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The Secret Life Of Pets 2

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

With the likes of Despicable Me, Minions, Hop, Sing and The Grinch, major player animation house, Illumination Entertainment, has established itself as a creator of polished, entertaining, reliable family animation. But this is serious middle-ground stuff; while Illumination’s films never fail to hit the sweet spot, they also never really achieve anything truly new or transcendent. There’s nothing on their list, for instance, to rank alongside the likes of Zootopia, The Lego Movie or anything from the Pixar stable. In short, Illumination is always good, but never great. 2016’s popular The Secret Life Of Pets – and now its sequel, The Secret Life Pets 2 – fit tightly with the studio’s modus operandi.

Somewhat lazily structured, The Secret Life Pets 2 seeks to divide and conquer by splitting up its ensemble of domestic animals and sending them off on various adventures. Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt, who’s been subbed in for #metoo casualty Louis C.K) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are sent off to the country; now-superhero-wannabe Snowball (Kevin Hart) and new pal Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) set off to rescue a tiger from an evil circus owner; and the primping Gidget (Jenny Slate) disguises herself as a kitty to reappropriate Max’s favourite toy, which has been lost in a house owned by an eccentric cat lady. They all reunite for the climax, but the separation tactics undeniably give the film a distractingly episodic feel.

That said, there’s a lot to like here. Comedy talents du jour, Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish (who have collaborated on several past projects), are an absolute laugh riot as Snowball and Daisy, while big screen animation debutante Harrison Ford effortlessly steals all of his scenes as the imposing Rooster, a too-cool-for-school farm hound who teaches the wimpy Max to toughen up a bit. Gidget’s freaky adventures in the crazy cat lady’s house are highly inventive and amusing, and there are a few welcome jokes (Lake Bell’s kitty Chloe high on catnip is a highlight) for the grown-ups. Though good fun from start to finish, The Secret Life Pets 2 won’t quite have you rolling over and begging for a third installment.

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Australia’s Blackmagic Design Preferred by Apple

At Apple's recent Worldwide Developer Conference, Melbourne based film tech company, Blackmagic Design was cited a number of times as a preferred partner for its post-production software to compliment its new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR monitor targeting Hollywood and filmmakers alike.
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Child’s Play

Horror, Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

The original Child’s Play first lurched onto screens in 1988, introducing the world to a Brad Dourif-voiced killer doll, Chucky, and a surprisingly solid horror franchise. Six sequels followed, of varying degrees of quality (the best arguably being 1990’s Child’s Play 2 and 1998’s Bride of Chucky) and creator Don Mancini is currently working on a TV series, Chucky, due sometime next year. It’s something of a surprise, then, that while the original creators bring the Chuckster to the small screen, a remake of the original film is hitting cinemas. All ethical considerations aside, it’s a very 2019 thing to happen. So, with that backstory established, is the new Child’s Play any chop? Or does the curse of extremely ordinary horror remakes – including but not limited to A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Carrie (2013) and Poltergeist (2015) – continue? The answer is somewhere in the middle, because while Child’s Play 2019 has some enormous flaws, it’s also got its rough charms.

Child’s Play (2019) tells the story of Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) and his single mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza). Life isn’t exactly grand for the Barclays, as the pair have moved to a dodgy neighbourhood where Andy doesn’t know anyone, and would rather spend time on his phone than attempt to socialise. Karen, who works at the rather grim looking Zed Mart, decides to acquire a new Buddi doll, a wifi-connected toy that acts like an exceptionally ugly Amazon Echo, to try and bring Andy out of his funk. Surprisingly, it seems to work, because while the doll who calls himself “Chucky” is “for little kids” according to Andy, it’s also malfunctioning in frequently hilarious ways. Chucky imprints on Andy, and slowly begins to learn the moppet’s likes and frustrations. While Andy and his new mates watch (somewhat inexplicably) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and laugh uproariously at the gore, Chucky seems to believe that Andy and chums actually like violence and wields a knife accordingly. Later, when Andy expresses his dislike for his mum’s boyfriend Shane (David Lewis), well, Chucky has a neat solution for that little problem too…

The biggest aspect that’s lacking in Child’s Play is, weirdly, Chucky himself. The newly designed doll is so unspeakably ugly that it’s simply not credible it would be a valued item on the market. Further to that, short of an intriguing prologue that seems to criticise the capitalist abuse of third world countries (that is swiftly abandoned), he has a maddeningly inconsistent agenda. While the original Chucky was actually the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray attempting to use dark magic to possess a small boy and get out of the doll’s body, 2019 Chucky is a toy whose “evil switch” has been turned on, which is just not a terribly compelling narrative. Mark Hamill’s voice work as Chucky is fine, but never feels integrated to the extent of Brad Dourif’s standout turn in the original series. The relationship between Andy and Karen is a lot better here, however, with Aubrey Plaza bringing her trademark snark and wit to a role that could otherwise have been thankless and dull, and young Gabriel Bateman is one of about half a dozen kid actors who isn’t hideously annoying.

The direction by Lars Klevberg is mostly effective, but its in service of a script that feels somewhat unfocused and almost certainly heavily rewritten and reshot. That said, there is fun to be had here. The initial reaction of the kid characters to Chucky is genuinely funny, a couple of the kill scenes are extremely well-staged and there’s a decent amount of gore and stoner comedy to amuse anyone looking for some amiable trash.

Ultimately, it’s apt that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 features so heavily here, because that film was rather famously criticised for being much less effective than its predecessor, relying instead on excessive gore and goofy comedy. So it goes with Child’s Play 2019, it’s less effective than the original Child’s Play movies (the first two in particular) but still delivers 90 minutes of mostly enjoyable, albeit thematically empty, gore and giggles. One can’t help but feel, though, that it would have been nice if they’d set their heights just a little higher than “evil wifi”.

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Trailer: Daisy Ridley in Scrawl

With The Rise of Skywalker release around the corner, there's never been a better time to exploit Daisy Ridley's early supporting role in this 2015 made British horror.
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Bonded By Blood: The Making Of Lawless

Under-celebrated upon release, the bold and bloody 2012 gangster mini-epic, Lawless – directed by John Hillcoat and written and scored by Nick Cave – remains a slamming piece of crime cinema.
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Asian Cinema, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

What with Bong Joon-ho’s increasing work rate – this film appears just two years after his last, Okja, his shortest ever gap between features – it can be easy to forget that Parasite is the director’s first film made fully within the Korean system in a decade, since 2009’s Mother.

Both 2013’s Snowpiercer, Bong’s Hollywood debut, and 2017’s Okja, the first major film to launch through Netflix – are very fine films, although among the weaker entries in a formidable body of work, with a thematic reach that sometimes exceeds their grasp.

By contrast, Parasite is the work of a director intoxicatingly in his element. In many ways, this feels like the culmination of inimitably Bongian preoccupations: his obsession with psychologically freighted subterranean spaces, stretching all the way back to his debut, Barking Dogs Never Bite; immaculately executed whiplash moments that snap from comedy to tragedy; and a predilection for the surreal in his setpieces. Bong’s sense of the baroque has sharpened since Okja, and Parasite’s finale, involving a conglomeration of beautiful, wealthy people, gains in horror and poignancy from the luridness of its conception.

Bong is operating here at peak craft: the mise-en-scene is dazzling, evincing his flair for witty ensemble staging, then unleashing overwhelming imagery that heightens character and mood. All of this is aided by superb production design. It is also tightly plotted – a rarity for Bong – with a strong comedy of manners influence, a new direction for the director.

Very much like Snowpiercer, the chasm between rich and poor is the leitmotif of the film; it even follows a similar visual schema, and the ‘parasite’ of the title is left deliberately unclear. But there are also distinctive, piquant Korean flourishes that may, or may not, hold a deeper allegorical meaning: multiple allusions to North Korea, and a surprise reference to the 16th century Japanese invasions of Korea.

The characters are acidic creations, yet the film lacks a traditional protagonist: Parasite is a true ensemble work, with the characters driven by collective concerns. The cast is uniformly excellent, although Song Kang-ho does nothing to diminish his reputation as Korea’s finest character actor with his subtle performance. That the high-wire, precarious confidence act of the film’s tone can be sustained is testament to the total commitment of the actors: one only has to recall something like 2010’s unloved The Housemaid, a glorified Korean melodrama with similar setting and themes, to see how something like this could easily fall apart.

There are minor shortfalls in the storytelling. Bong sets up the arc of child character Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun) but fails to follow through, and a crucial turning point involving a kick (a recurring motif for Bong) is dubious in terms of its physical staging, the only occasion in which the carefully constructed spatial environment of the film is violated. All this can be forgiven, though, when Bong delivers another of his caustic, haunting endings (in retrospect, perhaps the reason why Okja and Snowpiercer seem like lesser works is that their endings fall ever so slightly short). This is Bong’s best film since 2003’s Memories of Murder, and makes a good case for being the first out-and-out classic of Korean cinema since 2016’s The Handmaiden.