here, she escapes, dons the identity of a missing American girl who she bears a vague physical resemblance to, turns herself in and is shipped to America to the wealthy Albright family – mum Tricia (Julia Stiles), father Allen (Rossif Sutherland) and son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan).

While Esther fits in and adapts to her new life, the detective on the missing child case Detective Donnan (Hiro Kanagawa) becomes suspicious, and so a more bonkers twist than the original Orphan film is revealed.

Orphan (2009) put a wild twist on the “Bad Seed” trope, and David Coggeshall, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Alex Mace, credited for the story and screenplay, have taken on the burden of having to one-up the original in terms of shock and surprise.

What begins as almost a re-tread of the original, with a slight The Imposter influence thrown in, is soon spun on its head with a left-field twist that does more than just shock for the sake of shock value.

This absurdly fun twist challenges our expectations, shows our lead character in a new light and gives her a whole new emotional journey. It also creates some deliciously dark and funny interaction between Esther and her new family.

The only minor let down is that the film doesn’t quite go far enough – there could have been a couple more scenes of power play between the characters. but this is a minor quibble for a film that is more fun than it has the right to be.

Another minor distraction is the way each scene looks like it was filmed after a fog machine has been left on before the cameras roll – surely an attempt to mask the fact that Fuhrman is now 12 years older, playing an even younger version of her character.

But under the reins of the aforementioned script team and director William Brent Bell, Orphan: First Kill is a sensationally satisfying piece of pulpy horror entertainment done just right.

It is just a shame that this character has been painted into a corner which would prevent further adventures – this real life Chucky offers a wild ride!

Film Review – Beast

Posted in Uncategorized on August 24, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Beast (M)

Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur

Starring: Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Big screen hunk Idris Elba is the everyday man out of his comfort zine in this man vs beast thriller that plays out a bit more like the satisfyingly silly Crawl than the terrifying creep-fest Cujo.

After his wife dies, Dr Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) takes his two daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries) to her home country South Africa to visit where she grew up and also visit old family friend Martin (Sharlto Copley).

While exploring the Savanna, the group discover slain villagers and their vehicle is soon attacked by a territorial and particularly savage male lion.

With their guide Martin severely injured, their vehicle trapped and no radio signal to call for help, the vacationing trio must find a way to survive the relentless beast.

This is a classic case of a cheesy B-grade film given the A-grade treatment – and sometimes that is all you need from cinema.

The schlocky elements are apparent with the prologue slaughter setting up the danger and plot points hammered home in repeated, obvious exposition dialogue for those who have either completely switched off or are half looking at their phones.

Director Kormakur elevates the script somewhat, bringing a clear vision to his film, utilising the illusion of long single takes to tell the story.

His camera follows the characters as they move around and interact, often swirling around them. Though Kormakur uses this technique consistently, it is only effective some of the time: when establishing benign locations (their accommodation) it is distracting, but when the threat is near, it is incredibly effective in building tension.

The cast are serviceable- Elba plays ordinary man effectively and the young women are appropriately terrified, but this isn’t exactly the project that allows for much of an arc.

While Beast doesn’t quite deliver the catharsis you might crave from these outings, it is nevertheless and entertaining distraction that offers a few effective jump scares and built almost exclusively out of moments that have you yelling at the screen. And in a group setting, that is half the fun.

Film Review – Nope

Posted in Uncategorized on August 11, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Nope (M)

Directed by: Jordan Peele

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Modern horror master Jordan Peele gives us a new reason to look to the skies, or rather, not look with his latest film Nope.

When his ranch owner father dies in mysterious circumstances, grieving OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) struggles to keep the family Hollywood horse training business alive.

The situation worsens when he is fired off a commercial set after one of his horses reacts violently and OJ is forced to sell horses to his Western theme park owning neighbour Jupe (Steven Yuen) just to keep money coming in.

OJ’s fame seeking sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) arrives on the scene and the two realise that something unusual is happening in the clouds above their ranch and around the nearby hills and they devise a way to capture the phenomenon on film.

With Nope, Peele shifts gear slightly, offering a fresh twist on the UFO formula and delivering a fun and frightening blend of Spielberg, Shyamalan and Tarantino inspired adventure.

While his latest film might not quite leave the visceral and emotional impact that Get Out or Us did, Peele continues to explore fascinating themes, this time taking the opportunity to look into the role Black people have in the film industry and their significant contributions that are often overlooked and/or forgotten.

Just as his characters live in the shadow of those who have made their mark and attempt to carve their own legacy, Peele does so with his own art.

And he doesn’t mind having a lot of fun while doing it.

Kaluuya is typically solid, with his brooding performance and little dialogue giving Palmer the space to shine – and she emerges the star, holding her own next to her Academy Award nominated co-star.

Peele’s blend of socially conscious themes and spectacle just makes one hungry for more films from this modern movie-making genius.

There is a lot of creativity swirling around in that head of his and his next projects cannot come soon enough.