Thursday, 21 November 2019

Farming: Film Review

Farming: Film Review

Cast: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kate Beckinsale, Gug Mbatha-Raw, Damson Idris, John Dagleish
Director: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Bleak it may be, but equally sickening and compelling, former Lost and Oz actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje lays out a coming-of-age drama that grips as much as it occasionally frustrates.
Farming: Film Review

Based on the true story of Nigerian Enitan (Idris) who was placed in the care of a British family by his parents, "farmed out" for the hope of finding a better start to life in a UK divided by Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speeches. But thrust into the home run by Kate Beckinsale's Ingrid (one note, and relatively stereotyped and underdeveloped), Eni begins to feel alienated and is broken by the lack of love and care afforded him.

Pushed to the edge, and into a pit of self-loathing, Eni falls into rejecting his culture, his heritage and his identity, and falls in with a group of skinheads, the Tilbury Skins, headed by Dagleish's Levi (easily one of the best villains of the year, dead-eyed, ominous and terrifying).
Farming: Film Review

Rote in parts, with some awful Lahndon accents, as well as jumping back and forth to Eni's mother,

Farming's sociopathic edges take time to show through.

But when they do, and the skinheads arrive and our totally broken lead falls apart, Farming genuinely shocks in the same way American History X did..

Akinnuoye-Agbaje doesn't scrimp from the details of the horror, or allow you an easy escape in terms of viewing, filling the screen with 80s UK nihilism, a mirror to a society tearing itself apart with hate and violence.

It's here that Farming makes its viewing as compelling as it is sickening, as in other parts of the movie, the generic tropes and hollow descent into eventual redemption don't quite measure up to what's proffered at the end - a rushed reality check.

Characters such as Beckinsale's mother and Mbatha-Raw's teacher feel less than real, ripped from the pages of a book, giving Farming a feel of stereotyped TV movie fare. It's no This Is England, or the TV spinoff, but it does have moments of pure dread and evil seeping in.
Farming: Film Review

Thankfully, the stunning pairing of Dagleish and Idris as the tormentor and the victim gives Farming a sharpness of focus that is worth hanging onto, a thread that spins a tightly sickening web around the viewer, and makes the emotional beats land as they truly should.

It is not to detract from the story Akinnuoye-Agbaje is looking to tell, but if parts had been beefed up this would have been a searing drama, a white knuckle ride to hell and back. But a lack of some character depth robs the insights and horror of some of the heft they should carry. It's not to say they don't, because when they land, the moments are utterly repugnant and disgusting, as they should be.

Ultimately Farming is unrelenting, its redemption feels too briefly mentioned, and the rawness of the central actors a little too numbing to fully embrace and only endure.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ready Or Not: Film Review

Ready Or Not: Film Review

Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O'Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Ready Or Not's mix of comedy and horror sometimes treads a fine line between successful and thrilling and sometimes, it meanders too much on the wrong side - but it's never less than compelling thanks to the grit and determination of its lead, Samara Weaving.

Weaving plays Grace, the new bride of Alex, the heir to a gaming family, who've made their money and whose members are worried Grace is nothing more than a gold-digger.
Ready Or Not: Film Review

On their wedding night, Grace is told it's a family tradition to play a game - and it's her random choice. She draws a game of Hide and Seek which has, unbeknownst to her, has deadly consequences...

Ready Or Not is a pulpy wannabe horror, occasionally subverting genre thrills and skirting some commentary between the rich and the poor.

Yet, at times, as mentioned, the film's not quite sure which way it wants to go under its Radio Silence directors and script.

Scenes of tension and horror are undercut by over-the-top moments of laughter as well as sentiment, which sometimes feel misplaced in the mix. The tonal jumps mix in with the utterly ludicrous plot, and while the film plays with all of them, skating between genres, its true success comes in its heroine.

Weaving is stoicism personified, a satire on the woman taking on the patriarchy (by wearing Converse under her wedding dress, natch) and dealing with the family from hell. She's never empowered enough to kill, adding a layer of the poor don't sink to the rich's level commentary within. But there's enough of her on show to make for a compelling heroine to root for from the beginning.

In an over-the-top laissez faire finale, Ready Or Not reveals its hand, and gives its cat and mouse game the cult feel it's clearly aiming for. But played more for laughs than outright horror, it sometimes makes it difficult to fully care or engage with anyone but the heroine as she tears into societal norms,

That's no bad thing, and while Ready or Not may offer some vicarious thrills, they're fleeting and the class war premise is left as nothing more than a simple and entertainingly brief rollercoaster thrill ride.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Angel Has Fallen: Blu Ray Review

Angel Has Fallen: Blu Ray Review

It was inevitable, really.

Angel Has Fallen: Film Review

Given he'd saved the President, saved London and had a happyish ending, it should be no surprise that Presidential lucky charm Mike Banning (Butler) would be in the firing line.

And given three years has passed in each of the release cycles of Olympus Has Fallen (2013) and London Has Fallen (2016), it's time for Angel Has Fallen.

Bruised, battered and addicted to pills after the rollercoasters of the job of the Secret Service in the previous two outings, Banning is starting to feel mortal. Tempted by the possibility of the top job at the Secret Service, his world's turned upside down when the entire Presidential secret service team is wiped out - leaving him as the sole survivor.

Framed for the attempted murder of the US President, Banning goes on the run, determined to prove his innocence...

Angel Has Fallen: Film Review

Reviving cold war politics, throwing in some "timely" barbs about Russian collusion, and dumping some machismo on the idea of private contractors benefiting from war, Angel Has Fallen does little to build on its surprise success of the first film.

Choosing instead to go for elements of The Fugitive and a bad episode of 24, Butler deals with lots of pained close ups to show his ailing state, and deals out plenty of killshots as sense and sensibilities go out the window.

Beginning with what seems like a gun porn secret service recruitment Call of Duty style video and ending with an extremely passable and well-executed finale, Angel Has Fallen has glimpses of something beyond the C-grade action banal genre it's clearly pitching for.

Butler's Banning looks shabby, like he may not make it (though really, there's never any true doubt) but yet in his interactions with Danny Huston's quietly calm mate-turned-bad-guy, there's a feeling of two veterans lost in a world that no longer needs them in the way they were needed first time around.

Angel Has Fallen: Film Review

The action sequences are, in truth, executed in a fairly workmanlike way; there's nothing special or spectacular in the explosion porn that's on display - complete with slowmo. And yet, in its finale, Angel Has Fallen delivers a sequence that may be familiar in many ways, but is nonetheless compelling to enjoy.

And then there's Nick Nolte.

As Banning's dad, and at his shaggiest, this doomsday prepper off-the-grid paranoic is one of Nolte's most grizzled and begotten roles. But it's worth it alone for some of the lines he dishes out, which have to be seen to be heard.

Ultimately, Angel Has Fallen isn't smart enough to be taken seriously, and never really rises against its rote execution. It's flabby too, with its 120 minutes run time being the longest of the trilogy and also the most needlessly long.

Angel Has Fallen may wrap up the surprise trilogy, but in truth, this series was done with the first one - it may try to be contemporary here, but you've seen it all before. It's time this Angel had its wings clipped. 

Monday, 18 November 2019

Hail Satan?: DVD Review

Hail Satan?: DVD Review

Hail Satan?'s high-level trolling documentary is something of a wry amusement as it starts, but what emerges later on is an expose of the widening schism between the US and the freedom of expression.

Director Penny Lane's doco serves to show the contrasts between those in the Satanic Temple and their perception in the media. After all, some of the chapter are part of a beach-tidying commitment for a year.

Hail Satan?: NZIFF Review

It appears the message is one of benevolence, and those levelled with criticisms of going to hell are met with a "I believe it and I'm very supportive of it" response that's both amusing and also indicative of the good nature of those in the Temple.

As the so-called Satanic Panic spreads, and the more trolling and playing with media the Temple does, Lane pivots perceptions and the doco becomes an intriguing look about how different people are treated over events, rather than as themselves.

A tongue in cheek approach seems to be Hail Satan?'s raison d'etre, but it also by weaving in video interview clips and media stunts seems to give the doco an offbeat feel that's hard to shake, but worthy of smiles. However, Lane never resorts to mockery of her subjects, and the piece is all the better for it.

Less religious fervour, more a plea for tolerance, Hail Satan?'s devilish charms are not hard to resist.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Late Night: DVD Review

Late Night: DVD Review

Aiming to smash the glass ceiling, but ending up more just politely tapping on it, Mindy Kaling's comedy Late Night will feel familiar to fans of the vitriolic Larry Sanders Show from the 1990s.
Late Night: Film Review

In Late Night, Kaling plays Molly Patel, a plant worker who ends up being a diversity hire on Emma Thompson's Katherine Newbury's late night show. Newbury is a legend, and has been on the circuit for years, but the show's on the wane, with viral clips and interviews with YouTube stars punishing them in the ratings.

So when the head of the network (Amy Ryan) decides to move Newbury along in favour of a newer foul-mouthed host (Barinholtz), Molly is caught up in the last great offensive to keep ratings high.

Essentially a romantic comedy with a side of showbiz and a dash of social commentary, Late Night treads the boards of familiarity with such geniality it's hard to fully hate it.

But the film lacks a punch that would translate to some interesting barbs and commentary on women in the workplace and women on TV. It feels like Kaling's written sadly from reality, but is a little too frightened to make the commentary needed to help it land in ways which would give it its power.

Late Night: Film Review

There's an underdeveloped romance sideplot, which swipes at MeToo, and a sweet relationship between Thompson and Lithgow that brims with reality and depth.

Yet it's not enough to make Late Night feel anything other than undercooked at times.

Thankfully, Thompson makes great fist of her barbed and occasionally bitter Newbury. You can see where it's coming from a mile off, but the joy of seeing an older woman in a lead in this is clearly what Kaling wanted for the film, and the fact the reality of late night TV in the US is scarcely inhabited by women speaks volumes.

Kaling plays on her innate likeability repeatedly, and the result is a fair film that offers some laughs - it's just with a sharper eye for the targets and a few wittier barbs, it could have been unstoppable. 

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Concrete Genie: PS4 Review

Concrete Genie: PS4 Review

Developed by Pixelopus
Released by Sony Interactive

It would have been a perfect game for the now defunct PS Vita, Pixelopus' Concrete Genie is a pleasant mix of Life is Strange and painting, with elements of the Unfinished Swan thrown into the mix.
Concrete Genie: PS4 Review

You are Ash, a small town kid who has a penchant for doodles and a mind for creativity. Against the backdrop of the darker town of Denska, Ash is bullied, mocked for his paintings and his thoughts.

When bullies scatter Ash's drawings, he chases them down - but in a mysterious lighthouse, one of his favourites, Luna, comes to life and begins to guide him on new adventures and drawings....

Concrete Genie is a sweet, neon-coloured graffiti blast.

Using the DualShock to create paintings within the landscapes and tagging everything and anything, the game's creativity comes to life. It takes a bit of getting used to in terms of firing up the brush and moving the motion sensors around - and ideally a PS Move capability would be perfect (or the aforementioned Vita).

Thematics are handled in a solid fashion, and it's clear Pixelopus is talking more about wanting players to have fun than be judged for their work, literally leaving those behind the controller to have a blank canvas with which to work from.

It may be simple in its approach, and relatively short in its overall execution, but Concrete Genie is effective in its messaging. It encourages creativity within Denska, demands innovation and leaves you with the reward for it.

Concrete Genie may be short, but it's certainly sweet enough to deliver a finely tuned gaming experience for all ages.

Friday, 15 November 2019

The Lion King: Blu Ray Review

The Lion King: Blu Ray Review

The new version of The Lion King is visually phenomenal.
The Lion King: Movie Review

Imagine the Planet Earth team had been tasked with creating a photorealistic version of the Disney classic and ensuring your nostalgia rush was catered for as well, and you can encapsulate the goosebump moments of the Circle of Life as the sun rises above the plains.

It's an astounding feat that showcases what Favreau began with The Jungle Book and has once again raised the bar in terms of what visuals can offer - especially on the biggest screen available.

And yet the 2019 reimagining of The Lion King does little to tamper with the original's formula, other than dressing up the CGI and presenting the story as is.

Unfortunately as well, the emotion is somewhat lacking once the visual dazzle of the opening starts to fade, and you realise this is a spectacle above all else - whereas the original Lion King had heart, heart-stopping moments and heartbreak in spades.

The Lion King: Movie Review

It's partly due to the impassive nature of the lions' faces, from the cubs through to the leaders via the insidious Scar - the lions themselves can do little to emote, reminding you the cartoon faces of the original were so expressive, so OTT in places and so helpful at searing the whole thing into your heart.

Consequently, iconic lines and story beats feel simply like they're read aloud at a cast reading, and lack the effects the original had. Scar, while looking slumped and emaciated compared to Mufasa, lacks the cartoon villainy that made Jeremy Irons' delivery so delicious. The hyenas fare better, their dead eyes and sneers helping bring the menace and darker edges vividly to life.

And there are odd moments when the creatures don't actually seem to interact with their surroundings too, as if placed on top rather than in environments. Gravel doesn't move under their feet in the Elephants' graveyard, and there's a rather curious relationship with grass.

These sound like minor niggles - and in fairness, they are; but given how superlative Favreau's crafted his FX team to deliver, it's the small things which stand out in Disney's latest revamp of their cartoon catalogue.

Thankfully, Timon and Pumbaa (Eichner and Rogen respectively) add much to proceedings and serve to enliven events after you begin to feel the scales falling away from your digitally-impressed eyes.

The problem is ultimately that the 2019 version of The Lion King, while overstuffed with animals, is never its own beast - there's hardly a moment within that doesn't remind you of the original.

It's not enough to be a fatal flaw for the Lion King, and certainly in terms of spectacle, the film overdelivers in a wonderful way; but is it likely to be as timeless as the original's more basic edges?

That seems distinctly unlikely, and while audiences will adore this version in the way Disney wants, you'd be hard pressed to say it's anything more than nostalgia that helps you feel the love tonight. 

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Disney+ NZ reveals details of its streaming content

Disney+ NZ reveals details of its streaming content

The hotly-anticipated launch of Disney+ – Disney’s all-new streaming home for entertainment from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic – is drawing near. 
Disney+ NZ reveals details of its streaming content

Come November 19, Kiwis can enjoy the Disney cinema experience from the comfort of their couch, bingeing on everything from nostalgic Disney classics, including a special remake of Lady and the Tramp, to Disney+ originals such as The Mandalorian, a live-action Star Wars series.

Disney+ has just announced their first official NZ content list. 

The exciting announcement has been shared on the DisneyPlusNZ Instagram platform with a content piece showcasing the wide breadth of content that will be available for New Zealanders to enjoy when they sign up.  

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Ailo's Journey: Film Review

Ailo's Journey: Film Review

Director: Guillaume Maidatchevsky

This live-action tale of a baby reindeer making its way through the Lapland countryside as he struggles into life is a sure-fire Christmas winner.

Director Maidatchevsky makes great fist of the stunning countryside vistas in this story of life, and layers some hints of climate change, and moments of menace that almost feel like they're ripped from a Disney movie involving Bambi, as the mother and son start their migration.
Ailo's Journey: Film Review

But the story's more a frolicking rather than rolicking ride through the wilds, and even though the locales soar, there's a feeling that the script has been tailored to fit the action as the camera follows Ailo on his journey.

Lashed with avuncular narration from Donald Sutherland, it never quite hits the highs of an Attenborough led doco, but there's enough distractions to keep the young cooing and cowering throughout.

From a hyperactive white stoat to a wolverine that's got food on its mind, the film's less interested in showing the nastier side of the circle of life (something that many wildlife pieces shy disappointingly away from these days) and more concerned with the cutesy feel. It's of a generation hardly furnished these days, and is more interested in letting the cameras follow the story, and occasionally manufacturing some of the drama needed.
Ailo's Journey: Film Review

There are certainly wider and deeper points to be made about the effects on migrating herds, and how life is getting tougher for our planet's most under threat animals, but Ailo's Journey is more concerned with planting the seed of thought in minds than spelling it out.

Ailo's Journey is a masterpiece of editing; crisply shot scenes meld with the story, and even though in parts the voiceover feels dreadfully scripted and more interested in a once over when it comes to climate change issues, the film's gleefully uncynical approach, coupled with the magical hitherto unseen world of the Christmas reindeer, may win over more family filled audiences than cynics.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Charlie's Angels: Film Review

Charlie's Angels: Film Review

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Elizabeth Banks, Ella Balinska, Patrick Stewart
Director: Elizabeth Banks

"I think women can do anything," Kristen Stewart's bewigged spy says at the start of the 2019 franchise reboot, seducing a potential fly in the web before launching into a curtain-inspired take on asphyxiation.
Charlie's Angels: Film Review

It's an obvious and overt meta comment to both the audience and critics of the intentions of the new Charlie's Angels, just moments before it launched into a montage of everyday women doing every day things, and simply, as the song says, putting their hands up.

Yet, it's also symptomatic of why the new popcorn blockbuster doesn't quite fly as it could, regardless of whether you're a male or female audience member.

Granted, for all the independent women out there, the story of a systems engineer (played with wide-eyed innocence by Aladdin's Naomi Scott) who finds herself ensconsced in the spy world when she discovers the technology she's developing is flawed and potentially life-ending is nothing new.

Even peppered with Banks' trademark zing and the light touch as director and writer, the film still flounders with some of its would-be peppier lines failing to hit any target and clanking to the ground.

Meta discussions about whether Ben Affleck truly is Batman raise nary a titter, and reek of a push to bring contemporary themes to the fore, just to give the film an edge, and its writer a "we can do this too" voice.

A continuing "gag" about men underappreciating and underestimating women just seems to grate (there's no bitterness on this male reviewer's point of view) rather than scythe through the ongoing chatter like it should. And most of the men within the movie are treated more as bad guys than anything more three dimensional, adding to a feeling this film, rightly so, is all about the sisters and sisterhood rather than the script.

Within the Angels themselves, Brit newcomer Ballinska stumbles occasionally, floundering with any emotional delivery of basic dialogue but kicking ass when needed. More successful is Aladdin's Scott, who gives the her newbie the innocence she needs and some life to the arc she's been dished out with.
Charlie's Angels: Film Review

And easily the MVP of the piece is Stewart, even if there's a feeling that she's been held back by a script that doesn't allow her comedy chops to cut loose. Though disappointingly, hints of who she may be are confined to a look in one shot, and give a feel of a withering uncertainty to mark her sexual place in the film. Had the script afforded her a greater chance to lean more into the quips and beefed them up, she would easily have scorched the cinema screen.

But that's symptomatic of where Charlie's Angels goes wrong; it feels underwritten and undercooked.

From the lack of real energy and chemistry between this team of angels to a story that's almost irrelevant to proceedings, the movie flails and fails to find a voice of its own, even if there are touches that make the all-female led reboot worthy of some of your time and money.

Its message of sisterhood bleeds unfortunately too heavily from the screen, watering down its action movie roots, and giving you a sense that there could have been more. While the two Stewarts (Patrick and Kristen) deliver much comedy and ham, it's not enough of a frisson on screen to connect, even if the film's DNA is infused with some touches of feminism and some welcome subversions of what's transpired before.

Some diverting stunt sequences (particularly in a quarry) may distract from the weaker and confused action scenes, but this Charlie's Angels lacks the punch and pace of the reboots a few decades ago. On this outing alone, it seems unlikely these Angels will be taking flight again - despite the good intentions of all those involved.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Film Review

Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Film Review

Cast: Noemie Merlant, Adele Haenel
Director: Celine Sciamma

A male-free zone, the luxurious Portrait of a Lady on Fire from Girlhood's Celine Sciamma is in no hurry to get where it's going.

It's the 1700s, and Merlant is Marianne, a painter brought in for a commission of Adele Haenel's fresh-out-of-the-convent Heloise, who's about to be married off to a man she's never met. Heloise has already registered rebellion for this portrait destined for her husband-to-be, refusing to sit for her likeness to be captured.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Film Review

So Marianne decides to be Heloise's companion by day and to paint her likeness by night.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a film that luxuriates in the slow burn, and frames itself on fanning the flames of nascent desire.

Back and forths, stolen glimpses and caught looks add much to the burgeoning relationship between the two, and Sciamma lingers when needed and pulls back when expected.

It helps that Merlant and Haenel take their characters on a journey they need, and prove to be such bedfellows for a story. A side story involving the house maid and a situation proves to be a diversion, detracting from what really matters here.

The camera flirts between capturing Marianne's furtive glances, destined to capture details for her pictures and with Heloise's acknowledgement and potential misinterpretation of these glimpses, never once deciding to vocalise either way which is which. It all boils over to a head for obvious reasons, but the simmering before the bubble over is enjoyable to watch.

It may be a little heavy handed in some of its imagery and narrative at times (a long section on Eurydice overplays the looking/ being caught looking metaphor too much) and it may meander on its two hour journey, but Portrait of a Lady on Fire lends much to the story of desire and intimate voyeurs - even if it does so via stiffly starched formal presentation.