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ITCHing for Round Two

Following the explosion of excitement from the first series of children’s program ITCH, fans can expect bigger things in their favourite characters’ return to the screen.
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Ainbo: Amazon Princess

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

A young Amazonian girl bounding around on a tree like Mowgli in The Jungle Book opens this Peruvian/Dutch/German co-production. We soon discover that this is the Ainbo of the title, and that her best friend, Zumi, is about to be crowned leader of their tribe. A relatively quick whip-round of characters introduces us to the two leads; a smarmy village thug called Atok; Zumi’s father and current tribal chief, Huarinka; Ainbo’s foster mother, Chuni; as well as two ‘loopy’ spirit guides, Dillo and Vaca (a bespectacled armadillo and a clumsy tapir).

The environmental theme is also introduced early on, in the form of dying fish and disease in the village, attributed to a curse but, as we find out later, the result of something more real, and more troubling. Ainbo is convinced by her spirit guides to embark on a trek to find a magical root that will save the village. On her journey, she must deal with various perils, ranging from a pursuing Atok, and a gigantic sloth in his volcano home, to the jungle demon, Yakuruna, the appearance of whom might be a bit much for the smaller humans in the audience.

Throughout Ainbo’s quest, Zumi is trying to juggle her new leadership duties with her concerns for her best friend’s safety. This sisterly dynamic plays out in a familiar way – it’s basically Elsa and Anna in the jungle but without all the irritating singing.

Co-directors Richard Claus and Jose Zelada keep the pace tight and the sight gags light, while also attempting to address the actual ‘curse’ of the Amazon, the despoliation of nature.

The message of standing up to the corporate vandals is admirable, though at one point it strays dangerously close to lumping modern medicine in with the mining companies’ dirty tricks.

There are nicely rendered visuals (with art direction by Pierre Salazar), especially in the village scenes, and the film’s resolution, while a little sad, is also affirming.

Unlike some of Pixar’s work, there’s not much here for adults, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s refreshing to occasionally find a film that aims squarely at a younger audience.

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Shooting Behind Covid Coloured Glasses

Making The Red Shoes: Next Step in the heart of Sydney's unfurling Covid crisis, proved particularly challenging for the filmmakers, but thankfully the ballet-themed feature is in the can and they have lived to tell the tale.
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Free Guy

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

In CG action-comedy Free Guy, explosions, bank robberies and petty crime occur as regularly as morning coffee runs.

Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds stars as the titular Guy, a non-playable, blue-shirt and Khaki pants adorned video-game character living a virtual Truman Show.

His world, Free City (also the name of the game he occupies), boasts the same frantic intensity of a Grand Theft Auto, with classist boundaries preventing the non-sunglass wearing characters, the fellow NPCs (Non-Playable Characters), from dreaming of a world outside of their nightmarish, quotidian existence. (The mundane perils of the 9-to-5 existence are real for the NPCs.)

That all changes when Guy’s worldview is rebooted upon the arrival of Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer, Killing Eve); the armour-clad avatar of Millie (also Comer) who looks to settle a score with Free City’s nefarious publisher, Antwan (Taika Waititi).

Directed by Shawn Levy (no stranger to CG romps, including the Night at the Museum series and Real Steel), the adventure that follows Millie and the now super-powered Guy marries wholesome character development with big-action and visuals so crisp that it demands the big-screen treatment.

Performances across the board are sterling, with Reynolds, in particular, reaching beyond his brand of straight-faced wisecracking to deliver a charming performance as the affable bank-teller defying classist norms. Supporting turns from Lil Rel Howery (Get Out) and Utkarsh Ambudkar (Brittany Runs a Marathon) deliver the film’s biggest laughs, with Waititi lapping it up as the obnoxious Silicon Valley-type with money on his mind.

Alas, Free Guy offers the Mouse House another opportunity to flex their abundance of IP. That said, this becomes another example of Free Guy’s struggle to maintain a consistent tone, with various jokes and fight scenes dialled to the extreme; an offbeat departure from some of the film’s more heartfelt moments.

While Free Guy does exhibit some inconsistency with regards to texture, Levy and Reynolds bring an altruistic and kinetic energy that keeps the film buzzing for its runtime. The look-and-feel is wonderfully executed and continues the high standard of visuals we have come to expect from films set within video games (Tron: Legacy, Ready Player One).

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Trailer: Cinderella

Cuban superstar Camila Cabello headlines this new generation adaptation of the classic fairy tale from writer/director Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect), with Idina Menzel as the evil stepmother, Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver as King and Queen, Nicholas Galitzine as the Prince, Billy Porter as the fairy godmother and James Corden as a footman, but don't hold that against it, this looks much more fun than Cats.
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Space Jamming

We speak with live action actors Sonequa Martin-Green and Don Cheadle about their roles in Space Jam: A New Legacy, and of course, working with LeBron James.
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Space Jam: A New Legacy

animation, family film, Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

There are big shoes to fill, both literally and metaphorically, when taking on a Space Jam sequel.

The beloved ‘90s flick is, for many, a cherished piece of nostalgia that not only amplified the reputation of basketball superstar Michael Jordan but brought Bugs Bunny and his wacky Looney Tunes comrades back into the mainstream.

Now, twenty-five years later, director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip, Night School) dreams in vibrant-colour and feelgood splendour in the LeBron James (also a producer) lead standalone sequel, Space Jam: A New Legacy.

We learn from the get-go that James has worn the expectation of greatness since childhood. Whether from his mother or coach, the payoff brought on from hard work and dedication is not lost on him. Alas, it is a bittersweet farewell to childhood (RIP Gameboy) and all of the activities that, despite bringing joy, are but distractions for James on the path to excellence.

A brief montage highlighting James’ decorated career brings us to present-day Los Angeles. We now meet a dedicated entrepreneur, philanthropist and family man who despite his immense wealth, still carries with him a studious work ethic that he enforces upon his children, particularly his youngest son Dom (Cedric Joe).

Unable to accept Dom’s passion for making video games, opting to have him focus instead on basketball, James must reckon with his beliefs. It is a feat that materialises physically as James and Dom are tricked into entering the Warner 3000 Server-Verse, a digital universe composed of beloved Warner Bros. IP, by a megalomaniac and shimmeringly dressed A.I., Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle, a delight).

Now a hand-drawn being, James is transported to the dysfunctional Looney Tunes world and must reunite the estranged Tunes (a highlight overloaded with fun references to other properties) to defeat Al-G and his team of monster creations in a game of basketball. To lose would result in James’ imprisonment and the deletion of the Looney Tunes.

Had the trailer left you worried A New Legacy would be a busy explosion of Warner Bros. IP fighting for attention, audiences need not fear. Their presence, in large part observed as characters on the sideline, offers both chuckles and a fresh take in showcasing the Tunes brand of animated dysfunction. (We are not quite watching ‘Ready Player LeBron’ but it would not be surprising if Warner Bros. were working on a live-action adaptation of The Iron Giant.)

What is most thrilling about A New Legacy is the liveliness of the worlds created, with each destination carrying with it a varying style of animation that brings with it added freshness. The key standouts here being the 2D elements, a polished homage to the Tunes origins, and the sleek CGI designs of the basketball duel which, along with the bass-heavy soundtrack, plants the series firmly into 2021.

Character-wise, James and Joe’s relationship feels real, even if the script haphazardly dives too deep into the conventions of sports-drama/family storytelling. These bumpy bouts of dialogue, often feeling like cliched pep-talks, remain fleeting, and are often diffused by humour brought out in a solid voice-cast that brims with personality (albeit the occasional Happy Gilmore impression ringing through).

Given the long stint between Space Jam films, it is tricky to predict what is next for the series: Will James return? Can a sequel work with other sports? Will it be a generational thing? Whatever the case may be, if the antics are as good as they are in A New Legacy, this certainly won’t be all, folks.

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Spirit Untamed

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

Last seen galloping freely amongst the North American wild in 2002’s remarkable Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, the world’s favourite honey-coloured mustang, Spirit, makes his big return in CG form in Spirit Untamed.

In the film, gone are well-crafted hand-drawn visuals and the existential poeticism of its predecessor. Instead, first-time director Elaine Bogan favours doll-like animation and well-trodden themes of girl-power “you-can-do-it-isms” that rival Barbie in terms of corporate pep.

Rather than keep Matt Damon on the payroll to narrate a profound introspection on the beauty of freedom (that Spirit is lost somewhere in the Cimarron), we have headstrong youngster “Lucky” Prescott (Isabela Merced, Dora and the Lost City of Gold) taking the reins as lead. Her story, involving the reconnection with her absent yet over-protective father, Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal), lacks any sense of distinguishable flare.

She travels far and wide with a crew of fellow tween activists on a mission to thwart local bandits (Walton Goggins serving as the film’s intentionally under-developed, old-West big baddie, Hendricks) who have captured Spirit’s herd.

Lucky’s relationship with Spirit follows that of other Dreamworks fare, with a potential reworked title of ‘How to Train your Stallion’ feeling better suited.

When the film does tackle themes of animal liberation, it does so in contempt of court; providing mixed messages around free-range living amidst the backdrop of a rodeo. Youngsters in the crowd may find themselves asking their parents why the other horses don’t dream of the same wide open plain living that Spirit does; a retort parents may struggle to find an answer to.

Yes, if you can look past the film’s ties to the original, there is an empowering and positive energy that will resonate with the littlies for which the film is targeted at. For Spirit purists, this film is worlds apart.

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Lupin the Third: The First

animation, Asian Cinema, family film, Home, Home Entertainment, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Remember when an action-adventure film would actually deliver a fun, entertaining romp without the existential angst or deadpan violence? Well, thankfully Lupin the Third: The First has landed to remind us of what good old fashion action-adventure movies can be.

The latest big screen adventure of the titular Monkey Punch creation, Lupin the Third: The First marks the first time the franchise has received full CGI treatment, delivering a beautifully rendered world where its cast of rogues feel completely at home within some remarkable action sequences, exotic locales and an impressive English language dub.

For those unfamiliar with Lupin III, pronounced as a solid French Lu-Pon, the Japanese series has been running since 1967 across a number of mediums including print, animation and live action Japanese films. Created by manga artist Kazuhiko Kato aka Monkey Punch, the story follows the illegal machinations of the grandson of famed French gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, made famous in a series of French novels by Maurice Leblanc. And while the licensing rights, and subsequent lawsuits to the characters are something of legend in Japanese publishing, The First offers newcomers a relaxed, enjoyable introduction to the franchise’s key cast of characters while managing to pay reverence to long time fans, and the Parisian origins of the series.

Set during the 1960s, The First is at heart a heist film, setting our anti-hero Lupin III against his nemesis Detective Zenigata, a naive young officer with a hidden agenda named Laetitia, and a cult of Nazi zealots, all seeking to possess the fabled Bresson Diary; a heavily booby-trapped mechanical book thought to reveal the location of an ancient Aztec weapon known as The Eclipse.

Written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki, whose credits include the Always: Sunset of Third Street trilogy and Parasyte films, The First plays like an authentic ‘80s action-adventure film, offering fans of the genre a familiar cocktail of Indiana Jones, Connery era James Bond and Spielbergian adventure. All of which is complimented by a strong English dub helmed by professional voice actors Tony Oliver (Lupin III) and Laurie Hymes (Laetitia) who imbue their characters with charm, humour and when necessary a perfectly balanced sense of gravitas.

Visually, Lupin the Third: The First delivers a solid CGI experience; while not completely on par with the likes of The Adventures of Tintin, the final product is none-the-less entirely absorbing, crafting a fun urgency to the many raucous chase scenes while the cataclysmic effects of the film’s ultimate McGuffin, The Eclipse are brilliantly effective.

While it may not have the exposure that a Pixar or Disney film might attract, Lupin the Third: The First certainly deserves a look. It goes without saying that it’s been an exhausting year, and if you’re looking to indulge your nostalgia of more relaxed times, or simply looking to educate your kids on what movies use to feel like, then embrace a little cinematic self-love and take yourself, and the family, to the see Lupin the Third: The First in cinemas.