Monday, 23 January 2017

Pete's Dragon Blu Ray Review

Pete's Dragon: Blu Ray Review

Disney continues its predilection for bringing live action versions of its cartoon back catalogue with this New Zealand shot version of 1977 cute fable, Pete's Dragon.

This time around, Oakes Fegley stars as Pete, the little kid who's orphaned this time around when a car crash in the woods kills his parents. As he's about to be set on by wolves, a kindly dragon scares them off...

Moving forward six years, and the town of Millhaven's grown up with tales of a dragon in the woods. Chief among the tall-tale-teller is Robert Redford's Meacham who claims to have seen the beast, but his daughter Grace (a pleasant Bryce Dallas Howard) who works as a park ranger. refutes his claims.

But one day, when she finds the feral Pete, a chain of events is set in motion that will change all their lives forever.

Perfectly pleasant but ultimately pedestrian, Pete's Dragon is a curious update.

With its furry dragon now resembling more a hybrid between snaggle-toothed dog, Scooby Doo and dragon, it's clear the CGI is the star of the film with plenty of earlier proceedings devoted to showcasing the beast soaring through the skies and in one bravura CGI piece that reeks of simplicity of complex execution, splashing through water.

Refreshingly old school in its execution and teetering closely on potentially being a little bland for current cinema tastes, Pete's Dragon takes about 70 minutes of its 100 minutes for anything seriously substantial to happen, relying on magic, darker moments and old school feels to get it through.

It's genial to be sure, but its veiled story about a damaged child and subsequent reintegration into society is the only thread that keeps things on the straight and narrow - even though a sideline about deforestation bubbles away in the background, never to be preached or discussed as the film progresses.

3D for the film proves pointless with the only moments that it works best being when the dragon disappears from sight on screen as its cloaking device kicks in - but otherwise, the 3D muddies and darkens proceedings more than it needs, denying the movie the lighter edges it so clearly embraces.
As the scrambling feral Pete, there's a distinctly Mowgli vibe about Oakes Fegley's scraggy kid and the sweetness of those around him makes proceedings saccharine enough but never boiling over into grating territory.

And while Redford and Dallas Howard are perfectly affable, Karl Urban's turn as a troublemaker feels a little stunted and comes up wanting in the final wash. It's an unfortunate touch given the whole family friendly proceedings need a degree of villainy to give it an edge.

Ultimately, Pete's Dragon is winningly old school with its simplicity of execution, but it takes a little too long for anything significant to happen - and whether impatient audiences will embrace that lax pace remains to be seen. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Inferno: Blu Ray Review

Inferno: Blu Ray Review

The fourth Robert Langdon book heads to the screen courtesy of Dan Brown's paranoiaand Ron Howard's direction.

With Hanks once again reprising his role for a third time as Professor Langdon, it's a tale of amnesia, over-population concerns and a good old fashioned chase movie.

As the film starts, Langdon wakes in a hospital bed where a doctor Sienna (Felicity Jones) tells him he's been shot and has a head wound caused by a bullet grazing him.

Unable to work out what's going on, Langdon, along with Sienna (who turns out to be a fan of his) is on the run amid concerns a global virus is about to be unleashed thanks to a genius called Zobrist (Ben Foster).

With time against them, and a series of chasers closing in, can Langdon solve the puzzle and save the day?

If ever a film was so jammed with conspiratorial edges and paranoia, as well as po-faced portentous dialogue such as "Humanity is inhuman" and "The sixth extinction will be our own", Inferno is that film.

With allusions to Dante's Divine Comedy and inferno, black death imagery, hellish sights given life on the streets via Langdon's visions, flashes of kidnapping, the film's so chock full of stuff happening that it merely disguises the fact there's little going on beneath the surface. 

It starts at breakneck speed under Howard's guidance and doesn't really let up or give you the chance to breathe and allow for the contrivances to be accepted as it hurtles through Europe and Italian streets and landmarks.

Hanks is solid as Langdon and Jones is intelligent as his acolyte aide (it's like Doctor Who given a new assistant each time these films come out as Langdon receives a new pretty exposition partner), but there's never really much of a vibe between the pair of them to propel the film through.

Far more successful is Hanks' pairing with Westworld's Babse Knudsen towards the end of the film. As the film slows and the pace drops, the scenes between the two of them develop a lilting humanity and bittersweet edge, lifting proceedings from what is a fairly ludicrous chase movie throughout. Equally welcome, though narratively brief is Khan's shadowy leader, who adds humour to the proceedings that grow increasingly dour and border on the stiffly dull.

With its schlocky edges and predictable twists and turns, it feels like it's a few years too late on the scene and while the book diverges from its own ending to something more sanitary and audience pleasing, it feels like it has no courage of its convictions.

Inferno is the cinematic equivalent of a pulpy paranoiac, writ large; an airport thriller riddled with holes and pretensions, perfect for a journey but forgotten the moment of touchdown.

In many ways, thanks to its dullness, it's the cinematic equivalent of Purgatory.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Hidden Figures: Film Review

Hidden Figures: Film Review

Cast: Taraji P Henson, Olivia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst
Director: Theodore Melfi

The space race and the fight against racism combine in this based on a true story wannabe feel-good flick from the director of St Vincent.

It's the story of Katherine G Johnson (Empire star Taraji P Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (The Help's Octavia Spencer) and feisty activist Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), three black women working in the predominantly white NASA space programme.

Johnson's a numbers genius (as an early flashback to her childhood heavily sign posts) and when she's assigned to the unit run by Al Harrison (Costner) she inadvertently puts the cat among the pigeons. Not least because of her colour, but also because The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons' sneery Paul Stafford is running the team and doubts the veracity of her maths.

Equally, Vaughn's desperate to be given the chance to become a supervisor and sassy Jackson's keen to become an engineer - but both face discrimination, prejudice and societal expectations as threats.

With Octavia Spencer already nominated for a Golden Globe award  the film's trajectory is on the up, even if parts of its execution remain firmly grounded in mawkish predictable civil rights sentimentality.

Despite a relative career best turn from Kevin Costner as the boss of the unit charged with getting astronaut John Glenn into space to keep up with the Russians and the Sputnik space programme, most of the rest of the cast give solid performances that are dictated to unfortunately slide into stereotypes as the civil rights led story plays out.

From segregation to romance and racism within the workplace, all the tenets of this style of Lifetime dramas are here and everything orchestrates to an entirely predictable conclusion that wrings out every ounce of crowd-pleasing eyes weeping obviousness as you'd expect. The second half of the film aims for tearducts, but with the outside work elements not faring as well as the space race interest and story, they fall flat and fail to be fully moved.

There's no denying the story here and the struggle being real, but the TV movie style execution of it means Hidden Figures is more a case of a story that needs to be told, rather than one that needs to be told well.

It's an important distinction for this piece about the hidden struggle and breakthrough of the women and while the film may hold stratospheric aspirations, the race for the glass ceiling never quite reaches the heights of anything other than spectacularly solid and occasionally manipulative.

Friday, 20 January 2017

New redband Logan trailer is here

New redband Logan trailer is here

A brand new look at Hugh Jackman's Logan has arrived, just a month and a half out from the film's official release on March 2nd.

Jackman's already indicated this is the last outing for the X-Man that's so defined him - and fans are already a flutter to see if the film will follow the established comic book lore.

Take a look at the brand new redband Logan trailer below.

Greenband Logan Trailer -
 About Logan -

In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border.
But Logan's attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Boyd Holbrook as well as Dafne Keen as Laura Kinney / X-23, Logan hits March 2nd.

French Film Festival reveals opening and closing films

French Film Festival reveals opening and closing films

The Alliance Française French Film Festival announces Opening and Closing Night films and the 2017 Education Outreach Programme

Celebrating 11 years of bringing the best of French cinema to New Zealand, the Alliance Française French Film Festival is delighted to reveal the Opening and Closing Night titles for the 2017 Festival.

Launching in Wellington on 1 March, the Festival will open with Jérôme Salle’s breathtaking The Odyssey (L’Odyssée), starring Lambert Wilson, Audrey Tautou, and Pierre Niney.
Based on the life of oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, The Odyssey invites the audience to marvel at the magic that lies underwater. Combining elements of biopic and romantic fresco full of family drama, the film will take you on an adventurous journey.
In the spirit of celebrating French cinema, the Festival will close with Bertrand Tavernier’s magnificently epic documentary A Journey Through French Cinema (Voyage à travers le cinéma français)

A lifetime in the making, Tavernier explores the French films from the 30s through to the 70s that inspired him to start out as a director. From giants like Renoir, Godard, and Melville (for whom he worked as an assistant) to now overlooked figures like Edmond T. Gréville and Guy Gilles, he rediscovers and reassesses filmmakers, films, and composers, taking us on a voyage through time and stories.
The 2017 Alliance Française French Film Festival programme will showcase over 30 French-language feature films, offering audiences a chance to immerse themselves in one language, and a world of emotions.
The full 2017 programme will be available online and in print from Thursday 2 February 2017.

Education Outreach
The Education Outreach Programme is designed to engage, educate and inspire student audiences by exposing them to French language in context, and encouraging discussion in the classroom through comprehensive study guides, which are provided free of charge.
The 2017 Education Outreach films are:
  • Adama by Simon Rouby, recommended for ages 8+
French-language study guides will be available to download free of charge from the Festival website following the full programme launch on Thursday 2 February. For more information on the Education Outreach programme, visit
The Alliance Française French Film Festival will run from 1 March - 12 April 2017 in 12 cities across New Zealand. For dates and venues information, visit

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Trailer first look - Gary of the Pacific

Trailer first look - Gary of the Pacific

Today sees the release of the trailer for their debut feature film Gary of the Pacific.
Staring Josh Thomson, Megan Stevenson, Dave Fane, Matt Whelan and Dominic Ona-Ariki, as well as new face Taofi Mose-Tuiloma, this brand new kiwi feature film tells the story of struggling real estate agent Gary (Thomson), who becomes the chief of a sinking Pacific Island. 

Set to release in cinemas nationwide on March 16th, audiences will be guaranteed a heart-warming and hilarious film full of thedownlowconcept’s 
trademark humour as well as the chance to see a new side of actor and comedian Josh Thomson.

xXx - Return of Xander Cage: Film Review

xXx - Return of Xander Cage: Film Review

Cast: Vin Diesel, Samuel L Jackson, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Nina Dobrev, Rory McCann, Toni Collette
Director: DJ Caruso

"Save the world, kill the bad guys, get the girl and look dope doing it."

This is the mantra espoused to muscle man Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) at the end of the latest spy-jinks chapter of the xXx series after numerous sequences of action, shooting, and explosions.

And perhaps it's appropriate too, but really in this latest adrenaline-filled rote outing, do they all have to look quite so bored doing it?

Given the cartoony nature of the xXx film franchise (it's honestly closer in tone to ACME meets James Bond than anything serious), perhaps the film shouldn't be taken too seriously, but given the fact it aims for ludicrous and tries to be as serious as possible, it has to be judged on those terms.

After going off the grid, Xander Cage is brought back into the fold by pouty ice-queen, the bleached blonde NSA big-wig Jane Marke (a wasted Toni Collette, who frankly looks bored at times) after a terrorist group reveals it has the power to bring down any of the 30,000 satellites currently in orbit onto any target with fatal consequences - via a piece of kit called "Pandora's Box."

And when a group steals the McGuffin to do so, Cage recruits his own trusted team (including Game Of Thrones' The Hound aka Rory McCann) to try and save the day.

It seems pointless to rail against the terribly by the numbers xXx: Return of Xander Cage because its knowing tone and continual plot holes all form to make an experience that will leave any rational brain dribbling at the door. You could also rail at the laughably offensive stereotype of a computer genius (embodied by a nattering glasses-wearing Nina Dobrev from The Vampire Diaries) within as this aimed-at-15-year-old boys flick plays out.

But given it's assembled a cross cultural cast (potentially a cynical cash grab to include Indian and Chinese stars to attack multiple markets at the quieter time of the release year)  it genuinely does deserve applause for such diversity - and giving Donnie Yen as much screen time as Diesel is a commendable touch from this otherwise lunatic and frankly absurd and occasionally dumb as a bag of spanners actioner.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage delivers only formulaic action sequences for the most part - though a freeway underpass fight and Donnie Yen's fists of fury on a plane sequence more than deliver enough to make up for it. It's a shame because the movie starts out with its tongue so far in its cheek thanks to onscreen subtitles and nods and winks (one potential xXx recruits profile proclaims he thought he was being recruited for the Avengers) that it almost seems worthwhile.

But it's then stymied by the fact the writers don't seem to care for their characters or the predicament, so consequently why should you? As a result, the mid-section feels bloated and saddled with two fresher and edgier book-ends, the tone of which would have been better to follow.

At the end of the day, xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a piece of mindless popcorn entertainment, that somehow manages to miss much of the low-hanging fruit it could aim for. If it had embraced more of the lunatic element into its own DNA, rather than plenty of Vin Diesel posturing and mumbling in between action scraps, it could have been a breath of fresh cinematic air.