View Post

Honoka Matsumoto: Taboo in Japan

The young actress featured in two taboo-breaking feature films at the Okinawa International Movie Festival: My Father, The Bride and A Life Turned Upside Down: My Dad’s An Alcoholic.
See All Acting Posts
View Post

Dragon Ball Super: Broly

animation, Asian Cinema, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The latest feature-length instalment of one of the most ubiquitous, beloved and memeable anime franchises out there, Broly is basically a best-of-both-worlds situation. It takes the endearingly goofy tone of Battle of Gods and the large-scale action chops of Resurrection ‘F’ and combines them in a way that retains all of the positives and burns away most of the negatives.

The sense of humour on display here is so on-point, it’s staggering. Not since the legendary DBZ Abridged series has this material been able to generate this many belly laughs, largely thanks to Sean Schemmel as the ever-loving goofball Goku and Jason Douglas as Beerus, the destroyer god who just wants to nap without being interrupted. It’s all character-derived stuff, leaning less on the BoG slapstick, and through that, it turns out effective as well as melding well with the more action-oriented moments.

When it comes time for Goku and the eponymous Broly to start throwing down (the bulk of the film is that fight), it results in glorious displays of widespread destruction. The intensity and high-flash line work in the animation is on the same tier as Asura’s Wrath, right down to the amount of terrain-scorching that goes on; looking like the result of two gods brawling with each other. It can get quite hectic in places and admittedly a little difficult to entirely make out, but between the raw strength at work and the adaptability of the fighters involved, it makes for well-earned chaos.

It even features solid dramatic touches connected to Broly’s character. Shown through an impressively-nimble flashback sequence, which gives plentiful background history for the characters and story at large, he is depicted as a rather tragic antagonist. Born with immeasurable power, exiled out of jealousy and raised to exact revenge, Broly’s first official entry into the franchise sets him up as the yang to Goku’s yin.

Both are exceptionally powerful, both were sent away from their home planet, and both have a natural tendency for friendship rather than aggression. But because of their different upbringing, what we get is a rather point-blank depiction of the classic ‘nature vs. nurture’ dilemma, showing how Broly being raised as a weapon of vendetta turned him into a psychologically-scarred and damaged soul. It adds an unexpected touch of unease to the action scenes, knowing that Broly was pushed into them by intents other than his own. It’s kind of sad in its own way.

Considering this and the previous films exist out of a potential need for creator Akira Toriyama to redeem his own franchise after the baffling Westernisation of Dragon Ball: Evolution, this represents the absolute accomplishment of that goal. A very funny, very thrilling and even occasionally moving effort that gives the long-time fans more of what they love, and a sufficient entry point for newcomers to get in on the fun.

Photo credit: ©BIRD STUDIO/SHUEISHA ©2018 DRAGON BALL SUPER THE MOVIE PRODUCTION COMMITTEE

 
See All animation Posts
View Post

The Man Who Feels No Pain

Asian Cinema, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

This frenzied mish-mash of Bollywood musical, martial arts actioner and comic book origin tale is told with an eye towards western cinematic sensibilities and an affectionate reverence of filmic pop culture.

It follows the travails of Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani, son of Indian screen star Bhagyashree), a young man with a rare disorder that also proves very handy: he has a congenital insensitivity to pain. His ailments also include a requirement for constant hydration, which necessitates wearing a backpack that stores a ready supply of water, though it tends to run dry at inopportune moments, meaning Surya has to come up with creative ways to imbibe H2O.

Throughout his formative years, Surya exists on a diet of Kung Fu and action movies and he teaches himself martial arts moves so that he can dispense vengeance on the gang that robbed his mother when he was a young baby, killing her in the process. Surya is always at the side of his best friend and childhood crush Supri (Radhika Madan), whose father is a violent drunk, forcing Surya to teach him some knuckle-sandwich infused home truths, ultimately putting Supri’s father in the hospital.

As a young man, Surya yearns to meet his idol, a one-legged martial arts guru named Karate Mani (Gulshan Devaiah), and after meeting him, Surya soon encounters his scenery-chewing evil twin, Jimmy (also played by Gulshan Devaiah). Soon, the adult Surya and Supri must fight the fight of their lives, defending themselves against henchman and street scum alike as Surya struggles to realise his childhood dream of being an unstoppable, karate-chopping, leg-sweeping, force for justice on the streets of Mumbai.

At times it’s so tight you’d think Edgar Wright was sneaking into the edit room, at other times the sequences are languid and baggy. That said, the overwhelming sense of joy and fun that Vasan Bala is having here – name-checking his Hollywood influences and designing inventive and crazy fight sequences – is contagious (though the amount of scenes depicting children being beaten is positively Dickensian). Street locations are brightly decorated and colourfully lensed and the soundtrack is tacky and sweet, making this slice of Bollywood geekdom a ton of fun. The running time, as you would expect, is over two hours but the reward is in the journey and there’s lots of fun to be had in this alternately goofy, melodramatic and surreal chop-sock-rom-com.

 
View Post

Melodrama / Random / Melbourne!

Asian Cinema, Australian, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

An unusual pink hue is one of the shades that Melbourne is seen through in Melodrama / Random / Melbourne!, the film by VCA alum and emerging Australian-Fillipino director Mathew Victor Pastor.

Melodrama / Random / Melbourne! is the second part in the up-and-coming practitioner’s Filipino-Australian trilogy following I am JUPITER I am the BIGGEST PLANET (15 mins) – a thriller about a mother in the red light district of the Philippines.

Co-written and starring Celina Yuen, MRM! screened at the 2018 Adelaide Film Festival, and follows various disparate characters around the metropolitan Melbourne melting pot.

In this vast milieu, we are introduced to an assortment of personalities: amongst them a Filipino-Australian feminist documentarian, a pickup artist, and a virgin – all of whom are disparate characters removed from each other; all trying to go about their lives and all crossing paths.

It is a lens we nary see through, especially in Australian films. The perspective of those living on the margins and fringes, who never would have met each other.

The narrative is told by filmmaker Aries Santos (Bridget O’Brien), who is struggling to complete her new film.

In this mix, sheaths of pink, red and various others are just a few of the colours employed in Pastor’s movie.

As various individuals tussle and interlace – the internet, toxic masculinity, racism and xenophobia are but a few of the topics that the 80 minute feature touches on.

This is a tale that wavers between experimental and narrative, and takes on several characters and storylines.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, there are a few issues with the piece. Some characters, such as the virgin come across at times as not fully sketched, not entirely multi-dimensional.

Several stories feel unsatisfactorily closed, occasionally pre-emptively or arbitrarily introduced or finished.

This may be due to a larger question of the film taking on too many strands and disparate beats, in the end confusing viewers.

What does it all add up to? What Pastor is trying to say, or not say, in this jungle, ultimately becomes clouded amidst the range of styles, POV, place, character.

Effort, vivacious colours and zaniness are there, albeit inconsistently – though one gets the sense that this relentless image-maker will refine this.

MELODRAMA / RANDOM / MELBOURNE! (Trailer 2) from Matthew Victor Pastor on Vimeo.

 
View Post

Kosai Sekine: Trouble in Tokyo

One of Japan’s most exciting new directors was in Melbourne recently to promote his latest film, Love At Least, which deals with mental illness with an Asian touch.
View Post

Shoplifters

Asian Cinema, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Having won this year’s Palme d’Or, Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Shoplifters is looking to take a running jump at our collective feelings.

In its opening scene, we meet Osamu (Lily Franky) and his son Shota (Jyo Kairi) setting out to do a morning’s grocery shopping. A fist bump and several sneaky manoeuvres later, and it’s quickly evident that Osamu and Shota are fans of the five fingered discount. They don’t rob the shop blind, however, merely getting enough noodles and accompaniments to feed their family back at home, each of whom have their own way of wheeling and dealing.

Mother Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) steals from work, eldest daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) works at a peep show, and Grandma (Kirin Kiki) hits her dead ex-husband’s family up for cash on a regular basis. Into this morally dubious tribe comes the cute as a button infant, Yuri (Miyu Sasaki). Having been found on a doorstep, apparently locked out by her abusive parents, Osamu offers the fragile child a place to stay and offer up some missing love along the way.

Shoplifters utterly disarms you with its charm from frame one. Whilst it’s fairly light in plot, particularly when stacked up against its two-hour running time, Kore-Eda lovingly runs off with the old adage of ‘you can’t choose your family’, repackaging it into a heart-warming exploration of this little tribe tucked away in Japan. They rarely fight and never seem to want anyone to get hurt out of their actions. Justifying their shoplifting tendencies, Nobuyo admits that they don’t want their victims to go bankrupt and she seems to mean it.

And then trouble hits and Kore-Eda unpacks everyone’s backstory, offering the pieces up for re-evaluation in light of new information. In hindsight, he does leave his audience crumbs to follow before then, but the final effect is never less than a gut punch.

Little Yuri isn’t the catalyst, but her arrival does coincide with Osamu’s family questioning their positions within the home. Aki sees a new life, Osamu and Nobuyo reignite their sexual attraction for each other, and Grandma contemplates the lives she’ll leave behind should she one day pass away.

There’s no point trying to single out one performance that mirrors the whole. Each actor brings their best to the table, whilst the film takes a breather from the overall ensemble to focus on the plot thread of one or two of its members. Kore-Eda’s direction is rarely flashy, choosing to sit us alongside the family, whilst they wolf down their regular evening meals of noodles and gluten cake, as if we were always meant to be there. His love for his characters is evident and a warmth runs throughout. It’s rather telling that he keeps any tragedy that’s thrown at his protagonists throughout the film firmly off screen.

Humorous, poignant and often bittersweet, Shoplifters is a family drama with a heavy emphasis on family.

 
See All Asian Cinema Posts
View Post

FilmInk Presents: Defend, Conserve, Protect

Produced in Australia and successfully financed through a global crowdfunding effort, where over 750 passionate environmentalists pledged funds, Defend, Conserve, Protect took more than four years to make, and was shot across France, The Netherlands, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica.
See All Australian Posts
View Post

Use Me

Australian, Australian New Wave Filmmakers, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Of all the many and various kinks out there, and crikey there are a lot, surely none is quite as confounding yet intriguing as that of the “financial humiliatrix”. For those not in the know, that’s when a woman – usually fully clothed, always dripping with disdain – takes your money, often employing blackmail or vicious verbal humiliation, and you get off on the whole process. Ceara Lynch is a real-life professional humiliatrix and Use Me, an indie thriller from writer/director/actor Julian Shaw, seeks to explore what makes such a person tick, and why that would be so powerfully erotic to a certain type of man.

Except, that’s not entirely true. See, Julian Shaw – a talented New Zealand born director who previously helmed the award-winning documentaries Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story (2007) and Cup of Dreams (2011) – is delivering something a little different here. While the movie uses many real-life personalities, including Joe Rogan, Ceara Lynch, Julian himself and even FilmInk hefe Dov Kornits, Use Me tells a fictional tale that utilises the stylistic trappings of a documentary. Fiction dressed as fact, if you will.

The end result is fascinating, coming together as a sort of post-truth thriller which feels deeply era appropriate and cleverly engages with its subject matter, morphing from a warts-and-all look at a strange part of the sex industry to something else entirely. Its ambition does occasionally outstrip its execution, mind you, with some of the latter twists straining credulity in ways that feel reminiscent of David Fincher’s The Game. Still, performances are natural, with Shaw’s oddly wholesome energy making him an agreeable protagonist and Ceara Lynch is an excellent subject/foil whose motivations remain ambiguous right up until the tale’s twisty conclusion. Also worth noting are Jazlyn Yoder and genre vet Joseph D. Reitman who both make an impact, although for very different reasons.

Ultimately, Use Me is an engaging, intriguing ride. Blurring the line between fantasy and reality in ways both subtle and overt, it manages to keep you guessing right up until the end. And while it doesn’t answer the question “why would anyone be into that” it may make you wonder about any undiscovered kinks you might have lurking in your own psyche, and what the cost of exploring them might be.

Use Me is screening June 02 / June 03 at Brooklyn Film Festival. Tickets, trailer and showtimes @ https://www.brooklynfilmfestival.org/film-detail?fid=2050

 
See All Australian New Wave Filmmakers Posts
View Post

Blockbuster (Podcast)

behind the scenes, Documentary, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The technological revolution is rapidly changing the way that we watch movies and consume stories. For those of us who can remember when movies – mainstream and arthouse – were the main event when it came to cultural consumption, it may all seem like doom and gloom, however, one ray of hope is the podcast medium. The in-depth AAA interview with our favourite filmmaker or the retrospective story about the making of a classic film, both of which used to be available in magazine form, is now freely available on various podcast platforms of choice. Into the latter camp comes Blockbuster, a first of its kind 6x episode podcast that investigates the relationship between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, which changed the cinema landscape forever.

There have been various documentary style explorations of the making of classic movies, but Blockbuster is unique in its dramatisation of the story, putting scripted words into the mouths of actors playing the likes of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, John Williams and of course, Lucas and Spielberg, and possessing a story arc that keeps you gripped throughout.

Immaculately sound designed, with a score that pays tribute to the John Williams music that changed soundtracks forever, the podcast is appropriately, the brainchild of journalist/filmmaker Matt Schrader, whose best-known previous work is Score, an award-winning podcast and documentary. Schrader’s sombre tones narrate throughout, segueing between the dramatised sections.

If there’s a failing to Blockbuster, it’s the lack of critical faculty. Sure, we hear about these mythological people’s personality flaws, however, the whole notion of the negative changes that Spielberg and Lucas’s cinema wrought are not explored – not in the first episode, at least, though we highly doubt the other 5 eps will delve into this murky area. There are impressive elements of Peter Biskind style retrospective storytelling to Blockbuster, however, where Biskind took no prisoners, Schrader is obviously a superfan and the result is intriguing – there are reams of interesting factoids revealed – and engrossing, but ultimately this is nostalgia pop culture of the highest order, with, appropriately enough, ‘the final episode due to drop during the week of May 25 – the 42-year anniversary of Star Wars’ release, which would play in theatres for over a year continuously’, in the words of Schrader himself.

Available through iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

 
View Post

Lessons from a Writer-Producer living in LA

It takes a great deal of confidence to head over to the entertainment industry capital of the world to forge your career, however, once there, you will need to navigate carefully in order to get the most out of the initiative. Here are some golden tips from someone who came before.
See All behind the scenes Posts
See All Black Friday With Maria Lewis Posts
View Post

Box Office Report: July 5 – 11, 2018

Ant-Man opens strongly and will grow through the public holidays; and just for some perspective check out the chasm between the Solo and Incredibles figures. Maybe we'll have a decade in between the sequels now? Or maybe not.
See All Box Office Posts
View Post

Broken Dreams: Pixar’s Newt

With Finding Dory swimming its way into cinemas this week, we look at Newt, one of the few nearly-made projects from animation giant, Pixar, that never got off the ground.
See All Broken Dreams Posts
See All Character Piece Posts
View Post

Truman Capote On Screen

With a special series of screenings of Breakfast At Tiffany’s coming up, we take a look at the big screen presence of that much loved classic’s author, Truman Capote.
View Post

Manji (aka Swastika)

Asian Cinema, Classic, Festival, Film Festival, Review Leave a Comment

Japanese films have this particular relation to the Western tradition and there is a mutual fascination and mirroring going on that has lasted for decades. Just think of The Magnificent Seven, one of the most iconic cowboy films in the canon, which was, of course, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. In pulp cinema too, there are parallels. This melodrama made in 1964 is a kind of harbinger of the sexual revolution but with a very Japanese twist. Its slightly lurid palette and emotional musical score recalls 1960s films from Hollywood. Partly now, some of this seems kitsch but there is something both endearing and attractive about its approach.

The heroine of the picture is a young married woman called Sonoko (Kyoko Kishida), who tells her complicated tale of lust and betrayal in flashback mode. She was determined to be a dutiful wife in the terms of the day but at her art class she comes across an alluring model called Mitsuko (Ayako Wakao). The model’s irresistible beauty brings out a latent lesbian desire in Sonoko and the two embark on a secret affair. Sonoko’s husband is appropriately shocked and tries to coral her back into the marriage by reminding her of the weight of society’s disapproval. Sonoko becomes mildly hysterical at this point and declares that her lust for Mitsuko outweighs all rational and conventional moral considerations. Later, the two lesbian lovers engineer various schemes to draw both the husband and Mitsuko’s boyfriend into a game of plot and counter plot. This being Japan, there also has to be an element of a suicide pact that will seal the fate of the lovers.

Far from being a simple case of the transgressors getting what they deserve, and the conventional order being preserved, Yazuo Masumura’s film recognises the lover’s logic of desire and leaves the question of, which is the true morality, open. Even so, the film does take a very soft focus approach to the mechanics of their love (In the Realm of the Senses, it ain’t) but, in its chaste and histrionic way, it comes out as a plea for tolerance and a comment on the wastefulness of repressed lives.

 
See All Classic Posts
See All Classics Worth Re-Catching Posts
See All Close Casting Calls Posts
See All Close Casting Calls Posts
View Post

Movie of the Month: CAPHARNAÜM

capharnaüm (noun) ca·phar·na·üm | \kəˈfärnēəm\ plural -s Definition of capharnaüm : a confused jumble: a place marked by a disorderly accumulation of objects
See All ClubInk Posts
View Post

Wanda Sykes For President

“It’s not normal that I know I’m smarter than the president!” says Wanda Sykes during the long rant against Trump that opens her stand up special Wanda Sykes: Not Normal.
View Post

Watch the first hilarious 6 minutes of Booksmart

It's Superbad with girls, even Jonah Hill's sis Beanie Feldstein stars (alongside Kaitlyn Dever), in a story about a couple of high achievers who realise that they forgot to party during high school, deciding to change all that in one night!! Directed by actress Olivia Wilde.
View Post

Me and My Left Brain

Australian, Comedy, Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

Biology fact: The left hemisphere of the brain controls the right of the body. It is the part of the brain that deals with analytic thought, logic and reasoning. And it’s also known for having a goatee, wearing sunnies and wrist full of bracelets. At least that’s how it is in Me and My Left Brain, the latest from aussie filmmaker Alex Lykos (Alex and Eve).

Lykos plays Arthur, a man who gave up a cushy job so he could pursue his dream of being an actor. His success appears to be fair to middling with Arthur carving out a career for himself in independent theatre. However, when an audition call is made for a higher profile project, Arthur decides he needs to put himself out there. Wanting to have an early night before the big day, Arthur instead begins to obsess about his relationship with his friend, Helen (Chantelle Berry), and starts spiralling down a rabbit hole of past memories.

That right there is enough to fill up your average indie, but Lykos goes a couple of steps further by having Arthur air out his insecurities and panic to the personification of his Left Brain, played by Malcolm Kennard (Catching Milat). Cutting magic realism off at the pass, Me and My Left Brain doesn’t rely on a Drop Dead Fred scenario wherein Left Brain becomes a real boy and gets up to ‘shenanigans’. No, Left Brain is just an average part of Arthur’s life; a roommate who doesn’t need a lot of maintenance.

Kennard plays Left Brain with the joyous swagger of someone who cares for their dweeby little human but finds frustration in their Woody Allen-esque pontification. When Arthur bumps into friends who have done better than him, Left Brain is on hand to hurl abuse at them on behalf of Arthur, who can only be meekly polite.

As the night wears on, the two men – one man and a lobe? – bicker about whether Helen was much more than a friend whilst buying milk, watching pornography and pretty much anything else that isn’t going to get him a good night’s sleep before the Big Day.

Me and Left Brain could easily jack-knife into bro-ish, friend zone lamenting, clap trap where ‘women just don’t get it, man’, but avoids it by Left Brain skewering Arthur’s obsessive nature. As memories are rehashed via flashbacks, Helen is never made out to be flirt or a tease; she’s a fully rounded human who isn’t as easy to read as she would be in other rom-coms.

Lykos and Kennard play off each other well, but so too does Lykos with his other co-star Rachael Beck, who portrays Arthur’s best friend, fellow actor Vivien.

At times, however, Me and My Left Brain is too theatrical in its execution and begs for more of a flourish to separate present day Arthur from his night time worries. With Left Brain cutting down Arthur’s worry, it feels like there was a missed opportunity for a Rashomon effect, where we see events from the logical lobe. Additionally, the film’s conclusion, despite its obvious charm feels like we’ve spent so long with Arthur’s head that we now need to rush towards the end credits.

Overall, for anyone who has ever experienced that late-night self-doubt that blossoms into insomnia and anxiety, Me and My Left Brain will be immediately relatable. Through his snappy dialogue, Lykos captures that never-ending circle of a thought process where you manage to put something to bed before a fresh new detail arrives on the scene to unpick everything.

 

 
See All Comedy Posts
View Post

Avengers: Endgame

comic bok, Marvel, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

When the credits roll on the just-over-three-hours Avengers: Endgame, one can’t help but be struck by what a staggering achievement this film represents. This is the 22nd (!) Marvel movie in eleven years, and yet somehow Endgame delivers a satisfying, emotional and unexpectedly thoughtful conclusion to a series of films that began in 2008 with an unlikely little flick about a comic book character no one particularly cared about, Iron Man. We say “conclusion” because even though the Marvel films continue – hell, Spider-Man: Far from Home drops in just a few months – the events of Endgame fundamentally change the Marvel Cinematic Universe in profound ways.

The story of Avengers: Endgame picks up after the bleak, soul-crushing ending of Avengers: Infinity War. You know, when Thanos (Josh Brolin) clicked his fingers and disintegrated 50% of life in the universe, including many of our favourite Marvel characters. Well, as you can imagine, everyone’s pretty gutted about the whole affair, particularly Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) ie: the original Avengers lineup from 2012. Naturally Earth’s mightiest heroes aren’t going to take their most recent staggering defeat lying down, but how do you solve a problem like Thanos?

After the seemingly endless battle scenes of Infinity War, Endgame spends much of its runtime on more personal journeys. Don’t get us wrong, there’s a shitload of brightly-coloured superheroes bashing the crap out of baddies, but it’s more focused and intimate, somehow. The stakes here are universe-saving, yes, but the way they’re expressed feels more nuanced, with genuine moments of honest pathos. This is a celebration of what has occurred thus far in the MCU, and a love letter to the fans, but also a farewell, and those are always bittersweet.

Performance wise everyone’s at the top of their game, with Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans delivering particularly strong performances. Jeremy Renner is finally given something to do, with a surprising arc, and Chris Hemsworth showcases a slightly more comedic side to Thor, continuing the fine work from Thor: Ragnarok. The only dud note is Mark Ruffalo who does what he can with a rather muddled subplot that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, which is a pity because his Hulk has always been a series highlight.

Avengers: Endgame is epic in the truest sense of the word, spanning across space and time, both in story and reality. This movie is three hours long, and though it never really slackens the pace it may test the bladders and patience of those who are still bemused by the staggering success of the MCU. But then, if you’re in that rather joyless demographic, Endgame was never going to be the film for you. This is a delicious platter of delights designed specifically for the fans, that only very occasionally begins to feel like fan service.

Ultimately, Avengers: Endgame manages to run the gamut of emotions, from existential dread to giddy joy, offering a messy but utterly compelling denouement to a fascinating, and successful, experiment in longform cinematic storytelling. It’s bold, gutsy and profoundly moving and if you find yourself ugly crying through the final 30 minutes, know that you’re not alone.

 
View Post

Hellboy

comic bok, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

In 1993 a talented comic book artist/writer named Mike Mignola debuted the now iconic character of Hellboy, a demonic bloke who loves pancakes, cigars and punching the shit out of evil. Just over a decade later, in 2004, a talented writer/director named Guillermo del Toro released a cinematic adaptation, Hellboy starring Ron Perlman, that while taking some liberties with the source material and adding an unnecessary romance, brimmed with whimsy and imagination. Said film got a sequel in 2008, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which performed adequately but not spectacularly at the box office and, for a time, the embers of the Hellboy franchise cooled.

Fade in to 2019 and another talented director by the name of Neil Marshall, the chap who brought us the excellent Dog Soldiers (2002) and all-time genre classic The Descent (2005), has rebooted big red in a brand new adventure. And the result? Ehhh it’s a bit of a mess, hey.

Hellboy (2019) focuses on Hellboy (David Harbour this time around) on a quest to defeat an evil witch, Nimue (Milla Jovovich) who is gathering an army of monsters and ready to unleash a plague across England and then the world. It’s a fun premise, with a lot of eye-catching creature effects and gore, but there’s just something missing in this adaptation. Ian McShane, one of the world’s most charming actors, is horribly miscast as Hellboy’s adoptive father, Trevor Bruttenholm, and the new BRPD team members, Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) are only sporadically interesting. Most disappointing is Hellboy himself, however, who has gone from being an optimistic dreamer and charming smart arse to a whiny, self-loathing dickhead who spouts unfunny zingers every ten seconds. It doesn’t help that David Harbour’s wonderfully expressive face is covered in layers of stiff makeup effects, so he looks for all the world like a frowning botox tragedy; but it’s hard to imagine what Neil Marshall was going for here with this singularly unappealing performance.

The thing is, lower budget remakes of large comic book properties can actually be a good thing. Despite its relatively poor showing at the box office, 2012’s Dredd reboot is remembered much more fondly than 1995’s Sylvester Stallone-starring stinker, Judge Dredd. Same goes for 2008’s Lexi Alexander-directed Punisher: War Zone, which was arguably the best take on the material until Netflix took that crown. However, this Hellboy seems intent on avoiding everything that makes the character likable, unique or interesting.

On the slender plus side, some of the creatures look pretty cool and the gore is… kinda fun? A couple of the sequences in the third act are so batshit crazy in their viscera-splattered invention, you can’t help but chuckle.

Sadly, however, a few good gore gags and a monster or two can’t disguise the dearth of imagination on display here, and the whole effort feels like an unfortunate misfire. While not without occasional goofy charm this version of “diablo muchacho” should have probably spent more time in (development) hell.

 
See All comic bok Posts
View Post

Shazam!

comic book, DC, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

After dropping the ball on their two biggest superheroes, Batman and Superman, the DC Extended Universe looked like it was headed for trouble. Justice League was a mess, albeit a sporadically entertaining one, and while Wonder Woman was a cut above, one solid film isn’t enough to challenge Marvel’s box office domination. But then something strange happened, Aquaman was released and revealed itself to be a big, colourful fun movie that utterly demolished the box office. Aquaman! The butt of comic book jokes since time immemorial is now the biggest superhero in the DC pantheon. With that unlikely fact solidly in place, it’s not such a crazy idea that Shazam! could be next. But the question has to be asked: is it any good?

Shazam! tells the story of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a young tearaway who has basically made it his life’s mission to be a pain in the arse of the various foster families he lives with as he searches for his biological mother, who he was traumatically separated from years earlier at a carnival. Life takes a sudden, unexpected turn when an ancient wizard grants Billy the ability to turn into Shazam (Zachary Levi), a rather dishy-looking adult who can fly, is super strong and most importantly has the power of being able to buy beer without an ID!

The concept of an adolescent boy with super powers is both a bit terrifying and absolutely hilarious, and Shazam! does a wonderful job of milking it for every single chuckle. The scenes where Billy and bestie, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) test out Shazam’s superpowers for Youtube views are easily the best moments in the film, showcasing a wry, knowing wit and genuine belly laughs. Slightly less successful is the villain’s plotline, involving Thaddeus Silvana (Mark Strong) who previously failed to be worthy of the Shazam mantle and is now taking revenge against the world, using the powers of seven demons who are living personifications of the seven deadly sins. Mark Strong is solid, as always, but the plotline gives him little to do other than glower menacingly near the overly digital demons, who look a little like tech demos effusively excited by their very expensive particle effect technology.

Still, Marvel villains are usually a bit pants as well, and that shortcoming doesn’t negatively impact the surprisingly nuanced take on family that is the film’s ultimate message. Shazam! is over-the-top, extremely silly and more than a little juvenile and yet by leaning into the arrested development that so often underscores films in this genre, it actually manages to say something sweet and earnest. Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer do a wonderful job portraying good-hearted, albeit annoying, teenage boys and Zachary Levi absolutely sells being a goofy boy in a big man’s body.

Shazam! won’t change the mind of anybody suffering from superhero fatigue, but for the rest of us it’s an engaging, heartfelt ode to the slightly jerky teenager inside us all and our often untapped potential to do the right thing.

 
View Post

Venom

comic book, Marvel, Review, Theatrical Leave a Comment

Created in the mid ‘80s and becoming inexplicably popular in the ‘90s, the Venom comic book character looks like an over designed toothy scribble without much personality beyond “really big mouth” and “likes breaking/eating things”. So, in a weird way having a terrible film based on a terrible character is somewhat fitting? Sadly, that doesn’t make schlepping your way through 112 long, tedious minutes any more enjoyable.

Venom tells the tale of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist/vlogger/sexy mumbling man who manages to blow up his life with Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) after executing a bone-headed plan to publicly expose the shonky shenanigans of Elon Musk-like evil genius, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). This leads, in a slow, roundabout way (that we won’t spoil, but it’s very stupid indeed) to Eddie becoming a host to an alien parasite that chats a lot, possesses super powers and has a penchant for biting off human heads. That last sentence probably makes Venom sound like dumb fun. Don’t be fooled, a couple of moderately entertaining moments aside the flick is a dud, making bafflingly poor decisions at almost every turn.

For a start the three main actors – Hardy, Williams, Ahmed – all deliver the worst performances of their respective careers. None of them will be ruined by this turkey, thankfully, but holy crap what a difference a decent script and a canny director make! Ahmed in particular appears to be drowning in a sea of godawful dialogue and staggeringly inept character work. The visual effects are okay but they’re in service of a character, Venom himself, who seems to change motivation and mood for no reason at all, leading to a climax with an almost identical foe that you might be able to make out if you squint really hard. Of course, by the time this flick reaches its third act you’ll just be glad it’s over, as all but the most masochistic audience members will have checked out over an hour before.

Venom is a bad film, poorly plotted, shockingly acted with nary but a couple of visually interesting moments to lift you from the oily black swamp of boredom. It’s not hard to see what director Ruben Fleischer was going for here, and once or twice snatches of the film that could have been shine through, but ultimately this is a jaw-dropping misfire and feels like a product of a time when comic book adaptations were notoriously bad like Spawn (1997). And hell, at least Spawn had an awesome soundtrack, the only appropriate musical accompaniment to Venom is the scornful, mocking laughter of an irritated audience.

 
See All comic book Posts
See All Controversy Corner Posts
See All Critic Watch Posts
View Post

Dick Miller Top Ten

Dick Miller was one of the most beloved character actors in the second half of the Twentieth Century, particularly for aficionados of the work of Roger Corman and Joe Dante. Stephen Vagg runs his eye over his top ten Miller performances.
View Post

Viggo Mortensen Wants to Play Nice

The revered actor plays against type as a tough guy Italian accompanying a black man through the American South in the ‘60s in the highly acclaimed Oscars frontrunner Green Book.
View Post

Wim Wenders: Renaissance Man

With the release of Wim Wenders’ new film, Submergence, we look back at the rich and diverse career of one of the world’s most important and revered filmmakers.    
See All Cult Icons Posts
See All DC Posts
View Post

Mike Leigh: Provocateur

With Mike Leigh’s politically charged Peterloo in cinemas now, we look at the director’s most provocative and socially focused films.
See All Director Posts
View Post

FilmInk Presents: Defend, Conserve, Protect

Produced in Australia and successfully financed through a global crowdfunding effort, where over 750 passionate environmentalists pledged funds, Defend, Conserve, Protect took more than four years to make, and was shot across France, The Netherlands, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica.
View Post

Trailer: High as Mike

Hot button issue around medicinal cannabis gets an airing with Australian-produced documentary being released through Fan-Force.
See All Documentary Posts
View Post

Film Schools: Bridging The Gap

With the continuing debate about gender disparity in the international film industry, Australia’s screen schools and media education institutions have been putting strategies and philosophies in place to redress the imbalance.
See All Education Posts
View Post

Blue Velvet Revisited

Documentary, experimental, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Back in 1985, a young German filmmaker named Peter Braatz corresponded with director David Lynch (fresh off the ill-fated Dune) during pre-production on his upcoming film Blue Velvet and pitched the legendary artist/filmmaker the idea of documenting his new film’s production on Super 8mm. Lynch was up for it and afforded Braatz total access. What Braatz captured is the minutiae of the day to day filming, short interviews with actors such as Kyle MacLachlan, Lynch-regular Jack Nance, Brad Dourif (“I wouldn’t play this type of role for any other director”), Dennis Hopper, Isabella Rossellini and Laura Dern. Production crew are less forthcoming, though Braatz captures audio of almost everyone discussing aspects of the production; cinematographer Frederick Elmes keeps mostly to himself, even so there’s a considerable amount of Super 8mm and stills from the set documenting (largely in chronological order) the shooting of all the key scenes.

If Blue Velvet was a film that held sway over your brain when you first experienced it and lingers still, then this film is a stream of consciousness resurgence of all the free-form dream logic that Lynch unleashed on us to mess with our brains those thirty odd years ago. Seeing the mundanity of the production that helped create it, is something of a joy to watch. The editing style is fragmented and drifts pleasantly along, audio interviews form a large part of the narration, peppered with short Super 8mm interviews that were captured by Braatz with Lynch, who gives his impressions of how the production is going.

This will absolutely appeal to fans of Lynch and Blue Velvet though the style is not the most accessible. The footage, as it stands, is phenomenally crisp and clear and the feeling of time and place is startling’ that said, it would’ve been great to hear the surviving cast members recall their experiences on the film retrospectively. This is a must see for Lynch fans and for those in the thrall of the ‘mysteries of love’.

 
See All experimental Posts
View Post

Aladdin

family film, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Few films in recent memory have managed to maintain a level of potential audience scepticism like the remake to Disney’s Aladdin. With every new piece of marketing that became public, it somehow grew less and less appealing at every turn. And bear in mind that it started with the idea that Guy Ritchie should direct a musical, as if his collaborations with Madonna weren’t enough of a sign that he shouldn’t. This film could only go in one of two directions with that in mind: It could either be a pleasant surprise that sticks to the mostly-positive turn-out for Disney’s recent remakes, or it could be a trainwreck that ranks among Disney’s recent worst. Sadly, this is the latter.

More so than any of the other remakes thus far, this film is hurt the most by the transition from traditional animation to live-action. All of the personality and expressiveness and just plain fun of the original is sorely lacking here, managing to make a screen flooded with Bollywood colours feel drab and uninteresting. Where there should be wonder, there is CGI serving as the watered-down substitute. Where there should be frisson-creating music, there is feeble lip service to the music of the region. And where there should be a fun and exciting comedic presence with the Genie, we get Will Smith doing his best Kazaam impression.

In keeping with Disney’s M.O. of late, the intent behind this film is to fix something that was present in the original, in this case being the agency of characters that aren’t in the title. However, much like when Bill Condon attempted the same with Beauty And The Beast, raising supporting characters comes at the expense of others.

Naomi Scott as Jasmine has been given a more wilful presence, akin to someone who could foreseeably be the ruler of a kingdom, and Smith as the Genie has been more humanised and even given a love interest. But even with an extra 40 minutes in running time, Ritchie and co-writer John August (Frankenweenie) somehow weren’t able to juggle the character boosting without turning Mena Massoud’s Aladdin into a footnote. The attempts at juggling even result in a gaping plot hole, making the filmmakers look like they’re unable to count up to 3 accurately.

With everything being considerably toned-down, including the legendarily-energetic Genie who basically made the original into the classic it is today (and whose actor got screwed over by the House of Mouse in the process), there’s nothing here that makes this remake feel like it has a reason to be. Even the Beauty And The Beast remake, as misguided as it is, still has a stronger raison d’etre than this. The only reason this doesn’t turn out worse than B&TB is because this doesn’t actively hurt the original through sheer proximity to itself. Let’s just hope that Disney doesn’t try for a Return Of Jafar remake anytime in the near future; they’ve done enough damage to this IP already.

 
View Post

Louise Alston: Kicking Goals

For her third feature film, Back of the Net, the filmmaker took a pragmatic, backseat position in the process – something rarely done in director-driven Australian productions.
View Post

Dumbo

family film, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

With Disney well and truly in their postmodern era, bringing back just about every one of their animated classics to be remade in varying forms of live-action over the last several years, their latest ostensibly should serve as just the latest in a recent trend. Take something about the original, whether it’s the characters, where the narrative is focused, or even just translating the original directly, and re-examine it with a fresh perspective; it started with Burton’s own Alice In Wonderland and it persists to this day. However, this film serves as a different kind of examination; not of narrative or character, but of the company that brought them to life.

Director Tim Burton has made an entire career out of telling the stories of talented outsiders being exploited, so to find him at the helm here is very on-brand. And sure enough, he and DOP Ben Davis (Guardians Of The Galaxy, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Captain Marvel) bring a sense of Disney wonder and grandeur to the classic story of a flying circus elephant. The CGI work is about on par with Wonderland, in that it is quite iffy in places, but they at least do the title character justice by maintaining the inescapable cuteness that is Dumbo.

Not that Dumbo really ends up being the character to focus on here. Nor is it Colin Farrell’s war veteran or his wonkily-performing children (Nico Parker as his daughter is way too stiff to be given this much dialogue). Instead, it’s the villain, Michael Keaton’s V.A. Vandevere, who ends up drawing the most attention.

He is shown as an entrepreneur and showman who buys out the circus owned by Danny De Vito’s Max Medici (it’s like the Batman Returns reunion we never realised we needed), absorbing the company and its properties into a larger fold, which includes a gigantic theme park where “the impossible is possible”. He is also presented as someone whose want for power grows so disastrously that he ends up destroying everything he set out to build. It’s difficult to look at this and not think of how this reflects on Disney as a company, given their own practices along with their recent acquisition of Fox.

Burton and an uncharacteristically subtle script by Transformers scribe Ehren Kruger, essentially create art from dissent behind the main lines, showing a cautionary tale of what happens when monopolistic capitalism goes unchecked and who suffers as a result. It furthers Burton’s oeuvre by going beyond who is being exploited, namely Dumbo and the other circus ‘freaks’, and dives right into who’s doing it. It’s still wondrous, but it’s a wondrousness that is tempered by who is presenting the performance both in and out of the universe.

Whether this falls under critique, irony, or just plain hypocrisy remains to be seen, but with the current cultural climate, it still shows a commendable amount of brass in everyone involved to take aim at a target this massive, and under their own banner at that.

 
View Post

The Kid Who Would be King

family film, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

With a nod to Rudyard Kipling, his own Attack the Block and the nostalgia of ‘80s Amblin movies (which infiltrates every other family film these days – made by filmmakers who grew up on a diet of Back to the Future and Goonies), writer/director Joe Cornish rewrites Arthurian legend in a kids’ film that offers plenty of delights but doesn’t quite package them together in a way that is wholly satisfying; hello 2 hours running time!

Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis – there are flashes where you think that Andy Serkis is doing more of his acclaimed mocap work due to characteristics inherited from dad) is a nerdy high school kid, living with his single mum, loving science experiments and hanging out with his bullied mate Bedders (Dean Chaumoo). When he is visited by a young Merlin (Imrie stealing every scene he is in; with Patrick Stewart playing the older, seemingly drunker version of the character) and realises that he is the only one that can raise Excalibur, it comes to pass that Alex has 5 days to save the world from Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) by secretly traveling cross country, rallying the troops and winning the day!

The Kid Who Would be King actually starts with a hardly subtle rallying cry that the world is being taken over by dictators; you know, like BlacKkKlansman ended, but for kids…. However, this tangent doesn’t really go anywhere apart from setting up our hero’s journey. Maybe in the sequel Alex will take on Kim Jong-un, Putin and Trump; however, here it is an origin story of a boy in suburban London who discovers that he is heir to the Arthurian legend and literally rewrites the books in the process.

As per his previous film, Attack the Block, Joe Cornish locates the fantastic among the ordinary; in this case suburbia and public schooling with the supernatural/mythological. He casts widely, with all ethnicities and genders covered when it comes to diversity on screen. This results in humour, but unfortunately little wonderment.

Aesthetically, the introduction of magic – both light and dark – into the ordinary world is impressive, but dramatically, Cornish cannot make us care enough in our hero’s journey. For such a simple story, it is narratively too expansive, and at two hours length, it is always 30 minutes behind the audience’s natural pacing for such a tale. The villains are never genuinely threatening either, and there’s a key decapitation scene that plays out falsely, and hardly appropriate for the film’s target audience.

All of that being said, there will be kids in the audience who will find this original material new and exciting, they will relate to our young protagonists, and it will encourage them to read up about Arthurian legends. They may even end up making films in 20 years’ time inspired by seeing The Kid Who Would be King in their youth.

 
See All family film Posts
View Post

Kelly’s Hollywood

Documentary, Featured, Festival, Review, This Week 1 Comment

The straight-to-the-point plotline of the documentary, Kelly’s Hollywood – in which a young man helps his sister with Down Syndrome taste a little of the fame and adulation that she yearns for – suggests a feel-good charmer with heart and warmth to burn. And while this doco certainly has that in spades, it also offers much, much more, along with a number of thematic detours that hit with an unexpected wallop. The fact that the film is directed by the young man in question, Brian Donovan, affords an extraordinary level of intimacy; indeed, the film is so personal, and its connection to its subject so deep, that you occasionally question whether you should actually have the right to be allowed into its very singular world. The powerful emotions provoked by this generous invitation, however, are nothing short of staggering.

A jobbing actor from the sleepy surrounds of Buffalo, New York, Brian Donovan would eventually find fame via voicing every kid’s favourite taijutsu hero, Rock Lee, in the popular anime series, Naruto, as well as playing the character of Davis in the equally popular hit, Digimon. Before getting there, he appeared in a host of small film and TV roles while grinding out an on-screen living in Los Angeles. With him every step on his journey to fame was his younger sister, Kelly, who was born with Down Syndrome. She too dreams of being in the spotlight, and Brian helps her get there by staging Kelly’s own starring vehicle at a Hollywood theatre.

The extraordinary relationship shared by Brian and Kelly, however, is not all sunshine and flowers. Utterly co-dependent (a fact that Brian fully acknowledges and is totally aware of), their iron-strong bond works to the exclusion of his romantic partners, with Brian’s ex-girlfriends (some of whom are bravely and candidly interviewed) often left in Kelly’s dust. But when he meets charming Aussie writer and former Home And Away star, Tempany Deckert, Brian’s relationship with Kelly is really put to the test.

This is territory rarely glimpsed on screen before, as we see how difficult a relationship with a family member with special needs can be, and not in the usual ways. Kelly and Tempany almost battle in a romantic way for Brian’s attention, which is deeply troubling and utterly heartbreaking. Brian doesn’t deny being complicit in this fraught psychodrama either, copping to a major case of “hero complex and Peter Pan Syndrome.” Boundaries quickly crumble and blur at an alarming yet. Donovan’s bravery in putting this dilemma on screen is unquestionable and admirable, as is his refusal to shy away from his sister’s romantic needs. Kelly develops intense fantasy fixations (which Brian fully indulges) on a variety of unattainable men, from David Hasselhoff, The Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb and Colin Firth through to a number of supervisors at her workplace. It’s often uncomfortable to watch, but Donovan wants to depict his sister in her entirety, and this is a vital aspect of her personality, as is her constant attention-seeking and keen facility for manipulation. She’s an amazing and loveable person, but Donovan doesn’t take the easy canonisation route, and the film is all the richer for that.

Kelly’s Hollywood, however, is still a feel-good, three-hanky weepy of the first order. Brian and Kelly Donovan are truly fascinating and incredibly likeable people, and their unconventional relationship is the stuff of great cinema. You’ll likely never see anything quite like it again.

Kelly’s Hollywood is screening April 16 in Brisbane and April 19 in Byron Bay, with each screening followed by a Q&A with Brian Donovan. The film is also available for you to host your own screening through Demand.Film.

 
View Post

The Predator

Featured, Review, Theatrical, This Week 4 Comments

Do you measure The Predator against cinema as a whole, or do you measure it by the modest achievements of the franchise so far? It’s an interesting philosophical question, given that of the previous five films to feature the man-hunting, mandible-sporting aliens, only John McTiernan’s 1987 original could be called great, while every other iteration of the series runs the gamut from fun-but-flawed (Predator 2, Predators), to holy-god-what-were-you-thinking (Alien Vs Predator:Requiem). Which is the key to enjoying The Predator, Shane Black’s sequel and hopeful franchise re-starter: it’s not a great movie per se, but it’s a pretty enjoyable Predator flick.

And that’s because it’s a B movie, and it knows it. Black (and yes, he was Hawkins in the original, lest we forget) and his co-writer, Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, House) have sharply defined B movie sensibilities, having both come up at a time when the drive-in fodder of the ’70s was turning into the tentpole blockbusters of the ’80s (see Black’s own screenwriting breakthrough, Lethal Weapon). That trend has continued and these days pulp-as-mainstream is the default, but even in these heady times where superhero films are taken seriously and people actually argue about the potential merits of a Masters of the Universe movie “where they get it right”, The Predator may take it a step too far for most audiences.

Which is a damn shame, because if you’re open to the film’s throw-everything-against-the-wall charms, it’s a hoot. This is a film that pits a brain-damaged Dirty Half-Dozen against alien killing machines, after all, with everyone (well, chiefly Keegan-Michael Key) rattling off Black’s trademark filthy testosto-zingers in between the gunfire, explosions and viscera.

To get there takes a few ungainly plot machinations and tonal shifts, though. After special forces sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook of Logan) has a run-in with a Predator and his whole squad is minced, he’s packed off to the funny farm, but not before he manages to mail off some Predator technology that, for reasons that don’t need going into at this juncture, wind up in the hands of his young, autistic son (Jacob Tremblay). When an even bigger, badder Predator drops out of the sky to recover the missing gadgets, Quinn has a busload of fellow damaged military veterans, including the aforementioned Keegan, former Punisher Thomas Jane, Game of Thrones dickputee Alfie Allen, and Moonlight‘s Trevante Rhodes, to call upon in the fight to save his kid and estranged wife (Aussie actress Yvonne Strahovski, a long way from Gilead here).

There’s a bit more to it, including Sterling K. Brown showing up to complicate matters as a shady government agent ala Gary Busey in Predator 2 (Jake “son of Gary” Busey has a brief cameo), but that’s basically your lot: The A-Team’s stunt doubles vs ferocious extra-terrestrial big game hunters in Spielbergian suburbia.

Which sounds great, but when you’re operating at this particular pitch of drive-in insanity, you pretty much have to include some bad ideas, which in this case involve some nonsense about the Predators harvesting their prey species’ DNA, and a big ol’ sequel hook that will never, ever, be acted upon – The Predator is all but destined to be derided and ignored on first release, and adored a decade or two down the track. Why? Because Thomas Jane’s character has Tourette’s, someone’s legs get sliced off by a force field, and there are Predator hunting dogs, one of which becomes the movie’s cute pooch. Those aren’t bugs though – they’re features. Like the pickle on a good cheeseburger, they exist to add piquancy. Perfection is boring.

If it sounds messy and slipshod, it is. Whether that’s by design or through last minute panicked editing is hard to say, although word is that some serious retooling went down right up to the release date. If that’s the case, we would love to get a look at whatever insanity Black and Dekker originally intended – if this is The Predator with the weirder angles sanded down, the prototype must be mind-blowing.

Perhaps the irony is that, for a film designed to resurrect a 21 year old franchise, The Predator feels about 30 years out of date. If it actually were a relic of the late ’80s sci-fi actioner direct-to-video boom, it’d be regarded as an absolute cult classic – a trait it shares with the recent and rather wonderful Beyond Skyline. If you have an affection for that kind of thing, run to The Predator – it has the fix you need. If you don’t, a matinee of The Book Club is no doubt playing somewhere nearby.

 
View Post

Mary Shelley

Featured, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Daughter to a renowned feminist icon, lover to at least one legendary poet and companion to more, world traveler, mother of modern science fiction and horror, and sometimes tragic heroine of her own epic life – there’s a lot to be said about Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, and the new movie which bears her name tries to say it all. Unfortunately, not to much effect.

Directed by Saudi filmmaker Haifaa al-Mansour from a script by Australian writer Emma Jensen, Mary Shelley traces the writer’s life from young adulthood when the then Mary Godwin left her father, William Godwin’s (Stephen Dillane) home, to her first meeting with her paramour, Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth), a self styled “radical poet” who here entertains notions of class equality while racking up massive debts supporting an extravagant lifestyle.

Decamping for Europe just ahead of his creditors, Percy, Mary and her sister, Claire Claremont (an underused Bel Powley) fetch up at the Geneva manse of Lord Byron (a playful Tom Sturridge, who looks like he should be playing bass for Kirin J. Callinan) where, one rainy day, a ghost story contest is proposed… and we all know what happens then (or you should. Read a bloody book).

The back half of the film deals with Mary’s struggles to get the book published under her own name, which holds some interest – the entrenched misogyny of the time meant that the first edition of Frankenstein was published anonymously with a foreword by Percy, with many believing him the actual author. But even so, the hurdles Mary faces here all seem relatively minor (even the death of her infant child, and it’s kind of amazing that such an event can feel so undramatic).

The whole thing feels rather bloodless, which is some kind of achievement in a film filled with ostensibly lusty Romantics and dealing with the creation of one of the greatest horror novels of all time. The more complex, prickly and potentially problematic aspects of the Shelleys and their contemporaries are largely sanded smooth. Byron still comes across as a douche, but the film can’t even really bring itself to blame Percy for his abandoned first wife’s suicide, really just clearing her out of the way to forward his fated romance with Mary.

The whole thing  feels like a missed opportunity. It’s a remarkably sexless film, which is incredible given that Mary (to be fair, apocryphally) shagged Percy on her mother’s headstone. Any suggestions of homosexuality are faint enough to be nigh-invisible – we just get Percy and Byron retiring to the drawing room, nudge nudge wink wink, from time to time. At least loony old Ken Russell’s Gothic fucks.

For all that, even a by the numbers biopic would not be without its charms, but al-Mansour makes some bafflingly bad staging choices that drastically undercut several key moments. The most unforgivable is a climactic intimate, passionate, private conversation between the Shelleys that is rendered quite absurd when you realise that just out of frame are a dozen or so stuffy, middle-aged literature fans waiting to discuss Frankenstein who are probably getting quite embarrassed by the couple’s overheated tête-à-tête.

Mary Shelley isn’t a disaster, but it is a disappointment. There’s a good movie to be made about the life of the literary giant, but we haven’t seen it yet.

 
View Post

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Featured, Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

While the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has its hands full dealing with the existential threat that is Thanos over in Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp deals with crises of an appropriately smaller scale: Evangeline Lily’s Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp (she is rarely if ever called by her nom de super) and her genius father, Henry Pym (Michael Douglas) need a gizmo to finish the “quantum tunnel” they’re building in hopes of rescuing Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), mother to the former and wife to the latter, from the microscopic “Quantum Realm” where she was lost many years gone by. Black market technology broker Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) has the widget, but he wants Pym’s own technology to sell to the highest bidder. The villainous – or is she? – Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who can phase through solid objects, also wants the gadget for her own reasons. All reformed thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), aka Ant-Man, wants to do is run out the clock on the two years of house arrest he was sentenced to after the events of Captain America: Civil War. No such luck…

After seeing half the universe wiped out in the last Marvel big screen outing, the modest stakes of Ant-Man and the Wasp seem almost quaint. It’s not about saving the world, but about rescuing one person. We’re not up against the ultimate evil, but a shifty arms dealer and a rogue spy. The big prize is a few mended fences – Scott has been on the outs with Hope and Hank in the two years since we last checked in, and one of this film’s chief narrative arcs is him getting back in their good graces.

It’s actually refreshing, and for all that the Ant-Man films are goofy comedy capers, they’re among the more emotionally astute offerings from the Marvel stable. We might enjoy spectacle, but let’s face it – the idea of the end of the universe is pretty abstract. However, almost everyone can relate to wanting to amend for past mistakes, or be a good role model for your kid (Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, and Abby Ryder-Fortson are back as Lang’s family).

Which doesn’t mean we don’t get a healthy dose of effects and action, but it takes a while for Ant-Man and the Wasp to get there, only really kicking into gear with a rather great chase through a restaurant kitchen pretty late in the game. The Ant-Man schtick is a simple one – people and objects shrink or grow – but director Peyton Reed and his team certainly find it malleable enough to keep discovering new wrinkles – although perhaps the best is the office building/roller luggage bit seen in the trailers.

Still, the film’s real strength is its cast – it’s simply a lot of fun to hang out with Lang and his extended circle. Michael Pena’s Luis remains the comedic MVP, but only just; almost everyone gets a chance to crack wise, and the film is only a couple of degrees off being a straight-up comedy. Only John-Kamen’s angsty Ghost really gets to grips with the usual woe-is-me superhero self pity, and she’s got her reasons. John-Kamen’s turn here is pretty great, but as a character Ghost feels a little out of place in this sunnier suburb of the MCU. Similarly, Goggins’ villain hardly seems like a credible threat even when he’s having a sinister henchman dope people with truth serum. Ant-Man’s real nemesis is actually Randall Park’s ineffectual FBI agent, who’s assigned to keep tabs on him while he’s under house arrest – a guy so nice he moonlights as a youth pastor.

Happily, Ant-Man and the Wasp is so breezy and charming that what would be defects in a more self-serious film are assets here. Marvel movies sometimes have tonal issues resulting from trying to straddle the line between the comedic and the dramatic – the much-loved Thor: Ragnarok is notably guilty of this – but this latest effort solves that equation by all but jettisoning the dramatic. What we’re left with is a nimble, light and enjoyable jaunt that probably won’t make anyone’s Best Of lists, but is nonetheless hugely enjoyable in the moment.

 
View Post

The Song Keepers

Australian, Featured, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

A years-in-the-making account of a unique example of cultural cross-pollination, Naina Sen’s The Song Keepers tells the story of the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir, culminating in the group’s successful tour of Germany.

What’s the connection? The choir has its roots in the work of German Lutheran missionaries who ministered to the local Indigenous people in the area, teaching them – among other things – Lutheran hymns. Those hymns, now reconfigured for the Arrarnta and Pitjantjatjara languages, are the basis for the modern choir’s songbook.

The result is a striking example of benign cross-cultural communication, and one that flies in the face of accepted narratives about colonialism. Not that Sen’s film shies away from the thornier elements of Imperialism; softly spoken and enthusiastic choir leader Morris Stuart, a black Guyanese, relates his own experiences with racism, while later in the proceedings stories told by the choir members themselves paint a picture of callous cruelty and prejudice against children of mixed descent.

Yet the nameless German missionaries, whose shadow looms large over the narrative, are depicted as all but saintly, rescuing abandoned children, protecting abused women, and even saving their charges from becoming part of the Stolen Generations. The film admirably but gently disabuses us of the usual simple binaries, condemning racism and colonialism, but illustrating that some degree of altruism can exist within those structures (to be fair, the problems we’re told the Lutherans dealt with are all a result of colonisation anyway, so…).

While Sen’s film doesn’t gloss over these issues, the focus remains firmly on the music and the German tour, and it is certainly something to hear a 4th century hymn sung in an Indigenous language. The tour itself is a wholly joyful affair, with the ladies of the choir almost overwhelmingly excited about leaving Australia for the first time. Even then, the institutional issues affecting Indigenous people occasionally comes to bear, as when the choir is confronted with the bureaucratic challenge of arranging passports for people who lack birth certificates. On the whole, though, The Song Keepers much prefers to accentuate the positive. This is a rousing, feel good film tempered with just enough grit and complexity to leave the viewer in a thoughtful mood afterwards.

 

 
View Post

Red Sparrow

Featured, Review, Theatrical, This Week 2 Comments

After a career-ending injury, Russian prima ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is recruited by her uncle, intelligence officer Ivan Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts, looking strikingly like Putin) into the Sparrows, a program designed to produce undercover agents who are experts at manipulating targets by any and all means, but with a specific focus on sexual seduction. However, when she’s tasked with seducing CIA operative Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), Egorova has an opportunity to become something more than a tool of the state.

Anyone going into Red Sparrow thinking they’re going to get Marvel’s Black Widow with the serial numbers filed off is in for the shock of their lives – this is a film that does not do what it says on the tin. Far from another icy action-girl thriller on the La Femme Nikita – Atomic Blonde spectrum, Red Sparrow is an altogether more thoughtful, more challenging, more perverse affair. Working from the novel of the same name by veteran CIA officer Jason Matthews, director Francis Lawrence (75% of the Hunger Games series) and screenwriter Justin Haythes (Revolutionary Road, A Cure for Wellness) have crafted something that feels like it owes more to peak period Paul Verhoeven than to Alias.

“Sex is a weapon” is a cliché, but Red Sparrow’s chief strength is that it ruminates on what that actually means, and while there’s no escaping a certain amount of titillation here – if you want to see JLaw naked, here’s your shot – the clinical approach to the mechanics of sex and seduction, particularly in the regimented training installation Dominika attends after she is recruited, elide away the sex appeal for all but those possessed of the most specific tastes.

In the Bond series, 007’s regular romps with various beauties were framed as a perk of the job, or a result of the protagonist’s raging satyrism at worst – never is the idea that dedicating one’s life to Queen and Country might mean more than just killing and/or dying. In Red Sparrow, however, that’s the whole point. Dominika is reminded time and time again that she is both a product of and a possession of the state, to be used in any way the nation’s security apparatus sees fit, and her own desires – sexual, moral, personal, political – are absolutely moot. Under the tutelage of the Matron (Charlotte Rampling, and it’s no accident that the star of The Night Porter is here), Dominika is taught to subsume her own self in order to feign attraction to anyone – and to do anything. “The body can be tricked”, she is told, as fellow Sparrows attempt to copulate in front of their attentive, bored classmates.

With her entire perceptible being dedicated to the service of Mother Russia, Dominika is advised by her disabled mother (our heroine’s initial motivation is to keep her out of a hellish-sounding state hospital) advises her to keep one small part of herself in reserve; a tiny piece of a private self. What that piece is, though, we as the audience are never really sure – in this world of paranoia, hidden agendas, sedition and secrets, truth is the most valuable commodity of all. Portraying a character whose inner being is almost entirely obfuscated is a tricky task – defaulting to boring robotic stillness is an ever-present risk – but Lawrence carries it off with studied subtlety, allowing us to see minute signs of her inner conflict and hesitation as she navigates the unforgiving hidden world she has been thrust into.

It’s a different kind of feminine strength on display, and one we’re not used to seeing on screen lately. Red Sparrow is not a fantasy of smashing the footsoldiers of patriarchy or being tough enough or being brutal enough to compete pound for pound with male aggressors, as in Atomic Blonde or Fury Road – not that those narratives aren’t vital. Rather, this film is about using the available tools and, importantly, operating clandestinely within the existing power structures in order to survive. Wonder Woman might be able to storm across No Man’s Land in a glorious, fist-pumping display of heroism (heroinism?), but if Dominika tries to muscle through her problems, she gets a bullet to the back of the head. It’s going to be interesting to see how audiences react to this in the current cultural climate.

Director Francis Lawrence does career-best work here. It sounds like a back-handed compliment, but there’s nothing in his back catalogue that suggests a capability for the work at hand: icy, controlled, provocative, and at times deliberately problematic. There’s also an admirable lack of patriotism; Edgerton and his CIA colleagues are sneered at by their Russian counterparts, who mock their lack of stoic professionalism – an unusual stance in an American spy thriller, even though we are in the end more or less encouraged to preference American ideology over Russian. Lawrence’s approach to both sex and violence in the film is decidedly European, and you can all but picture him in the editing suite slicing single frame after single frame in order to satiate the American censor’s demand for coyness.

Speaking of violence, there is surprisingly little, but when it does erupt it’s with a horrifying starkness and suddenness that refuses to let us forget that these are horrible things happening to real (in the context of the film) human bodies. It hurts; garotting is slow murder, knives slice and pierce but do not kill with cinematic quickness, and a couple of torture scenes will linger in the memory – although it’s interesting to note that while the film is happy to have Edgerton tied to a chair for an extended session of punishment, the scene cuts away when it’s Jennifer Lawrence’s turn, although possibly not quickly enough for some.

A lot of people are going to be disappointed with Red Sparrow. It has been horribly mis-marketed and a lot of pundits are going to be scandalised – you can see the furious ill-conceived thinkpieces brewing on the horizon already like gathering thunderheads. It’s not a perfect film; the middle stretch gets a bit lost in its own obscure plot machinations, and the film’s refusal to lay out exactly what the main character’s end goal is will frustrate some. It is, however, astute, provocative, fearless, deliberately perverse and thematically complex. The audience it does find is going to love it – and, perfectly, the cold and controlled Red Sparrow will not love them back.

 
View Post

Ash Vs Evil Dead Season 3

Featured, Home, Review, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

Ash vs Evil Dead is, for fans, a kind of pinch-yourself-to-make-sure-you’re-not-dreaming experience. A continuation of the beloved cult classic Evil Dead trilogy originally directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Drag Me to Hell), and starring the mighty Bruce Campbell (My Name is Bruce, Bubba Ho-Tep) as the titular Ash Williams; the series overflows with goofy charm, graphic violence and absurdly cathartic humour.

AVED has now hit its third season and FilmInk managed to catch the first five episodes (of ten) and can happily report that watching Campbell and company shred deadites and chew scenery has lost none of its lustre. In fact if anything season 3 seems a little more focused than previous entries, possibly because the action remains mostly localised to Ash’s hometown of Elk Grove, Michigan (actually located in New Zealand – where fellow AVED superfan, Travis Johnson, recently visited).

Ash now runs his dad’s old hardware store – adding dildos to the shop’s inventory and shooting cheesy TV ads for publicity – and basks in the fame of being a small town hero instead of “Ashy Slashy” the murderous pariah. Of course shit goes bad quickly and Ash is forced to re-team with Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) to face down evil in the form of returning Dark One, Ruby (Lucy Lawless) and deal the additional burden of fatherhood, as he meets the daughter-he-didn’t-know-about, Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neil).

If that all sounds like kind of a lot – especially for a show whose episodes run under half an hour a piece – you’re not wrong. In fact the premiere episode, “Family”, groans under the weight of the heavy plot load and skews the comedy a little too close to weightless slapstick at times. Happily this appears to be the exception and not the rule, as second episode “Booth Three” features an emphasis on mood building before everything kicks off, and showcases an inspired semen gag that rivals season 2’s gross-out episode, “The Morgue”.

The following three episodes “Apparently Dead”, “Unfinished Business” and “Baby Proof” bring the series barrelling towards an epic confrontation that, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to watch yet – but if the first half of the season is anything to go by, it’s going to be a big one.

AVED season 3 gives you more of what you want, but also takes the time to ruminate, however briefly, on themes of parenthood and legacy. Bruce Campbell is, as always, majestic playing the role that made him famous but the supporting cast are also strong, now comfortable in their roles, with Ray Santiago in particular giving Pablo nuance, elevating him above mere sidekick status.

Ultimately Ash vs Evil Dead is a gleefully loopy fever dream, a hugely entertaining adventure and a love letter to the fans. That letter is bound in human flesh and inked in blood, naturally, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

 
View Post

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

Featured, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami is a fascinating documentary about a consummate performer with an idiosyncratic personality.

Statuesque, with a naturally superb physique and dramatic bone structure, the Jamaican-born musician, singer, model and performer Grace Jones is one-of-a-kind. She’s reigned as a disco/pop icon for decades.

Not quite 70 and still touring, Jones brings a stylised theatricality to her concerts. She even – seemingly effortlessly – executes a 20-minute hula hoop routine while singing and introducing her band members.

Director and editor Sophie Fiennes takes a “fly on the wall” approach, crafting a beautiful and intimate documentary experience. We are invited into Grace Jones’ world, privy to her daily life and career, even interacting with family members in her island homeland. We see all facets of Jones, from dramatic performer to savvy business person. We see her frustrations and joys as her self-financed, self-produced album takes shape. Maintaining a skipping pace, Fiennes deftly switches from personal conversations to scenes such as Jones laying down vocal tracks in the studio then jumping to magnificent song performances in the vividly filmed concert settings.

All interviews were shot on mini-dv tapes, with Sophie Fiennes recording sound as well. Film was used for the concerts to lend a more lush look and capture the stylistic grandeur of the pop star in action. The sound quality is excellent; Jones is always surrounded by incredibly talented musicians and back-up singers.

Fiennes takes an old-school approach to her subject, one that she has described as “being in the moment”, of observing rather than commenting or overtly shaping the narrative. Only occasionally does the subject appear to be responding to an off-camera (unheard) question, such as when Jones describes the disco era as resembling, for some, “going to church.”

We frequently see Jones’ commanding the situation and competently calling the shots, such as when she berates musician Robbie Shakespeare over the phone for “giving her the run around.” Ever the chameleon, Jones glides from thick Jamaican patois to fluent French at will. A revealing and magnificent sequence is when Jones walks onto the set of a French television show, fully prepared and in full costume, to rehearse a lip-synching number (the disco hit “La Vie en Rose”). Her dismay at being surrounded by sexy lingerie-clad female dancers is expressed to the producer after the camera rehearsal. “I wish you’d shown me a photo of the set-up,” she laments. “It’s like I am a lesbian madam in a brothel! That’s not who I am.” It’s not clear what happens next. Above all, it’s refreshing to see a decisive woman kicking arse and pushing back with necessary toughness when insisting that all those around her match her professional demeanour.

Swimming in a local waterhole we gain a rare glimpse of Jones with short dreadlocks – commonly covered with wigs, hats or scarves. She seems so comfortable in her skin that nudity is never an issue, both on stage and briefly in the doco.

We learn about her strict religious upbringing – beatings at the hands of her step-grandfather while being forced to recite bible verses. She acknowledges that she often channels “Mas P” – her violent step-grandfather – when exhibiting her powerful stage persona.

Approaching 70, Grace Jones is in fine mettle and not showing any signs of slowing down.

 
View Post

Fifty Shades Freed

Featured, Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

Fifty Shades Freed, the third filmic adaptation of EL James’ briefly popular BDSM erotica series, is marginally better than its predecessor, Fifty Shades Darker, in much the same way that being shot through the head is better than being guillotined; at the very least, there’s not all that blinking and wondering where your body has gone.

Speaking of bodies, you may find yourself wondering where they’ve gone in the movie, Freed being the most sexless and anti-erotic installment thus far, in spite of “star” Dakota Johnson’s commitment to going topless (but never bottomless) at a moment’s notice. For a franchise rooted in the perverse and transgressive, the cinematic version of Fifty Shades is remarkably chaste: in the universe inhabited by billionaire fetishist Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and his coterie of largely indistinguishable family members and employees, the missionary position is still the preferred method of closing the deal, as long as it’s prefaced with the mildest of BDSM-flavoured foreplay. His fabled pleasure room might as well be used to store old furniture and Christmas decorations.

Which is apparently what he fears – the inevitable wedding is followed by the devoted Anastasia’s (Johnson) pregnancy, which represents a major threat to control freak Christian’s neatly demarcated world. Ana is, of course, still jealous of any woman who hoves into view, be it the cougariffic Kim Basinger or Arielle Kebbel’s busty architect (not objectifying here – “are they real” is a point of some debate in the film), and eventually Ani’s former boss (Eric Johnson) crops up in full psycho stalker mode to bring some unearned but welcome narrative momentum.

It’s all dreadful stuff, but it’s pretty funny if you’re in the right mood. You couldn’t go so far as to say director James Foley and company have embraced the inherent camp of the premise – 20 years from now we’re not going to be looking at this the way we look at Showgirls today – but the tongue may be said to be somewhere in the vicinity of the cheek (if nowhere else – damn, this thing is puritanical).

Indeed, the chief concern here isn’t porn porn, but lifestyle porn – we spend much longer marveling at exotic locales and sumptuously appointed homes than glistening bodies and outre erotic devices, and if the film is more concerned with the glamour of the Grey lifestyle than the darker impulses of his bedroom habits, what does that, by extension, say about heroine Ani’s motives here? The whole thing is a passionless exercise, and the film treats the sex scenes as a necessity to be dispensed with as quickly as possible, rather than something to luxuriate in. The most challenging pseudo-erotic image we’re presented with is a tearful Rita Ora gagged and tied to a chair, but since she’s actually been kidnapped by the villain at that point we’re encouraged not to view that through a sexual lens.

Given its predecessor’s impressive box office ($381M against a budget of $55M) there’s clearly an audience for Fifty Shades, which is pretty damning for us as a culture. Not because we’re flocking to see cinematic erotica, but because if this ill-conceived weak sauce is getting people’s motors running, it’s depressing to consider how ill-served they’ve been in their actual bedrooms. You’re reading this on the internet, for crying out loud – better, smarter, and more satisfying smut is a click away.

 
View Post

Black Panther

Featured, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

In the overstuffed but hugely enjoyable Captain America: Civil War we were introduced to the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), aka T’Challa, Prince of Wakanda, who adopts his heroic mantle after the death of his father to wreak vengeance on the man responsible (thought at the time to be Cap’s ol’ mate Bucky, and thank god we cleared that up). The Panther cut a striking figure in his brief but instantly iconic turn, all sleek athleticism and stentorian pronouncements of honour and retribution, but that’s all surface razzle dazzle. Now, in his eponymous solo outing, we get to dig deeper into T’Challa, his world, and his meaning as symbol, and we are not left wanting – although we may be left somewhat exhausted.

He’s a difficult character to sum up, after all. What if Batman was an African king? What if James Bond was black? What if Tony Stark put his incredible technological prowess towards bettering the world instead of building armour? What if The Phantom wasn’t weighed down with a shedload of White Saviour nonsense? The Black Panther is vast; he contains multitudes. It’s perhaps a bit of overcompensation rooted in the character’s creation at the hands of comics giants Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in 1966; in making one of the very first black superheroes, they made him the best at everything – he’s a high tech magical ultra-rich super genius who wields massive political power to boot. Thankfully, over the years a multitude of creators, mostly African American, have managed to synthesise T’Challa’s hodge-podge of super-attributes and, more importantly, humanise him, culminating in this take by director and co-writer Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed).

And so we have a man struggling with both his place in the world, and his country’s place in the world. The plot sees T’Challa returning to Wakanda to deal with the rites of succession following the murder of his father, T’Chaka (the great South African actor John Kani), and ascend to the throne – a task he feels no small trepidation for. T’Challa’s personal crisis, however, is well and truly overshadowed by our introduction to Wakanda – or should we say WAKANDA; the fictional country makes such an impact, it feels like it deserves all the capslock.

An absolute monarchy, Wakanda’s chief resource is the insanely valuable fictional metal Vibranium (Captain America’s shield is made out of it), not that anyone outside the nation’s borders would know about it. To the outside world, Wakanda is a third world country of little consequence on the global stage, but inside its borders? Flying cars! Towering skyscrapers! Holograms! Nanotech! The works. It’s an afrofuturist near-utopia, rendered in a stunningly vibrant sub-Saharan palate that’s like nothing else we’ve seen on screen before – a mix of traditional indigenous African cultures and the dizzying techno-mythic dreams of Jack Kirby.

Note the use of “near” to modify “utopia” though. Wakanda’s prosperity comes at a cost: absolute isolation and secrecy. There’s little diplomacy, no trade at all, no immigration, and the government is effectively a benevolent dictatorship, built on a deep foundation of tradition and inculcated loyalty. The chief concern of of the film is set up in a prologue flashback in which T’Chaka, in his role as the previous Black Panther, punishes a Wakandan operative gone rogue in America: what is Wakanda’s duty to the rest of the world in general, and the African diaspora in particular? Is it just to prosper while you brothers and sisters suffer in American ghettos?

T’Challa’s military regent and right hand man, W’Kabi (Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya) counsels reforming the outside world by force, but traditionalist factions in Wakanda’s power structure prefer the status quo. The largely hypothetical debate gets forced to crisis when the villain Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan, a striking and, crucially, understandable antagonist) starts making his move. A special forces veteran and international terrorist, Killmonger knows more about Wakanda than any outsider should – enough to make his designs on the throne a reality by manipulating the culture’s rigid codes of honour and custom. With his kingdom taken from him, Black Panther must gather all his strength and… well, you know how it goes.

With its blend of mysticism and futurism and its concerns with dynastic power struggles, Black Panther resembles nothing so much as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s take on Frank Herbert’s Dune, with T’Challa as the messianic changer of ways at the centre. That’s all macro, thematic stuff, though; Black Panther also sings in the more tangible details. It’s a film that feels alive, taking us into a culture and a situation that feels organic, lived-in and vital, stepping away from the now familiar Asian-by-way-of-Blade-Runner or boy-wasn’t-2001-a-heck-of-a-film visions of the futuristic that have dominated cinema for decades (and let’s not even go near Star Wars).

This includes the characters we meet, and the film does a bang-up job of introducing a packed ensemble, including Okoye (Danai Gurira of The Walking Dead), the fierce traditionalist leader of T’Challa’s personal guard; Shuri (Letitia Wright), his tech-genius teen sister, already a strong contender for breakout character; Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) his ex- and no doubt future-girlfriend; political rival turned ally M’Baku (Winston Duke), the leader of a fierce tribe who worship mountain gorillas; lorekeeper Zuri (Forest Whitaker) and Queen Mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett). And let us not forget the Tolkien white guys, Martin Freeman as a CIA agent caught up in all this malarkey, and Andy Serkis having an absolute ball as venal South African mercenary Ulysses Klaue.

They’re all deftly sketched and leave an impression regardless of their screen time, but the film is careful to keep its focus on the battle between Black Panther and Killmonger, and rightly so. Marvel has been justly criticised for defaulting to the “dark mirror” antagonist model too often, but it’s never been better handled than here. Killmonger is a monster, an unrepentant murderer, but his agenda makes sense in the context of his life: orphaned, raised in poverty on the street and then taken into the military like so many African American men before him, and then to be confronted with a black-run paradise he has been unequivocally denied access to, unless he takes it by force. He is, as T’Challa calls him at one point, a monster of their own making, and a remarkably sympathetic one, thanks in large to the charismatic performance from Jordan.

He’s perfectly countered by Boseman’s knowingly regal yet warm and thoughtful portrayal of T’Challa, a man raised in privilege and opulence who knows that the traditions that brought him to such a high position must change for the good of all – something Thor: Ragnarok tackled as well. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, the saying goes, and our hero is troubled by the notion that he must wear a crown at all – surely down the track we’ll be seeing a film dealing with the possibility of Wakandan free elections?

Which all sounds like Black Panther is a rather moribund treatise on globalism, colonialism, and privilege, but never fret, the action kicks well over the requisite amount of ass; indeed, the first act rather plods until we get to a top notch extended action setpiece when T’Challa and company head to South Korea on the trail of some stolen vibranium – a sequence that the 007 crew should be taking notes from, by the way. The whole shebang builds to an epic crescendo, effectively  Wakandan civil war – there are Battle Rhinos, team, and you’d have to be pretty jaded not to want to see that. The action never quite hits the level of visceral engagement that Coogler’s boxing matches in Creed did, but perhaps that wasn’t the target; still, there are a couple of moments where the action defaults to “CGI things hitting each other” that rather lets the side down.

There are a couple of tone deaf line readings where the script tries to make its subtext just plain text that feel a little insulting, too, as though the film doesn’t quite trust the audience to pick up what it’s putting down, and one undercuts the power of the emotional climax a little. Which is to say that Black Panther is not flawless – it’s just very, very good. It’s a vision, and a remarkable one; perhaps the most complete on-screen encapsulation of the wild flights of imagination comics are capable of, grounded in astute, modern political sensibilities. See it, see it a couple of times, and marvel (heh) at the idea that, this far into the age of the cinematic super hero, we’re still seeing films this bold, striking and fun.

 

 
See All Featured Posts
View Post

Wanda Sykes For President

“It’s not normal that I know I’m smarter than the president!” says Wanda Sykes during the long rant against Trump that opens her stand up special Wanda Sykes: Not Normal.
View Post

3 Female Australian Stars Turned Successful Entrepreneurs

There are any number of highways and byways by which the right kind of go-getter can make it as an entrepreneur. Particularly these days, with the Internet spuming molten hot idea magma over us every minute of every gosh darn day, there is quite literally an entrepreneurial idea for everybody.
View Post

Film Schools: Bridging The Gap

With the continuing debate about gender disparity in the international film industry, Australia’s screen schools and media education institutions have been putting strategies and philosophies in place to redress the imbalance.
View Post

Mike Leigh: Provocateur

With Mike Leigh’s politically charged Peterloo in cinemas now, we look at the director’s most provocative and socially focused films.
View Post

PREVIEW: Animals

Ahead of its Sydney Film Festival screenings, we take a look at Sophie Hyde’s highly anticipated international debut.
See All Features Posts
View Post

The Golden Dream (La Jaula de Oro)

Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Despite there being not much dialogue, there is no shortage of emotion in Mexican drama The Golden Dream (La Jaula de Oro).

What begins as an escape from a Guatemalan city – so normalised by gun-fire that the local children simulate it in their play – transpires into a story of three teenagers train-jumping their way to America in the pursuit of deliverance.

The fear of staying in Guatemala is more distressing than the passage to America, with Director Diego Quernada-Diez delivering a well-crafted narrative that is respectful to the plight of many South Americans whilst acknowledging a political climate determined to make the search for asylum increasingly more dangerous.

Whether it be the sheet metal that becomes the structure of their bedrooms or the terrifying structures guarded by helicopters and the military, the walls which deny characters refuge are more disturbing by the fact that The Golden Dream was initially released in 2013 and proceeded to win multiple awards including Cannes’ prestigious Un Certain Regard – eerily preceding, if not foreboding, of the anti-immigration movement ignited in Trump-era politics.

The three impeccably-acted leads, each offering their own motivations and perspective, are so accustomed to turmoil that they embody an inherent strength that sees them become resilient to the devastating events (and there are many) in The Golden Dream. Their difficulties in communicating with the mysterious Chauk (Rodolfo Dominguez) brings home the universality of the hardships experienced by refugees and the means by which children risk safety when fleeing danger zones.

Music throughout The Golden Dream offers a glimpse into the fighting spirit that lives in the Guatemalan culture while also inviting the audience to share in the teenagers’ sparsely seen moments of happiness.

The manner through which The Golden Dream establishes itself as authentic allows the emotional weight of the film to be easily absorbed and in doing so creates a powerful and timely film that pushes an agenda for open borders.

 

 
View Post

Maybe Tomorrow

Australian, Australian New Wave Filmmakers, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

‘Why even try?’ is perhaps the central question of Maybe Tomorrow, the latest indie from Melbourne filmmakers Caitlin Farrugia and Michael Jones (Lazybones). Why try doing something when you are low on money and time? Or what about that big dream of yours, eh? Why bother if your priorities are going to suddenly change?

Who are all these questions being hurled at? Well, that would be young Melbourne couple Erin and Patrick, played by Tegan Crowley and Veteresio Tuikaba. Both are bursting with energy as they discuss the film that they’re going to be making together when their bubble of creativity is burst by the cries of their new born child. It’s not a cold moment, but it foreshadows the rollercoaster journey they will take in the pursuit of artistic expression.

Patrick appears to think nothing of mixing filmmaking with parenthood. Whilst Erin works at a coffee shop to pay the bills, he plays househusband, strumming the ukulele to his child and working out the schedule for the shoot. It’s the kind of free time Erin perhaps misses, when compared to the short time she gets to have at the end of the day with her family and the screenplay she’s poured her heart into – a screenplay which appears to be a release for Erin, in which the scenarios she writes about and even the actors she chooses seem to echo parts of her life with Patrick. So, when her story, including a literal car crash of a finale, begins to be reshaped by outside forces, you can really sense her frustration simmer. Meanwhile, the housebound Patrick is sabotaging his own attempts at making new friends as a father.

Let’s be clear, Maybe Tomorrow is not a mopey kitchen sink drama. Rather, this a playful dramedy. Whilst Patrick storyboards scenes with baby toys and paints any potential new friends as ‘racists’ before he’s even met them, Erin struggles with auditioning actors and their egos.

Farrugia and Jones are clearly having a lot of fun as they make fun of their own world. Upon being asked by Erin what previous parts she’s played, a young Asian actor lists every cliched role that’s beholden to people of colour in Australia: ‘best friend, servant, sex trafficked woman…’

As the couple at the centre of everything, Crowley and Tuikaba share an adorable chemistry as they play with their baby, playfully bicker about whether veggie pasties are really food and not so playfully bicker about film budgets. It says something about their performances that when the filming schedule applies pressure, you find yourself incredibly protective of them.

Loving and warm, Maybe Tomorrow is a charming portrait of new parenthood and the complexities of film production.

 
View Post

Pluck (A Film Not Really About Chicken)

Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Ad pitch: Mugabe sits in his empty palatial dining room reminiscing about the friends he’s lost. Friends such as Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. As the soundtrack of Mary Hopkin’s Those Were the Days reaches its crescendo, we’re reminded that no one should have to eat alone. The product? Nando’s 6 pack meal deal, obviously.

This is one of the many near knuckle marketing campaigns headed by the chicken restaurant that’s seen them become one of the most well-known brands in South Africa. The documentary Pluck compiles a selection of their best and worst campaigns in order to paint an alternative political history of the country, whilst those behind the brand talk about the real-world events that shape their creativity.

Let’s be honest, any documentary that focuses solely on a company’s legacy – particularly one which they’ve given their blessing to – is in danger of being indulgent from the beginning. Thankfully, Pluck manages to fall on the right side of back-slapping. Created in 1987, the Johannesburg franchise dropped into a political landscape that was – and still is – deeply complicated. Poking fun at the establishment wasn’t just a way to get noticed. For many at Nando’s it was about defusing tension. And if they sell a bit of peri peri sauce, then so much the better. In fact, one creative remembers that he got so involved in holding a mirror up to the society that they realised three ads into their campaign that they hadn’t actually mentioned any of the products they were selling.

Amidst the lampooning and caricatures, Pluck reminds the viewer of what could be at stake. Whilst Nando’s copped its fair share of viewer complaints, with ads involving blind people and, at one point, a certain Uruguayan rugby team trying to stay alive, they could also incur the wrath of the politicians that they mocked. The aforementioned Mugabe ad resulted in threats of violence and death being aimed at staff in Zimbabwe, whilst the then leader of the African National Congress Youth League, Julius Malema took great offence to being portrayed as a literal political puppet, going so far as to demand a face to face apology.

Naturally, everything is a product of its time and some adverts will likely raise a quizzical eyebrow with their attitudes towards gender. In particular, it’s hard to fully rally for the ad exec who claims the stereotypically camp gay couple used in his campaign was championed by his LGBT friends who were just thankful for the representation. Thankfully, other talking heads are more candid when it comes to their company’s more problematic moments.

While its message of laughter is the best medicine and everyone is equal in the eyes of comedy is nothing ground-breaking, as an independent documentary, Pluck indeed wins for its approach to one of history’s more splintered political arenas.

 
View Post

The State Against Nelson Mandela and the Others

Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

In 1963 South Africa, seven men were charged and put on trial for over 200 counts of sabotage with the intent to ‘ferment violent revolution’. Their names were: Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Ahmed Kathrada, Denis Goldberg and future president of the country Nelson Mandela. The trial was condemned by a branch of the United Nations and led to international sanctions.

The documentary The State Against Mandela and the Others is well aware that for many this trial is perhaps most famous for being the one that put Mandela in prison for nearly 30 years. Describing the rest of the group as ‘the others’ in its own title, the film is a tongue in cheek dig at this public knowledge, whilst also clearing a pathway to understanding who these other men were.

Directors Nicolas Champeaux and Gilles Porte sit down with those who were accused, and still alive, to talk about their lives before they fought apartheid and their thoughts and feelings during the court case itself. Those no longer present are represented by family members, such as Winnie Mandela, who cast light on how the men’s actions reverberated through their wives and children. Their conversations are frank and often charming, with the men still possessing the same sharpness they displayed in court.

Rather than simply being a series of talking heads, however, The State Against Mandela and the Others uses the 256 hours of court recordings to tell the men’s story through animation. Through surprisingly clear audio, we hear every word, cough and gavel slam as the men come under the scrutiny of chief prosecutor, Dr Percy Yutar. Faced with the death penalty, the seven men used their time on trial to highlight their cause and it’s clearly frustrating for Yutar as they weave around the questions hurled at them.

Often surreal in its depictions of its ‘cast members’ – Yutar is portrayed as a giant Bela Lugosi type who glides into frame – the animation allows the men’s words to run loose into landscapes made up of shapes and patterns as well as more traditional means of depicting the story. It all becomes rather hypnotic and yet, manages to both bolster and distract from the words spoken.

A shortcoming of the film arrives in the condensing of the court audio. Whilst there’s perhaps no call to hear every single second of the trial, there is a thought at the back of the mind that Champeaux and Porte’s approach to the Rivonia trial could be best suited as a mini-series, allowing the story and its protagonists a chance to breathe. Instead of hurtling – understandably due to time constraints – to the end. This is a mild criticism perhaps that’s more a testament to what is happening on screen and the desire to know more.

With a heavy subject given a light touch via animation, The State Against Mandela and the Others is an interesting take on an important chapter in apartheid history.

 
View Post

Through the Fire (Sauver ou périr)

Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

In Through the Fire, Frédéric Tellier expertly frames a story of personal sacrifice and professional courage. A powerfully moving examination of the kind of experiences those in the front-line of the emergency services have to contend with on a daily basis, the struggle of life as a firefighter is portrayed both realistically and humanely.

Franck (Pierre Niney) is a completely committed firefighter. His devotion towards his profession is matched by the love and duty of care he feels for his wife Cécile (Anaïs Demoustier) and their young children. Franck takes a stark view of the challenges involved in firefighting – his motto is ‘to save or perish’.

That belief in an absolute purpose is tested to the extreme when Frank suffers terrible burns to the face when called out with his team to a raging inferno. He somehow manages to survive, but the long and arduous road to recovery is one fraught with danger, both to himself, and to his familial relationships.

Both leads are excellent in this emotionally turbulent account of rebuilding after trauma. Franck appears with his face hidden by a mask of bandages and dressing for much of the film, yet Niney brilliantly portrays the internal pain and fear with subtlety and depth. Demoustier tells Cécile’s story beautifully, with the stress and worry forming cracks in a relationship that was once so grounded and stable.

The film sensitively looks at the big questions of life and meaning; our identities, our family, and perceptions of roles in life. It also shows how in extremis even the best of humanity can be put to the test. The biggest test of the audience, however, is how many will experience a teary eye or two…

 
View Post

Dumped

Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

French filmmaker Eloise Lang (and collaborator Noémie Saglio) co-directed Harry Me! The Royal Bitch of Buckingham, a Borat-inspired hidden camera faux-doco that saw its boorish, aggressive and abusive star Camille Cottin carving her way through upper class English aristocracy in order to find and marry Prince Harry, or a similarly posh and wealthy man who could bridge the class divide for her and improve her station in life. Cottin and Lang have re-teamed on a more conventional, broader-aimed vehicle: a romantic comedy with a more US-oriented leaning (and also a remake of the Danish film All Inclusive).

It stars Cottin as a ne’er-do-well daughter and unrepentant party girl Rose who, along with her tightly-wound older sister Alice (Camille Chamoux) accompanies their mother Francoise (played by French star Miou-Miou, whose decades-long CV boasts collaborations with many of the French greats, from Louis Malle to Michel Gondry) on a tropical getaway to the idyllic Reunion island, in order to celebrate their mother’s birthday. There, the sisters decide to make the trip as positive an experience as possible for their newly divorced mother, whose ex-husband, we learn, has just announced to the sisters that he and his new paramour are expecting a child.

Deciding to keep this information on the down low, the sister’s set about trying to do their best to give their mother a holiday to remember. For Rose, it seems like a good idea to drunkenly ask fellow guest Thierry (Johan Heldenbergh), a man she’s just had a one-night fling with, to show her mother ‘a good time’ for an evening, by asking her to dance, buying her a drink and then making an excuse and leaving, presumably in an effort to boost her mother’s self-esteem. Things don’t go to plan and instead, a romance develops between Francoise and Thierry. Things get complicated quickly, as they often do in French romantic comedies and soon both sisters are trying to find a way to avoid their mother discovering that her new lover is her daughter’s old lover.

While very much in keeping with the operatic comedic pitch of Lang’s previous work, this is the kind of bright and shiny romantic farce that France is best known for (and usually get snapped up as remake fodder by US studios). It’s at times funny and silly though slightly tone deaf in the era of #metoo; ultimately, it’s eager to keep things enjoyably breezy and light.

Also screening at the Gold Coast Film Festival.

 
View Post

At War (En Guerre)

Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

At War is an explosive account of the full extent workers are pushed to keep their jobs and lives together. Brizé and Lindon reunite after 2015’s The Measure of a Man, to explore similar territory of a proud working-class driven to take action by threats to their jobs and security.

Given the recent political events in France with the ‘gilet jaune’ (yellow vests) movement, any film covering sustained protest and civil unrest is bound to be viewed in light of contemporary news. This certainly does not harm Brizé’s vérité influenced film looking at a 1,100 strong workforce facing the prospect of redundancies following the forced shutdown of their factory. Despite personal financial loss and an uncertain future, the workers decide to fight the decision in any way they can.

Led by the fiercely committed Laurent Amédéo (Vincent Lindon), the group do their best to remain solid and strong in the face of hardships, in-fighting and corporate manoeuvring. The tension of the powder-keg situation is built up both by the excellent performances and through video footage and staged news reports.

The film expertly showcases how a group with a shared belief driven by a sense of injustice – it is continually pointed out that the factory was in fact performing well – will do anything when passionately fired up by what it perceives as malicious wrongdoing.

At certain points the main plot of the film feels overstretched, but it makes up for this with the pace picking up again in the final third. Frequently eye-catching and captivating when the emotional intensity really hits home, the film acts as a cri de coeur and rallying call for dispossessed working people everywhere. Examining the human cost of industrial and commercial upheaval, the film looks at people who are more than mere statistics or points on a spreadsheet’s profit margin.

The documentary style takes the audience straight to the heart of the action in a variety of locations, from the factory floor right up to an impassioned stand-off with the CEO of the factory’s ultimate owners. There is never any doubt that Laurent and his colleagues are being exploited by the profit-chasing company. The real question is how long they can continue to strike, and what will the fall-out be?

A provocative and powerful state of the nation address, At War delivers the stark message of a man and a movement that will not meekly step down.

 
View Post

Waiting: The Van Duren Story

Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Taking a night-in with bottles of wine and a newly discovered record as its jumping-off point, Waiting is a wonderfully positive and frequently amusing doco concentrating on the joys of music and friendship.

Greg Carey and Wade Jackson couldn’t believe Memphis native Van Duren wasn’t better known on first hearing his unique voice and infectious power pop-rock. The melodious highs and catchy piano led hooks certainly seemed to announce a major music star. But nobody had ever heard of him or his music. After making a late-night promise to investigate further, the two vowed to document their search for the mysterious singer-songwriter.

Inevitably drawing comparison with the hit 2012 documentary film Searching for Sugar Man, which also detailed a quest to seek out an under-appreciated musician, Waiting is nevertheless its own unique story.

The decision – largely thought up by fellow writer and producer Jonathan Sequeira (Descent into the Maelstrom) – to push the two debut filmmakers to the front of the story is one that pays off in full. The two friends, both experienced music industry professionals, bring a camaraderie and sense of fun to the project that provides lightening of the mood when things potentially turn dark.

As the two point out, and as we learn throughout, Van Duren was tipped to be a major star in the late 1970s. Indeed, had it not been for a combination of poor management, financial naivete and the strange workings of promotional activity, he might well have been. He was even represented and produced by the former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog-Oldham, who shows up in the film recounting alcoholic misdemeanours, tax-havens and a somewhat random approach to star-making.

In his own words, “you can strike gold, or pick gold, even when you’re out to lunch”. And this expression for being out of one’s mind, sounds like a fairly accurate summation of much of the 1970s career planning on behalf of the singer.

Forming out of the ashes of Memphis cult-band Big Star, Van Duren released his widely tipped debut Are You Serious? in 1978. Despite sell out shows and rave reviews, his dysfunctional record label refused to release his follow up, which was completed in early 1980.

What was never in doubt was Van Duren’s essential talent and musical ability. When Carey and Jackson find out that he no longer owns the rights to his own music, they set about fininshing the film and returning the legal rights to him. The emotional consequences of this decision are beautifully played out.

As well as the fantastic soundtrack drawing on Van Duren’s rediscovered classic cuts, the film also has a great visual sense helped along by the wonderful graphic-novel like illustrations of key points in the tumultuous back story by Sydney artist Aidan Roberts.

Taking the audience on a voyage through seriously strange waters, including legendary rock stars, con-men, barroom legends and Scientologists, Waiting is an enticingly entertaining and insightful feature documentary. Recommended viewing for anyone in love with creativity and keeping the flame of musical inspiration burning and alive.

Van Duren is set to tour Australia in April.

Waiting – The Van Duren Story is also screening here:

Tuesday 9 April  – Blue Room Cinebar, Brisbane QLD
Tickets

Wednesday 10 April – Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney NSW
Tickets

Thursday 11 April – Cinema Nova, Melbourne VIC
Tickets

Saturday 13 April – Presented by High Tide, Central Coast, NSW 
Tickets on sale and location revealed Thursday 28 February

Friday 26 April – The Gum Ball Festival, Dashville (Hunter Valley) NSW
Tickets

Saturday 27 April – Bendigo Autumn Music Festival, Bendigo VIC
Tickets 

VAN DUREN – AUSTRALIAN PERFORMANCES

Thursday 18 April – The Curtin, Melbourne VIC *
Tickets

Sunday 21 April – Boogie Festival, Tallarook VIC
Tickets

Tuesday 23 April – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney NSW *
Tickets

Thursday 25 April – Baroque Room, Katoomba NSW *
Tickets

Friday 26 April – The Gum Ball Festival, Hunter Valley NSW
Tickets

Sunday 28  April – Bendigo Autumn Music Festival, Bendigo VIC
Tickets 

*Headline shows

 
View Post

A Man in a Hurry

Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Alain (Fabrice Luchini) is a no-nonsense CEO of a large car manufacturer. He has what they call the gift of the gab, being able to rouse up a boardroom like no one else in the business. His career comes with a price including alienating co-workers and playing absent father to his daughter, Julia (Rebecca Marder). Suffering two large strokes in one day, Alain wakes up in hospital to discover that he’s forgotten how to use the French language. He knows exactly what he wants to say but can’t choose the right words to say it. He says some words backwards, replaces other words with similar sounding ones and will even greet a room with a cheery ‘Au revoir’.

Like Eddie Murphy in 1000 Words or Jim Carrey in Liar Liar, A Man in a Hurry follows an extremely formulaic narrative which sees him lose everything in order to regain everything. Unable to embrace his mother tongue like he used to, Alain struggles to keep his head above water in the cut throat world of car design. Conversely, his relationship with his daughter has a chance to blossom now that he’s vulnerable. And of course, there’s always time for another vaudevillian spoonerism.

It’s all so very breezy that it’s extremely easy to miss the moments of pathos that dot the linguistic landscape. Alain’s twisted tongue also comes with a patchy memory and the film makes moments of comedy – in which Alain learns about what kind of man he was – into something more poignant when he has to be reminded that his wife passed away. Later, an eloquent speech given by Alain is soon revealed to be nonsense in the ears of his audience. Sadly, these moments resonate, but they’re few and far between.

Confusingly, the film chooses to take a break from Alain every now and then so we can focus on his speech therapist, Jeanne (Leila Bekhti) and her search for her real mother. It’s an odd storyline that feels better suited to a completely different film and suggests wanting to give a little more backstory to one of the main characters in Alain’s life. However, once a further subplot about her romance with a hospital porter is tagged on, it starts to feel like we’re just padding out the screenplay.

That’s not say that as a final product, A Man in a Hurry is a bad film. Luchini is well known in France for his showmanship. Playing his wordplay completely straight adds a touch more depth to the comedy than he would have gurning and winking at the camera – hello Mr Carrey. Luchini plays his own straight man and it’s all for the benefit of the film.

Light, frothy and untaxing on the brain, A Man in a Hurry will make you wish you could speak French so you could really appreciate the wordplay without the aid of subtitles.

 
See All Festival Posts
View Post

A Glimpse Inside a VR Mind

Alongside Exquisite Corpse, another VR experience is catching eyes in the interactive section at MIFF this year – Mind at War – the new project developed by director and interactive designer Sutu, and internationally leading VR producer RYOT.
See All Festival Report Posts
View Post

Honoka Matsumoto: Taboo in Japan

The young actress featured in two taboo-breaking feature films at the Okinawa International Movie Festival: My Father, The Bride and A Life Turned Upside Down: My Dad’s An Alcoholic.
See All Film Festival Posts
View Post

The Films That Changed My Life: Phil Grabsky

Acclaimed documentarian and filmmaking entrepreneur Phil Grabsky turned up in Australia to promote his latest film Exhibition on Screen: David Hockney at the Royal Academy of the Arts, and we managed to nab him for a chat to discuss that, film distribution of documentaries, and the films that changed his life.
See All FilmInk Podcast Posts
View Post

FilmInk Presents: Defend, Conserve, Protect

Produced in Australia and successfully financed through a global crowdfunding effort, where over 750 passionate environmentalists pledged funds, Defend, Conserve, Protect took more than four years to make, and was shot across France, The Netherlands, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica.
View Post

Kelly’s Hollywood

Don't miss these very special screenings of a documentary with a massive heart, which may just change the way that you view the world, for the better.
See All FilmInk Presents Posts
View Post

The Films That Changed My Life: Phil Grabsky

Acclaimed documentarian and filmmaking entrepreneur Phil Grabsky turned up in Australia to promote his latest film Exhibition on Screen: David Hockney at the Royal Academy of the Arts, and we managed to nab him for a chat to discuss that, film distribution of documentaries, and the films that changed his life.
See All Films That Changed My Life Posts
View Post

Mortal Kombat 11

Game, Gaming, Home, Home Entertainment, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

I can still remember when Mortal Kombat hit the pinny parlours in early ’90s Australia. Rat-faced teenagers with bad skin and violent minds flocked en masse to attempt to beat the crap out of their mates, finishing the battles with gory fatalities and screeching happily at the carnage. Mortal Kombat seemed hardcore, dangerous even, at a time when video games were generally pretty safe, family friendly affairs.

Smash cut to 2019 and video games are all over the shop in terms of content. Just this year we’ve had the staggeringly violent Resident Evil 2 remake, which puts the earlier Kombats to shame. So where does a game like Mortal Kombat 11 fit and how do developers make it stand out? The answer, bafflingly, seems to be by turning the damn thing into a Saturday morning cartoon. Even more baffling? It bloody well works!

Mortal Kombat 11’s story campaign is a ten or so hour long romp through the multiverse, featuring time travel, alternate realities and elder gods. It’s gleefully stupid nonsense, that feels like something 13-year-olds would adore, and comes equipped with the series’ notorious – although defo not dangerous – graphic violence. Heads explode, guts are ripped out, spines shattered and whole bodies cleft in twain. It’s mayhem, although these days it feels more like splattery slapstick than anything that could conceivably offend any but the most pearl-clutchy of folks.

The game comes equipped with multiple modes, the best of which are the versus matches (both online and off) and the various Towers you can play through to grind for better loot and character customisation options. Honestly, the grind won’t be for everyone, but the obsessives out there will find a lot of value for their dollar in this title.

Ultimately, Mortal Kombat 11 is the best pure fighting destination you’re likely to come across this year. A wonderfully stupid story, multiple off and online modes and all of it dripping with handfuls of graphic gore. If that sounds like your jam, get ready to unleash your inner rat faced teenager and yorp with glee as the bodies hit the floor.

 
View Post

Days Gone

Game, Gaming, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

When talking about Days Gone, it’s probably wise to address what the PS4 exclusive title isn’t, as much as discussing what it is. Days Gone isn’t another masterpiece from Sony, following in the staggeringly good run of Horizon: Zero Dawn, God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man. This is a title with numerous problems and shortcomings, both technical and conceptual, and is destined to be treated like the red-headed stepchild of the PS4. All that being said, Days Gone is still pretty damn fine, if you’re willing to dig a little deeper into its somewhat rough charms.

Days Gone takes place in an open world largely destroyed by a fast zombie (or “freaker”) apocalypse that began a couple of years earlier. In that bitey beano, outlaw biker Deacon St. John lost his missus and now does odd jobs for various communities in Oregon. Deacon and his bestie, Boozer, keep talking about heading “up north” and Deek keeps trying to find out more about his wife’s demise, all the while fighting freakers and crazy humans. It’s an elegant premise, and a pretty convincing world, that you inhabit. After an initial bit of business Deek’s bike is trashed and he’s forced to use a gas-guzzling hunk of junk that you’ll do your best to improve as you engage in missions, main and side, plus other generic open world activities.

What Days Gone does best is its main story. The characters are well realised, if not always terribly original, and the freakers are legitimately scary, particularly when they form enormous, 200+ strong hordes. Moving from camp to camp, chatting with the leaders of each one, and finding out the philosophies that exist in a post-collapse America is engaging and interesting, and once you get used to the clunky controls, there’s fun to be had just tootling around getting into trouble. Less successful is the more time-wasting side content like bounties, which often aren’t worth the fuel you’ll waste – because, damn, you’ll be spending a lot of time refilling your crappy bike.

On the very downside, Days Gone is still – after a bunch of patches – beset by bugs of the visual, audio and frame rate variety. It never attains Fallout 76 levels of wretchedness, but it’s strange to see in a big budget AAA game, and for some folks that will be a hard pass.

However, if you rather like exploring the bones of a dying civilisation, and if you’re still engaged by zombies and apocalyptic cultists, then Days Gone is at least worth a squiz. It’s no masterpiece, and could have used some judicious editing, but Days Gone is, at many times, a diamond in the (very) rough.

 
View Post

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Game, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

FromSoftware releases are more than simply games, these days they are practically cultural events. Masters of minimal, atmospheric storytelling and punishing, but satisfying gameplay, each of their titles comes with much fan anticipation, online speculation and endless, earnest think pieces about why “this one should have an easy mode”. In short, FromSoft games are a big deal and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is no exception.

Speculation about the new From game has been rampant since the Dark Souls trilogy closed out with its third entry in 2016. What would be next, we wondered. Bloodborne 2? A reboot of Demon’s Souls? A new IP of some kind? When we finally saw footage of Sekiro, it immediately became dubbed “Samurai Souls”, which was an exciting premise but not particularly accurate. You see, while Sekiro shares many similarities with the so-called Soulsborne games, it’s actually not part of that family. Sekiro is its own thing, for good and for ill.

Sekiro tells the story of Wolf, a wandering shinobi, who is on a mission to save the Divine Heir Kuro from the Ashina clan. The mission gets off to a bad start as during the opening minutes of the game, Wolf gets his left arm lopped off. In typical From-style, you the player need to rebuild the gruff hero’s strength, learn to use a fancy prosthetic and save Kuro from certain death. If this all sounds unusually straight forward for a From game, you’re absolutely correct. Sekiro’sstory is, by the standards of this developer, almost shockingly vanilla. Oh sure, there are some weirder aspects towards the middle and end sections, but nothing like the mind-bending cosmic horror of Bloodborne or the nihilistic fantasy of Dark Souls.

The other big change from standard operating procedure is the gameplay. Whereas Souls and Bloodborne let you choose from a variety of weapons and a variety of play styles, Sekiro gives you a single weapon. Certainly, Wolf can swap out various prosthetic gadgets and other nifty tricks, but it’s sword all the way, baby. Plus, get ready to block and parry. A lot. Like, pretty much the whole game. Sekiro is on a mission to retrain the player, so forget the slower back and forth dance of Dark Souls or the dash-and-slash of Bloodborne, because this is all block, deflect and break that posture for the deathblow. It’s a clever, nuanced system with a steep learning curve but once mastered it makes combat quite satisfying, however it’s hard not to miss the weapon variety from other From games. The inclusion of a spear, hammer and other era-appropriate gear would have gone far in making the proceedings feel a little less samey. Other aspects of Sekiro have been streamlined too, with PvP elements and the ability to summon online players to assist you both missing, and frankly, missed.

Look, dear reader, I’m going to be frank with you here as I slip briefly into the first person. I adore the Soulsborne games, with all my heart. Bloodborne in particular is in my top two all time games – with the other entry being a second copy of Bloodborne – however as much as I respect the craft and artistry of Sekiro, I don’t love it. The story feels a wee bit generic, the characters a little flat, and while the technical aspects of blocking, parrying and breaking posture are well-designed and executed with aplomb… they’re not all that much fun. Obviously this is subjective, and you may feel completely differently, but that’s how this one landed for me.

There’s a lot that’s great about Sekiro, mind you. The world is vital and a joy to explore. The new grapple mechanic adds a degree of verticality to the levels that is a real eye-opener. And the stealth elements, while not always perfectly implemented, are often a great deal of fun. The boss fights, as always, are memorable and frequently wrenchingly frustrating too, and I suspect it will be a while before I forget facing Madame Butterfly, Genichiro Ashina or the freaking Guardian Ape for the first time. However, as happy as I was besting them, I didn’t experience the same endorphin surge delivered by previous From games, instead feeling a kind of grumpy relief. Like I’d just finished cleaning a feral bathroom or a much-delayed trip to the gym.

Ultimately Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is going to be for a very specific type of player. The kind of gamer who liked the other From games, but wanted a more grounded story. Who enjoyed the likes of Bloodborne, but felt it needed more ear-jangling parrying sections and was, perhaps, a little mystified by all those weapon options. Sekiro is a very good game, conceptually, artistically and mechanically, but it’s also a streamlined, pared back experience that feels like it’s lacking some essential element, an indefinable component, that made the other From games masterpieces.

 
View Post

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2

Game, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

When The Division launched in 2016 it was an engaging looter shooter beset by intermittent bugs and a lack of meaningful endgame, but it did contain the core of a great idea. Teaming up with your mates, or randos, to take on wandering gangs in a post apocalyptic New York during a snowy winter was a fabulous concept, and even at the game’s low points one couldn’t fault the atmosphere and sense of place. Now The Division 2 has arrived with the goal of addressing its predecessor’s flaws and, by and large, succeeds in this lofty goal.

The Division 2 changes location and season, this time taking place in Washington DC in the height of a sweltering summer. Various criminal factions vie for control of the former seat of America’s government, and it’s up to you – playing solo or in a team – to discourage their homicidal shenanigans with the ultimate attitude adjuster: a metric shit-tonne of guns. If this plot sounds familiar, or slight, that’s because it is. Much like the previous game in the series, The Division 2 is a premise with delusions of grandeur rather than a cohesive story. This is a deliberate choice by developers Massive Entertainment, because they want the player to be able to experience the game in their own way, either by charging through the story or taking the slow approach. While this is a laudable goal, it would have been nice to experience some kind of deeper narrative engagement because at the climax of the story, one shouldn’t be struggling to remember who the main characters actually are.

That said, The Division 2 succeeds spectacularly well when it comes to the world you inhabit. From the first mission where you take back the White House, to the endgame content featuring the dreaded Black Tusk faction, every single location feels lived in, thought out and constructed in a way that best suits a game of this type. Gameplay has also been significantly tweaked, adding elements of strategy to the somewhat tired cover-based shooting mechanics, to the point where players can potentially be overwhelmed by even low level enemies if they don’t choose their position wisely. Enemy AI, the bane of most looter shooters, has been jacked up to give your foes a real sense of agency. None of these cats will be joining Mensa anytime soon, however they will flank, take cover and rush you at times that feel logical. This is a far cry from Destiny’s often braindead foes and gives the action a sense of vitality and excitement.

Best of all, however, The Division 2 showers the player with loot. Whether you’re doing main missions, side missions, bounties, control points, Dark Zone exploration or just pissfarting about in the open world, you will continue to accrue better and better gear. You’ll need it too, because the game contains a surplus of content. The main campaign is a beefy one and after you hit the level cap of 30, an entirely new faction invades the game and reboots the main story missions. It’s a clever way of making old locations feel new again, and certainly addresses the original’s pitiful endgame woes.

The Division 2 won’t convince anyone who despises looter shooters, or games-as-a-service, of its considerable charms. However, for fans of the genre, this is quite possibly the best example currently available. Yes, there are still a few bugs and the shooting never quite attains the god-tier status achieved by Bungie, but it’s a sprawling, rewarding ballistic adventure that’s well worth a look for those keen to get in some post-apocalyptic combat practice before society really collapses. In about eighteen months or so, we reckon. Give or take.

 
View Post

Devil May Cry 5

Game, Gaming, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Video games, as a medium, have evolved so far beyond their earliest forms. What once existed as a brief diversion, an amusing gimmick, has now attained levels of sophistication impossible to have imagined even a couple of decades ago. Titles like God of War (https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/god-of-war-2/) and Red Dead Redemption 2 (https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/red-dead-redemption-2/) have raised the storytelling bar so high, legitimising video games as an art form capable of nuance, pathos and depth. All that being said… sometimes it’s fun to just beat the shit out of a bunch of demons, hey. Sometimes it feels good to unleash colourful carnage on deserving foes and look good while doing so. Devil May Cry 5 scratches that particular itch like an itch-scratching pro.

Devil May Cry 5 is the latest installment in the strange but stylish series from the good people at Capcom. Although the series was rebooted with DmC: Devil May Cry in 2013, this is a direct sequel to Devil May Cry 4 which dropped in 2008. Confused? Of course you are, but to be honest, familiarity with the series is an optional extra at this stage. Because what Devil May Cry is about, and has always been about, is spectacular action, and oh good (Dark) Lord does this game deliver.

Practically, you’ll be playing as one of three rotating characters. There’s Nero, the arrogant youngster with interchangeable arm attachments; Dante, the classic demon slayer with sword and guns; and V – the lanky, tattooed emo newbie – who can’t actually fight himself but commands a demonic bird, big cat and enormous golem. He also reads poetry to amp up his dark powers and no, we’re not even joking. These three characters have vastly different play styles, unlockable skills and alternate weapons. Even completionists are going to have a hard time experiencing every single trick of the trade during a single playthrough, which is where Devil May Cry 5’s “Son of Sparda” mode comes in handy, basically the title’s version of NG+.

This trio of unlikely friends travel through a pretty ordinary story, that time jumps a little too much for its own good, but essentially the narrative is a delivery system for action scenes. And the action is buttery, fast-paced, exciting, visually spectacular and original. The sheer feeling of unbridled glee as you tear a motorbike in half and smack fools as Dante, or ride your own rocket arm as Nero or leap atop your golem and curb stomp some evil, is genuinely wonderful. After a slew of excellent, but deliberately-paced story-based games, it’s a rare joy to just shut up and fight.

Devil May Cry 5 is, quite simply, a fantastic action game. The story is threadbare, the dialogue frequently appalling, and geez it would have been nice to have a playable female character along with all the NPC eye candy, hey Capcom? But all those concerns will evaporate like a demon’s freshly-slaughtered corpse when the aggressive metal cranks up and the next pulse-pounding blue begins. Slick, gorgeous and utterly addictive, Devil May Cry 5 is a terrific ball-tearing action extravaganza of ultraviolence and chaos and one not to be missed.

 
View Post

Trials Rising

Game, Gaming, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The Trials games are weird, narky little titles that absolutely should not work and yet somehow, against all odds, do. The premise is thus: you’re a little 2D bloke (or lady) and you ride a motorbike through increasingly evil courses involving the need for speed, precision, stunt skills and nerves of steel. The tracks get harder and more elaborate and the player gets sweaty and more frustrated, until you either run out of tracks (unlikely) or rage quit (extremely likely).

And yet despite obviously being a lower budget title, with 2D courses and occasional moments of graphical glitching, Trials games are utterly compelling. Trials Rising, the latest incarnation, is no exception to the rule and in fact features some of the cleverest, most devious and darkly diabolical courses in the series’ history. You’ll cackle with laughter as your manage to just survive an insane jump leaping through fire, you’ll punch the couch in spit-flecked frustration as a second later you’re coat-hangered by the lip of a ramp you hadn’t previously been aware of. You’ll repeat the courses over and over again, trying to shave precious seconds off your best time, and why? Because the real metagame of any Trials title is beating your mate’s high score.

Ironically, Trials Rising’s biggest problem is the opposite of most AAA games. As a critic one gets wretchedly tired of reviewing yet another tentpole title that doesn’t revolutionise or even vaguely evolve the core gameplay or mechanics, yet Trials Rising has done that and, uh… it’s not great. See, the way you unlock new tracks in previous Trials games was by getting better and better scores on existing tracks, which unlocks new areas. While that mechanic still exists here, to some degree, the main method of unlocking involves grinding random tracks that have new objectives like “30 back flips” or “finish in under a minute”. This sort of randomised content would be fine if it was optional, but it rather steals the thunder – and indeed the whole joy of progression – from previous games.

Other additions to the formula like online multiplayer and the ability to do tracks with your mates are fun, if inessential, but the progression system is a real bummer and feels antithetical to the precision and discipline required to “git gud” at these games.

Ultimately Trials Rising remains a worthy addition to a somewhat niche series, and features some of the most clever, wonderfully torturous tracks in the masochistic series’ history. However a new, frankly baffling, progression system steals the game’s thunder in a confounding fashion. Well worth a squiz for veterans and newbies alike, however, particularly if you have a group of competitive friends whose tears you wish to drink like salty, salty wine.

 
View Post

Anthem

Game, Gaming, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Here’s the elevator pitch for Anthem: you’re on a strange world, spectacular and beautiful, that is chockers with deadly fauna, shonky humans and an ancient power you barely understand. The good news? You’re in a freaking Iron Man suit and you can fly all around this daunting, picturesque landscape, getting into adventures with your mates who are along for the ride. Sounds good, right? Well, the even better news is that the game’s by BioWare. You know, the people who brought us the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series’? So you just know the characters will be fleshed out and the story intriguing.

It’s a great elevator pitch, and a great concept, so why then is the actual result so bland and lifeless?

Perhaps the problem with Anthem is the fact that it’s an online shooter/looter, a genre of game best represented by Destiny and The Division. This is new territory for BioWare, it’s true, but even grading on a curve, Anthem is shockingly light on narrative hooks and any atmosphere that extends beyond the admittedly pretty aesthetics. This is less Mass Effect 2 BioWare and more Mass Effect: Andromeda BioWare.

On the plus side, the flying is fun, and the mountainous, vertical terrain looks very cool. You’ll fly through the air, soaring past waterfalls and grazing creatures and shoot through alien technology, and gape in awe at how beautiful it all can be. This sense of spectacle won’t last long, however, as you’ll soon realise just how shallow and repetitive the gameplay is, even by shooter/looter standards. The combat feels okay, the missions are deeply unimaginative and the villain of the piece, called “The Monitor” is one of the more forgettable villains in recent memory.

The biggest problem with Anthem, however, is that it simply doesn’t feel that great to play. Flight is cool, it’s true, but the shooting and exploration are just adequate. There’s none of that addictive Destiny-style shooting that practically floods your brain with endorphins every time you pull the trigger. Instead, you’re left with an experience that’s just sort of… okay.

Even if you can look past the numerous technical flaws, the frequent drop outs, insane loading times and a staggeringly clunky User Interface, Anthem just isn’t that good of a game. It’s average in a sea of better products and while it may fix its various problems down the track, right now it’s a tragic waste of potential.

 
View Post

Metro Exodus

Game, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

You remember that scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds? Right in the opening, where Christoph Waltz is talking to that hapless dairy farmer about trying to uncover any Jews hiding in the area. Waltz is amiable, chatty and very decorous right up until the moment he isn’t, and a bunch of nazis are blasting through the floorboards and it’s shocking and scary and you can’t quite believe the tension has finally been expelled? That’s the feeling you get playing Metro Exodus.

Metro Exodus is the third, and possibly final, chapter in the Metro trilogy comprising Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light. The series has always been a criminally underrated slice of post-apocalyptic, first person action and suspense and hopefully with this entry will finally get the recognition it deserves.

The story revolves around Artyom – a robust but disillusioned man who, along with wife Anna, believes there are people and life outside of the claustrophobic confines of the metro system. Without getting into too many details – he’s bloody right and this fact sets him, the missus and a bunch of other characters off on a mostly above ground journey through post-apocalyptic Russia. This is a huge change for the series, and it works well for the most part. As atmospheric as the tunnels were in previous games, the change of location has added a lot more world building to the tale, and gameplay variety has increased.

The game is essentially divided into three large sandboxes that house the main missions, but also lots of side missions and environmental storytelling. The side missions aren’t 100% essential, but are really worth taking on just for the sake of getting a complete sense of the taste of texture of this grim, evocative setting.

It’s at this point we should probably bring it back to the Tarantino comparison, because Metro Exodus is a slow game. Artyom moves slowly, not sluggishly, but definitely with a certain deliberate pace. Most combat is best tackled in a stealthy manner, because death can arrive with little warning. You’ll need to worry about every bullet, because ammo is scarce, and even the ability to craft new ammo isn’t always going to help because the materials necessary to do so are also scarce. The game rewards thoughtful, meticulous forward planning and strategic thinking. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not a strategy game, and when the action kicks off, it’s frenetic and exciting, but the pace between encounters is not going to be for everyone.

Another potential sticking point is a few moments where the game’s a tad rough around the edges. The voice acting is a bit dodgy – utilising the ubiquitous but senseless ‘speaking English in bad Russian accents’ technique that hasn’t died yet for some reason – and there are minor bugs here and there, with a couple of hard crashes along the way. This is by no means everpresent or game-ruining, and will probably be fixed in patches, but it’s noticeable. There’s a slight clunkiness to some of the movement too, with the melee attack in particular feeling strangely weightless and clumsy. Still and all, these are minor issues when set against everything that works in this sprawling, ambitious tale.

Metro Exodus is engaging, tense and occasionally frustrating, but always compelling. Beset by occasional quirks of its lower-than-blockbuster budget it nonetheless delivers a freight train worth of excitement and never flies off the rails. For those interested in a thoughtful, deliberately-paced thriller with Tarantino-esque explosions of shocking violence, intelligent world building and genuinely scary monsters Metro Exodus might just be the train to board

 
View Post

Kingdom Hearts 3

Game, Gaming, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Video games are weird, it’s just a fact. This is a medium in which one of the most successful iterations involves a heroic Italian plumber who jumps on evil mushrooms and rescues a princess from a spiky turtle. And another all-time classic is about an amphetamine addicted* hedgehog who attempts to acquire wealth and stay on the gear, running endlessly around diabolical mazes, grinning like a lunatic. The point is, games are so ubiquitously strange that it takes a truly bizarre entry to make one sit back and say: “Crikey, this is some weird shit!”

Kingdom Hearts III is such a game.

The plot is a byzantine nightmare, more convoluted than a thousand Inceptions, but the short hand is: a bunch of characters from Disney and Square Enix properties are on an adventure through various worlds from video games and movies to save the universe. Speaking in practical terms, that means a trio of heroes comprising Sora (young boy with silly hair and a keyblade), Donald Duck (sentient duck with a speech impediment, prone to rage) and Goofy (a creature we still don’t understand and perhaps never will) travel to far off lands to “discover the power of waking”. Congratulations if you understood the previous sentence, you’re absolutely in the minority.

The action plays out as a mixture of exploration, upgrading weapons and gear and combat loops, that are bright and sparkly and fun. You’ll spend most battles mashing the attack button, but eventually other combat moves unlock, including the inexplicable ability to use Disney theme park rides as weapons. You’ll do this, by the way, while interacting with all manner of characters from Disney and Pixar flicks including Frozen, Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and even Pirates of Caribbean (!?), amongst others.

The problem with Kingdom Hearts III isn’t the zany, surreal nutbaggery, it’s the ghastly writing and voice acting. Every line reading feels about a second too slow, with awkward Lynchian pauses between each leaden slab of mawkish word salad. Combined with the distracting decision to have the characters parrot some variation of “believe in yourself” every fifteen bloody minutes and it’s hard to escape the cloying tweeness. Still, there is an odd charm to Kingdom Hearts III at times. It’s a bit like watching a small child smacking together toys in a bathtub, hopped up on a sippy cup full of red cordial, unconcerned about things like logic and reason. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and you won’t always be in the mood for it, but there’s an undeniable appeal here for those willing to brave the eccentricities.

Although, and it bears repeating, crikey this is some weird shit.

*probably

 
View Post

Resident Evil 2

Game, Gaming, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Resident Evil 2, the game, was first released in 1998 and it blew audiences away. Although the previous installment had successfully introduced the concept of “survival horror” in 1996, part two honed the formula to a razor’s edge, delivering an experience that was scary, smart and absolutely absorbing. For those of us old enough to have been alive in that era, RE2 was a staggering achievement and managed to penetrate the ubiquitous haze of bong smoke and neglect to make an indelible impact on young psyches.

That being said, 1998 was a long-arse time ago, and time is least kind to video games. As the Resident Evil series lurched onwards it left those early entries behind, peaking recently with the somewhat divisive-but-brilliant Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/resident-evil-vii-biohazard/) which was a welcome return to pure survival horror. Still, when Capcom announced its Resident Evil 2 remaster it was hard not to get excited – but is it possible to twice catch horrific lightning in a bottle?

One thing we should get out of the way is that this isn’t an HD remaster but rather a full remake. The original RE2 featured static shots, clunky controls and graphics that were spectacular at the time but now look retina-damagingly awful. Although the game has been remastered for various systems over the years, presentation-wise it’s always looked… quaint. 2019’s Resident Evil 2 rebuilds the game from the ground up, putting the perspective in the RE4 over-the-shoulder view with a continuous camera that follows you around, not breaking for loading screens between every area. This is a welcome addition and makes the game play as smooth and immersive as your (lying) memories of the original.

Add to that, graphics as sharp and slick as any other modern release, replete with drippy, oozing zombies, genuinely scary, toothy monsters and character animations that make you actually feel for the other human characters – particularly when so many of them are viciously dispatched.

Actually, we’d be remiss not to mention the zombies at this point. In 1998, zombies seemed an amazingly fresh foe, having barely penetrated the cultural zeitgeist. In 2019, they’re basically a default option for most media, so how to make them scary again? RE2 adds a sense of unpredictability to the mix. The only way to permanently dispatch these ambulatory corpses is by destroying the head. You can do this using heavy weapons or grenades, however the zombies far outnumber your bullets so you simply don’t have the resources to kill them all. Therefore, you’ll need to leave some of the ghastly creatures lying around as potential jump scares, because they might rise at any moment (even if you’ve plugged ten rounds into their slack-jawed skulls) which adds a level of tension to an already scary game. See, Resident Evil 2 isn’t about killing all the monsters, it’s about surviving, solving the puzzles and escaping. It’s Capcom’s classic formula of puzzle solving under duress and it is edge-of-your-seat stuff, all the way through.

In 2019, video games pride themselves on being massive; the idea that more is more. Resident Evil 2 believes that to be a crock of shit, providing four of five medium sized areas to explore but you’ll know them like the back of your hand by the time the credits roll. The game also employs a map that really helps navigation, showing areas in red until you’ve solved the puzzles and collected all the loot in that area – whereupon it turns blue. This is a wonderful addition but much needed, especially as the game progresses and the character known as the Tyrant steps into view, providing a genuinely scary, seemingly invincible foe who dogs your steps like the STDemon from It Follows, and leaps out when you least expect it.

In terms of negatives, RE2 can be frustrating on occasion, particularly during boss fights where the lack of a dodge button would have been appreciated. And certainly, for some folks, the Tyrant is going to be a massive pain in the arse – although he does force you to think on your feet, which can be exhilarating. These are minor quibbles, however, in an overall experience that somehow keeps what was great about the original intact, while updating some of the wonkier aspects, like puzzles, voice acting and overall presentation.

Ultimately, Resident Evil 2 (2019) is everything a video game remake should be. It’s absolutely stunning to look at and a tense joy to play, paying nostalgic homage while improving nearly every aspect of the original. It’s scary, smart and absolutely absorbing – just like it was back in hazy 1998 – but with added levels of gore and unpredictability that will keep even series veterans on their toes. If you’ve never experienced the stories of Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield as they explore a bizarre, avant garde police station in the middle of zombie-infested Racoon City, now is absolutely the best time to do so. And hell, even if you have, 2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake is the best ever version of that iconic story.

 
See All Game Posts
View Post

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

Game, Gaming, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Plane combat games are something of a rarity in this wretched year of 2019. Back in the olden days, when the PlayStation or PS2 reigned supreme in the lounge rooms of many, they were a dime a dozen with the best contender being the Ace Combat series. This frequently bizarre mix of unnecessarily convoluted storytelling paired with surprisingly detailed plane combat was a pleasing bit of airborne escapism. Then, for some reason, much like the western in cinema – the genre fell out of favour. Happily, it appears that the dark flightless time is over, as Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is here and it’s pretty bloody good, for the most part.

Ace Combat 7 is set in the same alternate earth as the previous games in the series and follows on from the events of Ace Combat 4 and 5. If you can’t remember those events, don’t stress, as the war between Erusea and Usea is just as overcooked and daft as previous entries and you can, and probably should, take it with several heaping handfuls of salt. In short, war has broken out and you, “Trigger”, will need to put missiles aplenty into your enemies. The story is actually truly bizarre, even by Ace Combat standards, because the character you play is a total non event until about halfway through the game and a far more interesting character – imprisoned mechanic Avril Mead – is the one narrating the shenanigans… and yet you can’t play as her. It’s a bizarre, and very clunky, storytelling device that doesn’t really work. However, that’s not the draw here.

What really matters in Ace Combat 7 is what happens in the air and for the most part the game is a triumph of giddy dog fights, bombing runs and set pieces set in vicious storms. It’s actually quite a tough game all told, with some missions featuring ridiculously short timers and insta-fail objectives that may have you punching the couch in frustration (sorry, couch). However, if you listen carefully to the mission objectives, and make sure you have a decent variety of planes taken from the unlockable trees, you should eventually triumph over the game’s 20 missions.

The game also features a robust VR mode and an online multiplayer mode, which is a nice value add and sure to have VR owners dusting off their tech. Ultimately, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is more of the same from the series, for good and ill. It’s fast-paced, frenetic, frustrating and full of fun – if you can get past the baffling narrative conceits and occasionally enraging difficulty spikes. And hell, it’s been a while since you’ve taken to the skies so fire up and go right into the danger zone!

 
View Post

Just Cause 4

Game, Gaming, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The Just Cause series has always been a strange one. The mixture of vaguely grounded political intrigue and personal stakes often juxtapose awkwardly with the gonzo, Michael-Bay-after-a-fat-line-of-blow bullgoose lunacy of the action sequences and set pieces. Still, despite this inconsistency the games are usually a whole lot of fun, and this is true of the latest entry, Just Cause 4, although there are a few caveats.

Set in the fictional South American country of Solis, Rico Rodriguez is back to take on the Black Hand, an army of ne’er-do-wells run by Gabriela Morales. This rather generic premise leads to a rather generic campaign, whereby you’ll retake various areas of Solis, unlock more main and side missions, grapple and wingsuit your way across the sprawling environments and, of course, blow shit up with great alacrity.

Just Cause 4’s newest addition is extreme weather, including missions where you’ll be forced to brave tornados and super storms that fill the skies with deadly bolts of lightning (which is very, very frightening). Later on, you’ll also gain the ability to control said storms, which is a fine idea but its execution feels a little limited in this context. Other than that, it’s Just Cause business as usual – use the grapple hook to destroy stuff, shoot stuff, explode stuff, repeat. It’s classic but it also feels a little samey, particularly if you have vivid memories of Just Cause 3 which only came out in 2015.

More damning is the fact that a lot of Just Cause 4 is, well, rather ugly. Character models, cut scenes and even some environments look seriously janky at times, and while it never reaches the levels of Fallout 76’s hideousness, it’s strange to see nonetheless. It’s hard to get truly invested in Rico’s story when his ugly mug keeps clipping into his shirt, or the characters that he’s talking to drop textures or pop in and out of view.

Ultimately, Just Cause 4 is a fun time, with great explosions and physics-based mayhem. It’s also basically an oversized Just Cause 3 expansion, with unfortunate technical deficiencies that mar the overall experience. Treat it like a b-grade matinee movie, and you’ll likely enjoy the slightly shonky, but explosive shenanigans on offer.

 
See All Gaming Posts
See All Giveaways Posts
View Post

Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 6: The Iron Throne

Home, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week 1 Comment

[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

Saying goodbye is hard. It’s a trial both in real life and pop culture, and the difficulty level spikes even higher when it comes to saying goodbye to the most successful television show of all time, say. That’s the unenviable task that David Benioff and D. B. Weiss – showrunners of Game of Thrones and writer/directors of the final episode – have set themselves with “The Iron Throne”.

So, how’d they do? Well, naturally opinions will vary. Hell, after last week’s divisive episode “The Bells”, some one million (!) pissed off fans have signed an online petition for season eight to be remade “with competent writers”. And while that’s a bit funny in a slightly sad sort of way, it also demonstrates the range of passionate reactions floating around out there. That said, “The Iron Throne”, while flawed in the same ways seasons 6-8 have been, does a pretty solid job of putting a fork in this fantasy opus. But let’s recap, one final time.

The episode opens with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) wandering through the smoking ruins of King’s Landing. It’s a rough stroll, filled with weeping survivors, shell shocked wounded and many, many crispy skin corpses. He is joined by Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington), but the wee man isn’t in the mood for chatter. Jon wanders on and finds Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) about to slit the throats of some Lannister soldiers. Wormy reckons he’s doing it on the queen’s orders, but Jon disagrees that it is necessary. The pair almost come to blows, but Davos manages to calm them down, and Grey Worm starts killing the prisoners in bold defiance of whatever the Westeros equivalent of the Geneva Convention is.

Tyrion goes digging through the rubble and finds the corpses of Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). Their underwhelming, silly deaths from last episode are rendered even more underwhelming and silly by the fact that the rest of the room appears relatively intact and they could have easily survived. Tyrion, nonetheless, is moved by the sight of his dead siblings and cries, showcasing yet again how wonderful Peter Dinklage has been in this role.

Outside Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) wanders about looking lost, when she spies Jon ascending the stairs, moving past the massed Dothraki Riders and Unsullied. Drogon arrives with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and she hops off and gives a rousing speech, in which she talks about “freeing” the people of Westeros, just like she “freed” the people (aka piles of ash) of King’s Landing. Grey Worm gets a promotion, Jon looks pensive and Tyrion tells Dany he quits, which leads to his immediate arrest. Tyrion is going home in the back of a divvy van!

Jon visits Tyrion in his cell and over a rather bittersweet sequence, Tyrion talks about how he has been so very wrong and how it would be pretty great if Jon killed Dany. Jon looks pensive.

Jon heads over to visit Dany, whereupon he meets a snow-covered Drogon who gives him a quick once over but deems him okay to enter. Jon visits Dany who is dreamily fondling the Iron Throne. Sure, she’s massacred thousands of people, but she genuinely believes she’s doing the right thing. She’s not a full Mad Queen, but rather something more insidious, Dany is a true believer who genuinely thinks she can do only good. We understand this from a cracking little interaction between Dany and Jon, and the pair are both acting their little hearts out.

“Be with me, build the new world with me. This is our reason,” Dany says, “we do it together, we break the wheel together.”

“You are my queen,” Jon whispers, “now and always.”

The pair pash on like their pingers are kicking in but Jon takes the moment to slide his dagger into Dany’s heart. She’s too surprised to be angry and dies, her mouth leaking blood and her eyes wide in disbelief. Jon cries at what he’s done, and then Drogon pops in for a visit. It looks for all the world as if Drogon is going to fire Jonno, but instead the scaly champion turns his burning attentions to the Iron Throne itself, melting it down to a puddle of boiling slag. The concept of the throne being a symbol rather than a literal source of power is apparently lost on Drogon. Stupid dragon. Drogon then grabs Dany’s corpse and pisses off into the sky, to places unknown.

Some weeks later, Grey Worm grabs Tyrion from his cell and takes him to a staff meeting of pretty much everyone who is still alive. The important players are Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), Arya, Davos, Ser Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley). The question of what to do with Tyrion and Jon is raised, with Grey Worm falling very much on the side of Team Decapitate. The point is, a leader needs to be chosen and though Sam gamely tries to raise the idea of democracy (to much laughter and disdain) it is ultimately Bran who everyone wants. Wait, what?! Fucken BRAN?! Captain Uncomfortable Stare? Good lord. Everyone seems pretty down with the idea, except Sansa who wants the North to be an independent state. Bran accepts the role but insists that Tyrion be his hand, and will make up for his mistakes for the rest of his life. So begins the reign of “Bran the broken”. Which, guys, awkward name, hey?

Tyrion goes to tell Jon the good news. Said news being “you won’t be killed, but you’re back off to the Night’s Watch again”. Jon takes the news pensively.

Jon walks along in a fancy fur coat, with his fellow men of the Night’s Watch, and farewells his family. Sansa is going to be Queen in the North, Arya is going to explore the lands “west of Westeros” and Bran the Broken (ugh) will rule the Seven Kingdoms. Meanwhile, Brienne fills in Jaime Lannister’s Wikipedia entry, and manages to make him sound like not a complete fuckwit, which is pretty big of her, to be honest.

Next, we have the first meeting with the new king, with Tyrion, Davos, Samwell and Bronn (Jerome Flynn)! Yes, in a lovely moment for a character much ignored in this final season, Bronn gets a somewhat happy ending as the new “Master of Coin”. Tyrion is nonplussed to be left out of “A Song of Ice and Fire”, a rather meta tome that has the appealing feature of ACTUALLY BEING FINISHED, EH GEORGE? Bran enters, does very little, and buggers back off with Ser Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) and the adults are left to talk about the best way to rebuild. It’s not a perfect system but it works.

A gorgeously directed final sequence shows where our Starks have ended up. Jon joins Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Ghost (WHO FINALLY GETS THAT PAT) and heads North of the Wall with the Wildlings. Sansa gets the crown and becomes Queen of the North. Arya commands a ship heading out to lands unknown and we can only wonder what happens next, because that’s all she wrote, ladies and gentleman, Game of Thrones – at least in this incarnation – has ended.

There are endings great and terrible in television. Of the former, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Shield are notable examples. Of the latter, Dexter, Lost and How I Met Your Mother wear the shame crown. So, where does Game of Thrones sit? Look, it’s subjective but in terms of these last three seasons, it’s pretty good. Dany’s execution isn’t particularly exciting, or tense, but the genuine emotion of the moment lands. And the episode actually improves in the second half, with a brief-but-tantalising look at what will happen next in Westeros.

Of course, “a brief look” is likely the biggest problem here, with these last two seasons being needlessly truncated. Two ten episode seasons would have served this narrative better, and yet what we got, while imperfect, still managed to feel emotionally resonant and satisfying on a level that admittedly has to ignore a lot of dangling plot threads, missing characters and various prophecies that were, apparently, just wrong.

Current internet punching bags, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss direct this series finale with a kind of somber style, bringing a solid conclusion to an increasingly inconsistent saga. And whether you loved, hated or were simply bemused by how it all wrapped up, let’s take a moment to appreciate the mammoth undertaking this entire series represents. This is an epic fantasy told over many hours, brimming with love and death, monsters and gore, characters and locations. There may be shows that equal, or even surpass, it in the future but this was the first one to sing the song of ice and fire.

The major missing piece was, of course, Ser Pounce’s paw bursting through the ashes and clawing its way to victory, but they probably just ran out of money before they could shoot that one. Thanks for reading, everyone, see you at the next wildly entertaining, if controversial, cultural landmark!

 
View Post

The Vanishing

Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The dark and stormy weather that clouds Gerard Butler and fellow lightkeepers in Scottish psychological thriller The Vanishing, is as menacing as the inner turmoil that plagues them.

Tasked to operate a remote lighthouse that stands isolated amongst savage waters, three lightkeepers struggle to maintain their sanity when they come into possession of a mysterious wooden chest.

The contents and manner in which the chest is received proves burdensome for the lightkeepers – offering a promise of escape from their hardships while also placing a target on their backs. The Vanishing builds to Shakespearean levels of storytelling, with the weight of the lightkeepers’ internal dilemma attacking at them like violent waves against a cliff-face.

Butler detours out of his action-flick comfort zone to deliver a career-best performance as the muscle of the lighthouse operation – a caring family man whose descent into madness channels something primal. Accompanying him are a grief-stricken superior (a sombre Peter Mullan) and recruit Donald (Connor Swindells). All three actors offer a different dynamic amongst the chaos, which keeps The Vanishing enthralling and tense throughout its duration.

The Vanishing is bolstered by considered direction from Kristoffer Nyholm, who is successful in maintaining a brooding atmosphere in every frame. There is a sense of poetry embodied in the screenplay, with the lightkeepers’ battle with darkness functioning on both a literal and figurative sense. This knack for being overly poetic feels more accustomed to stage, with several scenes involving Mullan reflecting on his grief coming across as excessive.

Serving as a cautionary tale on the fragility of spirit and how close the human psyche teeters on moral corruption, The Vanishing is a well-acted and captivating psychological thriller undersold by marketing that positions it as a Shutter Island lookalike.

 
View Post

Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 5: The Bells

Home, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week 6 Comments

[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. Come on, you know how this works]

Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode ever, “The Bells”, is a perfect encapsulation of everything good and everything bad about the show. It manages to attain gripping, edge-of-your-seat tension and laughable, forehead-slapping stupidity in a propulsive 78-minute package. It’s the kind of episode people will remember for years, citing the pros and the cons, and will likely end up on numerous “best of” and “worst of” lists, with shouty people on the internet seemingly leaning towards the latter with frankly alarming zeal.

But before we dig deeper, let’s recap this bad boy and see what all the fuss is about.

We open in Dragonstone with Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) writing a note to send via Adorable Child Post. Said note is regarding Jon Snow’s rightful place on the Iron Throne. The sad music and somber tone of this scene suggests that this was not Varys’ smartest play. Continuing his stubborn resistance towards “smart things”, he then tries to convince Jon Snow that his missus may, in fact, be a little bit cray. Jon doesn’t want a bar of it and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) watches from afar, having a good old frown.

Tyrion then takes it upon himself to pay a mourning Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) a visit, informing her that she is being betrayed by Varys. This bit of dibber dobbing is a harsh pill to swallow and Tyrion tries to sweeten it by suggesting Varys’ heart, like all of their hearts, was in the right place. This goes down about as well as you might expect.

Nek minute, Varys is arrested by Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and taken to the beach where Dany, Jon and Tyrion stand around with faces like smacked bums. Tyrion tells Varys that it was he who sold him out, and with a final moment of dignity, Varys tells Tyrion he “hopes [he’s] wrong… goodbye old friend.” Then Dany summons Drogon and fries one of the show’s best characters like a pork chop on a barbie. Goodbye, Varys, more characters should have listened to you, mate.

Dany has a bit of a debrief with Grey Worm, and she gives him Missandei’s (Nathalie Emmanuel) only possession, her old slave collar. Grey Worm burns the gift in the fire and leaves when Jon arrives. Dany grills Jon (verbally, unlike Varys) and wants to feel out his loyalty; she claims she wants more from Westeros than fear. She goes in for a pash but Jon is clearly not feeling frisky – on account of his ambivalence about aunty-fucking, no doubt – and Dany mutters, “alright then, let it be fear.”

Tyrion has one final crack at making Dany see reason, but she’s pretty intent on turning King’s Landing into a smouldering ruin. Tyrion makes one last play, begging her that if the city surrenders and rings its bells, will she then not kill everyone? Dany rather huffily agrees and as Tyrion goes to leave, offhandedly mentions that she has pinged Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) trying to sneak back home. That’s Tyrion’s final warning, she tells him.

Preparations for battle begin in earnest. At King’s Landing, we see scores of innocent people moving into the “safety” of the Red Keep. From there, we cut back to Tyrion asking a favour of Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), and it’s a biggie. Nearby, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Sandor Clegane aka The Hound (Rory McCann) bullshit their way past some guards and head to where the action is. Tyrion springs Jaime from his makeshift jail and we have the episode’s most moving and well-observed tender moment between the pair. Tyrion thanks Jaime for never treating him like a monster and they embrace and it’s sweet and- oh shit, Jaime’s defo gunna die, isn’t he?

In the light of day, everyone prepares for battle. Including Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk), Tyrion, Jon, Cersei and everyone else. Cersei, in particular, smirks like the cat who got the cream and we have to wonder what her secret plan is. Downstairs, an adorable moppet and her mum are stuck outside the walls because Arya and The Hound pushed in. Yet again, the little people suffer because of the whims of the powerful, a classic recurring GoT theme.

The battle kicks off with Dany riding Drogon in a vertical attack pattern against Euron’s fleet. Apparently, Euron has run out of the magic arrows from last week because he gets absolutely fucked on, with Dany burning his boats and men from bonce to ballbag. Dany continues the wave of mutilation against the scorpions perched on the walls of King’s Landing with similar results. She’s the firestarter, twisted firestarter.

Outside the walls, the Golden Company led by Harry Strickland (Marc Rissmann) get ready to show off the moves we’ve been waiting to see since they were first introduced. Wow, this is going to be good, what sort of epic- wait, no, Dany just bursts through the city’s walls and the whole company get wrecked by the Dothraki riders. Huh, you uh… kinda sucked, Harry.

Cersei, still watching from on high, loses about 34% of her smirk and continues to do nothing.

Jon and Grey Worm and crew, head in to face a group of very dispirited looking Lannister forces. Tension rises as we’re about to see a nasty battle but, sensing the reversal of fortune, the Lannister troops drop their weapons and surrender. Sanity has prevailed and a new dawn will rise. The bells ring out, a sound of hope, which causes Cersei’s smirk to vanish completely and everyone else to be much happier. Everyone, that is, except Dany who apparently has not spilt enough blood yet, because she kickstarts Drogon and, in an effective albeit predictable sequence, starts to burn King’s Landing to ash, one screaming peasant at a time.

The battle resumes despite Jon’s attempt to calm everyone’s tits, and what follows is some of Game of Thrones’ most effective, albeit staggeringly bleak, sequences of innocent people caught up in the grisly machines of rich people’s wars.

Jaime, while attempting to sneak upstairs to see Cersei, is interrupted by Euron and the pair have a rather silly sword fight. At the same time Qyburn (Anton Lesser), accompanied by The Mountain (Ian Whyte), tells Cersei they should really head off somewhere safer than the large building a dragon is currently burning. Cersei cries and agrees. This is literally the first thing she has done for this entire episode and… wow, okay.

The silly sword fights conclude with Jaime mortally wounded and Euron bleeding out, proud of the fact that he’s “the man who killed Jaime Lannister”. Which apparently means a lot to him, despite his guts hanging out. Weird flex, Euron, weird flex.

In the Red Keep, The Hound tells Arya she should probably leave because he’s about to die, one way or the other. Arya actually listens, realising revenge is no way to live, and scarpers. The Hound, meanwhile, finally confronts his brother on the stairs, killing all the adds and ready to fight the main boss. Qyburn tells the Mountain to protect the Queen and do as he’s told, so the big fella smashes his skull open and throws his body away like a sack of spuds. Cersei awkwardly scampers past the pair of them and Clegane Fight Night is about to begin!

Jaime finds Cersei and she cries a lot, and hugs Jaime. The pair of them will attempt to flee. Hound vs Mountain is a brutal battle, with The Mountain being super OP because no sword wound seems to hurt him particularly. This brutal blue is juxtaposed with an equally brutal sequence of Arya trying to escape King’s Landing, as the place literally falls to pieces. In the final moments of the brother battle, Sandor seems to realise that there’s only one way to win and tackles Gregor off the side of the building and the pair fall into a sea of seething fire. Farewell the brothers Clegane, you were both wonderful and horrible.

Jon rallies the troops to leave King’s Landing, and elsewhere Arya tries to help the mum and daughter we met earlier. It does not go well. Meanwhile, Jaime and Cersei’s escape plan is similarly stymied by the fact that the secret tunnel has been filled in. Cersei starts sobbing desperately (seriously, what’s happening with her this episode?!) and Jaime holds her close… as the pair of them are crushed by falling rubble. And… that’s a wrap on Cersei and Jaime, apparently. This is probably the episode’s weakest moment, sadly.

Arya has survived, the young mum and daughter have not. Arya mounts a friendly horse (a pale horse, in fact) and rides off into the distance and cue the end credits.

What a ride. A lot of extremely noisy people on the internet have decried Dany’s arc with this episode, but honestly that’s been on the boil for ages. While it might be sad and tragic, it was also inevitable, if a bit ham-fisted in its delivery. What really rankles about this episode is Cersei’s astonishingly passive reaction to everything. We’ve been building her up as the big bad for ages and she goes out like a scared child? It just seems like a waste. Sorry, Night King, you’ve just been surpassed as Most Underwhelming Villain Ending in GoT.

Having said that, the destruction of King’s Landing from a ground level perspective is the perfect Game of Thrones sequence, and shows how effective this program can be when it’s focusing on the right perspective. So now the tables are set for a final Starks vs Dany battle next week and while that will no doubt be entertaining it does feel a little rote and predictable.

It’s probably a little much to hope for a big surprise after eight seasons, but here’s hoping the GoT crew can deliver a few shocks. Like, say, THE RETURN OF SER POUNCE?! Okay, probably not. We’ll find out for sure in seven. See ya then.

 
View Post

Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 4: The Last of the Starks

Home, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

Can an episode of television be both a satisfying climax and an oddly empty anticlimax at the same time? It’s a paradox, or perhaps a Zen Koan for pop culture obsessives, but that’s how last week’s Game of Thrones feels, the big battle-orientated extravaganza known as “The Long Night”. Because, while it was as dark as advertised, it wasn’t all that long from any objective perspective, and at its conclusion we lost a potentially fascinating antagonist and his army of awesome looking ice zombies. Could this following episode, “The Last of the Starks” live up those lofty heights, now that only humans are left to squabble like the ghastly little monkeys we are? Well, the episode makes a decent, albeit not definitive, case for the affirmative but let’s revisit the concept after the recap.

The episode opens, appropriately enough, with the burning of the honoured dead. And there are a shitload of them! The heroic corpses have been all piled up, with Daenerys Stormborn (Emilia Clarke) having a sook over the corpse of Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen). Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) cries over the body of Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) grunts out a gruff speech about how everyone was pretty grouse, but now they’ve carked it, and it’s a bit of a kick in the tits (not his exact words). Then the bodies are burned and smoke fills the sky.

Later, at an increasingly hedonistic piss up, the survivors get on with their lives. Gendry (Joe Dempsie) really wants to find Arya (Maisie Williams), but balks at Sandor Glegane’s (Rory McCann) suggestion that it’s just for a root. The Hound reminds him that “of course it’s about that, you twat, the dead are dead. You’re not.” Well said, bro, well said. Gendry starts to head off when Dany stops him and makes him Lord of Storm’s End. This makes him, and everyone else very happy, and the party kicks off in earnest. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) admires Dany’s clever playing of the game of thrones.

The party gives rise to a number of interesting, well-observed character moments. Tyrion chats with Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) who claims to “not feel much of anything” and “mainly lives in the past”. Righto, Bran, thanks for the update. Hopefully you’ll actually do something before this bloody show finishes.

Later, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) starts playing drinking games with Ser Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Tyrion and Podrick (Daniel Portman) and boy, there seems to be a bit of frisson with Jaime and Brienne!

Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) gives an increasingly sloppy toast to Jon, and Dany seems to realise that the North loves its heroes but it will never love her. She leaves in a bit of a snit, and Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) follows, sensing trouble brewing.

Tyrion somewhat cruelly outs Brienne as a virgin, which seems a very season one Tyrion move, and leaves after knocking Tormund back. Tormund begins to have a sook about losing his chance with the giant woman but swiftly scores a random groupie and perks right up. A different lady has a crack at The Hound but he doesn’t want a bar of it. He is, however, much more receptive to a visit from Sansa and the pair of them chat about old times. Sansa reckons her trials and tribulations transformed her from a “little bird” into the woman she is now, which is a fairly philosophical way to look at kidnapping, rape and attempted murder. But hey, go Sansa for finding that silver lining.

Gendry heads over to Arya and actually proposes, the big dumb galoot. Arya knocks him back in the gentlest way possible, but makes it clear that she “is no lady”.

Elsewhere, Jaime knocks upon Brienne’s door and after a bit of awkward flirting the pair hook up, launching no doubt endless fan fiction story prompts across the internet.

Jon and Dany have a heartbreaking scene where we see the ultimate way in which their natures are incompatible. Jon may not want the throne, but nor will he conceal his lineage from his family. Dany begs him to reconsider, because she is unwilling to brook even slight amounts of dissension to her rule. Blockheaded honesty and an unquenchable lust for power and control are not traits that gel well, and we get the feeling these two will be on opposite sides before this tale is through.

The next day, the gang plan the battle to come. Tyrion advises slow going but Dany has a lust for blood and wants the battle to commence quick-sticks. Sansa asks that the armies be given time to rest, but Dany won’t have it. Jon sides with her, but the tensions are palpable. Afterwards, in the Godswood, Jon tries to justify his missus to Sansa, Arya and Bran but the ladies are not fans. Jon, in a move that will no doubt set the final moments of this final season into action, asks Bran to tell them the truth of his lineage.

Tyrion and Jaime are shooting the shit about ladies (and “climbing mountains”) ,when Bronn (Jerome Flynn) lobs up and makes them an offer they can’t refuse. He won’t kill them with his fancy crossbow if they make him the Lord of Highgarden. Tyrion agrees, after copping a punch to the nose, and Bronn shuffles off. Hopefully that won’t be his final appearance, but he certainly doesn’t seem inclined to join any battle where dragons are involved.

The Hound is joined by Arya, and the pair of them ride to King’s Landing together, ready to settle their own private agendas. This is a bit of a limp moment in the episode, but no doubt it will pay off next week.

Tormund is buggering off up North and farewells Jon, who wants him to take Ghost. Pets are forever, not just a weekend, JON. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) and preggers Gilly (Hannah Murray) bid Jon an emotional farewell and Ghost just sort of lurks in the background. Honestly, the show has never really known how to deal with the direwolves.

The fleet of the Unsullied sail towards Dragonstone with a dragon escort, and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) hold hands on the deck. Oh crikey, one of them is defo about to die, hey.

Tyrion and Varys, having being worded up on the Jon Snow secret, talk about options with Varys leaning towards Team Jon and Tyrion leaning towards Team I’d Prefer Not To Have to Kill Dany. Meanwhile, up in the sky, Dany flies along with surviving dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal and everything is fine until GIGANTIC ARROWS FLY FROM SEEMINGLY NOWHERE AND BLOODY EVISCERATE POOR BLOODY RHAEGAL! In a genuinely disturbing scene, Rhaegal dies horribly and sinks below the water. It’s fucken Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) swaggering onto the scene and mucking everything up. After killing one dragon, Dany attempts to swing down, but Euron’s fleet are equipped with dragon-killing giant crossbows. He also makes absolute mincemeat of the Unsullied ships, wrecking the boats and killing many.

At King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) tells Euron the bun in her oven is his, and then lets the castle fill with civilians so that when Dany attacks she’ll be forced to kill innocents. Boy, she is really leaning into this whole cartoony supervillain thing, huh? Oh also, she’s kidnapped Missandei, so that’s nice.

The next war room meeting is dicey, with Dany becoming increasingly focused on vicious plans of attack. Afterwards, Varys continues to suggest that Dany needs to meet a swift end and Tyrion is learning to love his wine once more.

Jaime buggers off like a thief in the knight, to either save or slice Cersei (it’s not entirely clear) and he leaves Brienne crying, because no matter how much she wants him to be a good man, he is just a man. And, actually, a bit of a shit one at times, to be honest.

The episode’s biggest moment comes outside the walls at King’s Landing. Cersei stands with Gregor Clegane aka The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) and captured Missandei. She also has numerous archers and crossbow peeps ready. Tyrion, standing ahead of Dany’s army, chats with Qyburn (Anton Lesser) about how, maybe, she could surrender and be totally chill. Unsurprisingly, Qyburn gives him very little so Tyrion makes the very risky move of begging Cersei directly. His speech appears to move her a little, but in the end Cersei goes full Cersei by getting The Mountain to decapitate Missandei; who at least makes her last word “Dracarys!” Dany’s facial expression speaks volumes and it looks like we’re about to see just how pissed off a mad Targaryen can be… next week!

“The Last of the Starks” feels, in a lot of ways, like several classic episodes of Game of Thrones smushed together. It’s light on action, but full of intrigue and menace, and is clearly building to what Dany optimistically calls “the final war”. And while it stills feels a little lacking in magic, both literally and figuratively, to have the Night King dispatched so quickly does set up what promises to be a visceral, cathartic and probably quite traumatic climax next week. It is a little table setty, to be frank, but having drunk Tyrion chatting with Varys is always welcome, and we can’t wait to see who triumphs in next week’s battle.

See you in seven days, when SER POUNCE WILL LAUNCH HIS SUPER SECRET PLAN (possibly).

 
View Post

Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 3: The Long Night

Home, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

Last week’s Game of Thrones, titled “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”, at times ran the risk of being all talk, no action. Well, that complaint certainly cannot be levelled at this week’s 82-minute extravaganza, and one of GoT’s most action-packed episodes ever.

Still, action isn’t everything – otherwise we’d be talking about Michael Bay the same way we do Stanley Kubrick – so did this much-anticipated episode deliver? Let’s loop back around to that after the recap.

The episode opens with Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), standing in Winterfell and trying very, very hard not to brown his daks in terror. We follow him for a while, as the living prepare for battle, and then swap over to Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) who is frowning his frowniest frown.

Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) anxiously walks the battlements, while Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) stare into the baleful night. Dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal hoon over head, being ridden by Daenerys Stormborn (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) respectively. Everyone’s ready, everyone’s waiting and everyone’s squinting too, because bloody hell the colour grade’s a bit off in this episode and it’s hard to see a damn thing!

On the frontlines, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Ser Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) wait pensively, soon joined by Edd (Ben Crompton), Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen). In other words, the gang’s all here and shit’s about to kick off.

Before the final order to charge is given, however, one final special guest star appears. It’s Melisandre (Carice van Houten), hater of clothes, burner of children. Davos defo wants to kill her on sight, something he promised to do last time they talked, but she uses her fiery powers to give the Dothraki burning weapons, which will be useful in battling the icy undead and lighting a celebratory durrie, no doubt. Melisandre tells Davos not to worry, she will in fact be dead by dawn. Crikey, Mel, spoilers, mate. Not cool.

The Dothraki pelt towards the approaching army of the dead, waving their burning weapons of wrath, but swiftly come a cropper thanks to the barely-glimpsed nasties that hide in the episode’s many shadows. Poor resolution claims yet more lives and the survivors flee back to the light, giving many of the warm-blooded serious cause for concern. The wave of the dead swallows the light and comes towards the living. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor, but nonetheless effective.

The dead charge, and the living do what they can. But it’s impossible to overstate how many of these bastards there are. All our heroes fight valiantly, but it’s a dirty, bloody business and we’ve only just begun. Dragons give a timely assist, burning legions of the armies of darkness, but it seems the Night King (Vladimir Furdik) and friends have weather-controlling powers, and have ordered up a brisk snowstorm to confuse the living, and further obfuscate the vision of the increasingly frustrated viewer.

Arya tells Sansa to pop down to the crypt, where it’s “safe” (lol). Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is guarding Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) but it won’t be long before Ser Cold Balls arrives. Battle rages, and Sam is injured. He’s still living, however, which is more than we can say for Edd, who cops a sharp weapon in the back and is the first of the named dead. Vale, Edd, we hardly knew ya. Literally, we had to look up your name every time. Soz, mate.

The battle’s looking dicey outside and the front lines move back into the castle grounds, protected by the Unsullied led by Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson). The skies are not going well either, and the storms are throwing off the dragons’ GPS trackers.

The battle rages and reaches a pivotal moment where the dragons are meant to ignite a trench. However, due to the supernaturally-assisted inclement weather, Dany and Jon can’t see Davos’ signal. It’s Melisandre’s time to shine and she gets that trench burning. Just like an adorable child. This gives the living a moment of respite, however brief.

Down in the crypt, Sansa and Tyrion talk about old times and even get a little flirty. Sansa proves she is, once again, the smartest – and most practical – person in the room and suggests they leave the fighting to the warriors, because they’re essentially useless in battle.

“It’s the truth,” she says, “it’s the most heroic thing we can do now: look the truth in the face.”

“Maybe we should have stayed married,” Tyrion wryly opines.

“You were the best of them,” Sansa admits, with just a hint of sadness.

Up in the Godswood, Bran’s edibles have kicked in and he wargs into a murder of crows (or one crow? It’s hard to tell) and explores the battlefield from a literal bird’s eye view. The Night King commands a number of the dead to bridge the burning trench, paving the way with their cold bodies. The fighting is about to get even nastier now, as the dead are climbing the castle walls. An astonishingly tense battle sequence follows, with the stakes getting higher and higher. This is tremendously-staged stuff, and you may find yourself anxiously waiting to see who buys the farm. At first it looks like it’s going to be Arya, with the dead swarming over her, but she manages to escape in the nick of time again and again. Sadly, another rad lady is the first death you’ll really feel of the night. Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) faces off against an undead giant, and holds her own for as long as she can, however she is ultimately killed. Still, she takes the giant with her and dies like a deadset boss: defiant and awesome.

Dany and Jon are still hooning around in the air, when they finally come across the Night King who is riding Viserion. A messy, brief battle occurs, but no one is worse off for it. Back on terror firma, Arya is on a stealth mission through a library filled with undead. It’s a tense old time and ultimately she is rumbled, fleeing as fast as she can. The Hound and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) come for the assist, but it costs Beric his final life. Melisande is on hand to explain that Beric is out of lives, and that Arya will shut many eyes forever, “brown eyes, green eyes… and blue eyes.”

Heh. Brown eyes.

Shit gets worse everywhere. The dead start flooding into the Godswood, The Night King is burning down whole sections of Winterfell and Jon gets knocked off his dragon. In what almost seems to be a triumphant moment, Dany covers The Night King with dragonfire… and he shrugs it off like it’s a light summer drizzle. The bloke’s dragon-proof! Jon goes on the attack but the Night King raises an army of fresh corpses and crikey, it’s not looking good for our hero.

Down in the crypt, the dead start to rise because OF COURSE THEY ARE, YOU BLOODY IDIOTS, WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS GOING TO HAPPEN WHEN YOU FIGHT A FRIGGEN NECROMANCER?!

Jon is saved by Dany, who then has her own problems as zombies swarm her dragon, causing the little tacker to piss off somewhere, and leaving Dany in a world of hurt. In fact, it’s looking grim for pretty much everyone. Tyrion and Sansa share a rueful moment of sadness before they’re eaten, Theon sighs as he runs out of arrows and moves onto melee weapons and basically it seems like all of the main characters are about to die screaming.

The Night King arrives in the Godswood and Theon, after giving a final farewell to Bran, goes for a frankly fairly stupid charge at the icy one. It does not go well, and Theon dies dickless, but with plenty of balls. Jon’s about to be fried, Dany and Jorah eaten, and Bran turned into a white non-walker? BUT THEN OUT OF THE DARKNESS COMES ARYA, SHOOTING THROUGH THE AIR. The Night King grabs her by the neck and starts to choke her, but she pulls a swifty, changes knife hands and STABS THE NIGHT KING RIGHT IN HIS ROTTEN GUTS!

The army of the dead is dispatched, collapsing into a desiccated, stinky pile and holy crap, what a save from everyone’s favourite pint-sized psychopath! Jorah succumbs to his injuries and Dany weeps over his body. And, in the episode’s final moment, Melisandre proves she is as good as her word and removes her necklace, walking into the snow and dying an ancient crone.

What an episode! Look, to be honest we had no inkling we’d get this far along by episode three. We’re only halfway there! Can the Night King really be dead? What does this mean for our surviving heroes? And once they (hopefully) defeat Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) will they then turn on one another?

“The Long Night” is a stunning, kinetic episode, with minimal dialogue and maximum action. Colour grading problems aside, the direction by Miguel Sapochnik is superb and in terms of story we find ourselves in a really interesting position. What happens to the powerful people when the enemy that united them is gone? And can there really ever be a final winner in this game of thrones?

Still no ser pounce, but we reckon he’s playing the long game. As for the rest of it, what happens next? No bloody idea, and that makes it all the more exciting. See you in seven, readers!

 
View Post

I Still See You

Home, Review, This Week, Trailer Leave a Comment

Scott Speer’s (The Step-Up series) I Still See You, tells the story of a young girl being chased by a serial killing ghost. As odd as that may sound, the background to the film is surprisingly interesting. A post-apocalyptic event killed millions, leaving behind remnants of themselves, re-enacting a part of their lives. At the beginning, these remnants are dictated by a number of rules; non-sentient, can’t alter their image like a film reel on loop, and they can’t affect the natural world. However, further into the film they learn that the “Laws are Lies”.

The concept of the film is interesting and relatively unique (still a lot of Sixth Sense in there), and, to many, that alone can hold your attention throughout the film. The central idea of these remnants and their appearance at seemingly random intervals is often quite startling and creepy; never knowing if a non-main character is real or a remnant. However, behind the concept, the plot and script in general turns all too convenient. The story is riddled with cliches and too much is left unanswered.

Bella Thorne plays Veronica Calder, the generic edgy, angsty teenager. Richard Harmon (The 100) plays the bad boy new kid, Kirk Lane, who mysteriously arrives from another school and has an odd connection to remnants. Neither actor is school age, and their casting is distracting and inappropriate. Dermot Mulroney appears as August Bittner, the overly friendly high school teacher. who for some reason, has students come over to his house outside of school hours for random chats.

I Still See You has an identity crisis as to what genre it wants to be. Is it a romance? Thriller? Horror? Teen drama? Sci-fi? Mystery? It’s an unfortunately mix of them all, a diluted cocktail that leaves you wishing they had focused on one or two genres rather than all. This lack of focus is supported by the soundtrack, which tries to fit the genre of the individual scene. If the film was more focused, the soundtrack may have actually worked nicely, and when coupled with the excellent cinematography (by Simon Dennis – The Girl With all the Gifts), it may have been the starting blocks for a beautifully atmospheric film.

 
View Post

Date Announcement: What/If

From Mike Kelley (Revenge, Jericho, The OC) comes this Netflix Original series about acceptable people doing unacceptable things... starring Renee Zellweger, Jane Levy and Blake Jenner among other hot young things. Shame this teaser looks like a perfume commercial.
See All Home Posts
View Post

Trailer: The Loudest Voice

Big Russ as Roger Ailes, Naomi Watts as former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, Sienna Miller as Ailes’ wife Elizabeth, Seth MacFarlane as former Fox News PR chief Brian Lewis, Simon McBurney as Rupert Murdoch, Annabelle Wallis as former Fox News booker Laurie Luhn and Aleksa Palladino as Ailes’ longtime assistant Judy Laterza, Josh Charles as Casey Close, Gretchen Carlson’s husband, and Josh Stamberg as former Fox executive, Bill Shine.
View Post

Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 1: Winterfell

Home, Home Entertainment, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. Come on, you know how this works]

As a Game of Thrones fan it’s impossible not to feel a frisson of excitement as we begin this eighth and final season. Everything has led to this. Every battle, every sneaky murder, every root – ill-advised and otherwise – is all culminating in this season. It’s a lot to get your head around and the first episode, “Winterfell”, does an admirable job of restating the various factions and loyalties, and reminding us of the stakes at play.

They’re big stakes. It doesn’t get much bigger than “the Wall has collapsed and the army of the dead are flooding in with a bloody zombie dragon”.

“Winterfell” begins with an updated credit sequence, one that reflects the very unwally state of The Wall, and opens in miserable, cold Winterfell. The grand army of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has arrived and she and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) are taking in the sights, riding together in an obvious display of support for one another. However the hard, stubborn locals aren’t exactly stoked with the whole caper, and stare at Dany with their mouths puckered like cat clackers. This isn’t quite the hero’s welcome she might have hoped for.

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) rides along with the procession in a covered wagon, busting Lord Varys’s (Conleth Hill) lack of balls. Honestly, it’s not his best material but we get the feeling the whole conversation is to mask Tyrion’s bone-deep nervousness at being in the home of a people with a fairly sensible grudge against his family.

Next minute the dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal, soar over the wintery district, scaring the absolute shit out of the locals and causing Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) to watch with a mixture of awe and foreboding.

The first of many reunions takes place, with Jon meeting up with Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Jon’s super happy to see Bran, but the wheelchair-bound mystic acts like that one mate of yours who’s just a little bit into his mushies, speaking all cryptic and portentously. Sansa and Dany give each other some vicious side eye, and share a few choice words, but Bran tells them to knock it off. “We don’t have time for this,” he says accurately yet somehow still very annoyingly, “the dead march south.”

Later, in a staff meeting, the locals are becoming increasingly confused by who the hell is actually in charge. Is it Jon? Sansa? Dany? Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) best epitomises the confusion, saying to Jon, “you left Winterfell a king and came back a… I’m not sure what you are, now. A lord? Nothing at all?” Jon tries to explain that a zombie army is defo a bigger worry than local politics, but the crowd are unconvinced. Tyrion attempts to win them over by mentioning Cersei’s army is on the way. It goes down about as well as a lamb chop at a vegan dinner party.

Later, Tyrion and Sansa have a reunion of their own. They haven’t actually hung out since the Purple Wedding, where Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) died choking in front of everyone. “Miserable affair,” Tyrion recalls.

“It had its moments,” Sansa replies with a smile.

The two sort of bond, but there’s been a lot of history since those days. Sansa also doesn’t believe for a second that Cersei is going to help, which – to be fair – is 100% accurate.

Jon and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) reunite in the Godswood and it’s actually a delightfully sweet scene. They hug, compare weapons and chat about current events. In a nicely observed twist, Arya praises Sansa, calling her the “smartest person I’ve ever met”.

“You’re defending her? You?” Jon chortles.

“I’m defending our family. She is too,” Arya replies.

Meanwhile, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) glowers on the battlements at King’s Landing. When she’s told of the dead breaking through the Wall she smirks and says, “good.” Subtle stuff, guys, very nuanced. In the harbour nearby, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) swaggers about, crowing of his magnificence to still-alive-but-captured Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan). Then hops back onto dry land to impress Cersei with the brand spanking new army he has delivered. Euron makes it clear that he really feels Cersei should throw a quickie his way. At first Cersei doesn’t want a bar of it, but ever calculating seems to realise a well-rooted Euron is most likely a happy Euron, and gives him the nod.

Speaking of rooting, Bronn (Jerome Flynn) has a foursome interrupted by creepy Qyburn (Anton Lesser), which is enough to put a bloke off his stroke. Qyburn is offering riches beyond compare for one job: kill Cersei’s brothers. This is setting up a potentially tragic arc with Bronn possibly murdering his mate Tyrion, or dying in the attempt. In one scene we see that everything really is up for grabs this season and a lot of our favourites aren’t going to survive.

Next up, a bunch of people are killed and Yara freed by… Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen)?! Yes, it appears the dickless one grew some balls. Yara thanks him with a headbutt but then pulls him to his feet; he is forgiven. Later, she gives Theon permission to fight with the Starks, because she knows that’s where his true loyalty lies.

Back in Winterfell, Tyrion, Varys and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) discuss what a handsome, Westeros-uniting couple Dany and Jon would make if they wed. Tyrion sees sense in the idea, but worries that love doesn’t last, particularly in political unions. Jon and Dany go to check on the dragons, who aren’t eating much, and the pair mount the scaly beasts and go for a ride. It’s an exhilarating sequence, with Jon barely staying upright during the trip and ends with some sexy times. Although Jon can’t quite get past the fact Dragon is staring at him. You know when your significant other’s cat won’t stop staring at you? Imagine that, but the cat is the size of Rooty Hill RSL. Yeesh.

Gendry (Joe Dempsie) impresses Sandor “The Hound” Glegane (Rory McCann) with his weapons-crafting skills but then Arya rocks up and a tense scene takes place between the latter pair. The Hound either forgives Arya for their last altercation, or can’t be bothered getting into it, and gruffly admires her ability to stay alive. Then Gendry and Arya have a scene together dripping with sexual tension and oh my, is this going to be a thing now?

Dany and Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) pay what should be a lovely visit to Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), to thank him for curing Jorah’s dragonscale. The problem? Well, when Sam responds to Dany’s generous offer of reward it comes out that she had both his father Randyll (James Sebastian Faulkner) and brother Dickon (Tom Hopper) burnt alive by her dragons. Sam mostly manages to keep it together, admirably, but we can see his mighty heart is broken. This is actually the episode’s best scene, because it hammers home that there often is not a right answer in politics and war, just a series of least worst options. This leads to the biggest moment of the night – the one we’ve all been waiting for – when Sam goes to see Jon and tells him he is the child of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. This makes Jon not only not a bastard, but the true heir to the Iron Throne! Jon is rocked by the revelation and oh man, this is going to be awkward with Dany!

The episode then delivers a wonderfully creepy scene where Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) find young Ned Umber (Harry Grasby) very much dead and nailed to the wall, with a spiral of limbs left as a message from the Night King. However, Ned’s not as dead as he first appears, and attacks our heroes. He is stopped, and dispatched with fire, but it’s clear the Night King, and his army of the dead, are not pissfarting about anymore.

In a final scene, that appears to circle right back to the show’s very first episode, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) arrives in Winterfell, attempting to be incognito. However, Bran – who apparently never leaves his spot in the yard – recognises him. You know, the bloke who put in the damn wheelchair in the first place!

“Winterfell” is a cracker of a first episode back, that manages to successfully reintroduce everyone and remind us why we’ve missed these characters over the long break between seasons. In keeping with latter era Thrones, it’s not exactly subtle. The writing is fairly blunt, as all the plot strands hurtle towards their respective climaxes, but atmospheric direction by David Nutter and stellar performances from all, particularly John Bradley, anchor the proceedings and give a sense of gravitas.

Welcome back, Game of Thrones! Now, if you could please confirm that Ser Pounce is actually still alive, and doing fine, that would be grand.

 
View Post

Castle Rock: The Complete First Season

Home, Home Entertainment, Review, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

The premise for Castle Rock could only go one of two ways: bloody great or bloody awful. The conceit is a drama thriller that takes place in the town of Castle Rock, the location of some of Stephen King’s most horrific tales. In lesser hands this could have rendered the series an inert collection of King fanservice, where every car is called Christine and every dog is a Saint Bernard. Happily, and surprisingly, the actual end result is a far more subtle and stranger proposition.

We’re slowly introduced to the weird world of Castle Rock through criminal attorney Henry Deaver (Andre Holland) who is drawn back into his hometown after getting an anonymous call to represent a strange young man called “The Kid” (Bill Skarsgard). Said character is a creepy amnesiac who had been kept at Shawshank Prison off the books, and seems to have a strange effect on those who he touches… Of course this is just the tip of the weird iceberg that Castle Rocks represents, and we soon meet possibly psychic Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey), chirpy but quirky Jackie Torrence (Jane Levy) and Henry’s adopted mum, Ruth Deaver (Sissy Spacek).

In terms of Stephen King’s mythology, it’s Scott Glenn as Alan Pangborn who is the most direct reference point. Pangborn was the sheriff of Castle Rock for a decade, and in that time faced the sentient pseudonym, George Stark (The Dark Half) and owner of a store with an extremely dodgy returns policy, Leland Gaunt (Needful Things). In this series, Alan has a personal relationship with Henry and a very intimate relationship with his mum, Ruth. This leads to quality family drama and genuinely surprising twists and turns, with the viewer never entirely sure about who to trust.

In terms of performances the entire cast are stellar, with Holland, Lynskey and Skarsgard doing superb work; however it is Sissy Spacey (previously cast in Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie) who owns the show with a stunning turn as a woman beset by Alzheimer’s trying to hold onto the past for as long as possible. The seventh episode titled “The Queen” isn’t just the best of Castle Rock, it’s possibly the best hour of television from 2018.

Ultimately, Castle Rock is a risky genre experiment that pays off beyond all expectations. Certainly, there are questionable elements, the deliberate pace of the series left the final episode with too much to do and the ending hotly contested, but the journey to get there remains deeply satisfying. Plus this is the first series of (hopefully) many, so the lingering unresolved plot strands will no doubt be revisited at some point down the line.

The extra features are a tad scant here, with two featurettes that are essentially puff pieces, however the Inside the Episode mini-docos for each part are a great deeper dive into the more obscure elements of the story.

Castle Rock is stellar genre television and a loving homage to a master storyteller that can stand on its own. You don’t need to be a fan of Stephen King to appreciate it, but those who are even vaguely familiar with the work of Maine’s most famous son are in for a deliciously twisted treat.

 
View Post

All the Devil’s Men

Home, Home Entertainment, Review, Streaming Leave a Comment

Jack Collins (Milo Gibson) is an unstable, world-weary ex-Navy Seal who tracks US’s most-wanted and terrorist targets under the auspices of CIA outsourcing. His handler for the CIA, Leigh (Blade Runner 2049’s Sylvia Hoeks) offers him a job, despite the apparent PTSD Jack’s been suffering and the other mental issues that assail him.

He’s dispatched to London (on what sounds like the premise to a Mission: Impossible film) in order to take down a rogue CIA operative named McKnight (Elliot Cowan) before he procures a nuke from Russian gangsters.

Jack’s assigned a team, in the form of operatives-for-hire Brennan (William Fichtner) and Samuelson (Gbenga Akinnagbe). Once in London, the group meet CIA compatriot Deighton (Joseph Millson) and it’s Deighton’s wobbly morality and possible connection to McKnight and his ‘is-he-or-isn’t-he-about-to-cross-everyone’ persona that leads to more violent shenanigans across London, in pursuit of McKnight and the warheads he’s trying to snarf.

There are double (and triple) crosses aplenty as Jack and Deighton continually lock horns and tread the well-worn path of bromance turned sour grapes.

It’s hardly an original format: the battle-weary warrior, the ‘Ronin’ looking for an end to the pain of existence. We get it. Writer/Director Matthew Hope is a dab hand at directing low-budget action sequences and on that front, if shoot-outs are your bag then there’s a fair bit of that to enjoy here. Other than applauding the filmmakers for wringing every drop from an all-too-obviously small budget, there’s little else to recommend this, except the sharply acidic William Fichtner, a hardened veteran of Hollywood supporting roles; he’s incapable of being anything less than enjoyable. As the lead, Gibson is unabashedly riding his surname’s coat tails (and his physical similarity to his dad) but physically, he’s got the goods, it’s just the underwritten script that leaves him – and the rest of the cast – twisting in the wind.

Overall, the fight choreography and action sequences are deftly executed but the brutally ‘by-the-numbers’ scripting, coupled with a considerable lack of character depth or humour, just annihilates any joy that could be derived from the film.

 
See All Home Entertainment Posts
View Post

Brightburn

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The story of Clark Kent is a tender one, and you almost certainly know it already. A child from another world lands on a small Kansas farm and is cared for and raised by a sweet, childless couple. They instill their values in the little tyke and years later he grows up to be the heroic metahuman known as Superman. But what if that kid hadn’t come from an essentially good place like Krypton, and what if that boy, when he grew older, had zero interest in using his powers for good? That is, essentially, the premise of Brightburn and it’s a beauty.

The childless couple in this case are Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman), who live in the small town of Brightburn and raise young Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) as if he were their own flesh and blood. For twelve years things proceed beautifully. Brandon is a sweet kid, and appears normal in every way, but once puberty starts knocking at the door, things turn nasty fast. You think adolescence is rough with a normal kid, try that same journey with a sullen superpowered pre-teen!

Brightburn, produced by James Gunn and written by his brother Mark and cousin Brian, is very much a dark and violent “what if” story. And the notion of a young superhero as a budding serial killer is darkly ironic and appealingly subversive in a misanthropic sort of way. The cast do a solid job, with Elizabeth Banks giving a typically strong performance, and director David Yarovesky manages to keep the tension high and really delivers on the squirmy gore when needed. One sequence in particular involving ocular trauma will have even the stoutest of gorehounds wincing.

In fact, the only really flaw that can be levelled at Brightburn is that it doesn’t do much with the premise other than what’s on the tin. The story proceeds briskly, and sometimes very nastily, but it never really offers much in the way of big surprises or twists once the conceit has been established. Still, if you’ve had a gutful of hopeful heroic adventures, and crave something from the darker side of the genre, Brightburn offers a jet-black look at a bad seed with super powers. And you don’t need X-ray vision to see that this is one story that’s going to get super bloody.

 
View Post

Trailer: Midsommar

Ari Aster's follow up to Hereditary taps shiny happy Scandi evil, starring Florence Pugh, Will Poulter and Jack Reynor. Someone, please call the wicker man!
View Post

The Curse of the Weeping Woman

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The Conjuring series has long since expanded from being a franchise and is now a legitimate cinematic universe, for good and ill. While few would argue with the merits of the main series entries The Conjuring 1 and 2 (and upcoming 3), we’ve also had to contend with the likes of Annabelle and The Nun, with Annabelle Comes Home, The Nun 2 and The Crooked Man all on their way. The latest spin-off is the barely-connected-to-the-main-series Curse of the Weeping Woman.

Proceedings focus in on the slight tale of social worker, Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini), who is working to support two kids after the death of her police officer husband. Anna becomes involved with a case involving two apparently abused children, who are terrified of the spectre of La Llorona, a ghost in Latin American folklore. Naturally, Anna takes the pragmatic view that ghosts don’t exist, but soon the crying lady’s evil intentions are fixed on our plucky heroine’s family and she may have to reevaluate some stuff… if she survives.

Originally titled The Curse of La Llorona (and inevitably released in the US under the title due to the large Hispanic audience), the film has a few things going for it, but it seems intent on squandering them all. Linda Cardellini is an agreeable lead and tries her best, but the material is so bare bones she never really gets a chance to shine. Similarly, Raymond Cruz, who was so unforgettable as Tuco in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, has nice moments as troubled ex-priest Rafael Olvera, but they never add up to anything. Hell, even the Weeping Woman herself, played capably by Marisol Ramirez, never gets to do anything other than lurch onto screen accompanied by loud noises or look creepy hanging around puddles.

The Curse of the Weeping Woman had a lot of potential, but like a lot of The Conjuring spin-offs, it feels like a lesser entity. Worse still, it’s not at all scary and frequently a bit dull. Hell, at least Annabelle was bad enough to cause a few unintentional chuckles, whereas mirth of any kind is in short supply here; as is tension, atmosphere or any compelling reason to keep watching.

Ultimately, The Curse of the Weeping Woman is a forgettable dud, and that’s a crying shame.

 
View Post

The Hole in the Ground

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Being a parent is hard work. That’s a statement with which even the most earnestly evangelical of breeder will agree, and being a parent of a difficult child is immeasurably harder still. But what if your child isn’t just a bit of a dick, what if your ruggie is actually supernaturally evil? This premise has proven fertile ground for horror movies throughout cinema’s history, with classics like The Bad Seed (1956), The Omen (1976) and Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979). More recently films like Insidious (2010), The Babadook (2014) and Hereditary (2018) have joined the ranks of this well-worn subgenre. Now, first-time feature director Lee Cronin brings his take, The Hole in the Ground, to the table to mostly effective results.

The Hole in the Ground tells the tale of Sarah O’Neill (Seana Kerslake) and her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey). The pair have moved to the idyllic, but isolated, Irish countryside for reasons initially unspecified, but clearly not ideal. Sarah is trying to be strong for her son, but she’s experienced recent trauma, both physical and mental. Chris is an odd, imaginative, kid who is unsure about the reasons for his life’s upheaval, and does take it out on his mum from time to time. However, he soon becomes fascinated by an enormous hole in the ground out the back of his new house, and wouldn’t that be fun to explore…

The Hole in the Ground spends the bulk of its 90 minute runtime building tension slowly, but effectively, as Chris’s behaviour gets more out of character and bizarre. His change from weird kid to ‘the other’ is conveyed effectively by both director and the young actor. Of course, these films depend in large part on the effectiveness of the pay off, and in that regard The Hole in the Ground doesn’t disappoint. The third act is tense, surreal and genuinely gripping, showing that Cronin haseserious genre chops.

In terms of its overall place in the subgenre, The Hole in the Ground is not quite as revelatory as The Babadook or Hereditary, treading more familiar genre beats rather than forging its own identity. That said, it’s still an effective, lowkey bit of allegorical horror with solid performances and a third act that crackles with surreal menace and effective tension. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you’ll find The Hole in the Ground has a lot to dig.

 
View Post

Teaser: Alien 40th Anniversary Shorts

As if high schools staging adaptations of Alien - and being endorsed by Sir Ridley and Sigourney- wasn't enough, tomorrow we will be getting the first of 6 short films in the Alien Universe, all to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this sci-fi horror classic.
See All Horror Posts
View Post

Honoka Matsumoto: Taboo in Japan

The young actress featured in two taboo-breaking feature films at the Okinawa International Movie Festival: My Father, The Bride and A Life Turned Upside Down: My Dad’s An Alcoholic.
View Post

Film Schools: Bridging The Gap

With the continuing debate about gender disparity in the international film industry, Australia’s screen schools and media education institutions have been putting strategies and philosophies in place to redress the imbalance.
See All Interviews Posts
View Post

Mike Leigh: Provocateur

With Mike Leigh’s politically charged Peterloo in cinemas now, we look at the director’s most provocative and socially focused films.
View Post

Wilde On Screen

One of the great literary wits of all time, we look at Oscar Wilde on the big screen, from adaptations and reimaginings to biopics (including this week's The Happy Prince) and bit parts.
View Post

Truman Capote On Screen

With a special series of screenings of Breakfast At Tiffany’s coming up, we take a look at the big screen presence of that much loved classic’s author, Truman Capote.
View Post

Sack The Director!

In light of Bryan Singer's now even more controversial sacking thanks to the Golden Globe Awards bestowed upon his film, Bohemian Rhapsody, we look at a host of other directors who were shown the door.
See All Lists Posts
View Post

Captain Marvel

Marvel, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Of all the Marvel “Phase Three” movies, Captain Marvel seemed the most worrisome. Hitting screens with an uncharacteristic lack of fanfare, on the back of a series of middling trailers, the concern has been “will this one be a dud?” Add to that screeching incel choir gibbering madly from various dark and sticky corners of the internet, and it seemed poor old Carol Danvers had the odds stacked against her. Happily, like Ms. Danvers, Captain Marvel excels when the going gets tough.

Captain Marvel tells the triumphant tale of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a member of an elite Kree military unit called Starforce. Carol appears human, and even has sporadic human memories, but isn’t sure how much to trust them. She and the rest of Starforce, led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), are busy protecting the Kree empire from the evil Skrulls, an insidious group of shapeshifting aliens. During a rescue mission they fall afoul of an ambush led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), the most nefarious and Aussie Skrull alive. Without wishing to spoil anything, let’s just say the narrative takes a few twists and turns and we end up on the “shithole” planet called Earth in the grungetastic year, 1995.

Captain Marvel, more than any other MCU flick in recent memory, is chockers with plot twists, feints and surprising reveals, so we’ll tread carefully. Needless to say, the action on earth features a younger, two eyed, Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson), a mystery to unravel Carol’s former life, including bestie Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). This is where the film really begins to shine, with Larson able to show off some of her Academy Award winning acting chops. Carol’s snarky, glib banter with Fury juxtaposes beautifully with the genuine, rueful closeness she feels with Maria, offering surprisingly moving moments of pathos. However, it is homegrown Ben Mendelsohn who absolutely owns this film, speaking in his genuine Australian accent and bringing so much to a villain role that could have played as a shallow caricature.

The direction from the two-person team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Mississippi Grind) is initially a little more understated than previous entries, particularly in the film’s comparatively clumsy first act, but soon finds its footing once some of the plot reveals land. Plus the pair absolutely nail the more emotional beats, avoiding the schmaltz factor that can occasionally creep into these flicks.

Ultimately, Captain Marvel is an excellent addition to the Marvel canon, giving us a breath of hopeful fresh air before whatever occurs in Avengers: Endgame next month. The performances are stellar, the action – particularly in the third act – is spectacular, and charming banter meshes perfectly with more nuanced dramatic beats. Young Nick Fury is some of Jackson’s best work in years, Space Mendo is an actual revelation and Brie Larson proves herself a capable, admirable superhero who will hopefully curb stomp Thanos into a puddle of purple goo.

Captain Marvel is two hours of hopeful, colourful, space opera-ry comic book escapism, with a pumping ’90s soundtrack and, perhaps most importantly, an awesome ginger cat called Goose.

 
See All Marvel Posts
See All Movies You Might Not Have Seen Posts
View Post

Anna and the Apocalypse

Horror, Musical, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The zombie comedy sub genre has become almost as stale and overused as the very zombie genre it seeks to parody/pay homage to. The high-watermark remains Edgar Wright’s wonderful Shaun of the Dead but other flicks like Zombieland and Dead Snow have their slight charms as well. The problem is it’s all been done before. Over and over and over again. To be a memorable zombie comedy in this most crowded of markets a film really needs to add something new. Anna and the Apocalypse from director John McPhail asks ‘what if it was a musical?’ to mixed, but mostly engaging results.

Anna (Ella Hunt) is a teenage student in her last year of high school. She wants to travel and see the world, much to the chagrin of her sensible dad, and has a close group of fellow misfit friends all obsessed with their own minor problems and triumphs. Everything goes tits up when a zombie apocalypse breaks out on Christmas and Anna and her mates must reach their nearest and dearest before it’s too late. And, of course, they’ll belt out a few songs along the way.

Anna and the Apocalypse is at its best when it plays to the angst and self involved myopia of being a teenager. One particularly striking number features Anna and her best friend (who would like to be more) John (Malcolm Cumming) singing about a brand new day, blithely oblivious to the fact that they’re prancing through a neighbourhood beset by zombies. A lot of the early moments ring true, authentically portraying the real concerns of adolescence without becoming cloying and twee. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite sustain this and in the second half becomes a much more familiar zombie romp, replete with gore gags and undead humour you’ve seen before, done better.

Still, charm goes a long way and Ella Hunt is an extremely watchable screen presence, managing to convey genuine pathos even while singing and dancing. The songs, overall, are a bit hit and miss – and there’s possibly one tune too many – but if you’re sitting within the venn diagram of “millenial”, “loves zombies comedies” and “lives for musicals” you’re likely to have a spectacularly good time with Anna and the Apocalypse. And the rest of us can, at the very least, admire a zom com that attempts to gnaw on something a little different.

 
View Post

A Star is Born

Musical, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

In the words of Sam Elliott’s Bobby: “Music is essentially twelve notes. All any artist can offer to the world is how they see those twelve notes”. For a film that serves as the fourth remake of a story dating back to the golden years of 3-strip Technicolor, these are words that could have sabotaged this entire venture.

First directing gig for star Bradley Cooper, first acting gig for co-star Lady Gaga that doesn’t involve music videos, witches or Robert Rodriguez, and both put towards a story that has been uttered through the lips of the likes of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. If this film was simply adequate, that would already be a serious feat, but it seems that Cooper isn’t one to settle for just being “adequate”.

His ability with directing actors needs to be brought up, as he manages to wring out impressive work out of pretty much everyone in attendance. His own performance as the sloshed country rocker Jackson, whose skin, jacket and lungs are all tanned leather from the look and sound of it, is very strong; same with Gaga as Ally opposite him, but it’s with the supporting cast that the bigger surprises lay in store. Everyone fits perfectly in place, and in the case of Sam Elliott as Jackson’s older brother, he manages to bring out the best work of his entire career. Or, in the case of Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father, and Dave Chappelle later on in the film, one of their rare cinematic gems. Add to this the dazzling lights captured by Matthew Libatique (Straight Outta Compton, Black Swan) and you have visual gold.

But for a movie musical, visuals are only half of the puzzle; the music needs to connect just as hard, if not harder. Well, this might be one of the single strongest musical efforts that have made it to cinemas in years, possibly decades. Aside from Cooper having an impressive set of pipes on him, giving the numerous live performances grizzled soul, and Lady Gaga finally nailing that country-western/pop fusion she attempted with her most recent solo album Joanne, the sound mixing is so clear that it feels like an actual live concert with all the ear-shredding distortion that comes with it. But one with all the heart-breaking and sobering behind-the-scenes drama kept in, giving the story a serious emotional push over the top.

A Star Is Born shows an incredibly strong first effort for actor and now director Bradley Cooper, leaving his own fingerprint on what has become a legacy remake in a way that does justice to the material, pays due tribute to the original, and shows why this story still resonates in a world populated by RuPaul’s Drag Race and Gaga’s brand of pop revivalism. It’s a timely feature that highlights the true timelessness of the original work; it’s the juggling act that all remakes strive for, but few manage to capture. Encore!

 
See All Musical Posts
View Post

Otis Dhanji: Young Aquaman

The Australian actor got to play a 13-year-old Arthur Curry aka Aquaman in the global box-office smash Aquaman, and now hopes to parlay that into more roles locally, and even to step behind the camera.
View Post

Jordan Fassina: From the Apple Isle to the Big Apple.

“New York is in every way, shape and form, the complete opposite of Tasmania,” says actress and writer, Jordan Fassina, who left home at age 18. Five years later, her debut piece as a screenwriter, That Thing I Had One Time, which follows her personal story, is a few months away from its release date.
View Post

Here Comes Kat Hoyos

Recently appearing in a surprisingly low key and ‘out of character’ turn in Jason Stevens' feature film Chasing Comets, the rising Aussie actress reveals what makes her tick.
See All New Face Posts
View Post

Web Series: F Off We’re Full

With the election looming, and the far right in the headlines, enterprising Brisbane filmmakers launch first episode of web series satirising white nationalists on alternative Australia Day, May 8.
See All News Posts
View Post

Kenneth Branagh: Fowl Business

Shakespeare, Marvel, Christie, now the actor/producer/director turns to Eoin Colfer’s best-selling books and a potential franchise starter for Disney. We caught up with Branagh on the set of Artemis Fowl.
View Post

Set Visit: A Lion Returns

We could not resist an invitation to catch up with filmmaker Serhat Caradee in his element, barking instructions on the set of his long awaited sophomore film, A Lion Returns.
View Post

On Set: The School

We spent an evening on the set of Storm Ashwood's feature directorial debut, a supernatural fantasy that tips its hat to Pan's Labyrinth and Peter Pan more than the usual Aussie genre fare.
See All On Set Posts
View Post

So, You Want to be a Film Critic?

Currently screening on ABC, the brilliant series Employable Me features young people with a disability seeking employment. One of its subjects, Cain Noble-Davies, aspires to be a film critic, and we gave him an opportunity to intern with us, which he writes about here.  
See All Opinion Posts
See All Our Picks Posts
See All Preview Posts
See All Red Carpet Posts
View Post

Aladdin

family film, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Where there should be wonder, there is CGI serving as the watered-down substitute. Where there should be frisson-creating music, there is feeble lip service to the music of the region. And where there should be a fun and exciting comedic presence with the Genie, we get Will Smith doing his best Kazaam impression.
View Post

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The original John Wick came out in 2014 and was a neo-noir action flick with a tight premise, spectacular action and an utterly committed performance from the apparently ageless Keanu Reeves. A sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2, dropped in 2017 and while the action remained kinetic and exciting, it was let down by an overly convoluted plot that rather diluted the elegant simplicity of the original. Now, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (oy, that title) is here, snap-kicking its way into your heart. But is it worth the bruises? Actually, yeah!

The story starts seconds after the previous film, with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) declared excommunicado by The High Table, and a fat bounty placed on his head. Basically, in a city brimming with assassins, John is now a very tempting target. As is typical of this series, the action begins almost straight away and rarely relents for the following 131 minutes. Parabellum is, thankfully, a lot more streamlined than Chapter 2. Oh, there’s still a bunch of goofy bullshit involving golden coins, secret societies, claimed marks and whatnot, but it never slows the pace of the overarching plot.

Keanu Reeves, still drinking from the same fountain of youth as Paul Rudd, delivers another grim but knowing performance as the titular Wick, and is joined once more by the always reliable Charon (Lance Reddick) and Winston (Ian McShane). Also, we have some newbies this time around, with canine-friendly killer Sofia (Halle Berry) and dark matriarch The Director (Anjelica Huston). Not to mention a delightfully camp villain, Zero (Mark Dacascos), who exudes giddy madness.

Chad Stahelski once again directs and does so with style and panache. Almost every action scene is shot in long lingering takes framed for maximum clarity, showcasing just how much of the action is genuinely performed by humans, and the result is often breathtaking. Combined with a spare script containing minimal dialogue, the film is a beautifully choreographed bullet ballet of shattered glass and broken bones.

Ultimately, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is not quite the equal of the first film, but a stark improvement over the second. Fast-paced, explosive and chockers with jaw-dropping stunt work, it’s easily the best pure action destination in town. If that sounds like you, put John Wick on your hit list.

 
View Post

The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Directed by Palestinian filmmaker Muayad Alayan, we follow the ill-fated affair between Sarah (Sivane Kretchner), an Israeli café owner from West Jerusalem and Saleem (Adeeb Safadi), a Palestinian delivery driver from East Jerusalem.

After a tryst at a bar in Bethlehem brings them to the attention of security services, their relationship is mistaken for espionage and Saleem is arrested. While his pregnant wife races to find answers, Sarah contemplates telling the truth; the consequences of which would clear Saleem’s name but also vilify her as a traitor in the eyes of her military husband and conservative community.

Inspired by true events, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem gives a refreshing and vicarious look at two families in contemporary Israel – a part of the world that is often reported in the media for its conflicts. From geography to religion, Sarah and Saleem’s relationship is dangerous in practically every way imaginable. This is exemplified in a scene where Sarah confides in a co-worker about her affair and is met with immediate forgiveness. Yet when Sarah divulges that he was Palestinian and not Israeli, her friend is disgusted. Because in her eyes, the crime is more a concern of identity than it is of adultery.

What’s also interesting is that the film begins in media res and never determines the motivation behind the affair. For Saleem, perhaps it was a distraction from his working-class job and impending fatherhood. For Sarah, who mentions her business failing twice, it could be a means of escaping the shadow of her husband’s burgeoning career. Instead Alayan – whose brother, Rami Musa Alayan, also wrote the screenplay – looks at the ethical and political ramifications of the affair, with the “reports” in its title referring to the numerous cover-ups and accounts that permeate the story.

As the second half of the film turns into more of a legal drama, we move away from Safadi’s helpless Saleem to focus on the morally-concerned Sarah and their respective spouses. Maisa Abd Eihadi gives an earnest performance as Saleem’s wife, who carries out her own detective work in hopes of clearing her cheating husband from a mistaken political crime. Just as good is Isahai Golan, playing Sarah’s ambitious Israeli army husband – unafraid of employing any means necessary to preserve his family and position.

From lingering shots over Saleem’s shoulder, as he gazes over Jerusalem’s settlements, to glimpses of the Israeli West Bank wall when Sarah rides in the back of his van at night, the hand-held camerawork captures the partition and unrest of its characters and environment.

Despite wearing a little towards the end of its running time, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem is an insightful and well-acted drama that draws you in without having to settle on either side of its socio-political backdrop.

 
View Post

Trailer: High as Mike

Hot button issue around medicinal cannabis gets an airing with Australian-produced documentary being released through Fan-Force.
View Post

Little Woods – Big Ideas

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Last seen as a bad ass space renegade in Avengers: Endgame, and soon to appear in Men in Black: International, Tessa Thompson is a revelation in her portrayal of Oleander, a woman struggling on the edge of poverty in Little Woods. It’s the first feature by New York based writer/director Nia DaCosta whose second film will be Candyman, a reimagining of the popular ‘90s horror film, due for release in 2020.

With compelling cinematography by Matt Mitchell, Little Woods grips you into a forbidding world and keeps you on the edge as Tess and her sister Deb (Lily James) battle for survival. The screenplay was supported by the Sundance institute where DaCosta gained a place in the Screenwriters Lab followed by the Directors Lab.

The location of the town of Little Woods in North Dakota was recreated in Texas and the poetic landscape in the early frames are literal and a metaphor for danger lurking. As an archetypal story of female struggle, this is no fairy tale. The use of sound is effective, alternating between passages of backwoods fiddle music, bold thrash song and strategic silences. The dialogue is naturalistic, though sometimes to the point of inaudible.

From the outset we see the sisters, who are mixed race as well as polar opposite personalities, caretaking men – Ollie to bandage a wound and provide painkillers, Deb as mother to a young boy. DaCosta has cleverly woven a narrative that embraces a catalogue of women’s issues. The sisters have to negotiate a harsh world where men, often disadvantaged and damaged themselves, still have more power to intimidate. Even a supportive man like Tess’s probation officer puts pressure on her with his high expectations and random visits to her home.

It’s a credit to Thompson that she gets us on her side from the intense, compelling start. When we meet her, she is a reformed criminal almost at the end of her probation for drug smuggling. When her sister is in dire need she is tempted to risk everything and re-offend. The story makes much of her being pushed into a corner through need but there’s also a nice admission when she tells her sister the danger isn’t just that she may do it again, but that she likes the rush of power it gives her. And, despite Ollie’s toughness, we come to realise her very human need to be needed.

While Thompson is totally believable as the resourceful, beleaguered Ollie, the casting of her flaky and fragile sister Deb is less sure. Perhaps we know Lily James too well as the refined period heroine in War and Peace and Downton Abbey, or the princess in Cinderella, but while she holds a strong emotional centre, she is rather less convincing as a product of the world we find ourselves in. Perhaps DaCosta made a deliberate choice to take a princess ‘type’ and explore what she becomes under hardship – unstable, susceptible to pimps and users. In this world, fine beauty can only get you pregnant and jobs in the sex industry. While we wonder if Tess will bust probation, we follow Deb’s conflict about being pregnant. Her side of the story illuminates a desperate lack of choices for single women in her position. There’s a pivotal fight between the sisters that is electrifying.

While the film doesn’t flinch in its portrayal of men as parasites and bullies, DaCosta reveals the context, a world where men are also brutalised and exploited. They are not the central characters but rather just people trying to live their lives and do the best they can with their circumstances.

We see rodeo riders and construction workers, and there is a fascinating theme of widespread drug dependency that drives the action. With bodies broken by years of harsh living, and in the grip of a pitiless, money-based medical system, the men’s pain is the weak link in the chain that Ollie can exploit. They are desperate for relief and she can get illegal prescription drugs on her runs across the border. The complication, apart from breaking her probation, is an attack by a local drug dealer when she threatens to infringe on his territory.

Described as a western and with echoes of Thelma and Louise, Little Woods is essentially a microcosm of many feminist themes wrapped in a tense thriller, worth the watch for Thompson’s virtuoso performance. When asked by Collider why she was drawn to the role, she explained, “it was getting to make a story about these two sisters that have to learn how to choose each other again that resonated with me so deeply. Obviously, it’s a film about two women, but I feel like she wrote Ollie, especially, as a character without gender. (She) just felt like a person that has a lot of things to do.”

 
See All Review Posts
View Post

Teaser: Alien 40th Anniversary Shorts

As if high schools staging adaptations of Alien - and being endorsed by Sir Ridley and Sigourney- wasn't enough, tomorrow we will be getting the first of 6 short films in the Alien Universe, all to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this sci-fi horror classic.
View Post

Alita: Battle Angel

Review, sci-fi, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

During the 1990s, a young man by the name of Robert Rodriguez was one of the most exciting and inventive directors around. He burst onto the scene with the micro-budgeted El Mariachi in 1992 and kept cranking out the hits, with gems like Desperado (1995), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and Sin City (2005) released to much acclaim. Post Sin City, however, it seemed that Rodriguez missed a trick or two. And though his output still had some appeal (2007’s Planet Terror remains an underrated flick) there were some significantly disappointing efforts like Machete Kills (2013) and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014). Well, friends, it pleases us greatly to inform you that Robert Rodriguez is back and all it took was a little robot girl and a bit of James Cameron magic.

Alita: Battle Angel is based on the manga Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro, a multi-volume cyberpunk series released in the ’90s. In fact, producer James Cameron has been trying to get the adaptation made since the late ’90s/early 2000s, which gives you an idea of the torturous route this project has taken.

The story takes place in 2563 and revolves around the (very) wide-eyed cyborg, Alita (Rosa Salazar), who is saved from the literal scrapheap by cyborg Scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). The two bond, and Ido attempts to teach Alita about society; the underclass who live in grungy Iron City and the upper class who live in a sky city called Zalem.

Alita: Battle Angel is many things – exciting, propulsive, full of spectacle – but it’s certainly not subtle or in any way “hard” science fiction. The movie plays out more like a technology-infused fairy tale, with Alita uncovering her history, unexpected strengths and even a burgeoning relationship with affable human spunk, Hugo (Keean Johnson). It also feels as if the plot contains about three trade paperbacks worth of story and even at 122 minutes zips along at an occasionally dizzying pace. That means that the narrative, involving menacing cyborgs, dark conspiracies and unexpected betrayals doesn’t always have time to give every moment space to breathe. Unfortunately that means a few subplots, including one involving Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali, feel under-cooked when set against the rest of the film.

That aside, however, Alita: Battle Angel is an absolute hoot. The world of Iron City feels rusted and lived in, the characters all have clear agendas and the action is superbly executed, with genuinely exciting set pieces that build to a glorious climax. It’s not a perfect film, at times the dialogue can be wince-inducing and the pace inconsistent, but there’s a joy and excitement here that mirrors Alita’s gleeful appreciation of life itself. Rosa Salazar gives a spectacular performance (albeit one augmented with hefty amounts of CGI) and makes Alita an extremely appealing heroine. If you had fears about taking a trip to the uncanny valley from the trailers, just know that in the final product it all works spectacularly well.

Alita: Battle Angel is gorgeous and at times an unwieldy and profoundly strange beast, that doesn’t always work as well as it could. It’s also consistently enjoyable from start to finish and exciting and wide-eyed in a way that should liven even the most jaded and black-hearted audience member. If you can get in line with its gleeful, cyberpunky charms you’re in for a grand old time at the cinema. Welcome back, Robert Rodriguez, we’ve all missed you.

 
View Post

Robert Rodriguez: Battle Angel

With all reports pointing to a box office disappointment, it looks like James Cameron [pictured with Rodriguez and producer Jon Landau] may have dodged a bullet when he passed Alita: Battle Angel for Robert Rodriguez to direct. But the Tex-Mex filmmaker wouldn’t have it any other way.
See All sci-fi Posts
See All Set Visit Posts
View Post

Teaser: Alien 40th Anniversary Shorts

As if high schools staging adaptations of Alien - and being endorsed by Sir Ridley and Sigourney- wasn't enough, tomorrow we will be getting the first of 6 short films in the Alien Universe, all to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this sci-fi horror classic.
View Post

Watch Dear Michelle

Produced by Australian production company Exit Films to celebrate International Women's Day 2019, this short asks the question, what if Michael Jordan was Michelle Jordan?
See All short film Posts
View Post

Wanda Sykes For President

“It’s not normal that I know I’m smarter than the president!” says Wanda Sykes during the long rant against Trump that opens her stand up special Wanda Sykes: Not Normal.
View Post

Trailer: Always be my Baby

One crazy rich Asian (Ali Wong - hilarious in Netflix Special Baby Cobra) and one poor one (ubiquitous Randall Park - Fresh off the Boat, etc)  reunite after 15 years in the will-they-won't-they rom-com for Netflix.
View Post

Trailer: Black Mirror Season 5

Here's your first glimpse of three new episodes dropping in early June, featuring Anthony Mackie, Miley Cyrus, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Topher Grace, Damson Idris, Andrew Scott, Nicole Beharie, Pom Klementieff, Angourie Rice, Madison Davenport and Ludi Lin.
View Post

Trailer: The Loudest Voice

Big Russ as Roger Ailes, Naomi Watts as former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, Sienna Miller as Ailes’ wife Elizabeth, Seth MacFarlane as former Fox News PR chief Brian Lewis, Simon McBurney as Rupert Murdoch, Annabelle Wallis as former Fox News booker Laurie Luhn and Aleksa Palladino as Ailes’ longtime assistant Judy Laterza, Josh Charles as Casey Close, Gretchen Carlson’s husband, and Josh Stamberg as former Fox executive, Bill Shine.
View Post

Trailer: Netflix Original The Society

From the creator of Party of Five, comes this  10 x 1 hour episodes series about a group of teenagers transported to a facsimile of their wealthy town, but without a trace of their parents. Cue chaos! Among the cast of hot young things are Australians Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Toby Wallace and Olivia DeJonge.
See All Streaming Posts
See All Sydney Film Festival Posts
View Post

Talking Movies: Olympics Hero Shane Heal

With The Boomers, well, booming at The 2016 Rio Olympics, we revisit a chat with Shane Heal, one of Australian basketball’s greatest legends, and a veteran of the 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 Olympics.
View Post

Talking Movies: Olympics Legend Andrew Gaze

With the 2016 Olympic Games now in full swing, we revisit our chat with basketballing hero, Andrew Gaze, who led the Boomers to five Olympics, and was the flag bearer at the opening ceremony of The 2000 Sydney Olympics.
See All Talking Movies Posts
View Post

Tech Review: JBL BAR Series, BAR 3.1

Home, Review, Technology, Technology, This Week Leave a Comment

For someone who has to watch a lot of movies at home (hey, it’s work, someone’s got to do it!), up until now, my greatest extravagance was a flat screen TV. Living in inner city Sydney with two young children doesn’t quite allow for the luxury of a stand-alone home theatre, so when the boom happened a few years back, I had to visit a friend’s house to understand what all the fuss is about. Admittedly, it was impressive to watch a film in a darkened theatrette with sound that shook the seats when it needed to, and dialogue that was comprehensible all the time.

So, when tasked with reviewing a new soundbar, I jumped at the chance, wondering if my movie viewing experienced could be improved, especially as the FIFA World Cup was about to kick off as well.

Setting up BAR 3.1 was relatively painless. There are two major components in the pack, with a bar that is light and around the width of a standard flat screen TV, and a subwoofer that’s chunky, but heck, it needs to be to feel the vibration. Although Bluetooth capability is easy to set up (check out our review by filmmaker Serhat Caradee), I didn’t really have the time, so just went for the wire straight from the bar into the headphone jack on the TV, and away it went. Switching to the AUX setting on the speaker, I discovered that my volume for the TV, which I controlled with the TV remote, was now being sent through the speaker, including the subwoofer, after I pressed one button to pair it with the bar. Smart tech indeed.

The sound quality difference was immediately evident as I tested it by watching Dunkirk on Netflix. Christopher Nolan’s immersive, and sometimes plain evident, sound design on the film was better than I remembered when I watched the film in the cinema, but most exciting was that I could finally understand what Tom Hardy’s character was saying, even with that pilot’s mask over his face.

Without looking into this too much, I believe that the BAR 3.1 product is enhanced by an extra central speaker which makes the dialogue pop, and truly makes this skew perfect for movie watchers.

Next up, I flicked over to the soccer, switched the bar’s setting to sport, and was immediately struck by the surround sound difference, transporting me into the stands of the packed stadium ambience.

Occasionally, I am also privy to watching unfinished films, assembly cuts that are pre-sound mix. I flicked one of these on, and the magic of BAR 3.1 and the job of a skilful sound designer was truly revealed to me. Having watched the same thing on a laptop previously, with the sound output through the one speaker, it seemed flawed but excusable, whereas watching it with sound coming out of the bar, it became obvious how complicated both the thinking behind a film’s sound architecture is, and that this type of product is necessary to do a film viewing experience justice.

As I packed away the speakers to return them to JBL, there was a part of me that was nagging away, realising that my movie watching experience can be vastly improved without having to invest in a stand-alone home theatre. I unpacked again, set up BAR 3.1 and switched on The Dark Knight Rises! Woah!!

To find out more, click here.

 
See All Technology Posts
View Post

Filmmaking with the Blockchain

If you thought that digital technology had disrupted the film industry, well, it’s just getting started, with crypto currency now emerging as a filmmaker’s friend and a way of the future.
View Post

Sounding Off

When it comes to cinema, sound is one of the great unsung heroes, and you can give it its due with JBL’s BAR Series soundbars.  
See All Technology Posts
View Post

The Cry

Australian, Home, Review, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

Compelling four-part television drama mini-series The Cry will shock and enthral viewers.

Based on the novel by Australian author Helen FitzGerald, viewers will be on the edge of their seat watching this drama unfold. Over six-million people tuned into watch the show when it premiered on BBC One last year. The popular series also attracted 10 million plus plays via BBCs i-player.

The British-Australian co-production was filmed across the two continents (Glasgow and Melbourne) and features a strong cast – including Ewen Leslie (Top of the Lake, Safe Harbour), Asher Keddie, Alex Dimitriades and Jenna Coleman (Dr Who, Victoria) – each delivering powerful and convincingly-played emotive performances.

Adapted by Jacquelin Perske (Love My Way, Seven Types of Ambiguity), The Cry follows the lives of a young couple, Joanna (Jenna Coleman) and her husband Alistair (Ewen Leslie). Joanna and Alistair travel with their baby from Scotland to Australia to see Alistair’s mother, and to fight for custody of Alistair’s daughter against his Australian ex-wife Alexandra (Asher Keddie). Almost as soon as they arrive in rural Victoria, every parent’s worst nightmare is brought to life when their four-month old baby boy Noah goes missing. The already fragile relationship between the young couple quickly disintegrates as the public scrutiny intensifies and the mystery deepens.

There are echoes of little Madeleine McCann and Azaria Chamberlain disappearances and while the abduction of baby Noah is the catalyst and what drives this story, it’s the characters that provide the intrigue. The lines of truth and manipulation are blurred in this plot-twisting drama where everyone is a suspect.

Viewers will slowly despise Leslie’s character, who is smug, patronising and a completely unhelpful new father. “He earns the money; he wears the earplugs” Joanna justifies, explaining why Alistair never wakes to help with Noah’s night-time feedings.

Keddie is brilliant as the ex-wife to Leslie but it’s Coleman who excels, unravelling before our eyes. The English actress does not hide her feelings of loss, anger or confusion. She’s completely relatable as a struggling mother and viewers will feel her pain during the flight to Australia scene as she repetitively walks up and down the aisle trying to quieten her screaming baby and ignore the look of distain from fellow passengers. This intelligent drama provides a harsh view of motherhood at its most harrowing.

The Cry will not be relaxing Sunday night viewing, but audiences will find it grippingly addictive.

 
View Post

Marvel’s Iron Fist Season 2

Review, Television, This Week 2 Comments

Boy, did Marvel listen.

The first season of Marvel’s Iron Fist landed with a resounding thud not unlike a noob kung fu disciple hitting the mat. Critics were unkind, fans were unimpressed, and the general consensus was that it was the worst of Marvel’s Netflix offerings so far.

However, it seems that the powers that be had considerable faith in Danny Rand (Finn Jones), heir-to-billions-turned-mystic-martial-arts-master, and after co-starring in The Defenders and guesting on Luke Cage, the wielder of the titular metal mitt is back in the saddle of his own series. And while Iron Fist is still not in a position comparable to the best of the MarFlix series (if you’re wondering, Jessica Jones S1 is the reigning champ), this season it has definitely found its feet, becoming a solid action procedural.

That’s chiefly down to some serious tonal retooling. Season 2, under the stewardship of new showrunner Raven Metzner, handily picking up the baton fumbled by departing incumbent Scott Buck. Metzner doesn’t retcon anything that has gone before (although to be honest, memories of Season 1 are rather indistinct…) but rather deftly pushes the whole operation in a new direction. The show now feels like it knows what it wants to be and where it wants to go, and that confidence is refreshing.

The changes are myriad but generally subtle. One thing that jumps out is that our hero is less of an asshole. Original Recipe Danny Rand was nigh-unbearable in his #worldtraveller smug wokeness, but this season he’s a much more humble and driven character, having taken up Daredevil’s vigilante duties in the wake of the events of The Defenders. Eschewing luxury, he’s moving furniture by day, mopping up criminals in Chinatown by night, and making a cute couple with fellow martial artist/former member of The Hand (there is so much backstory and jargon now – just go with it if you’re a bit lost) Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick).

It’s a nice little superhero life, suddenly complicated by two things: the arrival of Danny’s old friend and rival Davos (Sacha Dawan), a fellow student in the mystical city of K’un L’un (so much backstory and jargon…); and the appearance of the mysterious Mary (Alice Eve), who is either a naive artist trying to make it in the Big Apple, a deadly assassin who can go toe to toe with Iron Fist, or both.

Davos functions as the now overly familiar “dark mirror” villain of the piece, a self-flagellating ascetic bad-ass who thinks he deserves to wield the power of the Iron Fist more than Danny, and is willing to do some pretty awful stuff to wrest our guy’s glowing hand from him. As for Alice, her agenda is murkier, but fans of the comics and denizens of the internet will already know that she’s the live action incarnation of noted Marvel villain Typhoid Mary, normally an opponent of Daredevil, and we’ll just leave this hyperlink here for those who don’t mind spoilers.

Whenever these plots intersect, violence erupts – and it’s good violence, too. For all its leaden pacing and poorly sketched characters, the first season’s biggest problem was that its fight sequences were embarrassingly lackluster – that’s a serious handicap when your show is literally and specifically about a guy whose main power is Super Punching. Wisely, the production team called in veteran fight choreographer Clayton Barber to bring this season’s action beats up to par, and the improvement is immediately and viscerally noticeable. Barber understands how to reveal story and character through action. While the show is still somewhat hampered by the practical limitations of time and money, each fight scene is its own beast with its own flavour. Of the first six episodes previewed, the two stand outs are a pretty nifty scrap in a restaurant kitchen that could fit nicely in a prime-era Hong Kong action flick, and a flashback sequence that sees Danny and Davos battling in a K’un L’un temple, all flowing scarves, graceful leaping kicks, and misty lighting.

While there are connecting threads to both The Defenders and Season 1, six episodes in, Season 2 seems content to be just a street level action drama, and that’s to its credit. The plot more or less just exists to get us to the next fight, and the fights exist because, well, properly choreographed and framed fights are cool – here, as in the best action cinema, action is its own reward. While shows like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage – and even, to a degree, Daredevil – have loftier thematic goals, Iron Fist is a straight-up chop-socky beat ’em up, and that’s fine.

 
View Post

Disenchantment Season 1, Part 1

Home, Review, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

In the magical kingdom of Dreamland, princesses just want to have fun. At least, Bean (Broad City‘s Abbi Jacobson) does, much to the consternation of her grumpy, despotic old man, King Zog (the ever-reliable John “Bender” DiMaggio), who wants to use his hard-drinking, hard-partying daughter to seal up a political deal in an arranged marriage. Such is the lot of a fairy tale princess.

Onto this scene come two interlopers, Elfo the Elf (Nat Faxon), booted from his smurf-alike village for not being happy enough, and Luci (Eric Andre), Bean’s sarcastic, wisecracking personal demon, sicced on her in a subplot that will no doubt pay off some time down the track.

In the meantime, though, what we get is essentially Futurama-but-with-fantasy-tropes (Fantasirama?), which is only to be expected seeing as Disenchantment is the latest TV series from Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and the aforementioned sci-fi satire. 10 episodes will drop on Netflix this Friday and, based on having checked out the first seven, is worth carving some time out for over the weekend.

Let’s qualify that, though. Like all Groening series, Disenchantment takes its time to find its feet, and it’s not quite there yet. At the moment it’s a broad concept, some character traits, and a set of tropes that have been flung at the wall – we’re yet to see what sticks (Elfo’s characterisation is all over the shop right now, for example). It remains to be seen whether the fantasy genre, although a very broad church, offers to Disenchantment the depth and complexity that science fiction gave Futurama, in terms of providing  a variety of subjects and dilemmas for the show to deal with. Right now we’re pretty much dealing with a Grimm’s Fairy Tales/Game of Thrones mash up, which is fine, but may not have the legs required for longevity. Fantasy has a pretty deep conceptual bench – here’s hoping the creative team use it effectively. Bring us Conan, bring us Elric, bring us Dunsany, Peake, Liever, and more.

In the meantime, the jokes-per-minute ratio is in the acceptable range (and certainly bluer than what the Simpsons ever got away with on network TV), the animation is comfortably familiar (only Luci pushes the boundaries appreciably, being a matte black demony kinda thing) and the voice cast is game and talented – Britcom fans please note the presence of Noel Fielding, Matt Berry, and Rich Fulcher in supporting roles.

Based on this first taste, Disenchantment is good, and promises to get even better once it’s found its groove. It’s probably greedy to expect a third bonafide classic in a row out of Groening and co. – but let’s hope for it anyway.

 
View Post

GLOW Season 2

Home, Review, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

And so we return to the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and their ongoing battles within and without the ring. Netflix’s feminist underdog story, which traces the fortunes of a troupe of dreamers, wannabes and cynical veterans at the very fringes of the entertainment world as they try and carve out a place for themselves in the fascinatingly lurid milieu of professional wrestling, is such a vibrant, funny, and defiantly weird piece of television that it’s easy to forget that, under all the spandex and big hair, it’s actually doing serious cultural work.

At base, GLOW is about marginalised women fighting for self determination. The ace up its sleeve, the thing that makes it such a pitch perfect cocktail of comedy and drama, is that failure is built into the narrative model. Hell, most of the characters have already failed, from Alison Brie’s would-be serious actress to Betty Gilpin’s fallen soap star to Marc Maron’s cynical B movie auteur, and they expect to fail again. Moreover, the world expects them to fail. What this means is that every little victory, every incremental win, feels momentous. It means that even when we’re laughing at the excesses of the period and the setting, we’re cheering for our characters – it’s a heady emotional high.

Season 2 does lack the novelty of the previous run, although it still pops with vitality. Whereas the sheer audacious weirdness of the conceit could carry us through the first 10 episodes, now the show – like its characters – has to settle into the production groove. The sprawling ensemble means that there’s always something going on, even when it feels like, overall, we’re not making too much narrative headway. As we said, small victories, incremental steps. The focus remains more or less on Ruth (Brie) and Debbie’s (Gilpin) frenemy-ship, as the latter tries to flex her muscles by taking on a producing role on the show-within-a-show, while the former leans into her position as the wrestling franchise’s chief bad guy, the USSR-themed Zoya the Destroyer.

There’s more interesting stuff happening elsewhere in the ensemble, though, especially when the show grapples with issues of race and representation. Kia Stevens’  Tammé “Welfare Queen” Dawson has to deal with her college student son learning that she’s playing a damaging African American stereotype in the ring, while Sunita Mani’s Arthie struggles to shed her character “Beirut the Mad Bomber”, a role she finds particularly demeaning given that she’s actually Indian.

Meanwhile, Maron’s embittered Sam Sylvia tries – and largely fails, because, hey, he is who he is – to forge a meaningful relationship with his newly discovered daughter, Justine (Britt Baron), although the real meat of his arc is him dealing with his feelings for go-getter Ruth, whose talents he both respects and finds threatening. Men feeling threatened by talented women is a big theme in GLOW, and its embodied by guys we’re also positioned to like – mainly Sam and rich kid producer Bash (Chris Lowell), who spend a lot of time shutting down freshly minted producer Debbie just because they can.

Which sounds heavy, but GLOW‘s charm is that it channels these themes inside a bright, poppy, garishly candy-coloured package, and it never lets its thematic concerns bog down the action of the narrative, which nimbly skips along. For a show that concerns itself with failure and the fragility of dreams, GLOW is almost never not fun. It’s hard to see it lasting for too many more seasons – after all, what’s the end game here? – but while it’s here, it’s a must watch.

 
See All Television Posts