Sunday, 29 November 2020

A Christmas Gift From Bob: Film Review

A Christmas Gift From Bob: Film Review

Cast: Luke Treadaway, Ginger cat Bob
Director: Charles Martin Smith

If you're expecting A Christmas Gift From Bob to pack the same emotional punch as 2016's Street Cat Called Bob, you'd probably best check your expectations at the door.

Treadaway returns as busker James Bowen in this sanitised dark tale that's more interested in going once-over-lightly about a crisis than plumbing the dramatic depths. It is Christmas cinematic fare, one supposes.

Bowen is celebrating his success as an author and a cat-based busking legend - however, he comes across another homeless person being persecuted and unhappy with the Christmas period. So, sitting him down at a restaurant, Bowen decides to tell of a Christmas past where it nearly all went wrong for the pair.
A Christmas Gift From Bob: Film Review

There's not much depth in A Christmas Gift From Bob; it knows what it wants to do, from its close up shots of the cat looking cute to its light take on the darker side of the festive season. There is a gritty depressing film lurking deep somewhere in here, but Charles Martin Smith's not interested in mining that and giving the film the redemptive arc it's so suited for.

Instead, what emerges is something as wafty as a cloud, with commendable messages about kindness to others, sermons about not judging by appearance and of community coming together in an unexpected way.

What's also well handled is the reality of poverty, and how one simple mistake can send a massive ripple into the psyche of those caught in it and how circumstance and a chain of events can conspire against one at what should be one of the happiest times of the year.

A Christmas Gift From Bob dissolves into the obvious sentimental mush toward the end, and you'd have to hard a cold, hard cynical heart to ignore its "stronger together" message after 2020's absolute blitzkrieg of a year.

Thanks to a sensitive turn from Treadaway, delivering depth when there really is none, and the requisite cutesy shots of the titular cat, this will hit the audiences where it wants to - but it does lack the genuine warmth and feelgood nature of the first.

Whether it leaves you feline Christmassy depends entirely on your own disposition toward cinematic manipulation and a predictable plot points.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Happiest Season: Film Review

Happiest Season: Film Review

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Dan Levy, Victor Garber, Alison Brie, Mary Steenburgen, Audrey Plaza, Mary Holland
Director: Clea Duvall

As a concept, Happiest Season isn't massively new.

Its "bring a couple home for Christmas but set obstacles in their way to happiness" trope is the staple of many a romcom and festive film.

But what director and writer Clea Duvall, along with co-writer Mary Holland, have done is to give the story a fresh and grounded feel that largely stays away from the hysterics of the genre and delivers a bit of a festive cinematic present.

Stewart is Abby, an orphaned woman who isn't massively keen on the festive season. Loved up with Mackenzie Davis' Harper, she's impulsively pulled into the idea of going home at Christmas to meet the in-laws. But on the way home to the conservative family, headed up by the father who's seeking election as the mayor, Harper confesses to Abby that she's never come out to her family....

Abby's insistence that it's just five days and can't be that bad is about to be sorely tested...
Happiest Season: Film Review

Happiest Season captures the nuances of family conflicts and uses them to great dramatic fist throughout.

From Alison Brie's cold haughty older sister to Mary Holland's youngest Jane, who reeks of desperation to be included seizes upon the tensions of siblings within the holiday season, where some days, it feels like you're just seconds away from an argument.

With spritzy dialogue, and a great deal of heart (Dan Levy's John delivers a speech toward the end about coming out scenes and how they're all individual stories which may be the single greatest scene of the whole film from the Schitt's Creek alum), Happiest Season will capture a lot of hearts and deliver the humour the season needs.
Happiest Season: Film Review

In among it, Stewart delivers yet another stunning performance, as a woman trapped in the familial whirlwind and the actor works the chemistry of the ensemble well. Davis is equally engaging, but in truth, this is Stewart's film and her turn as Abby feels real and lived in.

Happiest Season may not quite be the Christmas classic that some are lauding, but it's to be highly commended for delivering a film that's grounded, human, relatable and one which captures the good and bad of the holiday season, and the strains of familial bonds.

Friday, 27 November 2020

The Comeback Trail: Film Review

The Comeback Trail: Film Review

Cast: Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Zach Braff, Tommy Lee Jones, Kate Katzman

Director: George Gallo

Producer Max Barber (De Niro) has had enough.

Trapped in between growing debt and failing movies, it looks like his number is up with Morgan Freeman's Reggie Fontaine wanting to collect a $350K debt.

But, along with his nephew Walter, Max decides to film a western with grizzled veteran Duke Montana - only the catch is, he'll try to bump off the star during filming to cash in on a generous insurance policy and pay off everything in one go....

The Comeback Trail: Film Review

What would be better suited to a screwball farce, The Comeback Trail's drama with moments of the cast overplaying their roles becomes somewhat of an endurance in parts.

With DeNiro mugging a little and Braff overplaying some of his reaction shots, the film is clearly gunning for laughs without providing too many of them.

Despite being splendidly shot and evocatively recalling some of the great panoramas of the Western genre, Gallo's film teeters when it should roar.

Thankfully, it finds its saving grace with Lee Jones' Duke Montana. His veteran cowboy actor feels lived in, real and worn down by years of near misses and by one single regret eating gradually away at his soul. Lee Jones wisely underplays the performance and consequently delivers a character that feels real among the Hollywood falsities that are on the screen.

It may be The Comeback Trail doesn't quite hit the highs it should, but it is watchable enough to leave you frustrated that it couldn't have done more with its premise and line-up.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Win a double pass to see Misbehaviour in cinemas December 3

Win a double pass to see Misbehaviour in cinemas December 3

To celebrate the release of Misbehaviour, in cinemas December 3, thanks to StudioCanal New Zealand, you can win a double pass!

About Misbehaviour

In 1970, the Miss World competition took place in London, hosted by US comedy legend, Bob Hope. 

Win a double pass to see Misbehaviour

At the time, Miss World was the most-watched TV show on the planet with over 100 million viewers. 

Claiming that beauty competitions demeaned women, the newly formed Women’s Liberation Movement achieved overnight fame by invading the stage and disrupting the live broadcast of the competition.

Starring Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Greg Kinnear.

Misbehaviour is in cinemas December 3.


All you have to do is email your details and the word MISSWORLD!

Email now to 


Win a double pass to see Happiest Season in cinemas now!

Win a double pass to see Happiest Season in cinemas now!

To celebrate the release of Happiest Season, in cinemas now, thanks to Sony Pictures New Zealand, you can win a double pass!

About Happiest Season

A young woman with a plan to propose to her girlfriend while at her family's annual holiday party discovers her partner hasn't yet come out to her conservative parents.
Win tickets to Happiest Season

Starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis.

Happiest Season is in cinemas now.


All you have to do is email your details and the word SEASON!

Email now to 


Possessor: Film Review

Possessor: Film Review

Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Bean
Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Director Brandon Cronenberg brings an unsettling touch to this arthouse sci-fi story that will be familiar to anyone who's delved into the 2000AD archives of Future Shock stories.

Riseborough stars as assassin Taysa Vos, whose skill is to insert herself into other's minds, assume their personalities and carry out the required mission.

When she's contracted to infiltrate an organisation and kill the CEO, she finds the man whose mind she's taken over stronger than expected, and given she's already struggling to disengage from each possessed host, things go from bad to worse very quickly.
Possessor: Film Review

Admittedly a parable of identity, mixed with copious shots of body horror and body piercings from needles, Possessor is brutal in its execution and unswerving in its dedication to its visuals that will unsettle and haunt for days.

Stark colours, hues of orange, purple and a bleached and drained Riseborough lead to a slow and moody set up that climbs levels of tedium before dipping deep into unnerving. Cronenberg knows what he wants and gives the chilling movie a calm and measured approach that plays more into its malevolent Quantum Leap ethos more than you'd expect.

As Possessor goes on, it becomes clearer that the film is one of psychological battles, of wearying ids and of loss of empathy in brutal situations. 

Riseborough initially impresses and upsets before giving way to Abbott's more straight-laced and emotionally dead approach to the story. It's an intriguing juxtaposition, and while Cronenberg's deliberately vague on the battles of identity, one sequence involving a melting face and application of a mask is perhaps the most upsetting committed to celluloid in 2020.

It goes without saying that Possessor is unflinching at times, and it's downright unsettling throughout - it won't be for everyone, but thanks to its technical actors and visual flourishes, it's a film and experience unlike anything else on screen this year.

Let Him Go: Movie Review

Let Him Go: Movie Review

Cast: Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Jeffrey Donovan, Lesley Manville
Director: Thomas Bezucha

Thomas Bezucha's neo-Western, based on the book of the same name by Larry Watson, is a taut and suffocating film to watch.
Let Him Go: Movie Review

But it's even more compelling because of the fact - and because Diane Lane delivers a career-best performance as a troubled mother.

Lane and Costner star as Margaret and George Blackledge, a grieving mother and mother whose son is killed early on in a freak accident on their farm as they're bathing their grandson. When their daughter-in-law remarries one of the feared Weboy family, Margaret is unsettled to see her beloved grandson and his mother hit in the streets by her new husband.

Distraught at the news they've left town, and fearful for their grandson's life, Margaret decides to set out across the heartland of the US to rescue them, and bring him home. But her husband, a former sheriff, isn't sure the move is the best one - and things are further complicated when the pair clash with the Weboy matriarch (played with steely coldness by Manville).
Let Him Go: Movie Review

Let Him Go is a searing film that builds simmering tension throughout.

It helps that Costner and Lane have mature chemistry and deliver performances that are stunning to watch, mired as they are in subtlety and solemnity. Neither deliver pretentious turns, but both convince they are lived in people whose lives have led to this awful point.

Equally Manville, in few scenes, delivers a matriarch for the ages. Scenes with her facing off as the head of the family crackle with electricity and uncertainty, and revel in their awfulness. It helps Donovan gives an ambivalent performance as the male head of the family, cowed in the presence and power of Manville's Blanche Weboy. It's the kind of stuff nightmares are made of, and Manville's performance is on a par with Jackie Weaver's fire-breathing dragon in Animal Kingdom.
Let Him Go: Movie Review

But Let Him Go - with a truly upsetting and tightly ratcheted tense sequence inside a motel - belongs to Lane and Costner's mature double act. 

Their reserved performance accentuates Blanche's nastiness and cruel veneer, and Bezucha's restrained direction helps build the firecracker and powderkeg to Let Him Go's conclusion that's as explosive as it is stunning.

Patience is a reward with Let Him Go - it's emotionally draining and yet at the same time, it's the kind of drama you can't tear your eyes away from.

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