Film Review – The Batman

Posted in Uncategorized on March 8, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

The Batman (M)

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The perfect antidote to Marvel’s bright, shiny, one-liner filled franchise, Christopher Nolan took DC’s Batman into gloomier territory with his Dark Knight trilogy, opting for pathos over punchlines.

Just when you thought Batman couldn’t get more serious, Matt Reeves has taken it a step further and given it a twist.

It has been two years since reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) began donning the batsuit to haunt Gotham City’s unsavory sort from the shadows while simultaneously working with Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright).

Batman is drawn into the investigation of the Mayor’s murder, committed by the Riddler (Paul Dano), when a riddle addressed to him is left at the crime scene.

Following the clues leads Batman to a nightclub owned by Oswald Cobblepot, AKA The Penguin (Colin Farrell) and one of his employees Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), who also enjoys dressing up as an animal to seek vengeance and justice.

The characters are familiar and have been explored in various other iterations of the franchise, but director Matt Reeves chooses a new tack – this is Batman as a deliberately slower paced, moody, detective/film noir as we follow the clues in series of murders that uncover Gotham’s deep seeded corruption.

With its grimy production design, gloomy atmosphere and series of grisly murders, this is the closest we are likely to ever get to a David Fincher Batman film.

And Reeves allows Pattinson to lay the brooding on thick, with the goth-boy hair cut, minimal dialogue and extensive eye acting. And Pattinson nails it.

He is also surrounded by a delectable cast with the slinky but tough Kravitz, terrifying Dano and Farrrell who brings the much needed camp value – as the mobster, he actually pronounces murder as “moider”.

Clocking in at almost three hours, The Batman is incredibly ballsy as it sits and soaks in its own atmosphere, allowing the story to unfold at a controlled pace and offering only short bursts of action.

It is refreshing to finally see such a strong vision and film making conviction in a blockbuster movie.

Film Review – Flee

Posted in Uncategorized on March 8, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Flee (M)

Directed by: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Starring: Anonymous, Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The harrowing experiences of a refugee from Afghanistan who remains anonymous is brought beautifully to life using animation and some archival footage.

A homosexual male academic in his mid-30s living in Denmark has a dark and long kept secret that he has been living with since he was a teenager.

His experience and holding it a secret has impacted his relationships throughout his life and now that he has met the man he wants to marry, settle down and buy a house with, it threatens to come between them – how can he spend his life with someone who doesn’t truly know him?

He tells his story to long time friend and documentation Jonas Poher Rasmussen, who protects his subject’s identity – his name is changed and physical appearance obscured by the use of animation.

Amin (named so for the purpose of the documentary) and his family escaped Afghanistan when he was a child. Already dealing with his burgeoning sexuality, something that could have had him killed in his home country, Amin and his family endured years of living illegally in other countries with almost no money, corrupt authorities and hellish conditions in attempts to make a new, freer life.

Usually not being able to know a subject’s real name or even see their face can prove to be a real hurdle in allowing an audience to connect to their story, but Poher Rasmussen’s inventive storytelling techniques get around this so effortlessly. This documentary seems so simple on the surface and yet becomes one of the most complex ever made.

Amin’s story is so vivid and harrowing, to the point of being almost unbearable at times, but is such an important one that needs to be told. This is definitely only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the refugee experience.

Flee is a remarkable achievement in storytelling that needs to be seen by everyone.

Flee is screening as part of Perth Festival Lotterywest Films.

Film Review – Uncharted

Posted in Uncategorized on February 23, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Uncharted (M)

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The hugely popular video game is adapted with some bright banter between its hunky cross generational lead stars and a real vibe of deja vu.

Adventurous and street-smart Nathan drake (Tom Holland) is recruited by treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) to recover a fortune lost 500 years ago – a fortune that Nathan and his brother once dreamed about finding.

But the mission proves difficult with various hurdles, clues and riddles to solve, shady characters who may or not be trust worthy after all and some competition from other greedy parties.

The most astonishing thing about Uncharted, despite the large scale action scenes, is how unable to it to find its own voice or identity. Everything about this adaptation screams The Goonies, Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider.

There is plenty of mileage milked out of the IP, Holland’s charm and the cheeky banter he shares with Wahlberg, which do a lot of heavy lifting when the script itself fails to do any of its own.

As a blockbuster, it delivers on all the spectacle that money can buy. To its credit, where else can you see two decrepit full scale pirate ships flying around in an extended mid-air battle?

Plenty of adventure, but lacking in originality, Uncharted is sure to keep undemanding audiences happy for a while.

Film Review – Marry Me

Posted in Uncategorized on February 23, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Marry Me (M)

Directed by: Kat Coiro

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Maluma

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Movie and music star Jennifer Lopez (or J.Lo) plays a fairly close version of herself as an unlucky in love superstar who is always looking for “the one” while under an enormous spotlight.

Global megastar singers Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) and Bastian (Maluma) are about to get married, but in true superstar fashion, plan to exchange vows at a sold out concert, streamed to 20 million people while promoting their new hit single together “Marry Me”. Who said romance was dead?

As Kat takes the stage in her wedding dress, she discovers footage of Bastian kissing another woman – but instead of letting her fans down by cancelling the proceedings she chooses nerdy school teacher Charlie (Owen Wilson) out of the crowd to join her in the ceremony.

The two plan to play out the PR stunt for a couple of weeks, but eventually begin to enjoy each others company more and more.

Jennifer Lopez attempts to ground this over the top, pure fairy floss fantasy by playing a character that is basically a facsimile of herself – a pop star with several marriages under belt, giving it another go under the public eye, facing all the judgement that comes with it.

In fact the timing of the release of this film all ties in quite nicely with her recent reunion with Ben Affleck, their former relationship having already played out in the tabloids in the early 2000s.

If only Marry Me was interested into exploring the fine line between relationships and PR when it comes to megastars. While openly acknowledging it, the film is adverse to doing anything with it other than play it purely for cute feels and entertainment value without any real sense of wit.

On an entertainment level, it does deliver. The ingredients are there :attractive lead, cast chemistry, catchy soundtrack thanks to Lopez and enough laughs to make the almost two hour runtime bearable.

Film Review – Moonfall

Posted in Uncategorized on February 6, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Moonfall (M)

Directed by: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Halle Berry, John Bradley

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The master of disaster, Roland Emmerich (Independence Day,The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, etc) returns to his wheelhouse after a couple of disastrous career side steps (Stonewall, Midway).

Time is quickly running out for everyone on the planet when the Moon is suddenly and mysteriously knocked from its orbit and begins hurtling towards Earth.

Conspiracy theorist KC Houseman (John Bradley) makes the discovery and takes it to disgraced former astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and his former colleague Jocinder Fowler (Halle Berry) in the hopes of getting NASA’s attention.

It is no surprise that no one believes them, and so the trio must save the world (and their families) on their own.

Emmerich has covered alien invasions, natural disasters, mutant lizards and the end of the world on multiple occasions, delighting in desecrating every imaginable landmark and monument in his lengthy filmography, that it is almost impressive that he still has some ideas up his sleeve.

Moonfall is as equally ludicrous as his past efforts, and yet this time around there is something different, a little off. Emmerich takes it all a little too seriously.

The concept and scenarios are absurd, but the delivery is straight faced. No one is in on the joke; in fact, they are trying so hard to convince us there is not even a joke to be had.

Where’s the fun in that?

It isn’t until about the final third of this two hour film that things start to become deliriously and deliciously unhinged – characters using the Moon’s gravitational pull to lift debris off trapped heroes etc. This is the kind of so-dumb-it’s-good content we signed up for.

It is disappointing that Wilson and Berry don;t get a chance to have some fun. Shouldn’t this be an opportunity for acclaimed actors to finally let loose with some silly scenarios and hilarious dialogue?

These are, after all, basically comedies with action sequences and a huge special effects budget.

If you can stick it out through all the earnest set-up of a bunch of characters that aren’t even particularly interesting or compelling, there is some reward in the effects department with the Moon ripping up the surface of the Earth as it skims by, and the positively goofy explanation behind the phenomenon.

Film Review – Belfast

Posted in Uncategorized on February 6, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Belfast (M)

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Jude Hill, Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Tumultuous times in Belfast, Ireland in the late 1960s are observed through the eyes of a young boy in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast.

The quiet, family-friendly, tight knit working class Catholic community in Belfast is turned upside down by rioting Protestants in 1969.

Nine-year-old Buddy (Jude Hall) navigates the tensions out on the streets and also in his own home as his homemaker Ma (Caitriona Balfe) and breadwinner Pa (Jamie Dornan) fret and argue with each other over their current situation (he works in England, disappearing for weeks at a time and a gambling addiction putting added strain on their money woes).

This coming of age story that plays out against a historical backdrop strikes a lovely balance of humour and horror, having its audience laughing out loud at the colourful characters then delivering a gut punch as their world crumbles around them.

The cast is impeccable, particularly our eyes in this story, young Hill, who is utterly delightful, with pros Balfe, Dornan, Judy Dench and Ciaran Hinds providing memorable back-up as his loving and supportive, but troubled family.

Expect tears of sadness and joy in equal measure as we spend some quality time with a lovely family who encounter ups and downs during tricky times.

Film Review – Scream (2022)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 14, 2022 by Reel Review Roundup

Scream (MA)

Directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Starring: Melissa Barrera, Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

When horror master Wes Craven died in 2015 after 2011’s Scream 4, all hopes of another film in the popular, genre defining series went with him.

The series was one of very few examples of all key cast and crew participating in every entry, and each being of a high quality (okay, part 3 is debateable).

To continue without him seemed unimaginable.

But with the rights no longer owned by the studio run by those micromanaging executive producers (we won’t name them here), the opportunity has arisen for the torch to be passed to a team of fresh blood.

A risky move yes, but as the final product Scream (2022) has finally proven, one worth taking.

When someone in a Ghostface mask begins attacking the residents of Woodsboro 25 years after the original slayings, Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) is drawn back to her hometown, a place she bolted from five years ago to escape her troubled past.

This may be uncharted territory for her and the new crew of potential victims/killers her age, but there is a trio of experts who may be able to help: Dewey (David Arquette), Gale (Courteney Cox) and Sidney (Neve Campbell), who have all since moved on with their lives after their encounter with the last knife-happy fiends.

Making the fifth in a series fresh and relevant would have been a challenge even for Craven, had he lived to have the chance to make it.

Fortunately for this series, it has become necessary to take extended breaks between visits so that the genre and society has had a chance to evolve and for fresh observations to be made.

Scriptwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Bisick have clearly kept their finger on the pulse of the latest trends and they have something to say about it and their claws are sharp.

To their credit, Vanderbilt and Bisick, along with directing team Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, have respectfully recreated and honoured the series, keeping the tone and flavour pitch perfect with just the right amount of nostalgia.

And they do it so astonishingly effortlessly, too. It feels like these guys have been on board since day dot of the franchise and that it is as much in their bones as it was Craven’s.

They work within the confines of the series’ structure beautifully, giving us a splendid mix of the familiar with the inventive, making their own mark with some tweaks on what is expected of the formula.

Could they have taken a bigger risk and smashed the mould? Sure, but do they deliver within the Scream blueprint? You bet!

Scream 2022 is not without its minor quibbles – the new batch of blood seem particularly less defined than previous instalments, a side effect from fleshing out the new lead character. Sam is given the appropriate modern amount of psychological trauma to wade through and grapple with as the body count rises.

There is plenty of inner turmoil and tears here.

But most importantly, the nail biting suspense and savage, eye-covering kills have made a triumphant return. Not since poor Drew Barrymore was gutted and strung up on a tree swing have we been impacted by such a shocking death.

This has the carnage candy that part 2 promised but failed to deliver on.

Just like the first one, Scream 5 is a wicked roller-coaster ride of thrills and giggles – with the added bonus of some tear jerking moments. Now that’s new for the Scream series!

Film Review – The Matrix Resurrections

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

The Matrix Resurrections (MA)

Directed by: Lana Wachowski

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Take a deep breathe and dive in because in the grand tradition of The Matrix movies, be prepared to be left both baffled and in awe.

While struggling with his mental health, video game designer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is forced to revisit the revolutionary hit game trilogy The Matrix he created several years ago.

But his grasp on reality is beginning to slip.

There is already so much genius at play in the establishing scenes of Resurrections, much along the lines of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare – the meta, self-referential set-up, the commentary on brand revival and market research based decision making over creativity. In doing so, co-creator Lana Wachowski takes explicit swipes at Warner Bros, the studio behind this brand resurrection, who were purportedly going to go ahead with a fourth film without the Wachowskis’ input.

Lana is boldly unwilling to pander to the fans with a boring rehash for the sake of some cash and a hit of nostalgia, instead taking this opportunity to take control over her creation and use it to explore some life altering events that have happened to her since the last Matrix film was made.

Be warned, Resurrections gets dense. The more the characters talk, the more ideas are raised and explored, and at times it can be tricky to juggle them all at the same time. This is the only thing that Resurrections is consistent with in regards to the rest of the franchise.

While the action sequences are satisfying, there is nothing that could be considered iconic, like the original two films (Trinity’s introduction, the freeway chase sequences). In fact, this seems to be the part that Lana is the least bit interested in. Her focus here is to give you time and space to ponder her thesis and amp up the sincerity of the love story.

As per the previous films, the scenes set in Zion are the least invigorating, where the chit chat slows the pace down. But it isn’t even just a thirst for action that makes these sequences drag, it is a space in which possibilities are limited. Exploring the Matrix is such a thrilling experience because almost anything can happen there.

The Matrix Resurrections will not be the long awaited rehash sequel that fans have been clambering for – but what we have been given is the gift of one of the most inventive, thought provoking and personal big budget blockbuster films in existence.

Film Review – Benedetta

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Benedetta (MA)

Directed by: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling, Daphne Patakia

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The story of a nun’s sexual awakening in the hands of provocateur Paul Verhoeven? Buckle in because you just know that you are going to witness things that others have not had the audacity to show on film before.

In Italy during the 17th century, Benedetta (Virginie Efira) dedicates her life to the Catholic religion and becomes a practicing nun in a small convent in Tuscany.

She has always felt an affinity with the Virgin Mary, even from a very young age, and as an adult, has intense dreams about her “husband” Jesus (Jonathan Couzinie) – it is as if religion is in her veins.

But when Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) arrives at the convent to escape her abusive husband, the two embark on an intensely sexual relationship and indulge in some eye-opening sex-play in secret.

Meanwhile Benedetta begins to show signs of Stigmata, which the Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling) questions.

Highlighting the hypocrisy, corruption and restrictions that are rampant in religion, Verhoeven paints some broad strokes as he sexes up the screen once again. This features Verhoeven’s signature bold and in your face theatrics, letting the camera capture what other, more prudish directors, would shy or cut away from – but this also has genuine humour sprinkled in among the lurid and exploitative elements.

What happens to a small, wooden Virgin Mary statue will definitely raise eyebrows.

And as per usual, Verhoeven has collated a fine cast who are up for the task of delivering fine performances to ground the wildly outrageous material, especially when it threatens to go into full Showgirls trash territory.

Perhaps Verhoeven has some more pointed commentary he is trying to make – it is possible I was too caught up in the taboo imagery he is showing us (it’s hard not too!) to decipher, but the fact that I have not been able to shake this film in the several weeks since seeing it is a testimony to his film making skills.

Sure he likes to shock and provoke, but to still be able to after so many decades is impressive.

Benedetta screens as part of Perth Festival Lotterywest Films, which runs until April 3, 2022.

Film Review – Spider-Man: No Way Home

Posted in Uncategorized on December 19, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Spider-Man: No Way Home (M)

Directed by: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Fan service packs an emotional punch in this epic finale to the Tom Holland-led Spider-Man trilogy.

Now that Spider-Man’s true identity has been revealed (as per Spider-Man: Far From Home’s cliffhanger), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) finds that his life, and the lives of those he loves, is impacted even further.

The entire world is now watching the awkward teenager as he tries to live a normal high school life, he and his family are interrogated by the Department of Damage Control and his friend’s MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) applications to colleges are immediately rejected.

Peter turns to Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help, but a spell to make people forget that he is Spider-Man is corrupted, which brings in villains from alternate universes.

Bringing in characters from past iterations of the big screen Spider-Man stories appears to be blatant fan service at first – let’s face it, everyone loves a good easter egg and a call-back these day – but writers Chris McKenna and Eric Sommers and director Jon Watts take care to make sure they are woven into the story to be an intricate part of it.

This isn’t nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia and the chance to please a bunch of fanboys with a quick cameo or six – they begin to impact Peter’s emotional state, help him discover things about himself and challenge others. They also, in turn, get their own moments to develop and grow – and interact with each other once again or for the first time, with great emotional resonance.

Without giving too much away, some of these moments are cinematic highs that even the most casual superhero viewer can appreciate.

No Way Home evokes memories of when The Avengers finally brought all the Marvel superheros, established in their own individual films, together and the satisfaction that they all had equal screen time, had opportunity to contribute to the story and were allowed their moments to establish pathos among the word-saving.

It is a sensationally satisfying ride of action, humour and most importantly emotion that is sure to make even the most fatigued cinema-goer fist pump the air and shed the occasional tear.