Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Big Sick: Blu Ray Review

The Big Sick: Blu Ray Review

Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter
Director: Michael Showalter

With a strong footing in truth, The Big Sick's rom-com cum cultural clash love story has rightly sent the genre back into fresher territory.

The Big Sick: Film Review

Silicon Valley's Dinesh aka Kumail Nanjiani stars as a version of himself in a story ripped from his own life.

Wannabe stand-up Kumail is working in a club one night, when he's heckled by Zoe Kazan's Emily. Intrigued, Kumail ends up striking a relationship with her after the show. Despite trying out an awful chat-up  line with Emily, the pair connect and end up in an easy relationship.

However, what Emily doesn't know is that Kumail's Pakistani family is trying to set him up with other women in an arranged marriage, via a series of dates which happen at family meals. (In one of the more excruciating touches, the women his parents have selected for him just happen to drop by during meal-times for an appointment.)

When this revelation hits the pair, Emily splits from Kumail, leaving him devastated. But things get worse when he gets a call to say Emily's seriously sick in hospital...

In many ways, The Big Sick is your typical romantic comedy.

Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl and problems and obstacles persist in the course of true love. So far, so tried and tested formula.

The Big Sick: Film Review

However, what The Big Sick brings to the table is a large degree of freshness, some genuinely funny moments and some sweet insights into the cultural clashes which are, of course, inevitable.

And really, at its heart, this is not a film that defies convention.

In fact, the only defiance is Kumail's insistence on going against his family wishes and avoiding spending time praying in the basement, choosing instead to play games on his phone, until his allotted time has passed.

Yet, being grounded in so much truth and veritas, (unsurprising as it's ripped from Kumail Nanjiani and Emily's real life romance), what The Big Sick manages to do is breathe some life into a genre that's been stale for a while and subverts expectations of those going into it.

Nanjiani brings his usual deadpan flair to the delivery, but thanks to a cleverly written script that fizzes with life and reality, there are some truly amusing moments. Mainly due to the ease of banter between the two and a slight subversion of the usual gags you'd expect about cultural stereotypes.

From a great gag over Kumail's Uber-career to the genuine warmth these two share, there are very much the signs that The Big Sick is keen to inject some humour where it's never been before.

It's not entirely perfect though.

The Big Sick: Film Review

At just a shade over 2 hours, there could have been some excising on the script front (a slew of comedy bar scenes seem a little unnecessary) to ensure the perfect mix, but it's a minor complaint.

The other interesting angle The Big Sick brings is that at its heart, it's a two-pronged relationship comedy.

Not only does Emily and Kumail's relationship take up the time on screen, but there's also a large amount of the film which is devoted to Kumail's relationship with his potential in-laws, played by a terrier-like Holly Hunter and an easy-going career best Ray Romano. There is also the battle between Kumail's family and their desire to do right by tradition and his desire to break away from that. (Interestingly, the final resolution doesn't quite provide all the answers and really does feel like there are more questions than answers.)

As Emily's parents battle their wariness and try to protect their daughter from the indirect charm offensive launched by an awkwardly bashful Kumail, what also emerges is profoundly sweet and utterly charismatic despite its inevitable outcome.

There's a great deal of earnest charm about The Big Sick and it's difficult to be profoundly cynical against its intentions. But in crafting a rom-com that's genuine and earnest, The Big Sick succeeds in being a genre best and ensures the entirely over-stuffed category is given a new lease of life. 

Madame: Film Review

Madame: Film Review

Cast: Toni Collette, Harvey Keitel, Michael Smiley, Rossy de Palma
Director: Amanda Sthers

Trying to blend Cinderella with an attempt at insight into a decaying marriage doesn't quite reap the rewards it should for Amanda Sthers writing and directorial attempt, Madame.
Madame: Film Review

Holding a dinner party for the London Mayor in Paris, pressed Anne (Collette, tart and relatively convincing as haughtiness gets the better of her) forces her maid Maria (de Palma) to step in as one of the guests, fearing 13 at the table is an unlucky number.

But thrust into a world she can only comprehend through servitude, Maria catches the eye of the family art appraiser (Smiley, a welcome presence on screen and a sign that Europe has a differing eye on romantic leads).

As the two grow closer, the lies have to be maintained, but Anne finds her tolerance for the charade shrinking as Maria finds her heart opening to he possibilities of love and life beyond her downstairs role.

Sthers may scatter her film with contemporary references such as Brexit and Aung San Suu Kyi  but her attempts to make something timeless sees her hoist by her own petard.
Madame: Film Review

Madame is not a film that feels for farce or grasps at depth; it feels in some ways incomplete and woefully undercooked in places. Certainly an ending frustrates, even if some may consider it inherently French. 

The trouble is that while Sthers peppers her film with the French approach to offering both unconventional romances their time in the sun and some kind of commentary on what makes France so appealing, its deployment fails to engage and indulge either the sense or the heart.

Ultimately, Madame is more a film that starts off familiar, offers fresh eyes on a tired story but then fails to utilise its differing USP for anything other than the fanciful.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Atomic Blonde: Blu Ray Review

Atomic Blonde: Blu Ray Review

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Toby Jones, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella
Director: David Leitch

Atomic Blonde: Film Review

Blazing style clearly over substance, Atomic Blonde's Cold War story breathes a chill over proceedings.

Whether it intends to or not is another matter.

Theron stars as Lorraine, a hard vodka drinking super spy who starts the film being debriefed by her boss Eric Gray (played with the usual brilliance by Toby Jones) and a CIA stooge (a bearded John Goodman).

Tasked with tracking down a list that could hold a complete breakdown of every spy and their alibis, Lorraine meets her contact David Percival (played with relish and energy by James McAvoy) in Berlin at the fall of the wall.

However, unsurprisingly things start to go wrong and soon Lorraine is in the cross hairs...

Atomic Blonde: Film Review

Trading more off a killer soundtrack that includes iconic tunes of the era like New Order's Blue Monday or Father Figure from George Michael, Atomic Blonde sadly lacks the moves to fully convince in this ripped-from-a-graphic novel.

There is one singularly impressive fight sequence inside an abandoned house that seriously showcases some incredible choreography and some impressively desperate close hand combat. Stripped of any OST or reliance on cool tunes to punctuate its narrative or execution, the grunting and bone-crunching fight stand alone of anything else this year.

But despite Theron's commitment to the icy blonde she inhabits and the fact she looks like a Debbie Harry clone thrown deep into the spy world, Atomic Blonde feels hollow, an exercise more in precise cool than a precision film of the spy genre, packed with twists. 

Atomic Blonde: Film Review
Once again, it's a film that has a commitment more to its origins than its cinematic execution, its pop stencil ethos and its desire to be cripplingly cool, ripped as it is from the Oni Press graphic novel series "The Coldest City"

It's not without merit; it's more that outside of its one truly raw and gritty fight sequence, it feels more of a hollow disposability than anything else. There's certainly little to cling on to after the lights have gone up - which is a real shame, given that Theron's a great actress and a female action lead of this calibre rarely comes along in a relatively mainstream Hollywood release.

Goodbye Christopher Robin: Film Review

Goodbye Christopher Robin: Film Review

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly MacDonald, Will Tilston
Director: Simon Curtis

Very much a warts and all portrayal of one of the world's most famous children's icons, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a cautionary tale about the damage done to others by fame and neglect.
Goodbye Christopher Robin: Film Review

With a strong anti-war message, Goodbye Christopher Robin is the story of the playwright A A Milne (Gleeson, sombre and at times, drawn) whose London arty life is irrevocably changed when he returns from the first Great War.

Shell-shocked and sleep-walking through life, Milne, along with his flapper wife Daphne (Robbie in chocks away mode) relocate to the English countryside after their first child is born.

Milne believes the countryside will inspire his anti-war writing, but Daphne, disappointed at birthing a boy rather than a girl and fearing he will be conscripted, stays in London to party and forget the perils.

Left alone with Christopher Robin and forced to take on the kid when nanny Olive (Macdonald, the film's heart and vocal conscience) has to look after her ill mother, the pair bond as young Christopher helps him through post-war life and yearns for a father.
Goodbye Christopher Robin: Film Review

As the duo spend more time together, the whimsical world of Winnie The Pooh is born - and despite AA Milne saying the story would be for his son, it soon becomes a worldwide phenomenon, leading to an even stronger sense of estrangement in the Milne family.

Served with a large degree of as much sugariness as Pooh's beloved honey, Goodbye Christopher Robin comes dangerously close to over-egging the pudding at times, with the mawkish manipulation being piled on to occasionally over-bearing moments.

With the saccharine overdose being largely confined to the dimple-faced moppet playing young Christopher Robin and his fatherly interactions, there's little insight into what fully led to the bear's creation other than some downpat broad brush strokes applied to the stiffly-starched English accents and rather withdrawn adult acting.

And yet, bizarrely and equally so, the sense of detachment and the underlying sadness of lives wrecked within (Milne's PTSD haunts him at every turn, wife Daphne's denial pushes her to seek solace in London away from the boy she could lose and son Christopher's growing resentment over the fame he's handed and the lack of familial attachment) really hint at the dark story underneath it all.
Goodbye Christopher Robin: Film Review

This is perhaps Goodbye Christopher Robin's strength - it's not a film that celebrates an icon in many ways.

If anything, it shows a deeply tragic personal correlation between fame and its cost.

Pre-reality shows and post war with England aching for a return to more optimistic times, this is a harrowing introspective look at the trappings and perils of the creative world.

It puts a uniquely human spin (albeit occasionally laden with a spoon rather than a dollop) on proceedings and deserves to be saluted so.

Perhaps if some of the sentiment hadn't been ladelled on with such heft, this immensely thoughtful biopic could have been intensely more emotionally satisfying.

Professor Marston and The Wonder Women: Film Review

Professor Marston and The Wonder Women: Film Review

Cast: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton
Director: Angela Wilson

Feeling more like an episode of Masters Of Sex, with some kinkiness thrown in as well, it's no surprise that Professor Marston and The Wonder Women releases the same week as Justice League.
Professor Marston and The Wonder Women: Film Review

Centring on Evans' Professor William Marston aka the man who created the Wonder Woman comic and his wife Elizabeth (Hall), Professor Marston and The Wonder Women details how the renowned psychologist developed the feminist comic in the 1940s.

While lecturing at Harvard, Bella Heathcote's Olive Byrne catches the eye of William and his wife, and she's invited to join them in an intellectual three-way as he looks to develop the lie detector.

Frustrated at his lack of breakthrough, and with his wife unable to secure a PHD from anywhere, the two find their energy centred and re-focused with the introduction of Olive - not to mention, an attraction as well.

Professor Marston and The Wonder Women is a curious film, one which takes the time to build up the central relationship and dynamic of the trio, but falters at anything else outside of it.
Professor Marston and The Wonder Women: Film Review

Beginning with Marston facing a 1940s panel chaired by Connie Britton's Josette Frank who's unhappy about the content of the Wonder Woman comic, the film flashes back to the development of the relationship and as a result, the film's raison d'etre seems to slightly suffer in the process.

Perhaps it's due to an expectation of the Wonder Woman side of things garnering attention, but in truth, the germ of the idea that comes late in the piece feels a little rushed and the outrage which sees people collecting and burning the comics feels piecemeal and under-developed.

Far more successful is the examination of the trio, the introduction of bondage and the embracing of the polygamy side of things (even if questions from the children don't appear and a stereotyped neighbourhood brawl feels more perfunctory than anything) serves the film better.

Central to proceedings is Heathcote's mix of innocence and desire. Her Olive, even if she does appear to be channeling a younger Heather Graham in looks, adds much to the yearning among the learning atmosphere that writer / director Robinson seeks to build.

Professor Marston and The Wonder Women: Film Review
The societal clashes rear their head late in the piece, and as the comic house of cards begins to collapse and the relationship falters, you genuinely feel for the trio and feel the accusations sting that others hurl at them.

Ultimately, Professor Marston and The Wonder Women is beautifully shot and offers up some stellar performances from the central trio, but its lasso of truth tends to loosen when it casts itself wider and tries to latch on to anything else which isn't related to them.

Society may have the ties that bind in Professor Marston and The Wonder Women, but the way the stories loosens itself from the shackles of Hollywood's more traditional trysts and tropes gives it a sensitivity that's hard to ignore, an eroticism which is occasionally contagious and a narrative that intrigues deeply.

Monday, 20 November 2017

All Eyez on Me: Blu Ray Review

All Eyez on Me: Blu Ray Review

Tupac's legacy feels slightly squandered in this over-long formulaic biopic that seems more interested in hitting Tupac moments than going deeper.
All Eyez on Me: Film Review

A charismatic Shipp Jr channels the looks of the late rapper with ease as the film jumps back and forth in his timeline detailing Shakur's childhood, rise to rapper and struggle with the criticism aimed at gangsta rap.

Framed under the auspice of an interview from Clinton Correctional in 1995, Boom's film suffers from plenty of chopping and changing around early on, as the film sets out its intentions to capture the key moments of the life rather than to assemble a more coherent narrative and pertinent overview of Shakur's life.

With commentary on the injustices in Tupac's life, the mistreatment of African Americans and lots of angry outbursts from his mother (played by The Walking Dead's Michonne), the film seems to be aiming for incendiary but never fully catches fire.

All Eyez on Me: Film Review

In fairness, during the scenes of musical excellence, Bloom turns up the dial to 11 and the film crackles with the kind of electricity that's needed and was seen in the likes of Straight Outta Compton. But these are too few and far in between over the bum-numbing 140 minutes run time.

As the rise to Death Row Records settles in, it becomes clear that the script's less interested in providing fully fleshed out characters and is more interested in assuming characteristics and stereotypes for the likes of Sugg Knight and Snoop Dogg.

Ultimately, this slightly hollow and pedestrian approach to what really should have been a home-run means that All Eyez on Me ends up being something where you'd rather avert your eyes elsewhere. Time-hopping doesn't help generate a sense of emotional depth and ultimately when the end arrives, there's little to no feeling on the audience's behalf as it transpires on screen.

With little sense of flair, and a script that makes Tupac's life seem more disjointed (and in the case of legal arguments, more brief and simplistic than it is) All Eyez on Me fails to engender a sense of inspiration in its subject.

All Eyez on Me: Film Review

Sunday, 19 November 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes: Blu Ray Review

War for the Planet of the Apes: Blu Ray Review

In the concluding part of the trilogy, you'd be forgiven for expecting that it would be full-on action for Caesar and his pals as the fight for the earth continued.

But, if you're anticipating being delivered apes with all guns blazing, then director Matt Reeves, the incredibly talented WETA Digital team and the ever-under-appreciated Andy Serkis have a very big surprise for you.

War for the Planet of the Apes
War for the Planet of the Apes: Blu Ray Review

In the final chapter, Caesar (mo-capped Serkis) has become a legendary figure to both the apes and humans, held in both reverence and fear by both sides. On the run and in hiding, Caesar's world is shattered when an ambush from the humans (led by Harrelson's Colonel) leads to very personal losses.

Against the wishes of the rest of the apes, Caesar heads off on a quest for vengeance, endangering the apes' future and his own...

Mixing up a degree of a simian Band of Brothers, an end-of-times Western and a psychological rumination, War For the Planet of the Apes is not your average blockbuster thrill-ride, but an absorbing conclusion to a consistently intelligent and entertaining series.

The power of this trilogy of films has been one about the clashes of ideologies, the divisive line between human and animal, and the perilous balance between descending into madness. In War For The Planet of The Apes, it's Caesar whose journey is the most important, and who stands to lose the most after deciding on a course of revenge.

Thankfully, a wonderfully nuanced turn from Serkis imbues this outing with the requisite and expected emotional depth that we've come to expect from the series. And while the signs are on the wall (quite literally throughout) of another paean to Apocalypse Now, thanks to a Kurtz like turn from an almost messianic Harrelson, those behind the script deserve to be commended for not launching into a salvo of bullets flying and explosions (well, right away at least.)

In fact, it's the almost mournful script that elevates this from the primal mud; early parts of the movie have a Western feel to them as Caesar and his small troop move on after a tension-filled action burst of a beginning. It's just as well, because the rumination-like feel of the script and execution thereof is slightly muddied by the introduction of a comedy "Bad Ape" (voiced with requisite catchphrase glee by Steve Zahn) and the need to ram home some of the inspirations for the finale.

War for the Planet of the Apes

It's to be understood why, given the almost dirge-like feel to the proceedings (not a bad thing by any step of the imagination) and how it ends up as some kind of allegory of a fight between workers and unions, Spartacus meets Shawshank Redemption and riddled with Holocaust imagery, such as ape crucifixions as well as the obligatory Ape Escape sequences.

Harrelson deserves commendation for adding an edge to his Colonel, and a tragedy to proceedings. Rather than head into OTT territory, there's a subversion of expectations in War For The Planet of the Apes that he helps deliver.

It's not that there are not meaty concepts within this film, more a feeling that morally things are grey - and once again the digital apes deliver that in spades in their performance. Even Harrelson's Colonel wryly remarks while staring down Caesar that his eyes "look almost human."

Layering both tragedy and pathos in relatively equal measure, and despite some faltering turns in the story early on, (mainly involving a Nell-like child), War For the Planet of the Apes delivers a finale that crackles with delicious nuance as it debates whether Caesar (and by extension all of us) is right to succumb to his demons.

War For The Planet of the Apes is a sublime conclusion to the franchise, and a timely reminder that combined with intelligence and digital excellence, these Apes manage to mirror our human lives and future pre-occupations  in ways that may actually surprise cinema-goers. 

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Wonder Woman: Blu Ray Review

Wonder Woman: Blu Ray Review

The internet's already exploded with outrage at a "Women only" screening of the latest entrant into the DC Extended Universe.
Wonder Woman: Film Review

Equally, there have already been calls to hail the two-and-a-half-hour film one of the best of the DC big screeners, thanks to its all-woman pairing of Monster director Jenkins and Gadot's Amazonian Princess.

After Suicide Squad (one complete with leering camera lingering uncomfortably on Margot Robbie's behind as Harley Quinn overtook the screen) and the all-boys fight club of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, complete with its pomposity and nonsensical plot, the DC Comics world had some way to go to catch up with the levity of its comrade-in-arms the Marvel films.

Particularly, given that current the social climate apparently sidelines women as leads and we live in a world populated by Women's Marches.
Wonder Woman: Film ReviewBy necessity an origins story (yet again), Wonder Woman, stripped of the campery of the original Lynda Carter's stars and stripes TV show, manages to bring to life a slice of wish fulfillment as America, by way of Chris Pine's spy and Wonder Woman's patented red, white and blue garb, manage to save the day in the dying moments of World War I. (And 2000AD fan boys will notice similarities to Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell's superhero vs Nazis Zenith stories of 1987)

Though while DC's universe and track record of films within isn't exactly great, thanks to the assured directorial eye of Patty Jenkins (whose Monster revitalised Charlize Theron), this is one comic book origins story that largely gets the bigger picture right - and also goes some way to satiating the furore that women are under-represented on film and in certain genres.

Starting on the mystical island of Themyscira where nobody but teutonic athletic Amazons train in perpetual slow-mo and live, Gal Gadot's early Diana years centre on her world being uprooted when plucky spy Steve Trevor (an earnest, likeable and restrained Pine) literally falls out of the sky and onto the island.

Once Diana learns of the world beyond her shores from her dude-in-distress Trevor and believes there is the very real possibility that Amazon-banished god Ares, the god of War is at work in the wider world, she teams up with Steve to do her sworn duty and save the world from destruction.

Book-ended by two different action sequences (one a rote obligatory superhero CGI-heavy spectacle and clash of the titans that lacks the personal, the other an athletic and graceful balletic sequence that showcases the fighting skills complete with usual slow-mo), the film feels like a mesh of war-time adventure and expected conventions.

Playing up the comic naivety in the real world schtick, as made popular by Chris Hemsworth's culture -clash Thor in Marvel counterpart films, Gadot and Pine form an easy bond early on, and imbue their burgeoning relationship with a heart and earnestness that makes for easy watching.
(Though, in fairness, Diana's naivety begins to grate thanks to a continuing number of speeches on the horrors of war as she navigates the world). Demonstrating that comedy and humour are the best way to create heart makes for an easy bedfellow as the drama gets underway, and it helps that Pine underplays to a terrific degree, ensuring that his Steve Trevor is seen as a genuine good-guy in all of this.

Gal Gadot also impresses, even if so many of her close-ups seem to fall straight from the shooting of a pouting lip-gloss commercial.

Wisely eschewing the lecherous cameras that plagued Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad and any female in a Michael Bay Transformers movie, Jenkins and Gadot manage to bring to life an icon that's perhaps as empowering as she is important.

There's no denying that in a patriarchal hegemony, Diana, the Queen of the Amazons breaks through, but she manages to do it in such a way that it's hard now for future films to belittle or sideline female leads.
It helps that Gadot manages to deliver a turn that strips away some of the woodenness of her prior roles (see Keeping Up With the Joneses) and parts of the wooden script.
Wonder Woman: Film ReviewThis is a heroine for our times, and while there's a nagging feeling that Diana becomes slightly rote in the messy third act, there's no denying that Gadot's turn here is going to inspire many.

But if plenty of effort's been poured into Gadot's Diana and Pine's Trevor, it's clear that other parts of Wonder Woman are sadly left wanting.(Though these feel less significant than quibbles in films like Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman.)
Wonder Woman: Film ReviewDanny Huston's German villain and Dr Poison (aka The Skin I Live In's Elena Anaya, once again wearing a Phantom of the Opera style facials) are bereft of anything other than a once-over villain stereotyping, a charge often laid at both Marvel and DC's door. In fact at times, the maniacal duo are reminiscent of Rocky and Bullwinkle's Natasha and Boris in their cartoon villainy and machinations.

Equally, the rest of Trevor's squad, selected for a suicide mission in France's trenches, are fairly rote, given a few scenes of enforced bonding and ultimately add little to proceedings, other than comedy.
While former The Office star Lucy Davis proffers some comedy chops as Trevor's secretary and Diana's guide to women-in-wartime, there's a distinct feeling that bit players in this piece could have been handed more.

A good 30 minutes of the 150 minute run time could have been chopped in the edit suite, and Wonder Woman would have been a testament to oestrogen-fuelled film-making.

As it is, and thanks largely to Gadot's work, and Jenkins' smart handling of re-jigged source material, there's little denying that Wonder Woman has given very real life to the DC Extended Universe.

Here's hoping the future films continue to build on this development and this beacon of superhero light is the start of better things to come within the genre. 

Friday, 17 November 2017

Human Traces: Film Review

Human Traces: Film Review

Cast: Sophie Henderson, Mark Mitchinson, Vinnie Bennett
Director: Nic Gorman

New Zealand films usually fall into one or two categories - and usually fail to offer many points of difference.

From murky history pieces lecturing on how the country wronged its indigenous settlers to some dramas that never quite make it to dizzying heights of feeling more than TV fare, the industry as a whole has shied away from mystery.
Human Traces: Film Review

Step forward Nic Gorman's elegaic, intriguing and thoroughly impressive Human Traces to pick up the mantle and throw down a gauntlet.

In this moody and evocative piece set 750 kms south of New Zealand on an island (though in truth, with its universal themes, and stripped of its accents, it could be anywhere) where Mitchinson's Glenn is monitoring the eco-system. Sarah, his wife of 30 years his junior, (Henderson, achingly isolated and bristling for a return to home-life) doesn't believe Glenn's work is succeeding; her bond in him and with him is clearly fraying when we join them.

Their world is changed by the arrival of Vinnie Bennett's Pete, a DoC ranger and whose arrival, although expected, is fraught with suspicion.

To say more about Human Traces is to rip away its ingenue and its central mystery, a knotty and, for the large part, gripping tale.
Human Traces: Film Review

Gorman's twist-and-turns script pulls and pushes his actors in ways that are challenging, but it's the central premise of the story split into three pieces and scenes played again but from different protagonist points-of-view which give Human Traces its captivating USP.

Its psychological edges completely grab you in the second act, as everything you thought you knew and suspected is pulled from in front of your eyes. Cleverly disorienting audiences is part of its Rashomon effect, and while Human Traces hints at a lack of humanity on show, what envelops the central trio is explicitly human at its core.

As the gradual layers reveal themselves, Gorman sets scenes to the crashing waves, their churning and thrashing signifying a change in the emotional tides. He makes great fist of the rugged terrain of the Otago coastline, revelling in it to help convey the script's increasing confidence.

At times, Human Traces is a sparse film, but it's also one which soars magnificently as it plays out in front of audiences. Its third act may feel weaker as a denouement, but that's simply demonstrating how much that happens previously grips in a vice.

Moody, suspenseful and expertly executed, Human Traces is perhaps one of New Zealand's finest cinematic 2017 experiences.

The Beguiled: Blu Ray Review

The Beguiled: Blu Ray Review

Gifted the best director awards at Cannes for this, Sofia Coppola returns to more ethereal portraits as is her wont in The Beguiled.

Set in 1864 Virginia, 3 years into the Civil War (though, in all honesty, time and the world outside barely trouble much of what transpires), Coppola's take on the 1971 Don Siegel Southern psychodrama, which starred Clint Eastwood, is as wispy as the mist which hangs over the woods in the opening shot.

The Beguiled: NZIFF Review
The Beguiled

Colin Farrell stars as a wounded Union soldier, Corporal McBurney, found cowering under a tree by one of the young charges at the local girls seminary, run by Nicole Kidman's buttoned up Martha. At first the seven of them debate what to do with McBurney, but different feelings of repression, desire and blossoming sexuality come to the fore as time passes.

Initially deciding to allow McBurney to recuperate before being sent on his way, the chaste and secluded women find themselves all-a-fluster thanks to McBurney (and by extension, Farrell) and his rogueish charm.

Soon, however, the question becomes who is beguiling who?

Coppola's eye for the female gaze is evident throughout, much like it was in The Virgin Suicides.

By turns, light, funny and sultry, The Beguiled does much to bewitch, even if its flirtations are as passing as the breeze.

What transpires is a four-way as Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Kidman and the preternaturally youthful Elle Fanning vie for the attention. From dinners that drip with the potential of a cat fight, or the closest a finishing school will allow, to clandestine visits and impromptu liaisons, the film positively drips with sultry sensuality as it plays out.

Coppola's more interested in the female dynamic at play here and most men, bar Farrell, are framed from a distance when they appear and / or are surplus to proceedings. Sure, cannons fire and plumes of smoke appear on the horizon, but men are rarely seen at this finishing school, giving the flirtations a weight that's understandable when McBurney shows.

But as she stacks the deck with betrayal, lust and repressed desire, what she creates in The Beguiled is a similarly themed entrant as others display in her catalogue. Using a similarly ethereal lens and vision, Coppola may be making an obvious film in many ways, but its subtleties are enough to beguile the audience.

With equal amounts of humour, takes on etiquette and coquettishness, the battle of the females, and simple simmering, the film manages to cast a spell on those who view.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Justice League: Film Review

Justice League: Film Review

Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot,  Jason Momoa, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Henry Cavill, JK Simmons, Jeremy Irons
Director: Zack Snyder

The Avengers had it after numerous build up films, and while Suicide Squad signalled DC's intentions to let the baddies have all the fun first to cinematically buck the team-up trend, it was perhaps inevitable that the squad team up event would ultimately arrive.

And that it has now - albeit more with dramatic deja vu and some moments that genuinely engage and amuse among the appallingly executed and shonky CGI - should come as nothing of a surprise to those who've been following the rapidly-bloating superhero genre.
Justice League: Film Review

Following on from Snyder's much-derided Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the critical success of Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman, Justice League arrives with a degree of weight of expectation to see if DC can properly launch a squad franchise for future incarnations. (Though baffingly, Jason Momoa's Aquaman will get an origins film after this one releases).

With Superman dead after the tussle with Batman, the world's awash with chaos, with an increase in terrorist events and general hoodlums.

As if that's not enough, Batman's wandering around in a kind of funk, awash with ennui and with hair flecked with grey - even Alfred (Irons) wryly notes at one point that one misses the days when the biggest problems they faced were wind-up electronic penguins.

Diana Prince (Gadot, a little less wooden this time around) is faring a little better, protecting those in peril and persuading Bats that they need more people on their team to help combat a growing problem, which threatens the world and as usual, involves a MacGuffin.
Justice League: Film Review

Enter Ezra Miller's Barry Allen aka The Flash, the quip machine and nerdy heart and soul of the piece. His touch of levity doesn't go too far a la Thor Ragnarok, but signals DC's intentions to perhaps add a degree of humour.

Sadly, he's the only one of the new additions who's not saddled with reams of exposition for their introduction - unlike Ray Fisher's Cyborg, and Jason Momoa's Hawaiian influenced Aquaman. Their involvement isn't so much shoe-horned in, but clearly laden with necessity that could have been cleared up in an origins film.

The main issue with Justice League isn't so much that DC's pulled together something that feels like a revamp of intentions for the DCEU, but more that due to superhero cinema overflow, feels like a rather unfortunate piece of deja vu, that suffers once again from a lacklustre villain and definite feeling of lack of threat to all. It certainly undoes some of the good work done by Wonder Woman in terms of narrative and execution.

A series of cubes that threaten the world - pretty sure that was in an Avengers film.
A series of flying insect creatures that threaten the world - again, pretty sure that was in an Avengers film as well.

The sense of deja vu in this heroes assemble film is almost stifling, it feels like much is an identikit of all-too-familiar elements and tropes.
Justice League: Film Review
Its denouement is perhaps its weakest point, a muddled mess of CGI weakness that feels dark, muddied and narratively laughable thanks to its deus-ex-machina.

And while for a DC effort, there's no denying this is a massive step-up in terms of delivery and signalling of intent, it never quite reaches any highs that you'd hope for, and settles more for a run-of-the-mill middle of the road blockbuster that's let down poorly by badly executed CGI and a rote plot.

Ultimately, while there are parts of Justice League that show the DC universe is righting itself, there are not enough of them on show in the film among the dullness that pervades. There's no denying Justice League is the creative leap that DC wanted, but there's also a persistent nagging feeling that the genre is reaching the end of its shelf life, and this should-have-been hit-it-out-of-the-park piece is more a film that never managed to convince itself to reach for greatness.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer: Film Review

The Killing of a Sacred Deer: Film Review

As darkly black as they come and as uncomfortable as you may expect from the director of The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an unmissable experience.

In other hands this could easily have been a horror, but under Lanthimos' unswerving eye, it's his usual combination of both the weird and also the devilish, which cause you to squirm uncomfortably in your seat. As demonstrated with The Lobster and Dogtooth, Lanthimos has a way of creating a world that's self-contained and populated with a veneer that doesn't quite feel right, but feels drily plausible.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer: NZIFF Review

A heavily-bearded Colin Farrell plays heart surgeon Steven, whose journey begins post-surgery discussing the banality of a new watch that he needs with his colleague. As they stalk the halls of the immeasurably clinical hospital where they work, Steven talks in a staccato robotic turn of phrase, with the inane sounding incredibly offbeat, almost as if a robot synthesiser programme has followed a series of sub-routines and thrown out something that could pass for conversation.

Steven's life appears fine - he has a wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and a daughter and son. He also has a friendship with a young boy Martin (Dunkirk star Barry Keoghan) that seems a little unusual at best.

But as the black humour and the film plays out, that relationship with Martin becomes key to proceedings as retribution, guilt and Greek tragedy begins to bite. To say more is to spoil the reveals of the film, which come gradually and powerfully as it unspools.

Lanthimos isn't interested in moralising in his latest - and it's clear that pretty much everyone has something to hide in the film, giving it a dangerous edge and a warped sense of desperation. As Martin's obsession grows, the long slow shots that Lanthimos injects into the film and the darker edges become almost unbearable, blessing proceedings with a quite horrific dread that spreads malignantly and quickly.

Many spend time remarking on Steven's hands in this film and how clean they are. It's a delicious irony that they're anything but, and with Farrell's cool veneer losing its grip the more it carries on, the film's more absurdist edges actually become more plausible and all the more horrific because of it.

If Farrell and Kidman are unswervingly staunch, it's Keoghan's malicious Martin that impresses most. With a cold, clear sense of warped logic, his path to the punishing plays out with an underplayed edge; his calmness makes everything seem that more sinister and disquieting.

Ultimately, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a bold film - it pushes some buttons excellently, but Lanthimos knows when to hold off, when to hold his nerve and when to put the audience through the wringer. Much like The Lobster set things with a bittersweet off-kilter feel, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is truly knuckle-clenching. Like a master, Lanthimos leads us to the final destination and we arrive at it, breathless and wrought with the horror of the ride. It's compellingly grim cinema at its dark unpunishable best. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Tulip Fever: Film Review

Tulip Fever: Film Review

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Christoph Waltz, Cara Delevingne, Holliday Grainger, Jack O'Connell, Tom Hollander, Judi Dench
Director: Justin Chadwick

Forever destined to be known as the film disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein left on the shelf for 3 years and also the first film to be released by the Weinstein Company post Weinstein's spectacular fall from grace, Tulip Fever is something of a tonal mess.
Tulip Fever: Film Review

Future Tomb Raider star Alicia Vikander stars as Sofia in this period piece set in 17th century Amsterdam as the tulip market grows feverishly. Similar to the stock market, there's a great trade to be had in bulbs and speculation, and Sofia finds herself in the middle of it when she escapes the convent she's in by agreeing to be married off to Waltz's merchant.

With pressure to conceive, Sofia is found wanting and Waltz's Cornelis decides to commission a painting of the two of them from upcoming artist Jaan (DeHaan). But an illicit affair grows between the pair, culminating in tragedy for everyone in the house - including Grainger's maid and confidante and her lover (O'Connell).

It's hard to know exactly what Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) wanted to do exactly with Tom Stoppard's mashed together screenplay.
Tulip Fever: Film Review

From period drama, romance, farce and finally on to inevitable tragedy, the film flip-flops so badly and bounces between different genres that you get cinematic whiplash watching on.

It's not like any of the cast (with the exception sadly of DeHaan and Delevingne who prove to be the weakest links here) give it anything but their best and throw themselves into it with gusto. But a lack of coherence and cohesion proves to make this narrative bulb wilt and wither as its inevitable formulaic tropes are systematically ticked off.

Inevitably what emerges from Tulip Fever is a Carry On style drama film that even Shakespeare would have dismissed as too light for his attention.
Tulip Fever: Film Review

And despite Vikander's continuing allure and dramatic chops for every role she takes, the film's fatal flaw causes the whole house of cards to come crashing down around everyone's ears.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Assassin's Creed Origins: PS4 Review

Assassin's Creed Origins: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Developed by Ubisoft

The tenth Assassin's Creed game to emerge blinking into the light is the first to take a break from the annual publishing release schedule - and it's actually quite an enjoyable one.
Assassin's Creed Origins: PS4 Review

Set in ancient Egypt and placing you in the role of Bayek, the game's protagonist and the people's protector as change sweeps into Egypt. But as ever with Assassin's, there's more going on behind the scenes than you could realise.

Eminently playable (though still with the quirks of glitches that always blight these games), Assassin's Creed Origins is a stealth game that benefits from a greatly wider open world that's full of side quests, characters and moments that impress.
Assassin's Creed Origins: PS4 Review

Mixing in elements of Destiny's weapons, Far Cry's progression system and previous Assassin's games, Assassin's Creed Origins manages to take all these all too familiar elements and processes them into their own beast.

With an engaging more personal story at its helm too, Assassin's Creed Origins involves you from the beginning as opposed to other iterations of the game which felt simply like they've placed you in a world and forced you to get on with it.

Weapons increase as your experience in the game does, which helps greatly, and the desire to progress is aided by the fact side quests are more entertaining than a necessary grind. It also helps that you can gain XP by smart use of the skills upgrade - upgrading more practical double points ability first rather than cooler ones actually pays off long term.

Graphically, the game looks great - even if occasionally riding your camel into walls is a real possibility and having half of it stick into the wall while the other half runs becomes a bit of a norm. The open world looks impressive and when you're raiding tombs (yes, there is that) the light flickering within and depth gives it a sizzle that looks good.
Assassin's Creed Origins: PS4 Review

With a streamlined story and a massive world to explore, Assassin's Creed Origins actually gives you more the more time you spend within. It pays off immensely and reminds you why the games in the franchise work when everything gels.

Ultimately, a year off may have paid dividends for Assassin's Creed Origins - it's one of the best without a shadow of a doubt.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Win a copy of Una on DVD

Win a copy of Una on DVD

Thanks to Madman Home Entertainment, you could win Una on DVD starring Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn.

Fifteen years earlier, Una ran away with an older man, Ray, a crime for which he was arrested and imprisoned. 

When she comes across a photo of him in a trade magazine, Una tracks him down and turns up at his workplace. 

Her abrupt arrival threatens to destroy Ray’s new life and derail her stability. 

Unspoken secrets and buried memories surface asUna and Ray sift through the past.

Una is available on DVD right now

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

Include your name and address and title your email  UNA!

Competition closes November 16th

Win Your Name on Blu Ray

Win Your Name on Blu Ray

To celebrate the release of the anime smash hit at the box office, Madman Home Entertainment is giving you the chance to win Your Name on Blu Ray.

Mitsuha and Taki are two total strangers living completely different lives. 
But when Mitsuha makes a wish to leave her mountain town for the bustling city of Tokyo, they become connected in a bizarre way. 
She dreams she is a boy living in Tokyo while Taki dreams he is a girl from a rural town he's never been to.
What does their newfound connection mean? And how will it bring them together?
Your Name is available in shops to buy now.
To win a copy, all you have to do is email  your details to this  address: or CLICK HERE NOW!

Include your name and address and title your email NAME!

Competition closes November 16th

Ingrid Goes West: Film Review

Ingrid Goes West: Film Review

Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O'Shea Jackson Jr, Wyatt Russell
Director: Matt Spicer

A satire on the social media loving generation and a dark drama as well, Ingrid Goes West is the cautionary yet all too familiar tale of Ingrid (Parks and Rec star Aubrey Plaza).
Ingrid Goes West: Film Review

Obsessed with a woman she's never met other than through Instagram, Ingrid's institutionalised after pepper spraying the woman at her wedding because she never received an invite. Upon release and with the spectre of her mother's death licking away at her background, Ingrid forms a new obsession with Elizabeth Olsen's Taylor, an Insta-celebrity whose life appears perfect.

Ingratiating her way in, Ingrid becomes firm friends with Taylor after moving out west to be near her....

In many ways, Ingrid Goes West is a Single White Female for the Insta-generational millennial on the go.

For those opposed to social media, it's a satire on the reality behind the filters, and while it loses its bite later on (bar its last scene), the film's desire to showcase the vacuousness of Taylor's life with Ingrid's borderline depression is a strong step for the Hollywood game to take (particularly in this ongoing war of Influencers and strategies).
Ingrid Goes West: Film Review

As the soulless and lost Ingrid, Plaza is perfect, both encapsulating he dizzying highs of the social recognition and the gnawing desperation of the ignorance; she pulls off this indie with veritable aplomb and makes Ingrid both a nuanced, empathetic and yet obscene human being as well.

A breezy Olsen makes Taylor both empty enough and appealing, and while Russell gets some good lines as her beleaguered husband, who wants the earlier version of his wife back before she was an internet celeb, Straight Outta Compton star O'Shea Jackson Jr brings subtle life to the neighbour who's got an attraction to Ingrid.
Ingrid Goes West: Film Review

While Spicer makes the film quite dark at times, this BFF dramedy has some serious bite and commentary to the social media generation and the divides within. A warning perhaps to the vacuous generation and the phone-obsessed millennials, it may fall short in its final 20 minutes, but all in all, Ingrid Goes West deserves to get more than just a social media thumbs up.