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.


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.

Film Review – The Lion King

Posted in Uncategorized on July 17, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

The Lion King (PG)

Directed by: Jon Favreau

Starring: Donald Glover, Beyonce, Seth Rogen

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Have you ever thought to yourself “Gee, I wonder what the beloved The Lion King would look like if real animals recited the dialogue.”? Don’t worry, the good folk at Disney have got your back and have delivered the next best thing.

It is the latest achievement in film making technology – eye popping photo-realism. Disney can do many things, but clearly it can’t make wild lions recite Shakespeare adaptations so they have recreated some of our favourite characters for another trip to the animal kingdom.

As we all know already with this Hamlet inspired tale, lion cub Simba is born into African wildlife royalty to parents Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) making him the next in line to be king, knocking his bitter uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) out of the running.

Scar kills Mufasa, convinces Simba to run away and never return, then takes his place as the king, forms an alliance with the Hyenas and puts the kingdom in danger.

With the exception of a couple of additional sequences (which essentially just pad out the running time), including one heavily featuring a big ol’ photo-realistic giraffe turd, (what a way to showcase this incredible technology!), The Lion King 2019 is basically a copy and paste job of the 1994 script, and a visual replication as well.

Scenes carry out virtually word for word and shot for shot, only this time with realistic looking animals and a different voice cast.

The realism of the animals and their surrounds are uncannily spot on; a credit to the team behind the technology, however Favreau’s dedication to realism is flawed – the animals faces to not emote.

In the recreation of one of the original’s most iconic and heartbreaking scenes, Simba is heard to be sobbing in the aftermath of a nightmarish event, yet his face is rock solid and not a single tear drop evident.

Such a disconnect between the emotional voice work and what we see on the screen is often a distraction and proof that technology can only do so much.


Additionally, the musical numbers, while the songs themselves still have an impact due to their catchy tunes and memorable lyrics, are a bore. Why? Again, because Favreau is going for realism here and real animals don’t dance (they do, however, talk and sing?). Instead, they just kind of trot around on screen without any rhythm or flair.

And yet, despite the emotionless faces, uneven voice acting (the Hyenas’ banter sinks like a lead balloon), I was strangely drawn into this CGI recreation.

Everything is so hypnotically detailed that it is hard to take your eyes off it, and the story still enthralling enough (Shakespeare was onto something) to keep you interested and it is a thrill to have a culturally diverse cast voice this version.

Billy Eichner as Timon and Seth Rogen as Pumbaa are a pure delight and a much needed jolt of fun and freshness to the film; they absolutely steal the film.

Could Disney have just remastered the original and re-released it in cinemas on a milestone anniversary instead of remaking it? Absolutely.

Could Disney have applied this groundbreaking photo-realism technology to an original story to give audiences something fresh? Sure.

Instead, we have The Lion King 2019, which now exists and will likely strike a nostalgic nerve for those that grew up on the original and for youngsters to discover and potentially fall in love with.

There are worse attempts at nostalgia bait that have become worldwide hits.

Film Review – Annabelle Comes Home

Posted in Uncategorized on June 27, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Annabelle Comes Home (MA)

Directed by: Gary Dauberman

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson 

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Ever wonder what happened when paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren first brought haunted doll Annabelle home and locked her in a glass case in their basement?

It seemed to be a blind spot in The Conjuring extended universe that has covered pretty much every other misadventures of the perpetually smiling demon magnet. Well, now we can find out.

Unsurprisingly, as it turns out, it was more of the same haunting shenanigans.

In a moment of questionable parenting, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) leave town for the night not long after acquiring Annabelle and leave their young daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) with babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman).

Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) pops over and despite all warnings against it, enters the forbidden locked basement that houses all the cursed, possessed and haunted items that the Warrens have collected for safe-keeping.

No prizes for guessing what happens next as the three young girls are trapped in the house overnight with myriad restless entities.


Credit where it is due – Daniela is given a backstory and motivation to go into the locked basement, she isn’t just a silly teen in a rebellious mood, like so many of these types of films.

However, the attention to character motivation ends there.

If you have seen any of The Conjuring, Annabelle or even any of the Insidious films, there is not much here that you haven’t seen before.

Characters creep through a dark house for several minutes at time, with a failing torch until something leaps out at them. One thing that does set this entry aside is director Gary Dauberman’s patience in drawing out the jump scares.

There is a lot more build up here than its predecessors, and even though the pay-off isn’t always worth the wait, it is evident that he much less keen to jolt us than he is to get under our skin.


Film Review – Toy Story 4

Posted in Uncategorized on June 27, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Toy Story 4 (G)

Directed by: Josh Cooley

Starring: Tom Hanks, Annie Potts, Tim Allen

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

After rounding out a beautifully realised couple of films with a surprisingly successful and heartwarming threequel (which made for a neat conclusion), Disney Pixar have taken the Toy Story series back out of storage.

It is a bit of a gamble – the more you toy with something good, the higher the chances that it can get banged up a bit. And would audiences be bored with these familiar characters like an eight-year-old would get with their old play-things?

Woody (Tom Hanks) Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang are enjoying a new life with youngster Bonnie, after their owner Andy gifted them to her when he went to college

But when Bonnie comes home from kindergarten with an arts and crafts creation, Forky, made from some disposed items such as a spork, pipecleaners and a popstick, she has a new favourite.

Bonnie treasures her new, self-made toy more than the others, and Woody makes it his mission to keep Forky safe and within Bonnie’s loving reach at all times to ensure her happiness – despite Forky’s instinct to return to the trash where his parts came from.

During a family holiday road trip, Woody encounters antique toys in a small town with a sinister agenda and is reunited with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who several years earlier, left out live out in the big wide world.

There is no denying the charm that these films and their characters have is still there – this series could go on for five more installments and just on that alone.

Even at part four, they have the ability to make you smile warmly and even shed a tear; we have become to connected to and attached to them throughout the years.


Toy Story 4 is, like its predecessors, about more than just toys coming to life while we aren’t watching – this one tackles how to deal with change and learning to let go.

The heart and wit is still very much evident in this series, even at this point, however, it does struggle with balancing all the characters.

Having kept all the toys from the earlier films, adding Forky and new ones such as sideshow prizes and the creepy crew from the antique shot, Toy Story 4 has more characters than it knows what to do with.

Even Buzz is relegated to the backseat for most of the action.

And the animation is glorious, but just one tiny quibble: even though our heroes are essentially hand-me downs that have endured years of play with Andy, four films worth of hair raising adventures and now Bonnie – their appearance is surprisingly pristine.

Hardly a chip, dent, scuff or scratch can be seen! That’s not how my toys looked after years of playing with them in the backyard.



Film Review – Aladdin

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Aladdin (PG)

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

With pop culture currently riding the relentless wave of nostalgia, it comes as little surprise that Disney has released another live action remake of its own animation.

Just last month we saw Tim Burton’s version of Dumbo, and there are plenty more in the pipeline with other familiar titles being re-jigged and sequelised.

Aladdin has now been dusted off and given new life with its own live action version.

While living on the streets of desert kingdom Agrabah, poor Aladdin (Mena Massoud) meets Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and the two immediately fall in love.

When Aladdin comes into contact with a precious lamp, he releases the Genie (Will Smith) and is given three wishes – one of which he uses to become a Prince so he can marry the Princess.


Meanwhile, the shifty Jafar (Marwen Kenzari) will try any sneaky way to overthrow the Sultan and rule Agrabah himself.

The script has been tweaked and expanded to flesh out some characters, add new ones and more musical numbers to differentiate itself from the original. In fact, this one has an extra 40 minutes of action.

It is all a perfectly pleasant experience that doesn’t always hit the mark and seems to resemble the stage production more than the animated film.

Will Smith had huge shoes to fill after Robin Williams created such an iconic character with just his voice in 1992, but despite the assistance of big budget CGI, Smith fails to leave a lasting impression.

Known throughout his career for his cheek, sass, and big personality, Smith somehow feels restrained in a role that is designed to allow the actor to completely let loose. However, he and Massouri are charming to watch together as their on-screen relationship blossoms.

Is Aladdin 2019 memorable? Not particularly. But will you have a good time? Very likely with the kaleidoscope of colours, impressive sets and charming cast on display.

Film Review – John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Posted in Uncategorized on May 23, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (MA)

Directed by:

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

It’s raining bullets, blood and a high body count. John Wick is still slicing and dicing his way to freedom in Chapter 3.

Hunted by assassins around the world with a $14 million bounty on his head, John Wick is now on the run, given a one hour head start to prepare for the fight of his life.

His quest to meet with a high ranking High Table member, to ask that his bounty be waived, takes him to Casablanca where he seeks help from former colleague Sofia (Halle Berry), who is not so pleased to see him.

Meanwhile, an adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) punishes everyone who helps Wick along the way.

Keeping with Hollywood tradition when it comes to franchise third installments, Parabellum leans more on the laughs, with not only the script including more quips (Wick’s fanboy opponent is comic gold), but much of the impressive and intricate fight choreography designed to elicit as many guffaws as gasps.


The violence is also more graphic and intense, and while one gets swept up in the hypnotic ballet of bullets and hand-to-hand combat, with some choice objects used as weapons (the humble library book never looked so lethal), there seems to be a hint of a nasty streak that runs throughout this one.

Yes, Wick is fighting for his life against hundreds of the most highly trained killers, but almost emptying gun clips into opponents heads and countless vicious dog attacks to the genitalia drains a touch of the fun.

Reeves is his usual cool-as-a-cucumber self as the man of very few words. His actions speak as loud as his carefully chosen words, but there is one particularly important and well-timed scene brimming with pathos in which Wick explains why he keeps going.

Berry is impressive as Wick’s momentary and reluctant sidekick, thriving in a kick-butt role that the X-Men series failed to provide her. She leaves such a lasting mark on this film that it would be great to see her return later down the track.

There is still plenty of freshness left in this action franchise, because instead of rehashing territory it has covered previously, it continues to expand on the world it has created. And like a blood drenched soap opera, this one leaves things open for a fourth outing – another chapter that will surely be waited for with bated breath.


Film Review – Top End Wedding

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

Top End Wedding (PG)

Staring: Miranda Tapsell, Gwilym Lee, Kerry Fox

Directed by: Wayne Blair

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Australia’s latest big screen offering is a fun and moving dramedy that rivals 90s classic Muriel’s Wedding as the best wedding themed film this country has to offer.

Cute Adelaide couple Lauren (Miranda Tapsell) and Ned (Gwilym Lee) are madly in love and have just become engaged. Their engagement period is short though, with Lauren’s icy cold boss (Kerry Fox) allowing her only 10 days off for the ceremony.

The about-to-be newlyweds haul ass up to Darwin where Lauren grew up so she can have her dream traditional Aboriginal wedding surrounded by her beloved family. But there is a hitch: her Mum (Ursula Yovich) has disappeared and her Dad (Huw Higginson) is in a depressive state.

Top End Wedding - Still 1

Lauren and Ned play Nancy Drew and embark on a road trip to track down her missing Mum in time for the wedding.

The set up and delivery of this story is fairly routine (you can tell how it will all end), but the exploration of the bond between mother and daughter and the connection Aboriginal people have to their culture and land offers thought provoking substance.

Miranda Tapsell (whose idea this story was) is an absolute gem and is Julia Roberts level radiant. Her endless and appealing energy beams off the screen and her immense watch-ability carries Top End Wedding a long way.

Fun, silly and laugh-out-loud at several points along the journey, Top End Wedding is a winning recipe and surefire crowd-pleaser.


Film Review – Long Shot

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

Long Shot (MA)

Starring: Jonathan Levine

Director: Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, June Diane Raphael

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Another rom-com in which the goofy, off-beat looking male lead scores the affections of the drop-dead gorgeous female lead? The collective groans are audible already.

Yes, the pairing of slobby stoner Seth Rogen with the seriously stunning Charlize Theoron is a gag-inducing contrivance, but hear me out – there is more to Long Shot than appearances. (No really!).

When a multi-millionaire buys the publication he works for, passionate journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) quits his job on principle. While at an event, he is reunited with his former babysitter Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) and his crush is reignited.

Field has come a long way since her babysitting days – she is now the USA Secretary of State and Presidential candidate.

Field hires Flarsky to touch up her speeches and the two become romantically linked, much to the chagrin of her key staffer Maggie (June Diane Raphael), who sees the coupling as a PR nightmare.


While Long Shot treads the rom-com line with loyalty (it does not aim to reinvent the wheel), the political context of the story, sharply written satire and winning performances of the two leads (and supporting cast, to be honest) gives this a fresh boost.

Having this cheesy story play out with characters who have real jobs goes a long way. How many rom-coms have we seen in which the characters have quirky jobs like “dog walker” and can also afford a New York studio apartment with Central Park views? The political context gives weight to the story.

Theron and Rogen prove to be the perfect on-screen couple with their undeniable chemistry. Rarely do you feel so invested in the outcome of such an odd-ball coupling. There is such a genuine connection between these two characters over values, politics and the environment that you kind of forget he is a bit of schlub. It helps that Field is not always the Princess she appears to be.

Theron in particular further cements herself as one of the best actresses working today. She has in the past proven to be comfortable and convincing as the anti-hero (Monster, Young Adult) and in Long Shot she reveals another layer of talent as an intelligent bogan Princess with a bit of an edge. She is uproariously hilarious when negotiating terrorist over the phone while high.

While it appears on the surface to be another male wish-fulfillment rom-com, Long Shot rises above with its wit and grounded backdrop.


Film Review – Dumbo

Posted in Uncategorized on April 12, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Dumbo (G)

Directed by: Tim Burton

Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Eva Green

Two and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Disney brings its beloved tale of a flying elephant back to the big screen with a live action film, plenty of special effects and star power in front of and behind the camera.

In 1919, equestrian performer Holt Harrier (Colin Farrell) returns from the war to find the circus he works for financially struggling, his wife dead and their two children full of resentment.

With the horses sold off, Holt is left to look after the circus elephant, who births an offspring with oversized ears.

At first the newborn is deemed an unappealing freak of nature that will do the circus no favours, but it is soon discovered the baby elephant can fly.

Dumbo 2019 certainly looks great: the visual effects are amazing, it is a slick production and Dumbo is appropriately adorable. But visual effects that all the money can buy cannot conjure heart and soul, which this remake lacks.


In creating a live version of its own property, Disney is uninterested in taking any risks, sticking to what is safe and likely to rack up the most box office receipts. There is a sense of simply playing up to nostalgia here.

As Tim Burton has delivered box office gold in recent years, it is clear why he was hired to direct, and yet he seems to be stifled creatively here.

His distinct signature style leans towards the dark, edgy and loopy (Batman, Beetlejuice), but Dumbo 2019 is so vanilla that it feels like it could have been made by any up and comer that is happy to work under creative restraints.

Every decision feels so incredibly safe that it is hard to imagine anyone becoming emotionally involved in the story or getting choked up like they would have during the original animated classic.