Saturday, 16 December 2017

Victoria and Abdul: DVD Review

Victoria and Abdul: DVD Review

Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Olivia Williams, Adeel Akhtar, Tim Piggott-Smith
Director: Stephen Frears

Victoria and Abdul: Film Review
You've seen Victoria and Abdul before.

Not just in the fact that it's the usual, unchallenging Brit BBC Films crowd-pleasing fare put out to soothe the masses, but also because it's 20 years since Mrs Brown was released.

In that film, Billy Connolly shared an unconventional friendship with Judi Dench's Queen Victoria after the death of her husband.

This time, 2 decades on, substitute Brown for an unassuming, twinkle-in-his-eye Indian servant called Abdul, who breaks the rules when looking the Queen in her eyes during his act of state-sponsored supplication.

Enamoured with the daring nature of his action and what she sees as a kindred defiance to being trapped in societal expectations, Victoria makes Abdul a confidant. That's much to the chagrin of the household and the generally blustered (and slightly racist) echelons of government as embodied by Michael Gambon's prime minister and Eddie Izzard's haughty and belligerent prince Bertie.
Victoria and Abdul: Film Review

But defying convention, Victoria grows closer to Abdul as the rift threatens to tear apart the Royal Household.

It's not that Victoria and Abdul is a clanger by any means.

It's simply that it's all so familiar and so incredibly formulaic in its desire to not challenge audiences that it becomes increasingly bland in its execution as it heads into its tear-jerking final section.

While Fazal's initial boundless enthusiasm and naïveté gives Abdul a feeling of once-over-lightly and makes the household members united in their anger feel more caricature than character, Dench's dive deeper below the surface for Victoria marks her turn out from the oh-so-familiar fare of the film.

Whether it's speeding through a state meal to get away from insufferable strangulations of reigning or softly revealing her anguish that others die while she just goes on, Dench's heart and subtleties of performance bring life where elsewhere there is nothing but mawkish predictability and borderline unoriginality.

There's solid support in the wings though.

Notably from the much underrated and slightly cliched use of the brilliant Akhtar (Utopia) whose comic timing and well-worn use of a weary eyebrow is deftly exercised, but who becomes sadly more sidelined as the film goes on.

Victoria and Abdul: Film Review

Equally Izzard gives good exasperated as Bertie, the man who would be king were it not for the stubbornness of his mother.

Victoria and Abdul is one for the twin-set older generation, who pander to the whims of the easier film-going fare. 

It's a prestige picture, make no mistake, but its target audience is looking to be placated rather than challenged. A celebration of a Britain at the height of its Indian empire (and a post-Brexit nod to an England of more certain times) Victoria and Abdul is nothing more than soul-soothing sap, a kind of comfy slippers cinema that is the very definition of forgettable middle of the road, occasionally award-baiting feel-good fare. 

Friday, 15 December 2017

Dead Rising 4 :PS4 Review

Dead Rising 4 :PS4 Review

Published by Capcom
Platform: PS4

Guess who's back, back again?

Frank West is back - tell a friend.

This time, in the fourth outing for the franchise, he's putting the Slay into Sleigh Bells as Dead Rising 4 has a Christmas tinge all the way throughout.

(And a light jazzy series of interludes when you place it on pause... just in case you're anti the festive season).

The cocky, blase photographer from the first game is finally back where he belongs in this zombie fuelled blast of festive silliness that's as gory as it is goofy.

Once again, it's back to Willamette, Colorado the place of the undead (all touches of subtlety and mocking of small town life are once again to the fore) and the scene of Frank's previous encounters.

This time, he's tricked into heading back to the mall after one of his proteges alerts him to a conspiracy at the heart of Willamette - and it's once again back into the Mall for another bloody rampage.

With a mysterious outbreak fuelling the fire this time around, there's a little feeling of deja vu, but thankfully the developers have realised that Frank's fractious and frivolously unPC take on things is the way to breathe some life into the undead.

A lot of the game just feels fun - it's not an in-depth precis and expose or satire of small town life - and while there's a bit more to the just zombie outbreak story line, the bare bones of this hack and slash beat-em-up is in the way it embraces its gory MO and runs with it.

Smacking down a stack of zombies builds up a bloody combo for Frank to unleash on his prey - usually in the form of a gory cut-scene that's as tongue in cheek in its splattery execution as it is bloody. But there's also variety here - whichever weapon you choose to rack the combo up will ultimately dish out the death. Early on, Frank can be transformed into a whirling dervish of an executioner when the tank's full - so there's plenty of variety on show here.

Night vision and spectrum analyser vision have turned Frank's camera into more than just a machine of snapping shots - this pap's got powers now in a weird way that help dig deeper into the mystery of Willamette and give you a new way to play the game.

It's worth taking a hat off to Capcom and acknowledging they've found a way to keep this latest fresh, while simultaneously engaging with what made it so popular in the first place. Along with an EXO suit to power up Frank, Fresh zombies (newly reanimated undead who race at you and rip you apart) and Evo zombies (cunning killers), there's plenty to keep it weird.

The Xbox also coped with an extraordinary amount of the undead on screen for Frank to unleash his combo weapons on - one section alone saw around 200 plus of them hacked and smashed by Frank's blood lust - it's almost as if Sam Raimi's gone beserk in the gaming world and we're all benefiting from the final result.

At the end of the day, Dead Rising 4 deserves major kudos for its execution, for giving us Frank back after the disappearance in the 2 previous games and for really throwing some life back into the undead apocalypse. 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

My Year With Helen: DVD Review

My Year With Helen: DVD Review

Director: Gaylene Preston

There's plenty to get frustrated about with Gaylene Preston's latest My Year With Helen, in which the Kiwi doco-maker spends time within Clark's camp as she tried for the job of UN Secretary General in 2016.

However, it's primarily the boys-led system that will have you raging as the film plays out, not the way the film's constructed.

Tagging along with Ms Clark, Preston had the idea to follow and see what doing good (as was Clark's desire) could actually achieve. But what, of course, transpired is that Helen Clark became the eye of the hurricane in a bid to become the next UN Secretary General.

My Year With Helen: NZIFF Review

Hindsight is both a blessing and a curse to this documentary.

It's a curse in that we all know the depressingly failed outcome of Clark's campaign, but it's also a blessing because what Preston actually captures, rather than an intimate diary of her moods, dreams and desires is the fact the UN is in crisis. Having had 8 men run it since its inception, what Preston's doco does is show what exactly is wrong with the UN, and why the zeitgeist desire to get a woman to the top job galvanised so many, and ultimately, why the final result was so head-slappingly dumb and a thumbing to those campaigning for glass-ceiling change.

Preston's smart enough to use the camera to capture the trappings of the UN, and while there are a few candid moments when Clark is less guarded (though these come primarily when she is relaxing with her father in the Waihi Beach home, making meals for her dad - I defy anyone not to release a Helen's Chilli Con Carne after this-  or a fleeting glance of her using social media in the back of the car on her way to yet another press the flesh meeting), there's little salacious or shocking on show. Throughout the entire film, whether it's scouting on a plane to Botswana, or attending meetings with the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Clark is the diplomat you'd expect at the UN and the restrained politician so familiar to so many.

While Clark's campaign becomes the film's raison d'etre, and Preston's camera wisely captures the voices around her, rather than seeing Clark grandstanding, the United Nations becomes more of a focus of the documentary as it goes on.  There's a terrible nagging sense of it being desperately out of touch with the people it serves, whether it's a subtle side shot of a US politician texting while an impassioned plea is made for those stuck in Syria, it's here that Preston's masterful touches pull back the curtains on the horrific political machinations within.

If there's a criticism, it's that there's little debate and debrief into what went wrong after the final straw poll and the galling decision to install yet another white man in the top job; in the immediate aftermath, Preston captures the hubbub of others rather than using the exclusive in to get Clark's immediate reaction. So it is that once she shows, she's already in composed mode, the perfect politician.

But it's also in this moment, that Preston reveals her master stroke interview technique.

In just four words, a very laid-back intro of "What a thing, eh?" leading into the post-failed campaign interview, Preston says it all. It's at this moment the candid camera captures the pragmatic resilience Clark is famed for, her never off-guard manner personified, but threatening to crumble. It's fascinating to see, and depressing for its implications to so many.

However, in hanging on Helen for a little longer in this muted debrief, Preston draws us into her eyes, and the disappointment and dejectedness that lies within them. It's an utterly enthralling moment to behold and a technique that delivers an emotional and unexpected pay-off.

While My Year With Helen's focus is more on the UN bid (as would have been necessitated by events), and regardless of how you feel about Helen herself (the brief insights probably won't change any deep-seated beliefs) what actually emerges is a definitive rallying cry for change within; not just for feminists but for all those frustrated with political back and forths in the 21st century.

It's a sickeningly fascinating examination of the human condition, the politics of change and the lip service that goes in, but thanks to Gaylene Preston's light and deft touch, what it becomes is a dignified and restrained yet undeniable clarion call to arms.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Film Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Film Review

Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Benicio del Toro
Director: Rian Johnson

Hope is a great deal of things to a great deal of people.

But in the Star Wars universe, it is more than just a tangible concept - it exists to rekindle nostalgia or to quash the sad memories of what has previously passed.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Film Review

And so it is with Star Wars The Last Jedi that the hope rises again in Riam Johnson's thrilling and ostentatious entry into the space opera, now in its 40th year.

After the nostalgia bath of The Force Awakens, there was a lot of hope to deliver with The Last Jedi and it delivers on its promise.

With the First Order rising, the rebellion lies in tatters, forced on the run and bring pursued by Domnhall Gleeson's pale and obsequious General Hux.

With supreme leader Snoke determined to snuff any whiff of rebellion out, it's up to Rey to try and bring the last great Jedi Luke Skywalker back to the fight.

However Luke is determined to have no part in this, believing hope is dangerous and that the Jedi must burn and end.

However Oscar Isaac's rebellious Poe, complete with John Boyega's displaced Stormtrooper come up with a plan to save the fleet and give Rey the time she needs to re-recruit Luke back.

But a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, hope is running out...
Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Film Review

To say that Brick director Rian Johnson's Star Wars vision is audacious and as emotionally rich in parts as The Empire Strikes Back is no mean claim (even if the final third of the film feels forcefully tacked on).

By expanding out the universe and still concentrating on the main players, even when he's populating the film with a raft of races and new faces, there's still a focus on what matters.

But it's not all perfect in this overlong entrant into the franchise.

A reliance on humour at the start tonally upends what you'd expect from a film like this - and whilst it's initially welcome, there's a danger that the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok  humour is about to overwhelm in a film that does surprise in many ways.

Thankfully, the jokes are put on the back burner quite quickly before they grate, and the cuteness of the new arrivals Porgs is underplayed, confined to a Puss-in-Boots moment, and the film gets into what really matters.

Whereas The Force Awakens wallowed in nostalgia, and meta-nods to the originals, Rian Johnson's view of the universe takes elements of prior films and twists them into new iterations of his own.

There's an otherwordly casino, complete with a bastardised version of the infamous Cantina song; there are hints of Kylo Ren's journey taking elements of Darth Vader's arc, there's the infamous Hitler debate being given life, and most familiar of all, there's Rey being schooled in the ways of the Jedi by a reluctant Luke Skywalker.

It's an impressive world that's been created, even if there is a feeling sometimes that those within it don't exactly have enough to do.

Certainly the film's flabby B-plot suffers and there's a definitive nagging feeling that there's a mid-film slump in parts, but when it comes to spectacle, Johnson more than delivers and gives more for his newcomers to do than simply lip-service.

It still remains to be seen whether the likes of Rey, Poe and Finn will become as iconic as Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie - and the over-reliance on BB-8 as a deus ex machina is troubling, no matter how deliberately crowd-pleasing it is.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Film Review

But there's much to adore in this Star Wars.

Principally, it comes down to the old school troupe - in Mark Hamill's wearied and burdened turn as Luke; his backstory reveal hints at how hope has gradually started to dwindle in one who was so optimistic and eager. The tragedy's apparent.

And none more so than with Carrie Fisher's final full film turn as General Leia Organa.

Saddled with the real life tragedy of her untimely passing, many of the fallen Princess' scenes feel loaded with more pathos than you'd expect - but there's one scene towards the end that will leave you close to experiencing your own Force choke, thanks to its exquisite beauty.

Credit must also go to Adam Driver this time too - his petulant Ren has a bit more depth in The Last Jedi, feeling less like a child on the verge of a tantrum, but a torn, deflated and defeated soul struggling to cling on to what's left of what makes him him.

Ridley's solid, but still Rey is given to exposition rather than naturally feeling her way along the narrative.

Ultimately, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the film you're looking for.

An examination of the distractions of hate and rage, of bitterness and regret, of hope falling and rising, of the crushing feeling of both defeat and victory, of destiny and of small players making the big difference in the eternal fight - all reasons that the original saga was so loved.

It's infinitely better than its predecessor, and it sparkles with the Star Wars depth, magic and dust, despite some of its occasionally baffling flaws.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Wind River: DVD Review

Wind River: DVD Review

After astounding with scripts for Sicario and the much appreciated Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan slips into the directing chair for the helming of his own script for Wind River.

Centring on an Indian Reservation where the bloodied body of a raped woman is found 6 miles from anywhere and in the middle of the frozen wastes of Wyoming, Wind River follows the investigation into the crime.

With a rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elisabeth Olsen) called in from Vegas, and a US fish and wildlife marksman Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) deputised into help, the case finds the intricacies of Native American problems and guilt from the past all intertwined...

Wind River: NZIFF Review

Inspired by actual events, Wind River has some truly astonishing visuals in among the white-outs of the snow.
From Lambert's snowmobile making its way through the wastelands like an insignificant speck to blood on the ice, Sheridan's eye for scale and shocking is clearly evident.

It's essentially a tale of the evil men do and at times, Olsen's vulnerable agent is clearly out of her depth. Thrown into a case in an area she's ill-equipped for (from experience and even down to clothes), she barely gathers speed as the agent in charge, deferring to Lambert's prior skills. It's perhaps here that Sheridan's script revels more in the intricacies of the gender politics and the gender divide that's clearly at play elsewhere in the film, but it does occasionally make Olsen's character seem woefully clueless and ultimately, a bit wasted.

A little richer perhaps is Renner's Lambert, a mournful man whose mopiness masks a past tragedy. Renner makes great fist of the melancholia and feels restrained in parts as Lambert tries to fit into a community that is occasionally willing to accept him and is other times willing to cast him out. It's no surprise that he's camouflaged in the wilderness; Sheridan wastes no allusions in his script.

Underpinning all of this is a thinly veiled diatribe against treatment of Native Americans (one line asks "Why is it when you people try to help, it starts with insults") and a searing but not excoriating commentary on the social ills of such a reservation. And it's perhaps here why Sheridan's script feels lacking in power compared to the likes of Hell Or High Water that felt more precise in their barbs and more subtle in their treatment.

Wind River is unfortunately a minor disappointment from Sheridan.

Stretched out over 2 hours, the film's final reveal and treatment of its perpetrator is nothing more than the unveiling of a raving lunatic steeped in ugliness, and given the steps and themes taken through the snow-laden film to set out an icy veneer and a sliver of gender issues and native concerns, its desire to plump for the shocking yet stereotype feels like a cheap squandering of promise.

More a lilting ode than the searing story Sheridan's set out before, this icy Western does hit the spot, but Wind River never quite reaches the highs you'd expect, and despite solid work from its leads and Longmire's Graham Greene as the tribal sheriff, it's not as spectacular as you'd hope. 

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Win a double pass to see THE COMMUTER

Win a double pass to see THE COMMUTER

In this action-packed thriller, Liam Neeson plays an insurance salesman, Michael, on his daily commute home, which quickly becomes anything but routine.

After being contacted by a mysterious stranger, Michael is forced to uncover the identity of a hidden passenger on his train before the last stop.

As he works against the clock to solve the puzzle, he realizes a deadly plan is unfolding and is unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy.

One that carries life and death stakes for himself and his fellow passengers.

Starring Liam Neeson

THE COMMUTER is in cinemas January 18th

To win a copy, all you have to do is email your details to this address:! 

 Include your name and address and title your email COMMUTER!

 Competition closes January 19th

Win a double pass to Paddington 2 at the cinema

Win a double pass to Paddington 2 at the cinema

To celebrate the release of Paddington 2 at the cinema, you can win a double pass!

About Paddington 2

The much-anticipated sequel to the worldwide hit family film finds Paddington happily settled with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens, where he has become a popular member of the community, spreading joy and marmalade wherever he goes.

While searching for the perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy’s hundredth birthday, Paddington spots a unique pop-up book in Mr. Gruber’s antique shop, and embarks upon a series of odd jobs to buy it.

But when the book is stolen, it’s up to Paddington and the Browns to unmask the thief…

Paddington 2 releases in cinemas on December 21st.

To win a copy, all you have to do is email your details to this address:! 

 Include your name and address and title your email PADDINGTON!

 Competition closes December 19th