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.


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that Rambo: Last Blood takes so much care with character, only to threaten to undo it all with its questionable and outdated politics and attitudes.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.


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.


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.


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.