Film Review – The Merger

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on September 14, 2018 by Reel Review Roundup

The Merger (M)

Directed by: Mark Grentell

Starring: Damian Callinan, Kate Mulvany, John Howard

Four stars

Review by Julian Wright


It is almost an involuntary reaction these days to cringe at the thought of a new Australian comedy.

While we tend to delve into the deprived and nail the dark, edgy dramas with aplomb – Animal Kingdom, Hounds of Love etc – it is our sense of humour that is apparently hard to pin point and capture for the big screen.

For every Australian cinema culture defining film such as Muriel’s Wedding, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and The Castle there are a string of cringe-worthy forgettable attempts such as Spin Out, Goddess, UnIndian and Mental.

It seems since Crocodile Dundee put us on the map with its rampant outback clichés, which seemed to delight everyone around the world in the 1980s, we have been stuck in a rut, torn between what we want to show and what we think people want to see.

The Merger takes a risky leap for a comedy, telling a story that mixes one of the country’s most popular and iconic sports with one of its most complex and controversial social and political issues, with the aim to still make us laugh.

Times are tough in the small rural town of Bodgy Creek with an ongoing drought, the closure of the mill putting many locals out of a job and the footy club on the verge of folding.

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To keep the Roosters playing in the local competition rather than merge with another club, former AFL player Troy Carrington (Damian Callinan), now dubbed “Town Killer”, is brought in to coach the team and get the club back on track.

But Troy’s presence is not welcome by many of the locals – his protests led to the mill closure – and his idea to recruit local refugees onto the ragtag team of footy players proves very unpopular with the narrow-minded residents.

On the surface this appears to be yet another underdog story with a predictable outcome that wraps up with a cute bow at the end when everyone learns a valuable life lesson like in one of those cheesy after-school specials.

And, look, it certainly has those elements, but what gives this film depth and invigorates the tropes, is the political aspect.

There is a lot going on thematically in this film; it is about much more than just footy and racism as it explores the idea of community, diversity, acceptance and having and maintaining a cultural identity.

The Merger has an undeniable charm and a heart the size of a football oval, which makes this potentially preachy story accessible and worthy of The Castle status.

Watch the trailer here.


Worst Films of 2015

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2015 by Reel Review Roundup

With the good comes the bad. While it has been a pleasure and joy to sit through the many great films on my “best of” list, there has been another side to the coin of film-going. The films in the following list either tried and failed miserably or appeared to not try at all. Despite society moving slowly towards acceptance and equality, it was disheartening to see films with such cavemen attitudes towards women such as 50 Shades of Grey and other races such as American Sniper.

Here’s hoping for a more enlightened 2016.


1 – American Sniper: Deplorable, racist drama about an army sniper dubbed and American hero for his skills, yet his Middle Eastern counterpart (as equally skilled) is the evil bad guy. Modest “hero” never accepts the term, but this film doesn’t care and hails his as one anyway. Also: way too much flag waving.

2 – We Are Your Friends: Interesting idea: the life of a DJ and the skill involved in the job. However, this is boringly routine and predictable. Zac Efron’s charm cannot carry this dull film.

3 – The Gallows: Another found footage film with zero imagination or even motivation for its characters to keep filming. Low on character count, but they are all insufferable, annoying jerks that you want to see snatched up by the spooks in the gallows.

4 – Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension: This series goes from ludicrous to even more ludicrous. More ghosties spook another average family in a suburban mansion. The 3D is strictly for gimmick purposes, endless exposition is delivered gratingly and in the most ham-fisted, unnatural way. A chore to watch.

5 – 50 Shades of Grey: Anti-feminist, largely tame, insultingly bad would-be sizzling sexy film has characters that defy logic and basic decency. Based on the mega selling books, this maddeningly female unfriendly piece

6 – Run All Night: The kind of film that is so average in every department that you can barely remember anything about it months after seeing it. Liam Neeson continues his action hero schtick that he was great at in Taken, but needs to try something else.

7 – The Longest Ride: More of the same Nicholas Sparks weepiness. Don;t bring tissues, bring a book, or a deck of cards. Or just don’t bother.

8 – The Theory of Everything: A movie about a man with a brilliant mind and life that fails to go beneath the surface just makes for a deeply unsatisfying experience. You would get more insight from Stephen Hawking’s Wikipedia page than this film. Eddie Redmayne nails the physicality of the role, but is left zero substance.

9 – Seventh Son: An excellent cast (Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges and more) leave us wondering “What were they thinking?”by appearing in this hokey fantasy action film.

10 – Far From the Madding Crowd: 1800s female farmer rejects advancements from respectable, hard-working men, to fall for the guy who cuts her hair in a hilarious display of masculinity and grabs her crotch in a cringe-worthy scene. Literary classic given daytime soap opera treatment in this drawn-out, tiresome story that manages to turn a strong and interesting female character into an unrelatable mess.


Dishonourable mentions

StalkHer, Youth, The Wedding Ringer, Terminator Genisys, Macbeth, Entourage, Blinky Bill, The Intern, UnIndian, Aloha, By The Sea, Clouds of Sils Maria.

Best Films of 2015

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2015 by Reel Review Roundup

Having scaled back my film watching this year (no interstate festivals and only seeing a handful of films at local ones) I thought it was going to be tough to scrape together a decent list for my “best of” list.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the only trouble I had was having too many great films to choose from.

It was not until I looked back over the year and what I had watched that I realised 2015 was a damn solid year for films. Having skipped a lot of content from film festivals, I know there must be a wealth of incredible independent and unreleased films that probably deserve a spot on this list. I cannot wait to play catch up in the new year to discover such gems.

However, I am extremely happy with this, albeit largely mainstream, list.


The Lobster

1 – The Lobster: Colin Farrell delivers an overdue excellent performance in this quirky satire about the pros and cons of being single versus being in a relationship. The slow pace build is worth it with so many amazingly hilarious moments to reward.

2 – Holding The Man: Honest, raw, heart wrenching and moving story that charts the relationship between two men from high school through to the bitter end. The occasional plot clichés are off-set by the tremendous cast, particularly the two leads, who bring realism.

3 – Inside Out: Pixar outdoes itself with this fun, imaginative and emotional story that takes place inside the mind of a little girl as she struggles with some family related stresses. Story may go over heads of toddlers as it deals with emotions, memory, loss and depression, but the beauty is it lends itself to multiple viewings.

4 – Mad Max: Fury Road: Pure cinematic thrill-ride with a kick-ass lead female character. Deliriously exciting and inspiring awe that has not been done at the cinema for quite some time. A feminist piece dressed as a macho rev-head action film.

5 – Mommy: Young filmmaker Xavier Dolan continued his winning streak with this amazing film about the relationship between a troubled young man and his single mother told with confidence and conviction. Different aspect ratios are cleverly used to help tell the story.

6 – The Revenant: Revenge intertwined with racism, greed and survival. Leonardo DiCaprio gets put through the ringer as a man seeking revenge in harsh climactic conditions for the murder of his half native American son in the 1820s. Spellbinding and brutally thrilling.

7 – Carol: Gorgeously photographed and impeccably performed, this love story about two women from different generations and backgrounds embraces the idea that love knows no boundaries. They are two women and yet this beautiful film refuses to use labels.

8 – Girlhood: A poor Parisian girl who struggles academically falls in with a group of “cool kids.” Sounds like a standard teen film about fitting in, but made with heart and insight and features one of the best scenes of the year.

9 – Foxcatcher: Three powerhouse performances drive this fascinating, dramatic and exceptionally creepy story of an Olympic wrestler and his unusual relationship with his coach.

10 – Force Majeure: Hilarious and spot-on satire about the roles we play in relationships and what is or is not expected of us.

Honourable mentions

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Magic Mike XXL, Joy, Selma, It Follows, The Martian, The Walk, Brooklyn, The Gift, She’s Funny That Way, Irrational Man, The Visit, Sicario, Man Up, Cooties, The Big Short, The Hunting Ground.


Film Review – Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

Posted in Uncategorized on October 23, 2015 by Reel Review Roundup

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (M)

Directed by: Gregory Plotkin

Starring: Chris J. Murray, Brit ShawIve George

One star

Review by: Julian Wright

The beauty of the Paranormal Activity original lay in its simplicity. Two people, one house, one camera and a few things that go bump in the night. Those bumps turn out to be the doing of a particularly nasty demon. After a run of overly gory horror films, the original’s less-is-more-approach was a nice change of pace and neat spin on the found footage set-up, which was quickly becoming tiresome.

Alas, the box office hit spawned sequels, a prequel a spin-off and now, a 3D gimmick. So late to the party with the 3D approach (people have been leaving this party for years, there are only a few annoying guests left that just wont leave), this franchise is starting to look desperate. This is also reflected in just how convoluted this particular entry gets.

A young couple Ryan (Chris J. Murray) and Emily (Brit Shaw) notice a few strange goings on all of a sudden in their enormous house. Once again, the mansions that the characters in this franchise live in is never explained. The rumblings, and their daughter Leila (Ivy George) acting a little strange, coincide with the discovery of a souped up old video recorder in the house.

The camera, which uses VHS (nostalgia!) picks up an apparition named Toby, the same Toby who Leila has been making friends with. But what no one can see with the naked eye is that Toby is up to no good. There is also some old family home videos that reference the past films and a bizarre inter-dimensional slash time travel thing going on.

Save for a handful of reasonably effective jump scares (the most important thing that these films, no matter the quality, seem to get right), this entry suffers from kitchen sink syndrome. Too much is thrown in and it is all delivered with such gratingly expositional dialogue that is recited in the most ham-fisted, unnatural way, that this quickly becomes a chore to endure. It also repeats several things from the others films (little girl talking to a ghost, annoying man of the house with a camera permanently attached to his hand etc).

Director Gregory Plotkin is less interested in suspense, forgoing the usual long, silent takes this franchise is known for. Characters wander in the dark (why does no-one ever turn on a light?!) only briefly before the scare is delivered. The 3D is only apparent when the creepy old video camera is in use, so even that gimmick is more of a rip-off than usual.

If this franchise continues to limp forward with more entries (surprise, the ending suggests more is to come), at least from this point it can only get better. Maybe.

Best Films of 2014

Posted in Uncategorized on February 16, 2015 by Reel Review Roundup

Putting the finishing touches on this list, it struck me – there were some terrific, female-lead films in 2014. The fact that this observation has not dawned on me while compiling other best of year lists is troubling. I would like to go back and review my choices – hopefully I do find some great films with strong female leads. But in general, 2014 offered a number of excellent films, it was difficult to narrow it down. I feel there are some honourable mentions that definitely deserve a higher placing alongside those in the Top 10 – perhaps I should re-evaluate my list rules at the end of this year to expand to a Top 20. Please read, debate and challenge me on my choices.


Honourable mentions: The Double, What We Do In The Shadows, Predestination, Nymphomaniac Volumes I and II, Birdman, The Babadook, The Lunchbox, 52 Tuesdays, Whiplash, The Raid 2, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Nebraska, The Man Whose Mind Exploded, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Appropriate Behavior, Two Mothers.

10. Blue Is The Warmest Color – Sprawling love story that at three hours long covers every aspect of a complicated and complex relationship between two women.

9. Two Days, One Night – Marion Cotillard stuns and dazzles as a woman battling depression and fighting for her job back over an emotional roller-coaster of a weekend.

8. Maps To The Stars – David Cronenberg is back on point (in my opinion) with this scathing take on Hollywood with Julianne Moore in top form as the bratty aging actor who strives to keep her star shining.

7. Short Term 12 – Almost documentary-like in its realism and naturalism, Short Term 12 features an amazing cast that handles the heartbreaking moments with ease.

6. Gone Girl – Ben Affleck and Rosumund Pike deliver career-best performances in this slick mystery-thriller with awesome twists that examines the different ways we behave for different people and in different scenarios.

5. Boyhood – While what was technically achieved (filmed throughout 12 years) is impressive, it is the performances (particularly Patricia Arquette) that amaze. A rare occasion in which a three-hour film did not feel like enough.

4. Nightcrawler – Hilarious black comedy/satire/ thriller on the hazy ethics of citizen journalism with Jake Gyllenhaal shining as the wide-eyed, enthusiastic, manipulative entrepreneur who will do anything for the best film angle.

3. Charlie’s Country – Important Australian film on the battles our Indigenous still have today to nurture their culture in a white world. David Gulpilil is heartbreaking as the elder who has spent his life trying hang on to his identity.

2. Her – Unusually plotted but emotionally charged look at how we connect with our technology and others that covers a range of themes that allows for repeated viewings.

1. Under The Skin – Mysterious, chilling, other-worldly, disturbing, hypnotic. The kind of film that is unusual and thinly plotted but mountains of ideas going on under the surface. Puzzling and alien to some, intriguing to others, this reviewer was utterly floored.

Worst Films of 2014

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2015 by Reel Review Roundup

Perhaps this list should be called Biggest Disappointments, for many of them mentioned, particularly in the Dishonourable Mentions section, were not so much terrible as much as they had potential but did not live up to it. However, a select few were so badly made or on a level that I could not get on that I even committed the controversial and cardinal film reviewer sin of walking out of the cinema before the film ended. It is something that I have never done before and am not proud to admit that I did, but what’s done is done. Please read, debate and challenge me on my choices.


Dishonourable mentions: Dracula Untold, 300: Rise of an Empire, Grace of Monaco, The Best of Me, Into the Storm, The Judge, The Giver, Let’s Be Cops, Deliver Us From Evil, Chef, Labor Day, Get On Up, Annabelle,

10. Transcendence – A mish-mash of sciencey ideas played out in hilarious and logic defying fashion. Talented Rebecca Hall is the rare spark in a painfully silly story.

9. Winter’s Tale – Was it intentional or a complete misfire? Many are still debating. Regardless, this cuckoo film has some of the most deliriously bad dialogue that even if the crazy tone of the film was intended, this is still a tough slog. One frequently wonders what the stellar cast were thinking when they signed on.

8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 – Possibly the dullest build-up to a climax. There are glimmers of strong, interesting and intriguing ideas, but they are few and far between as the content of one book is stretched across two films.

7. Serena – how the mighty have fallen. Everyone’s BFF Jennifer Lawrence’s winning streak came to a screeching halt this year with this laughable drama, which sat on the shelf for a couple of years, was finally unleashed. Lawrence is left shooting crazy expressions for two hours that give Claire Danes’ in Homeland a run for their money.

6. Vampire Academy – The YA book adaptation craze took another turn for the worse after last year’s City of Bones, with this wretched big-screen version virtually incoherent. Most disappointing is that with the proven talent (Mean Girls and Heathers film makers) behind the scenes, this should have been a success.

5. The Trip To Italy –  Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel Italy, eat and indulge in ongoing famous people impersonation sparring. Others connected with this admittedly inoffensive film, however it felt repetitive, self-indulgent and hollow. Not even the mouth-watering dishes and stunning scenery could save it.

4. If I Stay – Chloe Grace Moretz attempts leading role teen angst amid bad dialogue, unsubtle imagery and manipulative weepy film making clichés. At one point mother and daughter bond over dish washing. At another, Chloe walks into a shed full of boats and asks where she is. Real face-palm stuff.

3. The Water Diviner – Russell Crowe’s directorial debut tells an amazing story in an important era in Australian history, but this mawkish, cliché, groan-inducing inspirational tale is tough going. The kind of unimaginative direction that actually has a man and his love interest playfully splash water at each other in slow motion.

2. Need For Speed – If the makers of Need For Speed set out to out-dumb the Fast and Furious series, they succeeded admirably, but they also threw in some misogyny and bad-taste (attempted) humour. Without a smidge of logic (some may scoff at the idea in this kind of film), and dragged out over more than two painful hours, there has never been a greater need to speed through a film than this one.

1. Blended – Perhaps this has no right to be on any list seeing as I walked out of the cinema at the point Adam Sandler was shown urinating. However, I ultimately decided that if it was nowhere near bearable enough to finish, then it should top this list. We had already endured Drew Barrymore spitting her food all over herself, tired slapstick and the most unbelievable set up for a story – and that is just the first five minutes.

Film Review – Dracula Untold

Posted in Uncategorized on October 2, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

Dracula Untold (MA)

Directed by: Gary Shore

Starring: Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon

Two and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright


After the tweenification of the vampire lore via the popular and toothless Twilight series, Dracula Untold aims to get back to the blood sucking basics. It exchanges the glitter for gore and Bella for bats to explain how Dracula came to be the undying character that novelist Bram Stoker created all those years ago. But despite the attempts to bring gravitas to the transformation from man to monster, Dracula Untold forgets one key point: make it interesting and compelling.

When Prince Vlad Tepes’ (Luke Evans) kingdom and family is threatened by his power-hungry rival Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), he turns to a cave-dwelling creature (Charles Dance) to help him stand up to his enemy and save his people. Vlad is given the strength of 100 men for three days, the only catch is that he will thirst for human blood and if he succumbs, he will be sunlight and silver sensitive for eternity.

His self-sacrifice is something he and his devoted wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) must deal with and come to terms with, but when the village people find out about his new status, they are not so appreciative. Vlad finds his number of enemies rising exponentially, but his biggest one yet could be this new curse.

All the ingredients for a good film seem to be here: solid script with appropriately high stakes that avoids lame one-liners, attention and time given to character development and a director that treats proceedings like a serious, gothic horror film. However, none of this seems to pay off with a disastrously dull opening 20 minutes, murky special effects cloaked in even murkier cinematography and a general lack of flair in telling the story.

The occasional action sequences, that serve to break up the drama, are almost incoherent with choppy editing, almost non-existent lighting and a flurry of a colony of bats that conceals the action rather than elevates it. After this bungled attempt at bringing the spooky drama back to vampires, some may be begging for a Twilight return.