Friday, 25 June 2021

Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Neon NZ Film Review

Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Neon NZ Film Review

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.

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Unhinged: Neon NZ Film Review

Unhinged: Neon NZ Film Review

Unhinged is peak 2020, a grubby would-be B movie of a sustained campaign of terror against a woman.

A heavy set Russell Crowe is The Man, a man so far over the edge he's committed double murder and arson before the five minute mark of the film's even hit. Caren Pistorius is Rachel, a woman on the precipice, after waking up late, a messy divorce and a school run all collide.

When Rachel repeatedly beeps her horn at The Man at a junction, her day gets immeasurably worse when he takes affront, and starts pursuing her and her loved ones in a vendetta of road-rage induced revenge.
Unhinged: Film Review

Unhinged really is the kind of low rent film that would have made it straight to DVD back in the 80s.

Shorn of any real background other than cursory exposition from the cops, Crowe needs do nothing more than look menacing and threatening throughout. And to be fair, when he fixes the screen with a dead-eyed stare, the threat levels reach a crescendo.

But Unhinged requires nothing more of any of its actors.

Certainly the script, loaded as it is with coincidence and nothing more, treats all those involved at the dumbest level possible, with Rachel's character behaving improbably and The Man's escalating rage attracting no attention anywhere else other than inside Rachel's world.

Perhaps that's the most frightening thing about Unhinged - that it gives oxygen to such brutal treatment of a woman and the women in its film. Beaten, stabbed, terrorised - the majority of the victims are female, and the camera appears to relish the horrors visited down on them.

Coupled with clumsy dialogue, and the buzzwording of things like "Fortnite scenario" that are thrown in purely to appeal to the kidz, Unhinged makes no case for subtlety or smarts. Repeated shots of objects show they will become important in just a few frames' time and leave no room for doubt within the script.

But Unhinged's worst crime is how it uses its victim. Even in the final frames, she's robbed of any power or sense of victory in the story, and it's shocking to say the least. The loss of agency and the fact she will forever be a victim is a morally reprehensible message, no matter how dumb the rest of the film is.

Ultimately, Unhinged is a film that deserves to be forgotten - the predictable formulaic action lacks any real redeeming points, and its long term message is enough to leave you needing a shower after you've experienced it.

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Sweet Tooth: Season 1: Netflix Review

Sweet Tooth: Season 1: Netflix Review

There's a naive innocence that infects much of Sweet Tooth, the palatable pandemic tale that's so swathed in Spielbergian niceness that it's almost too saccharine to bear.

Sweet Tooth: Season 1: Netflix Review

Yet, despite this purity on the big screen, the series is equally adept at spinning a tale to cling to, and one of such contrasts in part that it proves addictively enjoyable.

It's the story of the world after the "Great Crumble" when a virus infects the world, eliciting the US President to tell viewers to pray for each other rather than offer platitudes just moments before mandatory evacuations set in. As the world falls apart thanks to sufferers demonstrating early symptoms of the H5G9 virus such as little fingers shaking, another first emerges - the birth of children that appear to be half-animal, half human. 

These hybrids as they're known soon come to be hunted and feared as harbingers of the Sick (as it's known). One such hybrid is an antlered Gus (a sweet Christian Convery) who lives in the woods with his father Pubba (Will Forte) and who's schooled by his pops to avoid human contact, and run at the first sign of trouble.

Sweet Tooth: Season 1: Netflix Review

But trouble inevitably comes calling and soon Gus is into a whole brave new world, with new threats emerging - and with only the reluctant help of Big Man (Nonso Anozie) to get him through....

Despite being set in a post-apocalyptic world, Sweet Tooth is remarkably tame - even in flashbacks the darkness is fairly well reined in. It's a refreshing change from the bleakness of the likes of The Walking Dead, where drawn-out misery is de rigeur. It helps that Sweet Tooth is only an 8 episode outing, and is done in a little under six hours.

But tone is important to Sweet Tooth, and while some have railed against the darkness of the DC Comics source material being light on the ground in the TV outing, the series has an approachable easy quality that makes it comfortable to dive into.

The message of hope throughout is nicely laid out, and while Gus infects all those around him with the emotion indirectly, viewers are also left with an overriding sense of optimism.

There are darker moments though - such as a concurrent narrative involving Adeel Akhtar's conscientious doctor and his life in a gated community with his ill wife. It's here the horror of humanity in a post apocalyptic world comes more to the fore - and the briefer jaunts to that world serve only to underline the horror of what could lie outside of deer boy Gus' perception.

Sweet Tooth: Season 1: Netflix Review

Yes, there is an undeniable sweetness to Sweet Tooth and some of the more lurid edges of the nastier natures may have been dulled, but it makes for a refreshingly compelling almost family-friendly adventure, reminiscent of the Goonies and worthy of a solid six hours of investment.

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Win a copy of Nobody on Blu Ray

Win a copy of Nobody on Blu Ray

To celebrate the release of Nobody, starring Bob Odenkirk, thanks to Universal Home Entertainment, you can win a copy on Blu Ray!

About Nobody
Win a copy of Nobody on Blu Ray

Never underestimate a nobody.

A bystander who intervenes to help a woman being harassed by a group of men becomes the target of a vengeful drug lord.

From the writer of John Wick, and starring Bob Odenkirk, the adrenalin-filled Nobody is available to buy on DVD and Blu Ray now!

All you have to do is email your details and the word NOBODY!

Email now to 

Competition closes 30th June

Monday, 21 June 2021

Win a double pass to see Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

Win a double pass to see Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

To celebrate the release of Escape Room: Tournament of Champions in cinemas July 1, thanks to Sony Pictures NZ, you can win a double pass!

About Escape Room: Tournament of Champions
Win a double pass to see Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is the sequel to the box office hit psychological thriller that terrified audiences around the world.

In this installment, six people unwittingly find themselves locked in another series of escape rooms, slowly uncovering what they have in common to survive…and discovering they’ve all played the game before.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is in cinemas July 1

Nobody: Blu Ray Review

Nobody: Blu Ray Review

"Just a bit excessive, but glorious."
Nobody: Film Review

These are the words spoken in the final act of Ilya Naishuller's pulpy and tautly-executed dadsploitation thriller Nobody - and they're joyfully prescient and gleefully knowing about what has transpired for the past 80 minutes.

Better Call Saul's Bob Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell, a man ground down by routine and monotony who's become a Nobody in his home life and in his auditor role at a manufacturer's office. His lowered status takes a further beating when he refuses to intervene in a break-in at home, leading to mockery from his son, neighbour and colleagues.

When Hutch finds out a valuable item from his young daughter's been taken, he sets out to get justice, a break in his psyche fuelling his long pent-up rage. But he targets the wrong people and soon a clutch of Russian gangsters are on his tail - however, Hutch has a secret past nobody knows of - and a set of skills nobody would have expected this downtrodden suburban dad to possess....

There's a tautness of execution to Nobody that makes its John Wick-style violence feel like an 80s revenge thriller. 

But there's also a wry and comedic thread coursing through its veins, which helps the film feel a little more grounded, and believe it or not, ultimately more crowd-pleasing - especially in its warehouse Equalizer-echoing final act.

It helps that Odenkirk is a very affable presence on screen, and a very plausible later-in-life action hero. 

From selling the monotony of his life to the moment that breaks his character, Odenkirk is always understated, helping sell some of the more ludicrous edges of this unabashedly popcorn beat down. And he's never ferocious either, meaning there's more menace when he's called to exude it.

Director Naishuller puts together some well-choreographed action sequences that don't overstay their welcome and aren't too excessive in their brutality, though they are occasionally riddled with both ass-kickings and humour. Not once do they venture into overkill territory, something that keeps Nobody feeling like it has real stakes, despite its Don't get mad, get even edges.

You can tell Naishuller's taken some of the elements of Hardcore Henry's brutality and fused it with surprises to get the late night audiences on side - it shows, and that's no bad thing.
Nobody: Film Review

There's little deep to be had in Nobody, but there's tremendous joy in the way Odenkirk sells its premise, and how Naishuller helms the whole affair.

If the story hints at more, that's perhaps not a bad thing, but any sequels would have to work their socks off to reach the levels of surprise and adrenaline that Nobody achieves.

Perhaps this is best as a one and done, but my word, what a one and done to experience.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Win a copy of Minari on Blu Ray

Win a copy of Minari on Blu Ray

To celebrate the release of the Oscar-winning Minari on Blu Ray and thanks to Madman Home Entertainment, you can win a copy of Minari!

About Minari
Win a copy of Minari on Blu Ray

A tender and sweeping story about what binds us, Minari follows a Korean-American family that moves to a Arkansas farm in search of their own American Dream from writer/director Lee Isaac Chung.

Critic Reviews:

  • " What makes this more than just another formulaic feelgood film is the grit with which Chung evokes the hardscrabble lives of his characters, balancing the dreamier elements of the drama with a naturalism that keeps it rooted in reality. " – Mark Kermode (Observer, UK)

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

Email now to 

Competition closes 29th June

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