Thursday, 29 June 2017

Le Ride: DVD Review

Le Ride: DVD Review

Le Ride sees Phil Keoghan take on his own Amazing Race.

Shorn of the majority of the glamorous trappings of the TV show, Keoghan's desire to demonstrate a little known Kiwi's achievements of the world stage is admirable in its intent.

For many, the name Harry Watson means nothing; but after Le Ride, Keoghan's hope of restoring his name to the annals of history may have taken a large leap. Mixing the Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman ethos of the Long Way Round with a road trip in France, Keoghan and his mate Ben Cornell are determind to follow Watson's path from the 1928 Tour De France.

Le Ride

With a bike that was from the 1928 ride (ie no real gears).

While some of those roads are long gone, this doesn't stop the duo from instigating "the story that has to be told" and setting out on the trail. Mixing archive footage, present day suffering (Keoghan even insisted on keeping to the 1928 diet of bread, cheese and wine) and plenty of lashings of camaraderie and good nature, Le Ride is a journey well worth taking.

With the typical Keoghan charm in the face of growing adversity (from cracks on the bikes to being outbiked by someone in their 60s who took part in the original race), this is never less than genial - and while less is known about Kiwi Harry Watson than any other of any of our more prolific sports exports on the world stage, Keoghan and Cornell ensure that his profile is raised considerably in this piece that quietly salutes his achievements.

Le Ride's greatest achievement has come from being on the NZIFF circuit - granted, Keoghan's high profile should see many more through the doors than simply those within the biking community, but a wider audience will leave feeling they've had access to a story they would normally have never glimpsed into. 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Beauty and the Beast: DVD Review

Beauty and the Beast: DVD Review

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Sir Ian McKellen, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Emma Thompson

"Tale as old as time."

Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens

Well, to be precise, perhaps 26 years ago, the ultimate version of 1740's French tale and the best Stockholm Syndrome story ever, La Belle et le Bete was released.

A Disney animated classic, there was intimicacy and warmth in the re-telling of the story wherein Belle falls under the spell of the titular Beast, cursed for all eternity. And Disney's re-tooling of the tale was perhaps the most popular, being turned into a Broadway musical in 1994.

However, the Disney remake machine, already in force with The Jungle Book and Pete's Dragon (and coming soon with The Lion King, kids!) is back with another re-telling, cannibalising from their own back catalogue.

This time, the remake strays barely away from the formula, but adds some touches in that have enraged certain sections of the world (step forward, Russia and Alabama) but reflect the times we live in.

It's still a tale of the kindness of strangers in a way - and still front and centre of it all is Emma Watson's Belle, a small provincial town girl who yearns for a life beyond the walls of her French village. Though as her father, played with warmth and little else by Kevin Kline cautions: "Small also means safe!"

But when her father goes missing, Belle tracks him down to a castle and finds he's the prisoner of the Beast (Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens, mo-capped to the hilt and looking furry as heck). Tricking the Beast into freeing her father, but remaining his captive, Belle is encouraged by the residents of the castle to look beyond his exterior and see the heart within.

Desperate to lift the curse dumped upon them all by an enchantress, time is running out for the house's servants, all turned into various items, from Ian McKellen's Cogsworth the clock to Ewan McGregor's slightly iffy French accented candlestick Lumiere. For if the Beast doesn't learn to love and have his love returned, the enchantress' spell will doom them all to stay like they are forever.

In many ways, Disney's take on Beauty and The Beast, directed by the director of Dreamgirls and The Twilight Saga's Bill Condon, is more an adaptation of a big stage musical than the more intimate touches of Disney's animated classic.

From the opening opulence of the prelude, set deep within the walls of the castle with its stunning array of chandeliers and costumes (plenty of accolades deserve to be showered on the costume designer Jacqueline Durran for her work), everything is more, more, more. There are people bursting to the edges of the screen than you would deem possible as Steven's foppish prince is transformed to a Beast in all its Hammer Horror glory.

Post-opening titles, the film's familiar refrain of Belle soars, even if one moment within sees Watson's Belle take to the hills and bring them to life with the sound of music.

Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens

That's partially the problem with this iteration of Beauty and The Beast - it all feels so familiar, as if Condon and the crew are more interested in hitting the expected beats rather than providing the cinema with something new to revel in.

Even Lumiere's show-stopping tune "Be Our Guest" becomes an overtly OTT show tunes number, with Busby Berkeley's aqua-musicals providing the cue for the LSD style visuals as the plates, food and cutlery swirl around Belle's astonished face.(Let's not even get started on how Chip the cup's movement is very reminiscent of BB-8's rolling). And while the visuals on display are dazzling, it's almost as if those in charge had decided that more should be more in this, to try to differentiate it from its past and draw a line in the sand that this is the definitive take on the film.

If this sounds too much like a grumble, it's not - merely an observation that the charms of the animated were so successful because of their paucity.

The 2017 version of Beauty and The Beast has a lot to offer audiences seeking both nostalgia and a new generation to drag along.

Watson's book-worm Belle is a finely solid and spot-on positive addition to the Disney canon - from her protestations that she's not a princess, she's a firm, yet occasionally feisty, Belle to look upto. And while some of her facial expressions give you the feeling she's seen all this magic before in Hogwarts, her down-to-earth touches in the new back story brought to Belle are warm and tender, bathed in a pathos that may have been missing before.

Evans' Gaston, complete with boasting and braggadocio,is a pantomime villain who actually brings more of the cartoonish to life in his murderous desire to marry Belle ("She's the most beautiful girl in the village, so that means she's the best" being just one of the retro-sexist lines uttered and roundly mocked by the audience); even Josh Gad's Le Fou, who's at times camp and clearly in love with Gaston, is an oafish caricature there for comic relief and conscience in the vein of a pantomime best boy. While there's talk the progressive nature of this film has enraged some, from its gay subtext from Le Fou to Disney's first inter-racial kiss, it's good to see the House of Mouse has finally, albeit tentatively, opened its doors to the world around it.
Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens
And while some of the Pans Labyrinth- CGI on the Beast leaves a few of the subtler moments and reactions wanting, Stevens, complete with sub-woofer voice, brings levity to the lighter moments and sadness to the inherent tragedy of the Beast's trapping.

Ultimately, while the very musical 2017 version of Beauty and The Beast has some tinkerings around the edges both narratively and musically (whether the new song additions will become classics in their own right is highly debatable), and is blessed with some flaws of execution, despite this, its magical and enchanted edges will mean that families will flock in their droves to be its guest. 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A Cure For Wellness: Blu Ray Review

A Cure For Wellness: Blu Ray Review

Tipping its hat to horror and Gothic pretensions, Gore Verbinski's suspense-filled A Cure For Wellness soaks in mystery for 2 of its 2 and a half hours run time.
A Cure For Wellness

A pallid and drawn Dane De Haan stars as Lockhart, an ambitious investment banker, who's extorted to bring back the head of a financial company from a mysterious spa in the Swiss Alps.
With the clock ticking to return the man in question ahead of a company merger, Lockhart finds his efforts frustrated by the staff and owner of the spa who believe it's better for all if they stay and get some treatment.

But as Lockhart starts to look around, he digs deeper into the disturbing secrets of the spa - however, will he be too late?

There's a mania infecting every frame of A Cure For Wellness.
A Cure For WellnessWith Bojan Bazelli's precise and exquisite cinematography, A Cure For Wellness is infected with a starchly stiff look that manifests in every scene.

Moments are perfectly framed and add much to the overall sheen of A Cure For Wellness' frankly lunatic edges, giving the film a detached feeling that hangs heavy in the air as it plays out.

While DeHaan's growing incredulousness seems to be at odds with what you'd expect from the character, this Gothic-tinged film, with its transfixing blend of weirdness and and surreal nightmare edges is a Lovecraftian parable and dreamscape made real.

Complete with some great use of sound, the suspenseful atmosphere is ramped up to 11 and the creaks and clanks of the walls and Lockhart's crutches add a sense of a very real rhythm that comes, lulling you into an odd dreamlike mentality that helps you view the film.

As the body horror ramps up to its natural and expected crescendo, the actual denouement of the film is as utterly daffy as you'd expect. In fact, the sheer insanity of the end actually threatens to derail the film at this point, potentially derailing the meticulous work done by Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski and his team.

Large parts of the film feel like they've been ripped from plenty of other source materials (from a catalogue of horrors to elements of Scorsese's Shutter Island), and even the slow pans down the corridors recall The Kingdom, Lars von Trier's foray into TV.

A Cure For Wellness

And yet, despite the ending sequence, A Cure For Wellness remains a largely taut and well-executed trip into the fevered mind. It's a trip, to be sure, but the paranoia, suspense and madness within make it a journey well worth experiencing. 

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Great Wall: Blu Ray Review

The Great Wall: Blu Ray Review

On paper, it's easy to see why The Great Wall exists.

A Chinese director (famed for The House of Flying Daggers and Hero), a Western star (Matt Damon) and a chance to concoct a Chinese - US co-production to rake in some of the take of a Chinese box office.

After all, xXx - The Return of Xander Cage tried to negotiate similar waters.

But on screen, the CGI creature-feature feels more like a gloriously costumed B-movie that never scales the emotional heights it could have easily achieved.

Damon is William, a mercenary who's part of a band of men after the black powder for its magic properties to turn air into fire. As the group's wittled slowly down, William and his fellow conspirator Tovar (Game of Thrones' Pedro Pascal, the film's comic relief) find themselves attacked by a mystical creature and captured by the armies on the Great Wall.

Led by the Nameless Order, the duo is let into confidences when they produce the slaughtered creature and discover an endless eternal war is being fought between the marauding relentless Tao Tei and the protectors of the Wall....

An emotionless bedraggled Damon as William, complete with mumbling bizarre Irish brogue, initially does little to dispel the feeling that The Great Wall is a a CGI fest that plays up its legends element and the fantastical edges.

Characters within the film aren't exactly well developed, and certainly William's behaviour sits at odds with any decisions he makes further on in the film (largely, due to a lack of back-grounding) that propel portions of the narrative.

While the white-wash debate has dogged the film, it's perhaps pertinent to note that most of the Western behaviour is that of rapscallions and skull-duggery. From Defoe's Mad Monk-esque wannabe thief to Tovar's plunder-them-and-run ethos, only William changes his MO due to exposure to the Chinese traits of honour and trust. Sure, there are moments when the white man saves the day, but largely it's due to a shift in mind-set and needs to be viewed as such.

However, despite some truly impressive costuming and eye to detail from WETA's props to the sumptuous colourful costumes to differentiate the wall-based fighters (though reminiscent of the Power Rangers' colourings), the Nameless Order is eye-poppingly gorgeous. And shonky CGI aside, the initial attack on the Wall and the subsequent holding off of the Tao Tei is solidly executed, a visual symphony of a Cirque du Soleil themed attack that benefits more from the human touch than the endless rows of creatures surging towards it.

It's just a shame that The Great Wall doesn't embrace enough of its lunacy and premise of aliens invading the Wall of China and the end effect is an undeniably B-movie film that's soulless on the human front.

With weaker Chinese characters propping up parts of proceedings (Jing's Commander Lin starts off promisingly before being confined to the ramparts' sidelines and sharing glances with Damon's William), the film needed either a stronger script and interactions to pull it through or less reliance on the slow-mo CGI critters flying through the air approach to keep the 100 minutes alive.

With its video game ethos, wannabe epic and questionable CGI, The Great Wall hides a kernel of an intriguing and entertaining film. It's just unfortunate that the severe under-cooking of many of the elements within mean this is one wall that's actually not really worth scaling. 

Win a copy of LIFE

Win a copy of LIFE

LIFE - Release Date: June 21 (Blu-Ray & DVD)

Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds star in this horror/thriller about a crew of international astronauts stationed on The International Space Station who retrieve a sample from Mars and discover that it displays signs of life.  

But when they bring a specimen into the station for observation, the alien organism breaks out of the lab and proves to be more intelligent than expected as it hunts them down, violently murdering them one by one. 

Thanks to Sony Home Entertainment NZ, you can win a copy of Life on DVD!

To win a copy of LIFE all you have to do is enter simply email your details to this  address: or CLICK HERE NOW!

Include your name and address and title your email LIFE!

Competition closes July 13th

Good luck!

Win a copy of Gold

Win a copy of Gold

GOLD - Release Date: June 21 (Blu-Ray & DVD) 

Kenny Wells, a prospector desperate for a lucky break, teams up with a similarly eager geologist and sets off on an amazing journey to find gold in the uncharted jungle of Indonesia. 

Getting the gold was hard but keeping it is even more difficult, sparking an adventure through the most powerful boardrooms of Wall Street.

To win a copy of GOLD all you have to do is enter simply email your details to this  address: or CLICK HERE NOW!

Include your name and address and title your email GOLD!

Competition closes July 13th
Good luck!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Logan: Blu Ray Review

Logan: Blu Ray Review

Hugh Jackman as Logan in Logan
That Logan's ending makes you feel the story is incomplete is both a testament and a damnation of the latest film that arrives with the announcement that after 17 years, Hugh Jackman's hanging up his adamantium claws.

For the large part, Logan, complete with its ageing hero, shuns the majority of the X-Men world and the mutants that have spawned so many films over the past 17 years, that have smashed box offices but been received with such varying degrees of success, and diminishing creative returns. 

And confined to the sidelines (for the most part, aside from a messy third act that falls back into lazy ways), the fleeting mentions and glimpses of that world serve up a rich atmosphere to Logan that's to die for.

Limping, riddled with the ravages of old age, and forced to work as an anonymous chaffeur to hen parties and American frat boys chanting USA (heaven knows the parallels between mutants running amok and certain US policies on Mexico feel frighteningly near the bone here), Logan has shunned the mutant life. The year is 2029 and nary a new mutant has been discovered in decades.

But when Logan's approached by a woman wanting him to transport her and her young mute charge to a specific location, he finds himself drawn back into a world he'd believed he'd left long ago.

Re-teaming Mangold with Jackman, and then throwing in Stewart is a master touch in this Old country for Old men style road trip. It's the tender relationship between an ageing Charles Xavier, riddled with dementia and a deteriorating mind now classed a WMD, that speaks volumes to this film. Filled with warmth, empathy and an occasionally scratchy dynamic that feels human and as that of a carer and their charge, it's the emotional centre of the film.

Stewart's rarely been better in the role - there's a mournful regret imbued throughout and the interplay between both Jackman and him feels natural and intimate, as they both rue over the tragedies of the past and as Xavier tries to get the dying Logan to revel in some of humanity's offering.

Tying in elements of Mark Millar's Old Man Logan storyline, the grounded, almost mournful, movie has a great deal of craft and heft as it plays out. But Mangold's not afraid to let the film live up to its R-rating, with brutal action and swift dispatches in the opening moments being more than enough to satiate those who've desired to see Wolverine's anger in action over the years.

But in amongst all of this, it's the human touches which make two-thirds of Logan stand head and shoulders above what's come before and what's gradually eroded the CGI-heavy-world-being-destroyed-previous outings. A large part of that is due to Jackman's wearied and scruffy scratchy hero as he limps his way through an old time western story (in fact, Mangold uses an entire sequence from Shane to parallel the X-Men ethos and Logan's reticence to embrace what he actually is).

Sir Patrick Stewart as Xavier in Logan

From minor moments to Logan grabbing a cigar at a convenience store, to Merchant's albino mutant Caliban bemoaning the fact he'll become like a Nosferatu below deck, there's a poignancy and acknowledgement that's carried through this film and embodied by Jackman's grift and grit. There is no Wolverine without Jackman, and while Mangold's pointed out that parts of Logan owe a debt to Mickey Rourke's beaten pugilist in The Wrestler, it's Jackman whose subtle turn gives emotional heft to an anti-superhero film.

It's a shame then that the final sequence in Logan, with its typical X-Men stylings and fight within a wood is the film's one weak point. A falling back into the lazy ways of mutants showing powers and deja-vu that ultimately mean the end, when it comes, lacks the emotional resonance and wallop that it should easily possess. And while Keen as the new sullen and muted mutant becomes a ferocious, almost feral, presence in a blistering action sequence, she's lost in the cacophony of an FX-heavy ending.

Logan is at its best when it stays within its emotionally intimate confines and it's this which marks it out as a superior action-film. Imbued with a heart and a pathos that's hard to shake, the thrills are more evident in the quieter moments, than in the larger scale sound-and-fury that becomes its end.

However, if this is truly Jackman's farewell to the role, then both he and Mangold can hold their heads high. They've done the mythology of Wolverine a great service with this last brutal and occasionally emotionally bleak outing - and Jackman's earned himself a place in the pantheon of iconic celluloid characters with ease thanks to this powerfully-engaging swan song.