Thursday, 30 April 2015

Lucky Them: Film Review

Lucky Them: Film Review

Cast: Toni Collette, Thomas Haden Church, Oliver Platt, Ryan Eggold
Director: Megan Griffiths

Musos will get a kick out of this flick which set the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival abuzz.

Toni Collette plays Ellie, a music critic in her 40s who has a penchant for reviewing and sleeping with the talent as she works the Seattle scene for dying magazine Stax.

Ellie's never really gotten over the apparent suicide of her then musician boyfriend Matthew Smith - but that wound's opened by her editor (a quietly seething Oliver Platt, whose top dog is railing against the dying world of the music mag) who requests a 10 year on piece on the mysterious death.

Following rumours that Smith isn't dead and looking into sources, Ellie's befriended by wise-cracking Thomas Haden Church's Charlie, a rich but bored man, who decides his documentary classes mean he could film the whole thing.

So, against her will, the duo begin to look into Smith's apparent AWOL search with unpredictable results.

Lucky Them suffers from a kind of funk that settles on the piece early on.

It's not Collette's fault that Lucky Them has little going for it in terms of script, with many moments feeling too random and distracting from the ongoing story. Equally, Haden Church's continual quips tend to irritate after a while, and Collette's slightly distracted acting touch convinces us of her malaise to life around her.

Unfortunately though, the end result is that we subsequently don't feel attached or remotely care to anything going on as it transpires. Granted, you could argue it's part of the film's charm, but Griffiths doesn't seem to know what she wants to settle on - is it romantic drama with Ellie and her musician boyfriend, is it mystery that has a personal touch or is it road movie comedy with Haden Church's continual deadpan moments?

The final blend of Lucky Them means that a last act denouement and surprise appearance feels all too low key - perhaps, it's a delicious irony that the apathy and malaise affecting Ellie means that when the end comes, the moment that's supposed to uplift us feels like a deflated balloon.

Lucky Them is by no means a disaster, it's just it's not a sentiment felt by the audience who endure the escapades, rather than revel in them.


Shadow of Mordor: Game of the year edition unveiled

Shadow of Mordor: Game of the year edition unveiled

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment today announced Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Game of the Year Edition.  The expanded version of the award-winning third-person open world action game, developed by Monolith Productions will launch in New Zealand on May 14 for $99.95 on the PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system, Xbox One, the all-in-one games and entertainment system from Microsoft.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor earned enthusiastic reviews when it launched this past spring, winning more than 25 awards including Game of the Year at the 2015 Game Developers Choice Awards and eight awards from the 2015 D.I.C.E. Awards amongst many others. Featuring the innovative Nemesis System, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Game of the Year Edition expands on the critically-acclaimed original title, which includes the main game and all currently available downloadable content (DLC) packs, allowing fans to experience hours of added gameplay and content including:

        Story PacksThe Lord of The Hunt and The Bright Lord
        Skins: The Dark Ranger, Captain of the Watch, Lord of the Hunt, The Bright Lord, Power of Shadow and Lithariel Skins
        Runes: Hidden Blade, Deadly Archer, Flame of Anor, Rising Storm, Orc Slayer, Defiant to the End, Elven Grace, Ascendant, One with Nature
        Missions: Guardians of the Flaming Eye, The Berserks and The Skull Crushers Warband Missions
        Challenge Modes: Test of Power, Test of Speed, Test of Wisdom, Endless Challenge, Test of the Wild, Test of the Ring, Test of Defiance Challenge Modes
        Additional Features: Photo Mode

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor delivers a dynamic game environment where the player orchestrates their personal plan of vengeance as they bend Mordor to their will. The game begins on the night of Sauron’s return to Mordor, as his Black Captains brutally execute the Rangers of the Black Gate. Players become Talion, a ranger who loses his family and everything he holds dear, only to be returned from death by a mysterious spirit of vengeance. Based on the player’s actions with the in-game Nemesis System, every enemy encountered is distinct and can evolve to become a personal archenemy through the course of the game.  As Talion’s personal vendetta unfolds, players uncover the mystery of the spirit that compels him, discover the origin of the Rings of Power and confront the ultimate nemesis.

Destiny: Livestream for Trials of Osiris

Destiny: Livestream for Trials of Osiris

Bungie is about to unveil the latest addition to Destiny - Trials of Osiris.

Watch the Destiny Trials of Osiris Livestream here:

Watch live video from Bungie on

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Boychoir: Film Review

Boychoir: Film Review

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Josh Lucas, Debra Winger, Kevin McHale, Garett Wareing, Joe West
Director: Francois Girard

Heavenly voices, predictable story and made for TV movie moments.

That pretty much sums up Boychoir, from the French director Girard (The Red Violin). It's the story of Stet, a troubled kid (played sympathetically by Wareing) whose life is chaos at school and turbulent at home with an alcoholic mother.

When the unthinkable happens, Stet finds his life at a cross-roads and despite failing an audition to enter a prestigious musical academy, Stet's estranged father (Josh Lucas) ends up making the school a financial offer it can't afford to ignore to secure him a place, rather than face the indignity of telling his current wife and family that Stet exists.

Thrust into the Harry Potter style school, complete with blonde-haired nemesis and prodigy Devon (West), Stet becomes the underdog in his campaign to get a place on the touring American Boychoir. But under the tutelage of the brisk Carvelle (a genial Hoffman) and a puffy English teacher (Eddie Izzard), will Stet find his voice?

Boychoir hits the right notes in many places, doing exactly what you'd expect of a crowd-pleasing feel good movie that's probably more at home on the small screen than the big.

While there are certainly goosebumps to be had with the singing scenes, the relative one-note characters and drama outside of the Harry Potter and the Chamber Choir antics (Izzard is Snape, Hoffman is Dumbledore, Devon is Draco etc etc) is under-cooked and poorly serviced in terms of development.

Girard steers clear of too much sentimentality though, with several scenes which could have wallowed in the moment brusquely dealt with to help the film's flow. Though, along with Stet's father's dilemma being largely confined to looking troubled through a window, more could have been made of that situation and the crux of the Boychoir dilemma - namely, that their heavenly voices have only a short window to shine through before nature cruelly drops them down a level. Missed opportunities scatter this aria throughout and conspire to drag the film down.

It's a restrained Hoffman who generates some empathy and warmth from Carvelle, whose relationship with Stet could have easily fallen into some kind of musical Full Metal Jacket scenario, but wisely shows the power a proficient and caring teacher can make to a child's life. Wareing manages well too in his first lead, with the wide-eyed and naturalistic turn helping the more predictable and by-the-numbers elements of the plot along.

Ultimately, Boychoir offers a feeling of deja-vu; in the likes of Mr Holland's Opus, we've seen it all before, but, thanks to a lack of over-egging the pudding, the one note nature of the story just about manages to leave you with a warm glow.


Just Cause 3 Gameplay Trailer

Just Cause 3 Gameplay Trailer

Square Enix and Avalanche Studios are delighted to debut the world-first gameplay reveal trailer for Just Cause 3. Captured straight from actual gameplay, the trailer shows Rico Rodriguez unleashing his unique brand of chaos and destruction across the Mediterranean island paradise of Medici as he seeks to destroy General Di Ravello’s hold on power by any means necessary.

Pre-order Just Cause 3 at participating retailers and secure the Weaponised Vehicle Pack, shown at the end of the trailer. The Weaponised Vehicle Pack includes 3 x exclusive luxury vehicles primed for action and fully loaded with the firepower to kick start a revolution.

Just Cause 3 is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC in Holiday 2015.

Halo 5 Guardians cover unveiled

Halo 5 Guardians cover unveiled

The official cover art for “Halo 5: Guardians” has been revealed, with the title set to launch on October 27, 2015.

Last week, several cryptic images were released to various online channels across the globe with no instructions, no explanations and no references to the Halo universe. It didn’t take long for “Halo Nation” to scour the Internet to piece together the mystery to reveal the artwork.   

Xbox also unveiled a special video version that highlights the Spartan fireteams that play a crucial role in the showdown between the Master Chief and Spartan Locke. Who are these Spartans?  This and many more mysteries will be uncovered as we draw closer to the world premiere of “Halo 5: Guardians” at E3 2015.  Join us we #HUNTtheTRUTH.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Cobain: Montage of Heck: Film Review

Cobain: Montage of Heck: Film Review

Stars: Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Krist Novoselic
Director: Brett Morgen

Kurt Cobain - legend, junkie, father, suicide victim.

There's already so much which has been said about Cobain's brief 27 years on the earth and so much charted about the rise of Nirvana. So you could be forgiven for thinking this documentary had nothing new to cover, except to rake over the coals of long simmering resentments, reigniting old discussions about whether Courtney was the Yoko of the band and remember the tragedy of his passing.

But Brett Morgen (director of The Kid Stays in the Picture) manages to do something that rejuvenates the musical doco genre and breathes new life into a subject, long presumed fully researched.

Morgen was granted access to home movie footage from the Cobain family, access to Kurt's journals, drawings and tape recordings (which he didn't know existed); it's a wealth of information and one which gives an all access pass to the man's life, fears, hopes, dreams and consequently gets the most intimate insight into Cobain ever committed to celluloid.

Choosing to tell Cobain's story right from the start of his childhood years of misery in Aberdeen, Washington where he was a child of divorce (a rarity of the time) through to the bullying at school before the struggles and ultimate success of the band, this is the classic and time often told story of a tortured genius.

But Morgen chooses to use audio recordings from Cobain come vividly to life with animation, a move that borders on genuinely inspirational.  Animations in the style of Waking Life / Waltz With Bashir flesh out the past, leap off the screen and bring to life what could have simply been dry talking heads. Morgen also opts for a very small number of interviewees (no Dave Grohl though)  - including Cobain's first girlfriend who's never spoken before - which lends further intimacy to the proceedings (though it would have been beneficial to have heard more from Cobain Sr) and means the usual spouting talking heads who've been so outspoken on Cobain are kept quiet.

Pulling together footage from the band's early days through to Cobain's bizarre performance at the Reading Festival where he emerged in a wheelchair, the music is front and centre, guaranteed to give any Nirvana fan the aural thrill they seek.

The exhaustive nature of the doco and the wealth of material occasionally means that Morgen's direction sometimes feels a little overwhelmed, but the narrative thread is nicely woven through; however, it hits a minor stumbling block with a lag at about 90 minutes which is a surprise. Then home video footage from Kurt and Courtney's drug-addled time in their apartment stuns you into realising what was happening to the rocker and it's captivating in its weirdness as the pair loll around like Sid and Nancy before a damning Vanity Fair article takes aim.

Confessions from Love of a potential near-miss affair add new light to Cobain's first suicide attempt and a long bow is drawn to an inference that Cobain's fear of humiliation could have led to suicide (an implication that could have been probed further), but there's never any vilification here of any parties, merely an access to all the materials to help you draw your own conclusions. Eqaully, footage of a clearly drug-addled Cobain with his daughter Frances Bean is upsetting and harrowing, a sign that a father was losing his way.

With the lights out, it's no less dangerous - and Cobain: Montage of Heck, which will become the bar to which all future musical documentaries will be held up, certainly does entertain us. Perhaps in ways that really almost feel a little too close to the subject.

Cobain: Montage of Heck (based on a title from a mixtape Morgen found) is both exhaustive and exhausting (it could have stood to lose maybe 20 minutes) but it's a raw, unflinching, surprisingly intimate portrait of a hyper-sensitive artist and an unwilling spokesman for a generation, who will find new fans some 20 years after his death.


Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China Review

 Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China Review

Developed by Climax Studios
Platform: PS4

The Assassins' Creed series gets a much needed step away from its usual format with an unusual first release in what will ultimately amount to a trilogy.

It's also the first of the franchise to feature a female lead in its 2.5D release and one which will see you either hating - or loving - the aesthetics of the game.

You play Shao Jun in 1526, during the downfall of the Ming Dynasty. With the brotherhood of assassins despatched, it's up to you to wreak vengeance and restore order to China from the shadows and from upon high or low.

Predominantly,  Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is a lot about sneaking around and killing from a distance rather than outright combat. Shao has only a few bars of health, and despite the ability to leap free like a very flighty thing, when it comes to fighting, she's somewhat easily despatched, even with swords and knives to use.

So, it's a lot of skulking which makes  Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China the game that it is - and it suffers a little for it unfortunately. Also suffering is the story-telling and character as all you're doing is moving from location to location, trying to complete tasks, earning Assassin's Gold (your way of levelling up) by completing jobs in the best possible outcome (ie not a lot of combat) and moving to the next location. It's all very reminiscent of Counterspy which was released earlier last year and sees a spy infiltrating Russian locales trying to defuse bombs and save the day.

But it's not to say that it's not eminently playable, more that it's a frustrating occasion. Saves don't always seem to work, meaning you can complete a task, do what needs to be done, move on and die - and suddenly, you have to do it all again. It's time constraining, annoying and irritating to retrace some of your trickier steps to make it all happen again.

Anything but stealth alerts a series of guards (a countdown clock to alert comes up if you're discovered) and creates more trouble than it's worth; so combat is really quite limited. Equally, your ability to carry only a couple of weapons (no more than 2) is a niggle as well, causing you to have to think laterally to solve tasks.

Being graded at the end of each section helps you know what to achieve, but also points out the problematic nature of anything but stealth; points are docked for dead bodies being discovered - which I suppose is in keeping with the Assassin's nature.

But it's graphically that the game looks impressive.

From its side-scrolling which won't set the world alight, there's a lot been brought to bear in the feel of the game, which looks like an ancient Chinese scroll, complete with gorgeous paint brush swishes and blood red palettes. It's visually gorgeous and well in keeping with the actual world within. As you move between worlds, the next gen elements of the PS4 come to life, making it feel like a diaorama that's opening out for you to enjoy and be amazed at. Occasionally, with the platforming nature of it all, and the back and forth flatness in places, it does feel a little iOS and suited to a small screen, so it's not all perfect.

All in all,  Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is a good solid start to the spin off series. While it does feel like a DLC rather than a full-on game (even though it has a reduced price), it remains to be seen if the next two titles bring the series together in a surprising way.


Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 trailer

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is a dark, gritty future where a new breed of Black Ops soldier emerges and the lines are blurred between our own humanity and the cutting-edge military robotics that define the future of combat.

Call of Duty Black Ops 3 drops November 6th.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Paddington: Blu Ray Review

Paddington: Blu Ray Review

Rating: G
Released by Sony Home Ent

Marmalade sandwiches, an inquisitive nature and a duffle coat.

These are the quintessentials of Paddington Bear, a quintessentially English story from Michael Bond that's been updated for the big screen for 2015.

James Bond's Q aka Ben Whishaw is the voice of the bear, who's forced to abandon darkest Peru after an earthquake destroys the home where he lives with his aunt and uncle. Having been discovered years ago by a quintessentially English explorer, Paddington's been imbued with a love of all things English and believes that's where his future lies.

Abandoned at Paddington station (the metaphor for the displaced children of World War II freshly ensconced in your mind), the bear finds solace with the Brown family - its soft matriarch (Sally Hawkins, in endearing form) and its rather unimpressed patriarch (Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville in frowningly frumpy mode).

But within hours of arriving in London, Paddington catches the eye of Millicent (an icy and somewhat wooden Nicole Kidman) who's got plans for this little bear...

Paddington loses some of the sweet sophistication that blessed the books and the 1970s TV series narrated by Michael Horden in its transition to the 21st Century. In one scene in a bathroom the bear goes into full-on comedy scapegoat that would have been blessed with naivety back then but is now a series of CGI silliness aimed squarely at the youngsters.

It's a shame because King's uses some truly stunning directorial flourishes to great effect - in one, to illustrate the passing of time the Brown's downstairs is decorated with trees and blossom on their walls which wafts away leaving winter-time branches. Elsewhere Paddington watches a black and white film of his home and walks into the image, meshing with the Peruvian rainforests. These are truly remarkable touches in an otherwise relatively normal film.

The much-derided innuendo that caused an uproar in the UK smacks merely of traditional pantomime and seems a trite accusation to level at it.

Whishaw proves the perfect casting choice for the bear with his vocals mixing up innocence, childish naivety and misunderstanding that may have stood out more with the original choice ofColin Firth who consciously uncoupled from the movie. Equally Bonneville channels the usual depiction of an uptight Londoner in a city which always rains but somehow looks beautiful in the continual cinematic stereotyping of the capital, but he's likeable enough.

However, Kidman's icy wooden presence is an unwelcome addition to the bland family movie - while there has to be a villain in this origin story, she sticks out like a sore thumb thanks to some awful writing and lack of anything. Certainly, the denouement at the British museum feels formulaic and betrays some of the sparkle of what goes before.

Overall, this new Paddington may offend some fans of the original series and its innocent ways, but there's a reverence to the source material and a pleasant warmth in this unmistakably British bland flick that will ensure it's the go-to-movie for families over the holiday period.


Sunday, 26 April 2015

God Help The Girl: DVD Review

God Help The Girl: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Ent

A crowd-funded musical about a depressed girl struggling to get her life back on track sounds on paper like a good idea.

In practice, the movie God Help the Girl comes across as a bubblegum mix of whimsical fey. Every scene is like a perfectly choreographed music video, with characters being somewhat secondary to the story.

Emily Browning is the strongest link in this cinematic chain as Eve, who's undergoing treatment in Glasgow, but who escapes to gigs through a window at her hospital. One day she meets James (a weedy Olly Alexander) a guitar player who's without a band and real inspiration. They decide to start playing and writing together, co-opting a third member, Cassie (Hannah Murray) a student of James' who's bored, rich and able to do whatever she wants.

Together, the trio make music and try to negotiate one summer of burgeoning romance, music and life.

God Help The Girl is a hard film to love if you're pre-disposed to be a cynic or not perhaps a hipster.

While Emily Browning is radiant as the lead sad sallow faced Eve, the consciously quirky and infectious music proves somewhat of an irritant and too much of a light hearted distraction throughout.

Directed by Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian, with songs he wrote for the film, is partially the problem; way too close to the material and with an eye for a perfect pop blast and musical interlude, his narrative stumbles as Eve sings and dances her way through life's major issues from beginning to end. An entirely predictable sub-plot sees James fall for Eve and then watch her croon her love for others and end up with them. Therapy happens by way of musical interlude time and time again - and unfortunately, the cumulative effect proves to be more asphyxiating than intoxicating.

The whole effect is like a musical Michel Gondry, with Murdoch infusing so much of everything on the screen with music that despite the colourful interludes, it just feels all a little too much unless you're that way inclined.

It's perfectly pleasant blast of musical escapism and a mix of happy / sad that's a perfect accoutrement to Belle and Sebastian's musical folksy-ness - but it just wasn't for me, thanks to weak characters and a conceit that was too in your face rather than a little bit more subtle. 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Two Night Stand: Blu Ray Review

Two Night Stand: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

Pairing together two of the hottest young actors at the moment, Miles Teller and Analeigh Tipton, this rom-com offers a bit more than you'd perhaps expect.

Tipton plays Megan a frustrated single who joins a dating website and ends up meeting Teller's Alec and sharing a connection. But after a one-night stand the duo ends up trapped in the Alec's apartment when a snow storm hits.

But the snow storm could have more than just a few implications for the duo.

Initially pacy and zingy, Two Night Stand ends up losing its way as the truth comes out; Teller and Tipton make an engaging couple but the film just isn't up to par with them. Cyber dating and an engaging duo make it stand out, but they struggle to keep the piece moving despite the 85 mins run time.

It may have charm and be a little quirky, Two Night Stand is guilty of squandering its promise; it could have been a smart little film about cyber one night stands but ends up being a piece that panders to the tropes of the rom com genre. A pleasant enough viewing experience with some nicely written moments, but it feels like it could so easily have been more.


Friday, 24 April 2015

Two Days, One Night: DVD Review

Two Days, One Night: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Madman Home Ent

The little mouse begins to roar in this take on redundancy in the Dardenne brothers' latest socially aware outing.

Marion Cotillard is Sandra, a worker due back after a prolonged illness, but who finds herself facing the life on the dole after the mainly faceless bosses force her co-workers to vote on her future.

The choice? A 1000 Euro bonus or Sandra to keep her job. The first ballot has gone against our downtrodden heroine, but thanks to a friend, a second ballot has been forced on a Monday morning. So, Sandra has two days to convince her co-workers to vote for her future by visiting them one by one and trying to persuade them.

So, the clock is ticking...

Two Days, One Night has a quiet power, largely thanks to the restrained and moving performance of Cotillard. With an ethos that "I don't exist", Sandra is the human face of a corporate by-product, a soldier of a social situation. But, as she gets knocked down, she gets up again with a frailty that makes you wonder how much more she can take in this take on the old quest movie.

While some of the encounters could feel a little forced as she pleads her case, everyone has their reasons for voting for the bonus - from just scraping by and staving off the demons to indulging in luxuries like a patio installation. There's no judgement placed on any of these reasons and that gives some of the power to the performance and the aching to the desperation that Sandra feels as she claws at the possibility of self-respect and self worth.

With a supportive yet insistent hubbie, Sandra's journey is more than about saving her job. It's also about regaining her own self and sense of worth in a world that's cruel and sees those struggling forced to make decisions that seem cruel and unusual punishment.

So it's sad to report that a final dramatic twist when all hope appears lost and the self-medicating Sandra is at rock bottom is a jump too far thanks to how quickly it's resolved. It's the one dramatic bum note that's sounded in this tale of a broken and beaten woman.

Final questions about how nefarious the boss has been are left unresolved and the largely faceless enemy appears too late in the piece and could provoke further debate, but Sandra's arc is the main raison d'ĂȘtre here.

Quietly moving, Two Days, One Night is a testament to Cotillard's screen presence and The Dardennes' prowess in tackling social reality in an unassuming and disarming way.


Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Dead Lands: Blu Ray Review

The Dead Lands: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Transmission Films

With praise ringing in its ears from the Toronto International Film FestivalToa Fraser's The Dead Lands hits cinemas, completing a veritable belter of a year for Kiwi fare at the multiplex.

Entirely in Te Reo, Boy and Dark Horse star James Rolleston is Hongi, a Maori chieftain's son whose witnessing of a desecration of ancient descendants by rival chief son Wirepa (Tuhaka) sparks a rift in pre-colonial times.

When Wirepa and his men attack Hongi's tribe in the night, slaughtering all the men and killing Hongi's father Tane, Hongi swears revenge on Wirepa, despite not being fully versed in the ways of the warrior. Hongi sets out to get his vengeance, and with Wirepa crossing the abandoned Dead Lands, he sees his chance to use the spirits of the land and the ancient ways of the warrior to achieve victory.

In among the lush, verdant land so beautifully captured by Fraser and his team, there's a potent mix of spirituality and brutality on show in The Dead Lands.

Rolleston cements his place as a national treasure by pulling in a performance that's a subtle blend of ferocious anger during the quick cut fight scenes and sensitively scared maudlin boy on a coming-of-age journey, teetering on the verge of manhood. Equally, Makoare as the Monster in the Dead Lands is also a frightening presence, a reminder of the simmering rage and yet sadness that lurks in the violence of the past within this taniwha.

But it's Fraser who's the real star of this piece, for pulling together an epic genre film that blends martial arts style fight scenes that spit over with brutality, spirituality, Greek tragedy (via Wirepa's hubris - which is cunningly subverted at the end), 80s action movies (quick zoom ins, an atmospheric synthesiser score from Don McGlashan) and full on te reo. The soundscape's also impressive too, with bone-crunching fight scenes sizzling among the violence of this old fashioned revenge flick.

The te reo is also a masterstroke, with the colourful enunciations delivering an evocatively emotional edge to the spiky dialect and dialogue when practically spat by some of the cast - it's a touch which wouldn't have worked as well were it in English or dubbed.

Presence is key here and Fraser crackles with it with his cast and behind the camera, even as the vengeance story goes on - and leads to a finale that somewhat lacks in final act showdown showmanship after plenty of posturing has filled out the screenplay and screen time. (And given that the haka is more menacing here than on any rugby field)

It's an interesting end where Fraser looks to bridge the violence that's gone on previously and has so wrecked Hongi's life and other tribes with the signs of a dawning of a new sensitivity in the dawning of a new age. Perhaps, a more mature response to what's gone on before.

The Dead Lands proves to be creatively fertile ground for New Zealand cinema in a year that's been unprecedented for Kiwi product - and a sign that when required, we can offer an unique spin on events.


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Film Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Film Review

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, James Spader, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Elisabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner
Director: Joss Whedon

Peace in our time, existential angst and a lot of setting up for Phase 3 of Marvel's Cinematic Universe are the big issues explored in the latest Avengers' movie, helmed by Joss Whedon.

Following on from events in Manhattan where the Chitauri invaded under Loki's malevolence, the film begins with a raid on a fortress to secure Loki's Sceptre.

But when Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark and his hubris tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program by using the tech from the sceptre, things go badly awry, birthing the villainous Ultron (James Spader) and threatening the safety of the universe due to his malign God complex.

Foregoing his usual style of quippiness and ditching his lighter touch in favour of a darker psychological movie with character in amid the chaos, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron strives to make the superhuman gang a little more exposed to their human foibles with the introduction of fan-fave, the insidious and devious Ultron (brilliantly brought to life by James Spader, whose tones swing between outright disdain and anger at a moment's notice).

In fact, the whole movie feels darker and broodier in tone to previous outings, with more emphasis on the relationships and the human scale of the team providing the, at times, underdeveloped drama.

From the fractious dynamic of the apple pie Captain America squaring off against the cocky and cocksure Tony Stark to the burgeoning will they / won't they of Romanov and Banner's Beauty and The Beast relationship - and a surprising turn of events for Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye (who was a relative blank slate in the previous film). New additions to the fold include Aaron Taylor-Johnson's lightning fast Quicksilver and Elisabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch, who both harbour a resentment and connection to Stark's military past.

This mournful movie isn't perfect though it has to be said; at times, Whedon feels constrained from his customary quip and wit - and the one inclusion of it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Equally the film's "Coulson moment" lacks the resonance of the first time around in The Avengers, even if it does come with a self-referential line for the character involved. A scene where Hulk and Iron Man go at it reeks of 9/11 allusions, right down to the dust and cuts on victims' faces and it packs a power that's nervously divisive. It feels as if ironically Whedon is more a puppet within the road map that Marvel's laid out rather than free-wheeling.

In fact, I'd go as far as to say this doesn't feel like Joss Whedon film in many ways (which, I admit, I respect it for).

There's a quiet dissonance throughout the at times dour The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, a feeling of endings and of set up for pay-offs further down the franchise, which may lead some to feel latest Avengers' film isn't quite the air-punching blockbuster and calibre of the first, with some probably feeling a little too much time is given to semantics and discussion about whether you should or shouldn't enact the Avengers' equivalent of the Patriot Act as well as delaying pay-off until the ominously titled Captain America 3- Civil War.

Still, at least Marvel's offered up an old school good guys vs the bad guy scenario in this transitional piece rather than the usual Infinity Stone MacGuffin fuelling the action (but still rely on the same style endings as befits all their films); there are some impressive action sequences and the usual space to let them breathe; and the end where the broken team reacts to their own ideologies, their fracturing and a different future is mapped out is an intriguing one.

Avengers: Age of Ultron will still be incredibly popular, though I suspect this darker, more introspective and slightly over-long piece won't be raved about in the same breath as the previous entry, but it may serve a long tail life; it's a film to be appreciated and applauded for Whedon's refusal to repeat the formula the second time around and proffers up a tantalising, if not entirely gripping or engaging, peek at what lies ahead for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


First Born To Dance trailer drops

First Born To Dance trailer drops

New Zealand shot Born To Dance has just released its first trailer.

With choreography by Parris Goebel,  and Stan Walker starring, it looks as if it could rival the Step UP series when it releases.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Ground We Won: Film Review

The Ground We Won: Film Review

Director: Christopher Pryor, Miriam Smith

Life goes on.

It's an adage that two moments chiefly evoke in The Ground We Won and a reminder that come hell or high water, on and off the field, the cows still need milking - or delivering.

New Zealand's two chief exports - farming and rugby - get the once over in this new doco which premiered to crowd-pleasing warmth at the Autumn Events and is likely to steal the hearts of both the heartland and abroad.

Husband and wife film-makers Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smith, the self-confessed naive townies who made How Far Is Heaven, head to Bay of Plenty community Reporoa to document a community, their obsession with rugby and the life lessons that we draw parallels from.

Shot evocatively in black and white, and bathing the whole thing in a kind of mystical feel, The Ground We Won is likely to win many admirers (and potentially a few side observations and detractors about the drinking culture within sport) as it follows the team and their quest to remain unbeaten (and friends) in a season back in 2013.

But by focusing on three guys of differing age levels of the team, Pryor and Smith tell us more about a community and the bonds that maketh a man than any simple sports underdog doco ever could.

There's 17 year old Peanut, complete with scar on his chin, who's determined to win the Young Farmer Fight for Life scrap he's in as well as the respect of his team-mates; there's Broomy, the captain and the man who's worrying over how any on-field injuries could impact his running of the farm and force his parents into action; and finally, there's Kelvin, the undoubted star of the piece, a single dad of two adorably cute 7-year-old rugby obsessed boys, who's juggling coaching a kids' team, running the farm and the homestead with a "She'll be right" attitude from the dawn of the day through to the end of the night. (His attitude to getting spoons for yoghurts for the kids' school is to re-use the McFlurry ones from the back of the ute and just to wash them being one of the pearls of wisdom that any Kiwi male will silently but gratefully acknowledge). All of these guys are destined for cinematic fame and the annals of Kiwi blokedom.

There are others in the team, but Pryor and Smith choose not to label them on screen (and the three above as well), which is an interesting narrative choice, but makes the audience work to engage. But it's a clever move which pays off as the reward is an incredibly emotional one and one which reaps the dividends it so rightly deserves as the final furlong nears.

With banter that borders on a mix of continually self-effacing, mocking and what happens when lads get together over a few drinks, there's certainly something for everyone to associate with and engage at every level.

Pryor and Smith wisely realise the draw of this verite piece isn't whether the team wins, or if Peanut triumphs in his boxing and quest to get the ladies or Thomas' attempts to coach the youngsters, but that the true strength and worth comes from the way these guys react to what everyday life presents them with - and by extension, us too.

A morning after calf delivery for Broomy is the reality of a hang-over, using cable to hoist a newborn into the world without losing his lunch. It's moments like these which define us as a people, a nation or a bloody good-fulla.

Equally, the black and white cinematography drenches Reporoa in a blanket of beauty; mist hangs in the air, training takes place in complete fog and the decision to turn things so sparse, gives the film a timelessly haunting quality that's complemented by David Long's sparse OST.

Less a celebration of the drinking culture within sport (though questions will linger), The Ground We Won is an inspiration, an exploration of what makes Kiwi men tick and what binds together communities - no matter what your personal opinion is, every one of these men in their daily lives is an inspiration, proof that no matter what kind of person you are on the field, it's how you live your life and respect others around that matters first and foremost. All of those underlying foundations of life are celebrated as the group congregates in their church of their dressing room.

Pryor and Smith have mined our two national obsessions to maximum effect; it's an intimate and unobtrusive movie, but one that says more about the life that matters most than any doco has done before. The Kiwi male may forever be under scrutiny, but thanks to this paean to the most testosterone-fuelled and quintessential way of life on and off the pitch, it's in very rude health.


Latest Jurassic World trailer

Latest Jurassic World trailer

The latest full length look at Jurassic World starring Chris Pratt has just dropped.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Testament of Youth: Film Review

Testament of Youth: Film Review

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harrington, Colin Morgan, Taron Egerton, Dominic West, Miranda Richardson, Emily Watson
Director: James Kent

The spectre and horrors of the first World War hang heavy in this adaptation of the iconic memoir of Vera Brittain which opens in time for ANZAC commemorations.

A powerful and tenacious Alicia Vikander stars as Brittain, who in the months leading to the outbreak of war, is waging her own fight to be allowed to sit the Oxford entrance exam against the wishes of her father.

Orbiting her quest for intellectual stimulation are her brother Edward (Kingsman: The Secret Service star Egerton), long time crush Victor (Merlin star Colin Morgan) and potential love interest, sensitive Roland (Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington aka Jon Snow).

As Brittain forms a relationship with Roland through a shared love of poetry across the miles, war breaks out and the effect on a generation is nothing short of seismic. But through it all, Brittain fights for her place in the world, her right to be on the battlefields and her grief at the terrible losses she suffers.

Testament Of Youth is a strong, poignant piece that shirks none of the responsibility of showing the true horrors of war on the young; stiff British upper lips quiver in the face of conscription and Kent does a sensitive job of using small moments to convey the naievete and horror in equal measure.

A tremendous Vikander outshines most on screen, imbuing her Battle of Brittain with an emotional depth and resonance from the outset, even if the script threatens to sideline such strengths. While the initial petulance and settling of Brittain into a Blue Stocking, looking for nothing more in life than a husband seems to clash with her headstrong desire to be educated and yet also be one of the boys, sections which turn her into a hopeful romantic rankle, seemingly at odds with all that's gone before and threatening to turn our heroine into a simpering girl whose only purpose in life is to conform to the social mores.

Those feelings are only compounded by the amount of screen time given to the relationship with a particularly insipid and wet Harrington as Roland, which threatens to derail the whole thing, rather than providing the strong emotional touchstone needed for the film.

In fact, Testament of Youth is a much better piece when it heads to the fields of France and leaves the aloof and dreary romance behind, and stops desperately from trying to make you connect to the star crossed lovers.

The true appalling consequences of war and human nature are laid bare in the warzone that Brittain experienced first hand emotionally and personally. It's here the cameras don't shy from the drab wet conditions, so clogged in mud and blood and lay bare the wounded, the wailing and the frightened. The film gathers its strength from its final third and it's here really that the film grips on the heartstrings.

Sadly though, the final sections see a sudden shift to pacifism that comes from left-field; granted, Brittain's seen more than her fair share of horror but the move doesn't work as well, due to the lack of connection to a weak wet romance and a cold emotionless series of scenes, which is a real shame.

While Testament of Youth looks beautiful and benefits from Vikander's presence, its central message is somewhat muddled and it loses the power that it should really pack given its material.


New Fantastic Four trailer is here

New Fantastic Four trailer is here

The new trailer for Fantastic Four by Josh Trank has just dropped.

Take a look at the Fantastic Four trailer.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Love, Rosie: Blu Ray Review

Love, Rosie: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Ent

From the "One time this lead would have been played by Hugh Grant" file comes this latest Brit romantic comedy, based on the Cecilia Ahern book, Where Rainbows End.

Alex (Sam Claflin) and Rosie (Lily Collins) have been best friends since they were 5 years old, but on Rosie's 18th birthday, a drunken kiss changes everything between them. Orbiting a will-they, won't-they trajectory, life and other loves find a way of setting their trajectories on other paths...

Love, Rosie follows the well-worn path of most romantic comedies; a pair of winsome leads, who try to generate chemistry by lots of stolen glances, aching near-lingering kisses and the fluffiest of situations.

It begins at a wedding with Collins' Rosie teetering on heartbreak and winds its way back through the most predictable and bland narrative fare you'd expect from the author of tear-jerker PS I Love You.

That's not to say there aren't some moments when the youthful exuberance and absurdly comic situations manage to slightly defy your expectations (Rosie's loss of her virginity providing some much needed comedy early on before the sappiness sets in), but this entirely saccharine movie knows exactly how it wants to play you and your emotions from the schmaltz-laden get go.

Claflin channels some Hugh Grantisms and looks like a dead ringer for Kris Marshall in places; but, like Collins, is blandly inoffensive as he negotiates the back and forth of marriages, mistakes and mis-timings. In among the occasional screwball interludes and saccharine minefield of babies guaranteed to get certain sections of the female audience cooing, there's the feeling that it's all too familiar to really stand out in the pantheon of rom-coms.

That, coupled with the fact that the peripherary characters that come in and out of our protagonists' orbit are so badly underwritten and cliched (probably a fault of the source material) that they never feel like a real threat or choice to Alex and Rosie's life decisions, means that Love, Rosie is as bland a romcom offering as you'd expect.

It's all perfectly pleasant and will hit its core audience squarely and perfectly, but I can't help shake the nagging feeling that it's not as sophisticated or as smart as rom-coms used to be back in the day...


Newstalk ZB Review - Talking movies with Jack Tame

Newstalk ZB Review - Talking movies with Jack Tame

It's a quiet release week this week on the big screen but that didn't mean there was a lack of small screen entertainment.

This week on Saturdays with Jack Tame, I had a chat over Nightcrawler, Big Hero 6 and Alexander and the terribly long title.

Take a listen below:

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: Blu Ray Review

Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: Blu Ray Review

Rating: G
Released by SonyHome Ent/ Disney DVD

Disney fires off a school hols cannon shot in the form of Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, a safe, relatively inoffensive piece of family fare.

Predicated on the idea that Alexander (a lispy Aussie Oxenbould) is always having bad days, while his family's life is going to perfection.

His mom (an uptight And underused Jennifer Garner) is on the verge of scoring a VP role with a book launch, his stay-at-home dad is about to score a much-needed job interview, his brother Anthony (an Alan Ruckish Dylan Minnette) is about to take his driving test and take his girl to the prom and his sister is about to storm the stage as the star of Peter Pan.

Whereas the Aussie-obsessed Alexander is feeling neglected since a baby was born into the brood, rejected as his birthday party is happening at the same time as a popular kid and is struggling to vocalise his feelings to his school crush.

On his 12th birthday, he makes a wish they'd all have a bad day like him...

Which, of course, this being a Disney comedy about family and values, they subsequently do.

Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day does exactly what it sets out to do and makes the journey along the way a relatively pleasant one to endure.

With some silly laughs for the kids and a couple of adult-only zingers, as well as Dick van Dyke making a cameo, it's all fairly safe family fare that never deviates into dangerous territory or is in danger of having parents dive for to cover their children's ears.

Carell provides the laughs in his usual deadpan and nonsensical way and while the kids aren't overly cute moppets with perfection in range, they are perfectly relatable and watchable in this relatively toothless family comedy which doesn't outstay its welcome with a zippy run time.

Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day won't be the biggest Christmas hit here from the studio (that accolade's likely to go to the animated Big Hero 6) but it is a timely reminder as we head into the holidays of the power of family pulling together and the fact that no good, very bad, horrible days sometimes pan out quite well if you stay positive.


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