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Dangerous

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A sociopathic ex-con’s attempts to reintegrate into society come to a screeching halt when he receives word of his younger brother Sean’s untimely death.

Breaking his parole with a trip to his brother’s remote island home for the funeral, Dylan Forrester (Scott Eastwood) follows the advice of his therapist (Mel Gibson), in an effort to reconnect with his estranged family.

As tensions rise between the household of grieving guests, a handful of suspicious strangers arrive on the scene, and the past Dylan’s been trying to escape, catches up with him in the worst possible way.

Production designer turned director David Hackl (Saw V, Daughter of the Wolf) puts his years of working in the horror industry to good use, with a combination of close shots and slow building tension that culminates in a tense, gritty little thriller with unexpected bursts of humour.

The “sociopath with no fear” gimmick is a little on the nose — anyone holding out hope for a portrayal of mental illness with any kind of nuance should look elsewhere.

Forrester’s diagnosis is a mostly unnecessary twist to the narrative, but it does allow for him to make frequent phone calls to his psychologist, asking for guidance mid-firefight.

Gibson’s eccentric, borderline-alcoholic therapist spouts entirely unhelpful platitudes as Eastwood takes out his attackers with unfeeling efficiency, and while the two are never physically in the same room, the dynamic is effective.

The “rag-tag band of survivors under siege” plot is well-worn, but has a familiar, B-grade action movie charm to it that Eastwood plays with aplomb. As Dylan Forrester, he stabs, punches, and quips his way through the armed assailants in a way that vaguely echoes John McClane. This might have something to do with the fact that writer Chris Borrelli originally intended the role to be played by none other than Bruce Willis, when the script was originally sold back in 2015 under the title Wake. Production fell through, and the idea was shelved for a few years before being revived by Hackl and Eastwood, but the Die Hard-esque, “one man against an onslaught of infiltrators” vibes remain.

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Fast & Furious 9: Directors Cut Blu-Ray & 4K Ultra HD

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In this wonderfully wacked out age of franchises, blown-out existing IP, interconnected universes, and cross-platform storytelling, the Fast & Furious films (or The Fast Saga, or any number of other names that it’s flown under) stand alone. They’re not cribbed from books, comics or video games, and most curiously, they started small. What is now a big, ballsy, utterly over-the-top slab of international intrigue revolving around world-destroying tech, secret organisations, government agencies and villainous mercenaries actually started as a drag racing undercover cop actioner that lifted more than a few of its moves from Point Break.

The Fast & Furious films have undergone massive upheavals and changes since the release of the first film in 2001, with the tragic passing of lead actor Paul Walker by far the most upsetting. But even that has been worked sensitively and intelligently into the franchise, alongside spin-offs (Hobbs & Shaw), seemingly unconnected stand-alones (The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift), a tenuous connection to a pre-existing movie (2002’s Better Luck Tomorrow), DVD short films, confusing and inconsistent titles, and a fragmented timeline that makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe look simplistic. Fast & Furious 9 brings many of these threads together in a typically thrilling and entertaining manner, with the film occasionally feeling like a massive “greatest hits” compile. Spoilers follow, so slam on the brakes if you’re yet to jump behind the wheel of this installment of The Fast Saga.

Vin Diesel & Michelle Rodriguez

In a ruthless (and slightly suspect, considering its thematic focus on the concept of family) piece of back-engineering, Fast & Furious 9 introduces us to Jakob Toretto, the long lost and never-before-mentioned brother of Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto. A dour, no-nonsense, and wholly intense spy mercenary kind of guy (John Cena’s natural comedic gifts are sadly put on ice here), Jakob is after some kind of tech that has the ability to destroy the world. Dominic and his trusty crew (Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Nathalie Emmanuel) jump into action to stop him…but it’s a lot more complicated than that.

From there, the film literally caterwauls from one insanely creative and over-the-top action sequence to another, with brief stops for comedic relief (most courtesy of Tyrese Gibson); very serious flashbacks to Dom and Jakob as young men; and a collection of scenes in which the ever angst-ridden Dom ponders big questions like family, family, and family. There are also call-backs aplenty for Fast fans: Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), appears for the first time since the seventh installment; Helen Mirren (Jason Statham’s mum in the series) drops in for an amusing cameo; Kurt Russell’s shady Mr. Nobody slides in and out of the narrative; the controversially assumed-to-be-dead Han (Sung Kang) is revealed to be very much alive in a massive franchise move; Charlize Theron’s bad guy from The Fate Of The Furious is back to wreak more havoc; Tokyo Drift major players Lucas Black, Jason Tobin and Shad Moss (aka Li’l Bow Wow) are on board for a curious return; Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner makes an almost appearance; and a post-credits sequence hints that the franchise’s next installment will properly address the whole “Justice For Han” issue.

Vin Diesel & director Justin Lin

Fast & Furious 9 is wildly, wonderfully, ridiculously, stupidly, unapologetically over the top (yes, they even make it into outer space this time), but regular director Justin Lin (back after sitting out the last two entries) somehow keeps it all running smoothly, while also jamming a little emotional resonance into the mix as well. As The Marvel Cinematic Universe so expertly does, The Fast Saga always wisely keeps an eye on its characters, even while they’re caught up in a maelstrom of head-softening CGI and stunt-driven madness. It’s no easy feat, but it’s a big part of why these films are so popular, and so profoundly enjoyable.

The 4K Ultra HD release (which also houses a Blu-ray) includes both the theatrical cut of the film and the director’s cut.  While the theatrical cut is packed so hard to the gills that it’s difficult to imagine that anything was left out, the director’s cut includes another seven minutes of footage, most notable for another appearance from pop superstar Cardi B, which makes much more sense of her initial cameo. There’s more action, more humour from Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson, and more flashbacks too. While these new inclusions are a lot of fun, they’re not exactly essential either.

Vin Diesel & John Cena

Like an old-school blockbuster home entertainment release, the Fast & Furious 9 set is jammed with extra features, led off by a wonderfully informative and entertaining audio commentary from co-writer, producer and director Justin Lin. His enthusiasm for and commitment to The Fast Saga is infectious and he lays down a terrific inside track. There’s also a very, very long list of entertaining but puffy featurettes (count the on-set hugs and handshakes, which will likely warm the cockles of your locked down, socially distanced COVID heart) which take the viewer into all aspects of the production. All involved appear to genuinely love the films of The Fast Saga, which means that the vibes are consistently good.

Fast & Furious 9 is a massive, shimmering, non-stop entertainment machine, and the Blu-ray package follows suit.

Fast & Furious 9 is available now on digital, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD. 

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Amelie

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Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie begins with a sequence that transports us to several locations in Paris, capturing different moments all happening at the same time. A fly landing on a street, tablecloths dancing in the wind at a restaurant, a man erasing a friend’s name from his address book and the conception of our titular character: Amelie.

Immediately, you begin to realise the billions of moments that people are living through at every second. Some magical, some terrible and some just plain boring.

Amelie is a film that reminds us that everyone has their own story and their own thing going on. A welcome reminder for a human race that is prone to think about themselves, and themselves alone.

20 years on from its original release, Jeunet’s award-winning film is still as relevant as ever.

The story centres around Amelie, a Parisian girl who has been isolated from people most of her life (uncomfortably relatable during a state-wide lockdown in various Australian states). With her mother tragically killed and her father emotionally unavailable, she is forced to survive childhood through her imagination. The film’s narrator (Andre Dussolier) remarks, “In such a dead world, Amelie prefers to dream until she’s old enough to leave home.” She is left introverted and solitary, often preferring to observe others and think about them rather than socialise.

Nevertheless, she moves out, begins working at a cafe and is surrounded by a whole cast of odd characters that jump in and out of the story. We are introduced to each character with a brief description of a personal thing that they like and dislike. The owner of the cafe dislikes when fathers are humiliated in front of their sons, the lady who gets Amelie to look after her cat likes the sound the cat’s bowl makes on the tiled floor. Small intimate details like this reveal so much about the characters immediately.

All things change for Amelie when she randomly stumbles upon a small box in her apartment. The box is filled with different items hidden by the apartment’s previous owner forty years earlier. Amelie decides to return the box and in an emotional scene, we see the owner begin to weep as his youthful memories return. Amelie, struck by his reaction, makes it her will to try and better the lives of those around her.

Amelie does this in small ways and from behind the shadows, fulfilling the film’s tagline that ‘one person can change your life forever’. She leads a blind, homeless man to the train station whilst describing what is happening around them. She subtly sets up the jealous man who is a regular at her cafe with her hypochondriac co-worker. She manufactures a long-lost letter from the dead husband of her concierge.

In an iconic scene, she even begins to deal out small punishments. After seeing her grocer belittle his poor co-worker, we see Amelie go into his apartment and tweak little things. She changes his door handle, she switches his toothpaste, she sets his clock to the wrong time. We see once again that little things can make a huge difference when we watch the grocer in pure agony because of all the minuscule issues with his apartment.

All of this she does invisibly, refusing to propel her own life forward or anywhere at all. But, things change when she begins to fall in love with Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), a man who collects discarded photographs from a passport photo booth. She must decide whether she will continue observing and remain unseen or do for herself, what she has done for others.

Amelie is a gorgeous film filled with countless colour coordinated scenes that feel intimately detailed and complex. Different shades of green, red and blue are constantly dancing across the screen and filling our eyes with joy. Standout moments occur when we enter Amelie’s mind and see paintings talk, and television segments examining her life.

Remastered for its twentieth anniversary, the film’s satisfying sounds of cracked creme brûlée, tea cups on saucers and rocks being skimmed, combined with its whimsical French score, sound delicious to the ear. And Audrey Tautou’s exquisite portrayal of the main character is tantalisingly sweet and a joy to watch.

The film is about the small details: the mise-en-scene, the loudness of each sound, the life of each minor character and the outcome of each action. Jeunet teaches us to appreciate these details because they are easily lost and forgotten.

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HAMMER HORROR: FOUR GOTHIC HORROR FILMS (1971-1972)

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Founded in 1934, the British-based Hammer Films achieved worldwide success, along with significant notoriety and controversy, in the late-1950s, with a run of gaudy gothic horrors that pulsated with colour, blood, and sex.

Starting with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula, 1958), and The Mummy (1959), Hammer took familiar, classic tales, and injected them with fresh blood and gave them a whole new afterlife. Hammer Horror, as it affectionately became known as to its legion of fans (and celebrated in a 1978 hit song by Kate Bush), made icons out of regular stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and also helped create a number of enduring cult cinema figures, Ingrid Pitt, Caroline Munro, Ralph Bates, and Barbara Shelley among them.

Hammer flourished into the sixties, not just with their ongoing Dracula and Frankenstein films, but with a multitude of other genre classics like The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Gorgon (1964), Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth, 1967), and The Devil Rides Out (1968). By the early-seventies, however, the studio was starting to feel the pinch, and were losing their prestige as trendsetters, as they struggled with lowering budgets and a new wave of graphic horror cinema which made the Hammer Horrors of just a decade earlier look almost quaint in comparison.

However, it would be unfair to dismiss a lot of Hammer’s work from the early-seventies as second-rate, as many critics seemed to have done, both at the time and in retrospect. Hammer still had an army of loyal fans in the seventies, as reflected in popular UK film publications of the time like Monster Mag and House of Hammer, which contained a very heavy Hammer emphasis. And, as amply displayed on this new Blu-ray box set, released by local cult specialist label Imprint, Hammer were still more than capable of delivering some powerful moments of horror cinema, amping up the gore and nudity quotients yet wrapping them up in intriguing storylines, and venturing into gloomier – and sometimes more cerebral – territory.

Hammer Horror: Four Gothic Horror Films (1971-1972) eschews the more famous Frankenstein and Dracula films from this era, bringing together instead a quartet of the studio’s lesser-known but more intriguing horror productions of the period. Of the four, Robert Young’s Vampire Circus (1972) would have to rate as the crown jewel of the set. A dark and dreamy tale of a Serbian village succumbing to the plague-like wrath of a vampire count whom they had killed off fifteen years earlier, it has touches of surrealism and experimental cinema, making it one of Hammer’s most visually and atmospherically arresting and unique films. Vampire Circus also takes its viewer into disturbing places, with several scenes of children being lured into acts of sexual violence, and Robert Tayman makes for an excellent Count Mitterhaus. Sexy, seductive, unforgiving, and predatory, he visually resembles a young Timothy Dalton with a mod hairstyle. Watch for future Darth Vader Dave Prowse as a circus strongman in this beautifully photographed (by Moray Grant) piece of genre eccentricity.

Directed by Peter Sasdy, Hands of the Ripper (1971) is another film which can easily hold its own amongst the top tier of accepted Hammer classics. It is a cold and chilling psychological thriller about a compassionate psychiatrist (Eric Porter), who takes a very disturbed young lady (Angharad Rees) into his care, unaware that she is the daughter of Jack the Ripper, haunted by her father’s spirit and compelled to carry on his bloody legacy. Some genuinely shocking violence and twisted Freudian subtexts highlight Hands of the Ripper, as does its rather unique and tragic climax, which was filmed at the famous Whispering Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Twins of Evil (1971) was the final entry in Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy, the first two being The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Lust for a Vampire (1971). As with the previous two films, which were inspired by J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1972 novella Carmilla, Twins of Evil leans heavily on female nudity and the lesbian undertones of the story. Directed by John Hough, Twins of Evil is the most serious and dramatic of the Karnstein films, and stars Peter Cushing as a hateful, Puritanical witch-hunter terrorising the young women of 17th century Styria. The evil twins of the title are played by real-life twins Mary and Madeleine Collinson, who portray the orphaned young nieces of Cushing’s Gustav Weil (appropriately pronounced as “vile”). While Cushing became best known for playing Baron Frankenstein and Dr. Van Helsing for Hammer, Twins of Evil sees him delivering one of his best performances for the studio. He is truly terrifying here, and the fear his character instils in others feels genuine and palpable.

Rounding out the films on this boxset is Countess Dracula (1972), which Peter Sasdy directed before heading on to Hands of the Ripper. Based on the infamous exploits of Hungarian noblewoman and serial killer, Elizabeth Báthory, the film stars Ingrid Pitt as Countess Elisabeth Nádasdy, an aging widow who discovers that bathing in the blood of young virgins replenishes her youth and vitality. To pull off the evil charade, she poses as her own daughter (whom she has kidnapped and held hostage) and embarks on an affair with a handsome young lieutenant (played by Sándor Elès). While Countess Dracula may be the lesser of the four films featured in this set (visually flat and tonally uneven), it still entertains and has memorable moments of frisson, and naturally the appearance of Pitt alone makes it something of a minor cult classic in the eyes of many Hammer fans.

Housed in a sturdy cardboard box, Imprint have jam-packed this set with supplementary material, porting over the abundance of extras from the old US Synapse releases, and adding a plethora of new content. Chief amongst the latter are the 1994 feature documentary Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror, remastered and making its Blu-ray debut, new audio commentaries by noted Hammer historians like Jonathan Rigby and Kim Newman, and several visual essays (focusing on Ingrid Pitt, Bathory on Film, and Sheridan Le Fanu) by film journalist and audio commentator Kat Ellinger. While the 1080P High Definition Blu-ray presentation does sadly accentuate the limitations of some of the sets and make-up effects available to Hammer at the time (the aging effect on Pitt in Countess Dracula being particularly noticeable and distracting), this is a lovely looking release for the most part, and something Hammer fans will no doubt relish sinking their teeth (or fangs) into.

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Lupin the Third: The First

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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.

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Possessor

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There was once a Canadian director by the name of David Cronenberg. The bloke knocked out some of the most interesting, cerebral, body horror-infused sci-fi horror flicks of all time. The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986), Naked Lunch (1991), and Existenz (1999) to name just a handful. Sadly, ol’ mate hasn’t made a flick since 2014’s patchy Map to the Stars, but it seems a new contender to the crown has stepped up in the form of Dave’s own spawn, Brandon Cronenberg. And this particular icy, unsettling apple has not fallen far from the glistening, biomechanical tree.

Possessor tells the tale of Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), a kind of contract assassin whose consciousness is placed in the body of another person, letting her control them like a meat puppet to execute the hit. After each contract is completed, Tasya has a debrief with her boss, Girder (Jennifer Jason Lee), where she identifies an assortment of objects and explains their significance, to make sure that her core personality and sanity remain intact. It’s a fascinating premise for a film, and feels very much of Cronenberg senior’s oeuvre, particularly the second half of Videodrome. That’s not to say Brandon is aping his old man’s style whole cloth, but there’s certainly an element of homage at play here.

Andrea Riseborough (Death of Stalin, Mandy) is an utterly compelling lead. Is she doing possessor work out of necessity or does she genuinely enjoy the killing? This question hangs over most of the film, and as her behaviour becomes increasingly cruel and abstract, heady themes of empathy and identity are explored. Christopher Abbott (It Comes at Night, Piercing) also does very solid work as Colin Tate, Tasya’s latest possessee, who seems to have within him the ability to fight back. However, the star of the show here is Brandon Cronenberg’s assured, stylish direction. While less focused on body horror than you might expect for a film of this type, Possessor’s dissection of the self, and the nature of individuality, offers up a cerebral cocktail flavoured with a decent amount of graphic sex and violence, that entertains as much as it disturbs.

Possessor is a well shot slice of sci-fi horror that is all too rare at the cinema these days. While certainly influenced by his father, Brandon Cronenberg makes the subject matter his own and delivers a film that is both visceral and thoughtful, with an uncompromising, chilling tone. And while David Cronenberg appears to have given up the directing caper, it’s pleasing to see the 2.0 version very much bringing the goods. Dare we say it: long live the new flesh.

Deleted scenes are included exclusively on the blu-ray disc:
•    heightened world: The look of Possessor
•    Identity crisis: Bringing Possessor to life
•    The joy of practical: The effects of Possessor.
•    Short film by Brandon Cronenberg.

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Hostage

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A stridently independent filmmaker, in 1983 Frank Shields was out to compete with the bigger cinema releases of the day, when he shot his first dramatic feature film on the smell of an oily rag (he had previously shot the 1974 documentary The Breaker about Breaker Morant, using similarly guerilla filmmaking methods). Ultimately, he managed to do some pretty decent box office with this indie thriller.

The film opens with the teenage Christine Lewis (Kerry Mack) working with a group of carnys at a small NSW South Coast showground. There, she meets Walter Maresch (Ralph Schicha), a Teutonic pretty boy who looks (and acts) like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s younger, less-body sculpted brother. Walter is obsessively fixated on Christine and professes his undying love for her at every opportunity, only to then declare his intent to marry after a few brief dates.

Unsettled by his general whiff of desperation, Christine rebuffs Walter’s proposal. Incapable of exuding any charm whatsoever, Walter threatens to shoot himself if she doesn’t agree to his offer (she doesn’t), so he attempts to make good on his suicide threat, unable to bear the pain of being spurned. Later, Christine sits in a hospital waiting room racked with guilt.

She relents to the pressures of the hospital priest who believes it a mere formality to give ‘a dying man’ his last wish, thus Christine agrees to ‘marry’ the near-death Walter. As fate would have it, Walter inconveniently survives his suicide attempt.

Christine chooses to stay married to him and soon becomes pregnant. Walter becomes even more controlling and unhinged once their young daughter is born and after several mysterious visits by an odd looking stranger with envelopes of cash and plane tickets, Walter relocates Christine and their young daughter to Germany. Once there, it becomes apparent that Walter is a member of a neo-Nazi group, though he seems too unhinged even for them.

Soon Walter forces Christine to participate in bank robberies, like a bizarro Patty Hearst and the surreal nightmare continues, to unspool into even stranger situations from there.

Hostage (aka Savage Attraction in the US) navigates similar territory that later thrillers Sleeping with the Enemy, Not Without My Daughter and Dead Calm would delve deeply into: a young, naïve woman meets an unassuming guy and makes the mistake of trusting him, only to discover that he’s catastrophically toxic, violent and controlling.

Based on Christine Maresch’s biographical account of her own nightmarish marriage, it’s filtered through the prism of Frank Shields’ marketing eye for ‘what the audience wants’ resulting in the addition of the requisite staples of the ‘80s low budget film: ‘splosions, a sprinkling of gore, some fist fights and car hijinks and sex scenes with exploitative nudity. All this nestles uncomfortably up against themes of toxic masculinity and one man’s quest for control over a woman’s body.

Kerry Mack’s uncanny resemblance to actor Michelle Williams imbues Christine with a strange sense of melancholy though her co-star Ralph Schicha doesn’t fare as well, and his thick accent and wobbly command of English dilutes his performance considerably.

Still, the film LOOKS terrific [re-released after a 4k restoration]; Vincent Monton’s handsome lensing holds up and gives the film much needed scope and authenticity.

Hostage impresses more with its weirdly unpredictable story than the performances; even so, the crazy-ass plot that lurches from one insanely compelling development to another is reason enough to revisit this slice of ‘80s Oz cinema.

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1917

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World War One took place over a hundred years ago and these days it feels like a battle from a bygone era, almost as fantastic and bizarre as the sword and shield blues of medieval times. The trenches teeming with rats and disease, the soldiers facing the threat of newly industrialised weaponry and the sheer appalling scale of it all make for rich and vivid cinematic territory. In 1917, director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall) takes full visual advantage of the setting, delivering one of his most beautiful films to date, however, he isn’t quite as successful in exploring some of the weightier themes.

1917 is the simple tale of two soldiers, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) who are given the unenviable mission to deliver a message regarding a German ambush. If they fail, 1,600 soldiers stand to lose their lives, including Blake’s brother. The pair set off almost immediately and the following 119 minutes or so take place in a single continuous shot (with a handful of cheats) that tracks their mission from start to finish.

Because the mission takes place in (mostly) real time, there’s not a lot of room for lengthy nuanced discussion. That’s not to say that 1917 is an action film, but it’s certainly not ponderous, moving through eerily abandoned trenches, ruined villages and no man’s land in a flowing, often dreamlike fashion. The result is a very stagey film, that feels more like a poet’s impression of war rather than a realistic portrayal, quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it works, and the one-shot technique often comes across more like a clever gimmick, rather than a choice that adds import to the slender script.

Chapman and MacKay are both perfectly fine as the main soldiers, and are backed up by cameos from the likes of Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch, but there’s something distancing about the piece overall. It feels more like an extended video game cutscene, beautiful but contrived, rather than a war film that will live in your soul forever. To put it bluntly, it’s good but it’s no Gallipoli.

That said, props to Sam Mendes for stepping outside of his recent Bond film comfort zone and tackling an ambitious project like this. The film serves as both movie and tribute to Mendes’ grandfather (who fought in the war) and in that it succeeds. However, it’s just too artificial and removed from the grittier realities of war and devoid of character development to attain the status of war movie classic. A triumph of style, and a beautiful looking film, it’s just a pity it didn’t have more to say.

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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

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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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