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Riders of Justice

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

It’s not often that the genre of the revenge thriller gets upended to be something almost completely unrecognisable from its stablemates; but in director Anders Thomas Jensen’s almost uncategorisable Danish film Riders of Justice the remarkable writing and characterisation creates something that defies viewer expectations and leads down a wholly original path.

In the lead up to Christmas, a young Estonian girl asks for a blue bicycle from her grandfather. The bicycle seller is part of an international gang and puts a call out for one to be stolen. That bicycle belongs to a teen called Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) and the theft of the bike leads to a series of events that eventually leads to the death of her mother, Emma on a Danish commuter train. Also on the train, is recently fired statistician Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kags) who offers Emma his seat. Also on the train, is a biker criminal who is about to testify against the leader of the group The Riders of Justice. Another man that Otto notices depart the train just before the accident disposes of an expensive sandwich and juice, which raises Otto’s suspicions: what if the accident wasn’t an accident at all but a planned assassination of the witness? With his background in statistics it seems almost mathematically impossible that the train accident wasn’t somehow planned.

Roping in his long-time friends, fellow statistician Lennart (Lars Brygman) and hacker Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), Otto finds his way to Mathilde’s father Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) with his proof that the accident that made Markus a widower was not an accident and that in fact the Riders of Justice are responsible.

Markus is a closed off soldier who refuses to help Mathilde grieve and by nature is looking for someone to blame for what happened to his wife. He forms a strange posse with Otto, Lennart, and Emmenthaler (who by any measure are an absurd trio of misfits) and plans to extract revenge from the biker group.

In most other films, this set up would lead to a set conclusion, but Jensen subverts the tropes that make up the vengeance movie with a sly sense of very dark humour and some top tier character creation. Otto, Lennart, and Emmenthaler are each damaged and strange men who haven’t quite managed to learn how to function as adults. Markus is too walled-off from his emotions to allow for himself or his daughter to seek post trauma therapy. Yet somehow in all the chaos that ensues, as they track down the biker gang, therapy is exactly what is happening. It doesn’t come necessarily in the cathartic act of gunning down the bad guys, but in the strange mix of personalities that improbably learn from each other as the narrative progresses.

The film also plays with the conventions of purpose and meaning; existential questions are asked and often the answer is left in the air. What has meaning? Is it the likelihood that we will experience pain and joy in our lives? What can we plan for? What does each moment signify, especially if those moments when connected, spiral into something that we cannot ever fully comprehend?

Riders of Justice doesn’t take the audience where they expect to go. Yes, there is a surfeit of grief and violence, but there is also pathos and profound understanding. As much as Mads Mikkelsen is excellent in the film, it is the supporting cast, particularly Nikolaj Lie Kags who breathe a deep humanity and surprising humour to the piece. A peculiar family is formed by those who ride for justice (the title’s double meaning becomes clear), and once along for the ride, the unexpected becomes one of the film’s chief pleasures.

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Trailer: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza

PTA returns to the San Fernando Valley, circa 1973, with the title referring to a record store in the area. Starring newcomers Alana Haim (of music group Haim) and Cooper Hoffman (the late Philip Seymour's son), plus Sean Penn, Benny Safdie, Tom Waits, Maya Rudolph and Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters seemingly. John C. Reilly, Ben Stiller and Joseph Cross are also reportedly in the cast.
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Lost Judgement

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

The Yakuza games of which there are, it seems, several thousand, are an engaging, often unwieldy series of titles following assorted ne’er-do-wells in their various criminal enterprises. They’re chockers with quirky side quests, wandering perverts, time-wasting mini-games and more lore than you could shake a katana at. They also offer a rather high bar of entry for audiences who haven’t kept up with the series.

The Judgement series, a spin off from the Yakuza games, seemed an opportunity for developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio to spread their wings a little. A new focus, this time working with rather than against the law, and (mostly) new characters is a great way to shrug off some of the series’ bloat. And with 2018’s Judgement they got off to an imperfect, but solid, start with a slightly more focused adventure that just needed a little more innovation. Well, now the sequel Lost Judgement is here and if you were hoping this series might grow into something a little more ambitious… you’re not going to be deeply satisfied, hey.

Lost Judgement puts you once again in the isn’t-he-a-bit-old-for-that-leather-jacket-and-sneakers of Takayuki Yagami, a private detective who likes justice almost as much as he likes hair product. This time around, Takayuki and his associates deal with a case involving murder, high school bullying, organised crime, and enough convoluted plot twists to make Christopher Nolan go, “oof, crikey fellas, that’s starting to feel a bit forced.”

The bulk of the action takes place in the Kamurocho and Isezaki Ijincho districts, and other than a few tweaks, the gameplay is identical to the previous Judgement game. That is: you’ll lob around, have seemingly endless conversations, get pointed towards a new location, do some shallow-as-hell investigation mini-games, and get into fights all over the shop. Basically, the same as Yakuza, except with the law (sorta) on your side.

While it’s probable that Yakuza didn’t make you feel like a real Yakuza, it seemed within cooee of the concept. Lost Judgement on the other hand often feels like a reskin. You’ll pay lip service to investigations, but ultimately, it’s a point and click affair. Plus, you’re meant to stop high school bullying… by belting the shit out of actual teenagers! Seriously, it’s such a disconnect you’ll find yourself either cackling with laughter or turning the damn thing off.

The thing is, Lost Judgement is okay. The story is solid, if unnecessarily protracted, the graphics are decent, the combat slick, if a bit messy. If you like this kind of game, you’ll probably have a good time, but it’s literally nothing new. Nothing you haven’t seen before. And for the second part of a new series with all the potential in the world? That feels like a bit of a letdown.

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Comedy, Home, Review, Streaming, This Week, True Story Leave a Comment

Inspired by true events, this buddy comedy turned crime caper follows two women’s unintentional rise to the top of a criminal empire built on fraud, theft, and extreme couponing.

House of Lies, Veronica Mars, and The Good Place co-stars Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste team up for their fourth collaboration, this time as Connie Kaminski and Jojo Johnson, frustrated suburbanites who take their love for saving pennies a step too far and find themselves running a nation-wide grocery store coupon scam which somehow nets them over $40 million dollars.

It’s the kind of story that you read in the headlines and think “they should make a movie out of that”. The concept is entertaining enough — two friends feeling so desperately undervalued in their everyday lives that they accidentally mastermind their way into a life of crime — but while writer/director husband and wife duo Gita Pullapilly and Aron Gaudet (Beneath the Harvest Sky) have a strong background in drama, they seem hesitant to touch too deeply on any kind of emotion or social commentary; downgrading issues like Connie’s failed pregnancy to throwaway scene-filler, and instead favouring cheap gags about the consequences of regular bowel movements during a stakeout.

The easy, well-established chemistry between Bell and Howell-Baptiste does wonders in keeping the audience’s attention from wandering. There’s a relaxed, natural flow to their banter that contrasts perfectly with the irritable sparring of the film’s other duo, Paul Walter Hauser’s uptight, rule-abiding loss prevention officer, determined to bring Jojo and Connie down for their crimes, and Vice Vaughn, the long-suffering but surprisingly warm-hearted USPS investigator.

Unfortunately, despite the amusing premise and the best efforts of a likable cast, the film remains fun but ultimately forgettable.

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Nitram: Backward About Coming Forward

Ever since it became public knowledge that Justin Kurzel’s next film would tackle the 1996 massacre in Port Arthur – when lone gunman Martin Bryant killed 35 people – there has been uproar in Australia.
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Rhapsody of Love

Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Joy Hopwood’s Rhapsody of Love mixes light-hearted fun with the struggles of relationships, spotlighting Asian-Australian talent.

Jess Flowers is the best woman for her close friend, Ben’s wedding. There, she meets filmmaker Justin Judd, who is capturing the special day. It is here that Jess also comes across Victoria, a cupcake maker. We soon see how the lives of different couples become linked.

The film has a ‘sweet’ aesthetic (the treats Victoria whips up will have you craving sugar), and a floral theme as well – there’s the wedding scene, but also the protagonist’s surname and the business she runs with her sister Jade: “Blooming Success Media”.

Admittedly, further storyline development could have helped. Jess expresses her dream of becoming a screenwriter and despite it being stated that she is working on a script, integrating this aspect into the plot would have been beneficial. Also, issues between Jess and Justin are solved too quickly. Some of the jokes are on point but others don’t quite land, coming off as cheesy. All that being said, it is a rom-com, a famously forgivable genre for audiences, so it could be argued that they were intended this way.

Regardless, the characters are quirky and there are a couple of twists which are well executed. Kathy Luu portrays the bubbly Jess Flowers effortlessly and Damien Sato is charming as Justin. Ben Hanly is impressive as Ben, especially when conveying the anxiety his character experiences during stressful situations. Tom Jackson excels as the hilarious Hugh, a waiter who seems to work at practically every event the characters go to. Lily Stewart is entertaining as Victoria and Jessica Niven is captivating as Natasha. Writer/Director Joy Hopwood fits the role of the caring Jade nicely, and Khan Chittenden is comical as Phil.

If you’re in the mood for a feel-good movie, Rhapsody of Love could be what you’re looking for.