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Jumanji: The Next Level

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As gaming becomes a dominant cultural force, especially for the next generation, it is fascinating to see movies adapting gaming concepts into their own narratives in order to appeal to younger audiences. 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a surprise smash hit for Sony, and now we get the fast-tracked sequel, Jumanji: The Next Level, which is pretty much the same film with added characters.

As per the previous instalment, the real highlight is Karen Gillan, who is well overdue for her own franchise, but it’s the new characters that bring us the most interesting moments, including Danny De Vito’s retiree still holding a grudge with his former business partner played by Danny Glover. When the two of them are transported into the Jumanji game universe and portrayed by The Rock and Kevin Hart respectively, there’s a lot of fun to be had (apart from The Rock’s iffy Jersey accent admittedly). Awkwafina’s appearance in the latter half of the film is also fun, as her hammy performance style suits the OTT scenario.

Fun is the key word here, with no expense spared in terms of effects and casting (you may choose to analyse the depiction of masculinity as fragile, femininity as powerful, diversity casting or the future possibilities of augmented reality – but you’ll likely lose all 3 of your lives for trying). Ultimately, Jumanji: The Next Level is quickly forgotten cinematic spectacle, but with Cats bound to bomb, JoJo Rabbit a great trailer in search of a good film, and Star Wars receiving negative reviews, it is also the clear front runner for your Boxing Day box office buck. No doubt, #3 is already in the works, and the incorporation of gaming concepts into future cinema and streaming will continue to be the hot topic of discussion in every Hollywood board room.

 
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Dolittle

family film, Home, Home Entertainment, Review, This Week 1 Comment

With the world having just recovered from the disturbing hyper-sexualised feline imagery seen in Cats, there is a collective sigh of relief at the impressive visuals exhibited in CGI adventure-film Dolittle.

Unfortunately, that might be where the excitement stops for parents who endure this superficial retelling.

In an unexpected turn from director Stephen Gaghan, the filmmaker responsible for heavy dramas such as Traffic and Syriana, Dolittle offers a closer to the source material adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s beloved series of children’s novels.

Robert Downey Jr. takes the mantle of the titular physician who can walk, talk, grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals.

When first on-screen, the audience is greeted by a dishevelled Dolittle rocking a mop of hair and beard so intense that he looks somewhere between a prehistoric caveman and an inner city barista.

Turning his back on humankind following a great tragedy, Dolittle finds solace in isolation. He retreats from the world by locking the doors of Dolittle manor; a picturesque animal sanctuary filled with gadgets, gizmos and giraffes.

Through Dolittle’s eyes, people pose the greatest threat to animals, with the gifted doctor taking umbrage with hunting, sharing his indignation with reformed-hunter and newly appointed apprentice Stubbins (Harry Collett), and forming a close-knit bond with a slew of animals which he can communicate with.

Forced into solving the case of the poisoned Queen of England (Jessie Buckley in a lifeless role), Downey Jr. and the menagerie of animals must trail the high seas and rescue an antidote from the mysterious Eden Tree; an artefact located somewhere in the ocean.

The gang faces many threats during their swashbuckling ship-trip, the likes of which include facing a gold tooth tiger with familial issues (Ralph Fiennes), the return of a jealous rival (Michael Sheen), and a rugged pirate with a score to settle (Antonio Banderas). Dolittle’s adventure may take place on the ocean, but (wait for it) the real journey starts from within, as Dolittle begins to connect back to humanity.

The camera momentarily shivers when transitioning from animal to English, making for a modestly smooth, albeit absurd, language changeover. Downey Jr. goes all-in on the horseplay. He wobbles through the film displaying a range of emotions that verges on space-headed to bittersweet. The retired Iron Man does all this while attempting to impersonate a Scottish accent; aiming for Mrs Doubtfire but winds up being a shakier British accent than the one he displayed in Sherlock Holmes.

The film’s high concept approach to storytelling remains considerate to the families that will be spending their holidays in the cinema. Gaghan risks not over-stirring the pot and uses the antics of these peculiar creatures – the likes including an anxious gorilla (Rami Malek), a sock wearing ostrich (Kumail Nanjiani), a dude-bro polar bear (John Cena), a no-nonsense parrot (Emma Thompson), and a spectacles-wearing pooch (Tom Holland) – to create a stream of mild chuckles throughout the film’s 100-minute length.

Alas, the spectacle required to keep Dolittle afloat is never fully realised. Gaghan proves unwilling to go over-the-top in the stakes department; a sign of a studio lacking confidence in a product whose ongoing release pushbacks now finds it setting sail into the doldrums of January cinema-going. The message of compassion at the centre of the film never fully forms. Instead, RDJ channels sad eyes through his emotive baby-blues before being interrupted by an animal making an unimaginative joke about doing animal things.

The VFX team do an impeccable job bringing the animals to life; however, the film’s lowbrow sense of humour reduces the elegance of the visuals. Outside of the occasional crack of laughter, probably delivered through a cringe-inducing pun that will have every father in the cinema reciting it back to his kids at home, Dolittle will do little for the adults in the room. That said, littlies should take to the variety of bumbling creatures and their monkey-business.

 
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Exclusive Clip: Burning Kiss: The Future is Bright

Robbie Studsor's long-awaited Australian 'acid noir' thriller was scheduled for a limited cinema release, which was cancelled due to the closure of cinemas. But it's finally available to the public and this clip's proclaimation couldn't be more timely!
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Trailer: The Great

Australian showrunner (writer of The Favourite, writer/director of Rage in Placid Lake and Ashby) Tony McNamara looks to do to Tsardom Russia what The Death of Stalin did to Communist Russia.
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Use Me

Australian, Australian New Wave Filmmakers, Home, Home Entertainment, Review, This Week 1 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 AVAILABLE IN AUSTRALIA TO RENT AND BUY ON APPLE TV, GOOGLE PLAY, FETCH TV AND YOUTUBE NOW.

USE ME IS AVAILABLE IN NEW ZEALAND TO RENT AND BUY ON APPLE TV, GOOGLE PLAY, SKY BOX OFFICE AND YOUTUBE ON WEDNESDAY 11 MARCH.

 
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On The Set with Roger Ward

40 years after it was initially released in cinemas, one of Australia’s first LGBT films enters the digital universe with a premium DVD and digital release. To celebrate, we spoke with Roger Ward, best known as an actor, who wrote the novel and the screenplay for The Set.
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The Rhythm Section

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The messed-up-naïf-who-goes-on-to-become-a-lethal-assassin is a well-trodden thriller cliché, given ample, often impressive play in films like La Femme Nikita (and its US remake), Red Sparrow, Hanna, and The Marvel Cinematic Universe exploits of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Now you can add Blake Lively’s Stephanie Patrick to the list, and while there’s a lot of familiarity here, there are enough new notes to keep things moving. The third feature film from on-the-rise female cinematographer turned director Reed Morano (who’s crafting an interesting career with films like I Think We’re Alone Now and Meadowland, along with her work on TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale), The Rhythm Section is particularly intriguing for the fact that its central assassin never becomes all that lethal, nor that accomplished.

Broken after the death of her entire family in an air accident, Stephanie Patrick (an excellent transformative turn from Blake Lively, who is barely recognisable here) is now a hopeless junkie selling herself for her next fix. But when a freelance journo contacts her with the truth about what sent her family’s commercial flight up in flames, the frail and feeble Stephanie is suddenly hurled into a world of terrorists, ex-CIA handlers, killers, bomb-makers, and a reclusive former MI6 agent (Jude Law at his rugged, charismatic best) who serves as an unlikely mentor on her quest for revenge.

Though copping its world-hopping plot from the Bourne and Bond films, The Rhythm Section works best when it settles on the engagingly flawed Stephanie. Weak, horribly damaged, and twisted by pain, grief and addiction, she’s a near lost cause in the assassin stakes, and when she gets her act together enough to start ratcheting up the body count, it hardly transpires in the expected super-spy style. In The Rhythm Section, killing doesn’t come easy. And while the film might suffer pacing and plausibility issues, this interesting thematic push makes it well worth a watch.

 
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Paradise Hills

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An idyllic island paradise, abound in glorious sunlight and azure waters… it sounds like the perfect place to receive psychological treatment. But in the case of young-adult sci-fi flick Paradise Hills, it proves to be hell on earth for the young women forced to take up occupancy.

According to the world depicted in Paradise Hills, there is nothing more threatening to society than a free-thinking woman. It is so scary in-fact, that young women are dispatched by their affluent families to a Mediterranean-esque ‘centre of emotional healing,’ run by a beguiling Milla Jovovich and her subservient and mostly silent male staff, so they may be ‘reformed’ into decorous women.

While everything seems perfect on the island, the manicured landscapes and decorative food being every influencer’s holiday #goals, something nefarious lingers beneath the beautiful surface.

The latest ‘patient’ enlisted to the island is Uma (Emma Roberts); a rebellious young woman pressured by her family to marry into a wealthy household – an act that Uma rejects. Uma’s longing for independence, being able to marry a man of lower social stratification who she loves, is considered an illness by a society that expects women to be obedient and ornamental. Uma remains defiant, if not dead, and leads an escape from the island with a fellow group of women who are seen as imperfect by their families: their exiling because of mental illness, queerness, and being zaftig in appearance.

Paradise Hills uses the constructs of science fiction as a metaphor for female oppression; applying fantastical elements to highlight the harmful societal expectations placed on women.

Director Alice Waddington allows striking visuals to denote this societal pressure. The first time feature filmmaker constructs a hyper-stylised beautiful-nightmare which brings out the horrors of female submission through iridescent lighting, pastel colour schemes, and avant-garde clothing: ranging from Victorian-era finery to delicate bedwear constructed out of tulle and chiffon.

Waddington succeeds in creating a compelling narrative throughline via production design, yet neglects to give a profound treatment to the script. The conspicuously written dialogue (by screenwriters Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal) and Brian DeLeeuw (Daniel Isn’t Real)), told with petulant grit, finds Paradise Hills bear greater semblance to a work on The CW Network than a feature film. The acting becomes impacted as a result of cliché writing, with the talented cast – including Roberts, Jovovich, Awkwafina, Danielle Macdonald and Eiza González – forced into overbearing performances.

Horror elements that occur towards the tail end of Paradise Hills prove under-whelming; lacking the pizazz needed to viscerally convey the message of oppression baked into the film.

The past decade has seen the rise and fall of the young-adult parable, with adaptations of Twilight, Hunger Games, and to some degree the Divergent films (RIP part 4), finding their audiences. Paradise Hills, not based on IP, comes LONG after the popularity of this genre and tries to spin some sci-fi originality into an overly trodden theme of youth free-will.

Undeniably, there are some interesting (and important) aspects captured in Paradise Hills’ wondrous production design, but unfortunately not enough is done by Waddington to keep contrived dialogue – synonymous with the worst of recent YA films – at bay from this island.