Saturday, 31 December 2016

Red Dog: True Blue: Film Review

Red Dog: True Blue: Film Review

Cast: Jason Isaacs, Levi Miller
Director: Kriv Stenders

Five years ago, a truly Aussie shaggy dog story took the family box office by storm.

Red Dog, complete with its canine star and capturing of the ocker Aussie sensibility, managed to reel in audiences of animal lovers and family film lovers apiece with its tale of a dog uniting a township and getting to the heart of what it means to be an Aussie.

So, some five years later, it's no surprise that a sequel, nay a prequel that meshes the story within a story ethos is being dispatched on the family summertime box office as an antidote for the end of the year cynicism that hits.

Wrapped up in nostalgia, this is the story of Blue, the Kelpie, and Mick (Miller in flashbacks and Isaacs in current day, a father who's become work-obsessed and forgotten how to have fun). Sent to his grandfather's station in the Outback due to his mother being locked in a hospital, Mick struggles to find his place. But when a puppy literally falls from the sky after a cyclone hits, Mick's friendship with his dog grows.

However, when a girl called Betty (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) ends up at the station, upending all the boys' lives, Mick finds his own coming of age arriving quicker than expected.

Swathed in nostalgia and Aussie characters, Red Dog True Blue may lack the heart and emotional connection of the first film as it pursues its one boy and his dog's adventures ethos into Saturday matinee territory.

Complete with some truly stunning countryside shots from the Pilbara deserts, Red Dog True Blue is in many ways an old school film that's blessed by solid performances. Brown, as the grandfather, is the gruff heart of proceedings and generates more warmth and empathy than you'd expect - and Miller's solid, if unspectacular, as the young Mick struggling to avoid being upstaged by the dog.

With an episodic feel, some spiritual leanings thrown in and some bush fires for drama, this tale of love and coming of age down on the farm may lack some of the first's immediate charm, but there's no doubting it'll find a younger family audience to embrace, thanks to the antics of Blue.

It may not be a memorable family film in the way the first set hearts and box office alight, but Red Dog True Blue's warmth and fuzziness may prove to be the ideal antidote for those seeking a feelgood flick to start 2017 off with.

Friday, 30 December 2016

The Secret Life Of Pets: DVD Review

The Secret Life Of Pets: DVD Review

It's the eternal question of every pet owner - what do your animals do during the day while you're out?

While the reality is potentially a tad dull (clever money is on sleeping and eating), animation house Illumination's The Secret Life Of Pets posits the theory that they have great adventures.

Set in New York, it's the story of terrier Max (Louis CK), who believes he's the luckiest dog in the city, thanks to the bond he shares with his owner Katie. But when Katie brings home a new dog in the form of Duke (Modern Family star Eric Stonestreet), Max finds his world upended. Determined to be top dog, Max tries to lose Duke on the streets; however, it goes wrong when the duo lose their collars and end up in the grips of animal control...

Essentially as light and fluffy as the animals within, The Secret Life Of Pets is a fairly safe, solid bet for some family entertainment at the movies.

If you're after deep emotional connection with the furries on display here a la The Incredible Journey, then you're looking in the wrong place.

Packed full of sight gags, some cinematic references and a gratuitous plug for upcoming Illumination flick Sing (seriously, subtle is not the place for Illumination) The Secret Life Of Petsis a singular story stretched a little thin in parts across New York and Brooklyn, but still likely to amuse its core audience.

While the dogs have it ruff (sorry) in the film, and there are elements of Toy Story / only child syndrome at play here, the focus is solely on providing visual gags, some laughs and a degree of insight into pet owners and their pride and joy.

Leading large parts of the laughs is a psycho bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) the leader of the Flushed Pets, a group of abandoned animals. For once Hart's OTT delivery and lunatic edges are perfectly suited to the white ball of fluff on the screen.

While some may cry there could have been a touch more innovation in the story (it's a tried and tested formula complete with tragic back-story for the abandoned animals) and that the film wears its influences on its sleeve (an Alien gag, a Lost World cracking windscreen, Puss in Boots cute eyes, some Looney Tunes moments), The Secret Life Of Pets proffers up as fun and fluffy a piece of entertainment as the cast of critters within.

Granted, it's instantly forgettable as it races through its zany pace and some of the best gags were spooled out in the trailer that showed the animals kicking back when the owners leave, but The Secret Life Of Pets is a furry family sized piece of entertainment that won't melt your heart with its emotional journey, but will see you leaving the cinema with a renewed fervour for your own animals.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Rogue One - A Star Wars Story - He Said She Said Review

Rogue One - A Star Wars Story - He Said She Said Review

Here's the very latest episode of He Said, She Said, as we take a look at Rogue One - A Star Wars Story!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison Of Belief: DVD Review

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison Of Belief: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Madman Home Ent

Unlike Louis Theroux's recent My Scientology Movie, Alex Gibney's rich and rabbit-hole worthy extensive doco is very much a definitive look into the world of Scientology.

Clocking in at under 2 hours and still feeling like there's further echelons for it to explore, Gibney's approach is a lot of talking heads and talking to those directly affected by the Church's behaviour. Using testimonials, Gibney's knitted together a film that really does show the heart-breaking effect that some of the bullying and alienation techniques have had.

Using footage from their galas and a fairly damning expose of why Cruise is held in such high esteem by the Church, the film's ferocity is in its straight down the line, smart reporting. There's never a feeling that Gibney is following an agenda and a desire to take the Church down, and it's refreshing.

Ultimately, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison Of Belief is perhaps the perfect documentary; smart, intelligent and expertly crafted, it's hard to see anyone being anything other than horrified as it plays out.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Everybody Wants Some!!: DVD Review

Everybody Wants Some!!: DVD Review

If Linklater's Boyhood was the tortured route to adolescence made magnificent by its 150 minute canvas, Everybody Wants Some!! is the tonal antithesis, a tacit recognition that the good times do eventually come.

It's 1980s Austin and the weekend before college classes first begin. It's a time of infinite possibility, of freedom and as the very first scene sets out, of music.

The film follows freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) as he joins the baseball team ready for his first year of classes, boozing and bro-ing. Set over the first weekend before it all kicks in, it's a hedonistic 72 hours of trying to fit in, finding your place and falling in love, all against a nostalgic backdrop of disco bars, endless bongs and beers and typical jostling competitive jockeying chat.

But before you dismiss Richard Linklater's latest as just another variation of Dazed and Confused, soaked in the fashions and sounds of the time, don't. This paean to male bonding, to the competitive nature of the pack and of finding your place in the world after being a hotshot at school and placed in a world full of hotshots, is a pure blast of breeziness.

While the ensemble cast are good among their horrific moustaches and paisley decked fashion gear, it's Jenner and Glenn Powell as Finn who stand out. Jenner with his fresh-faced innocence is our everyman but he never plays it goofy; and Powell is the good-time, good guy who espouses advice and is the glue that holds them all together. Sure, we have the goofball power-crazed nut in the form of Juston Street's Niles, all terrible hair and red glasses, but even he's infused with a team ethos and a desire to fit in that his character quickly goes from Napoleon Dynamite caricature to one of the gang by the end of the weekend.

As the sole girl who's not one of the endless parade of women hit on by all the guys, Zoey Deutch as an arts student that Jake falls for is a breezy charm in an auburn haired package - sweet and disarming but with an innocence that college romances are made of, her presence is a welcome bookend and with Jake's confession to his bros that he "likes her", you know these two will be college sweethearts.

But in among the banter, the discussion over booze and bongs, it's Linklater whose eye for period detail stands out. 

Whether it's the spot-on music choices (opening with the Knack's My Sharona and an open road is inspired) or the accurate detail of the arcade from its KISS pinball to its Space Invaders, every detail of this era rings reminiscent and true. However, he also injects a geniality into his protagonists and casts a humanity over them that makes the 2 hours engaging and alive - and almost has you devastated when the weekend ends and the tedium of school begins.

Everybody Wants Some!! is veritable keg party of a film that speaks to freedom of youth; granted its light and breezy narrative and broad tone may feel slight to some, but it's a tacit admission to what makes growing up's experiences so important, an autobiographical film of growing up to fit in as a bookend to Boyhood, and a film soaked in such nostalgic hues that you can't fail to be moved into memory by its antics and its ethos of being on a team among the vitality of friends as you get ready for life's curveballs. 

Monday, 26 December 2016

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates: DVD Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates: DVD Review

Loosely based on the antics of real-life brothers Dave and Mike Stangle, who placed an online ad in Craigslist, this raunchy comedy knows exactly what it wants to do - and manages to achieve it without any level of class or originality.

Wedding Crashers for the next generation it may aspire to be - but be assured, it ain't.

Efron (straight-laced) and Devine (hyperactive, bordering on severely irritating) are Dave and Mike respectively, who have a habit of boorish behaviour and going too far damaging family celebrations. With their younger sister's marriage on the horizon, Mike and Dave are ordered to get respectable dates to the big day, to ensure everything goes to plan.

So placing an online ad, the duo meets plenty of prospective plus ones. But striking out, they come across Alice and Tatiana (Kendrick playing ditzy and Plaza playing trademark deadpan with an edge of sassiness) who appear on the surface to be nice safe girls.

However, it turns out the girls are even worse than the boys....will the big day go ahead?

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is the kind of raunchy, crass, brain-dead frat boy party antics flick that is the very definition of leaving your brain at the door and ensuring you have a skinful before you sit down to watch it.

It also comes with the caveat that you have to be puerile in your acceptance and outlook as well to fully appreciate and get on board with the humour.

While Efron and Kendrick downplay their respective roles after initially ratcheting up the goofy unlikeable factor early on, Devine threatens to derail the whole thing with an OTT turn that borders on severely irritating thanks to gurning, screeching and generally being as dumb as is humanly possible.

It's great to see Kendrick playing off type, and Plaza clearly has a deadpan blast, but none of these are unforgettable characters and while the bro-ing of all of them (is the female equivalent a bra-mance?) is a nice touch in terms of ladies can do it too, the whole thing feels dumber than a bag of spanners.

There's a kernel of a nice story waiting in the wings (one laments late on in the piece as the inevitable schmaltz sets in that they thought they were destined for great things but have never achieved anything) but it's sacrificed in favour of some relatively forgettable set pieces that linger as long as the lights are down in the cinema, before disappearing in the haze of reality.

Vulgarity is the order of the day and Szymanski never sets his sights above that, but what would you expect from the writers of the Bad Neighbours series? However, there are arguments that it doesn't go far enough.

There's an over-riding sense of repetition to get the point across, and while Kumail Nanjiani of Silicon Valley delivers some of the best moments of the film in a brief cameo, the obligatory out-takes show more fun was being had than what was being recorded.

All in all, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates does exactly what you'd expect.

But if you're looking for something that will be added to the pantheon of R-rated films like Bridesmaids and The Hangover for the millennials, this is totally forgettable, utterly disposable and ultimately a dimwit escapade that goes nowhere fast but will sadly satiate a portion of the box office audience.

(Oh, and is it now obligatory in any Zac Efron film that he needs to remove his shirt?) 

Sunday, 25 December 2016

David Brent: Life On The Road: DVD Review

David Brent: Life On The Road: DVD Review

Over a decade after the conclusion of the UK version of The Office, David Brent remains a comic icon.

Mining both tragedy and pathos in equal measure, as well as rolling in the awkwardness plied on with a trowel at times, Ricky Gervais' hapless and hopeless office manager returns in another road movie mockumentary outing.

Now, Brent's still a rep, selling cleaning wares as well as tampons, and still harbouring a dream of making it in the rock'n'roll world. So, cashing in both his holiday and a selection of pensions, Brent pours his heart, soul and money into a tour with his band Foregone Conclusion, taking along with him some session musicians and a rapper Dom Johnson, his token black friend.

Following a patented formula of sideways awkward glances at the camera and walking the line between non-PC and a few moments too late self-censoring, Gervais' Brent has not changed much. And as such the film feels like another extended episode of the sitcom that goes on a little too long and has some of the cringe factor stretched a little too thin throughout, despite the obvious pathos lurking in the wings.

But mining deeper into Gervais' aspirations with Life On The Road (banal song lyrics aside, the toe tapping MOR tunes blasted out by Foregone Conclusion are annoyingly ear-worm worthy), it appears to be a portrait of mental illness and delusion writ large, with a few scenes painting a painful honesty and portrait of a sad and lonely man who just wants to be loved above all. With therapy and admissions of Profzac use, there are elements of the second series of Steve Coogan's I Am Alan Partridge here again to add the required level of tragedy to the character.

It has to be said though that Gervais proves winningly adept at slipping back into the role as the very English version of This Is Spinal Tap rolls out. By turning the spotlight solely on himself and eschewing the rest of the Office cronies, how you feel about David Brent will largely rest on whether you can take the cringe and awkwardness of the character and humiliations visited upon him. Gervais knows what he's doing and while another director may have reined in some of the indulgences and tightened things up, fans of The Office won't be disappointed.

Of the supporting characters, only Doc Brown's deadpan and would-rather-be-somewhere-else Dom Johnson is given any more depth to combat the incessant squirming but the rest get short shrift - without doubt this is Gervais' show and he's determined, like Brent, to get the most out of the spotlight.

In the final act, the sentiment's piled on as the veneer cracks and David Brent: Life On The Road ramshackles disappointingly into bittersweet sentiment, a frank admission and tacit nod to the British sitcoms that at the end of the day, we all just love the losers, that we don't want to see them unhappy and that if there's hope for them, then there's sure as hell hope for us.

Perhaps this at times scrappy affair is Gervais' final swansong as Brent, and while the meanness of a society that welcomes and then scorns its reality stars is occasionally touched upon, David Brent: Life On The Road is not perhaps the incisive laugh riot you'd want from such a beloved comedy character.

Less one louder and more muted comic fanfare of the commonly annoying man, this attempt at Brentertainment meanders where it could have been tighter and frustrates where it could have been sharper. 

dec 14th

Merry Christmas to you all!

Merry Christmas to you all!

Just a brief note to wish all my followers a very Merry Christmas!

May your Christmas be filled with family, fun and comforts - and if you know of others who are not in a similar situation, please take a moment to think of them, or if they happen to be nearby, pop in and say hello!

Merry Christmas to you all - and thanks for your support of my website this year - and in case you don't recognise the Raymond Briggs Snowman above, below you'll find a more well recognised movie snowman!

See you in 2017 for even more film, games, DVD and other reviews!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Passengers: Film Review

Passengers: Film Review

Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Morten Tyldum

They say in space, no-one can hear you scream.

And that's perhaps a good thing, given that Morten Tyldum's space romance has a major twist in its tail, that was unshown in trailers and leaves a nasty taste in your mouth.

Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt plays engineer Jim Preston, who's in deep sleep on board the SS Aurora along with 5,000 other passengers. When his suspended animation pod malfunctions, he wakes up in the middle of the journey with no clue why. The real kicker is that the ship won't arrive at its destination, the newer version of Earth aka Homestead II, for another 90 years, effectively condemning him to death.

Stuck alone on the ship with no human interaction - the sole character Preston has to deal with is Michael Sheen's android bartender, Preston starts to go slowly mad as the reality of the situation kicks in - and he faces a moral dilemma - wake another passenger and condemn them to the same fate or spend a lifetime alone...

With production values that really reflect the space age look to a tee, and the loneliness of space is certainly evident early on in the piece as the ship hurtles to its destination and begins to malfunction.

Tyldum uses Pratt's charisma to great effect and showcases it well, with montages of the humdrum nature of his ship bound life setting the scenes excellently. But Pratt's charisma can only go so far - and while his interactions with Sheen are brilliantly dry, smarmy and deadpan, it takes the appearance of Jennifer Lawrence to really fire the dramatic spark that's needed.

Unfortunately, that spark is somewhat dimmed by the glossing over of the moral dilemma and the creepy state of affairs as this space-set ode to Stockholm Syndrome progresses. Tyldum and the script's desire to gloss over the implications of the decision that's made by the idealistic and desperate Preston prove to be slightly fatal in the ultimate wash.

There's something here about class divides as Lawrence's Aurora is clearly a step above Preston's engineer; from the quality of breakfasts she's doled out by the automated vending machines (standing in contrast to Pratt's faceless weetbix style lumps) to the quality of life, the writers could have made more of the divide between the two, rather than playing on the easy chemistry between the pair which isn't enough to weight the story.

Complete with narrative conveniences, such as malfunctions for no real reason and a sci-fi setting that's primarily doused in soapy romance rather than sci-fact, Passengers is only just a trip worth taking because of Pratt and Lawrence. It's their interaction in the coldness of space that just about will convince the romantic dreamers of the audience.

But for a high concept film, it fails to deliver on its premise unfortunately and relies on one moment that will polarise any rational member of the audience. Not exactly a disaster, but nowhere near a success, it remains a frustrating experience.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Assassin's Creed: Film Review

Assassin's Creed: Film Review

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling
Director: Justin Kurzel

Re-teaming with MacBeth director Justin Kurzel for their second outing together, not even the star power of Fassbender and Cotillard can save the Assassin's Creed movie from being a muddled mess that's slavish to the phenomenally popular Ubisoft computer game series.

Fassbender is criminal Cal Lynch, who's summarily executed via lethal injection as the movie begins.

When he awakes, he finds himself in a room inside a shadowy cabal who are hunting for the Apple of Eden as they desperately try to wipe out violence in the world. The Abstergo group of Templars believes that holds the secret to unlocking the DNA of all life and could change the face of the Earth for the better.

Leading Cal into a machine to regress him is scientist Sofia (Cotillard in severe wig and saddled with obligatory exposition) and soon Cal finds himself back in 15th Century Spain in the body of his own ancestor, a trained Assassin.

But the further Cal goes into this world, the more the truth appears out of the shadows - is Abstergo doing the right thing?

Assassin's Creed does little to break the chain of unsuccessful video games committed to the big screen.

While the game's trademark aesthetics and nods are wrapped up in a swathe of moments that fans of the games will recognise with ease (the Leap of Faith, the building top scrabbling, the parkour and the posing post fights), non-fans may feel the cursory solid action sequences are muddied and unspectacular.

Both Fassbender and Cotillard deliver video game dialogue and explanation with little to no emotion, and Rampling, Irons and Gleeson are completely wasted in their supporting roles.

With a bombastic OST, an eagle soaring high above used repeatedly to segue between scenes, there are plenty of nods to the video game series and the centuries old fight between the Assassins and the Templars, but there's never any scope or depth delivered to the weight of the fight, other than through rote explanatory dialogue.

If anything's successful in Assassin's Creed, it's the action sequences which stop the surge of sci-fi mumbo jumbo being clinically delivered, but the more they are rolled out, the more it's a diminishing return.

Ultimately, Assassin's Creed is a C-movie with A-listers - it fails to deliver on anything in terms of spectacle and a muddied plot doesn't help things. While the Spanish setting may have delivered more depth if it had been built up more, the chop and change aesthetics and flat denouement mark it out as the first major flop of 2017. Despite its insistence on using the Leap of Faith from the games, it seems unlikely many in the audience will take the Leap of Faith needed.

Final Fantasy XV: PS4 Review

Final Fantasy XV: PS4 Review

Released by Square Enix
Platform: PS4

The most anticipated game of the year is also one of the most sprawling and open world ever unleashed onto the console generation.

Delayed and hyped beyond belief, Final Fantasy XV is definitely an experience, and despite being a game that's in its 15th iteration, it also flashes up a title card that says it's a game for Final Fantasy fans and newcomers alike.

That's one hell of a thing to claim given the breadth and depth of the fanbase, but it has to be said, that Final Fantasy XV delivers.

It's essentially a road trip, as Prince Noctis heads across Eos to catch up and marry his fiancee Lunafreya Nox Fleuret and unite the kingdoms.

Gathering his chums together, Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto, it soon becomes a bro-fest as they all hit the road. They all have personalities and it makes the time with them a real pleasure - it's the distinct personalities which have the edge and add to the game.

The rapport is central to proceedings and also to your gaming as well with Final Fantasy as the threats begin to grow. During the night, Daemons attack the gang and the fighting comes to the fore.

It's here that you feel the initial investment in the characters beginning to pay off. And with photo-realistic interpretations of the leads, it's graphically mightily impressive.

As the threats grow, and the Daemons rise, the bond between the quartet starts to strengthen and the fights become more emotionally affecting. With the ability to chain attacks together and to help your buddies when the rest of the group goes down, there's a real sense of camaraderie that plays off and plays into the strengths of the game.

From magic attacks that draw on elements to simple smash and fight, there's a need for strategy to ensure survival and you can't simply go in all guns blazing.

From driving automatic cars to dealing with the NPCs and their world, there's a lot to explore in Final Fantasy XV and while occasionally, some of the game's elements falter a little under the pretensions of it all, it helps massively that the emotional investment into the core group comes early on.

Blessed with a beautiful OST as well as teleporting in fights and using your mates, Final Fantasy XV is at its heart, an experience and one that will engage for a long time as you head to the final credits.


Thursday, 22 December 2016

The best films of 2016

The best films of 2016

In no particular order, here are my favourite films from 2016


La La Land

Hunt For the Wilderpeople

Hell or High Water

10 Cloverfield Lane


Kubo and the Two Strings

I, Daniel Blake



The Witch

Swiss Army Man

Under The Shadow


Sing Street

Train To Busan

Personal Shopper


Poi E


Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Ben-Hur: DVD Review

Ben-Hur: DVD Review

Already a critical and commercial flop abroad, the 2016 remake of Ben Hur arrives on these shores with more a whimper than a roar.

For those not au fait with the 1959 11 Oscar winning original which starred Charlton Heston, it’s the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince played by a Rufus Sewell like Jack Huston and Roman Messala, his adopted brother, played by Toby Kebbell.

When Ben-Hur takes the fall when accused of sedition and his brother does nothing to save him, Ben-Hur’s thrown on a slave ship and shipped off. But events conspire to return Ben-Hur back to the lands of Jerusalem and into a conflict and quest for revenge.

The 2016 version of Ben-Hur is already headed for a $100 million US flop at the box office and for the large part, it’s easy to understand why.

With its lack of a major star in the lead to bring some kind of presence (Freeman appears only as a dread-locked supporting player), it’s down to Huston to carry the piece, and unfortunately, he lacks any of the star presence required. His Judah is so saintly and well-intentioned, that he lacks anything other than blandness on the screen and it’s hard to care for a character whose lack of emotional range is his sole defining characteristic.

Mind you, Kebbell’s barely much better as Messala, looking for the most part like he’s simply seen the script moments before and then thrust in front of a camera. It’s no help the film spends an inordinate amount of time setting up the conflict between the two using clunky dialogue and heavy exposition as well as flashbacks to try and build the rift between the pair. 

But neither hold the dramatic heft necessary to shift away from their default Smell the Fart Friends acting philosophy setting pioneered by Joey Tribbiani. 

And matters aren’t much improved by Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus, who appears when the film needs an even more saintly presence than Judah. His first, which sees him doing carpentry in the market, slows proceedings and even veers dangerously toward guffaw-provoking territory. It’s here the film heads towards preaching a forgiveness ideology that becomes its raison d’etre as the denouement rumbles around.

If the script had spent a little more time building in some of the more moral areas needed, such as fleshing out Messala’s conflict over the family, it may have been more successful.

Instead it relies on an impressive below decks ship conflict and the inevitable chariot race to save the day. While the ships’ fracas is simply executed (though overly dark), the chariot race is a thundering creation that lacks any real emotional heft with the inclusion of other competitors who you ultimately don’t care about. Symbolism is overt with Messala riding black horses and Judah riding pure whites just in case you’re not sure who you want to win.

It’s perhaps sad the director of the excellent Night Watch film Timur Bekmambetov is attached to this – there’s little sign of any directorial flair here and the workmanlike pace coupled with undercooked script proves relatively fatal in the final wash.

The 2016 version of Ben-Hur lacks any emotional connection and while it tries for epic in places, it’s not a catastrophic mess of Biblical proportions but more of an epic fail, a chariots of dire. 
Dec 14th

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Newstalk ZB Review - Moana, Rogue One - A Star Wars Story and La La Land

Newstalk ZB Review - Moana, Rogue One - A Star Wars Story and La La Land

This week, it was Jack Tame's final show and I decided to ruin his Christmas by dropping in to see him face to face.

It was also a chance to talk Rogue One - A Star Wars Story and look at the upcoming Boxing Day Releases, Moana from Disney and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's 7 Golden Globe nominated film La La Land.

Take a listen to the final Jack Tame review of the year below.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Bad Santa 2: Film Review

Bad Santa 2: Film Review

Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Christina Hendricks, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly
Director: Mark Waters

Christmas comes every year.

And with it, there's a large portion of the world who are cynical and unimpressed as the commercial holiday kicks into gear, with its enforced jollity and OTT happiness.

The original 2003 outing of Bad Santa was the perfect antidote to the festive cheer - a crude, crass and comical caper that pitted a foul-mouthed thief and his dwarf friend against the festive season. Coupled with Terry Zwigoff's writing and Thornton's not giving a sh*t Santa, Bad Santa was near perfect holiday fodder, destined to take the shine off the saccharine season.

Unfortunately, Bad Santa 2 is the complete opposite; a piece of trashy cinema that plumbs the depths of depravity and somehow manages to mine deeper in its attempts to garner some jollies.

This time around, Billy Bob Thornton's beer-soaked Willie Soke is contacted once again by Marcus Skidmore (Cox) to help him crack open a safe with millions within. The kicker this time is that the safe is housed in a Chicago charity organisation, run by Christine Hendricks' Diane, a former alcoholic turned good. Ditching the innocent Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly, once again providing the naive simpleton approach), Sokes sets out to crack the safe and start again after being suicidal. But the kicker is that the con-job is being pioneered by his white trash estranged mother Sunny (Bates)....

Released 13 years almost to the day of the first film, Bad Santa 2 is distinctly difficult to love.

Much like its main star, who spends a disproportionate amount of time soaked in the booze, it's hard to see how anyone will get any laughs from this if they're sober. Every single punchline mines low hanging fruit and somehow manages to dig even deeper, ensuring the final outcome is a cloyingly annoying mix of depravity and puerile stupidity.

To be fair to the cast, they embrace this wholeheartedly, with Thornton once again proving to the antithesis to the normal dwellers of the red Santa suit. His deplorable and despicable antics prove fertile ground for some base jokes, but there's a real hint of tragedy about this man who can't get off unless he's called Santa and who starts the film by literally pissing on the past and trying to hang himself.

Equally prone to some kind of depression allegory is Kelly's Thurman Merman, a man-child whose outlook on life is clearly disconnected from the real world and whose eternal jollity comes naturally and provokes nervous laughter when anyone else would be calling for mental intervention.

The original wore its toxic despising of the enforced holiday period like a badge, a kind of honest heart on sleeve truth seldom acknowledged about the holiday period. This sequel, with its irritating desire to annoy with vulgar humour feels like a real let down for an attempt to follow a much-loved anti Christmas classic tradition.

Bad Santa 2 is one present under the Christmas tree that nobody cinematically will want; sure, some may get a perverse kick out of moments in its 90 minute run time, but others will want to run away as fast as their little elf legs can carry them.

Elle: Film Review

Elle: Film Review

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Virginie Efira
Director: Paul Verhoeven

Like some kind of balancing act between bleak darkness and dark humour, Paul Verhoeven’s ELLE walks a singular tightrope through the audience, caring not for the view below as it drops its extraordinary bombs.

A simply stellar Isabelle Huppert stars as Michele the head of a video game company whose life is targeted when she’s viciously sexually assaulted in her home. (A fact that Verhoeven doesn’t shy away from as he instigates the film by unleashing it right at the very beginning.)

But rather than head to the police to report the rape, Michele shockingly shuns the legal avenue (for reasons that become clearer as the film unfurls, just one of Verhoeven's strength as he concocts the cinematic web) for a bath and to simply get on with life. Verhoeven’s use of blood in bubble bath before it’s casually swept to one side by Michele is one of the film’s over-riding stark and shocking images.

With a cold laissez faire approach, Michele casually announces over dinner with some friends that she’s been assaulted; the response from one friend is to ask the waiter to hold the champagne being opened – yep, it’s Verhoeven through and through using the pristine veneer of the French language and attitude to prod and provoke his audience from the get go.

As the story progresses in Elle, you’re better off not knowing what’s due to happen, as part of the devilish delight in the film comes from the gradual teasing of details in this psychological thriller that picks at you like a cinematic scab, daring you to pull it off and delighting in the equal waves of pleasure and pain as you do so.

In this adaptation of Philippe Djian’s 2012 novel “Oh…”,  78 year old provocateur  Paul Verhoeven certainly knows how to press the buttons of those watching, and how to give the whole thing a kind of amoral sheen that’s steeped in both complexity and a twisted veneer.

Huppert helps in large parts too, making Michele a character which it’s hard to get a grip on.

On the one hand, her ordeal implies elicit sympathy for her plight, but on the other, her immediate behaviour post-event sees you unsure of where your allegiances and sympathies should lie. It helps that she’s incredibly commanding from go to woah as this disturbed journey plays out. One character tells her, “You never give anything truly of yourself” and perhaps this is the best summation of the character, thanks to a subtly nuanced turn from Huppert as the shocks and the twisted, yet empowering, scenario plays out.

Ultimately, Elle is one hell of a firecracker of a film - a cinematic amoral powderkeg that's due to explode under the weight of such provocation but whose explosion ends up in the safe hands of Paul Verhoeven. There'll be debate aplenty about what you've seen on the screen, but there'll be no debate about the performance of Isabelle Huppert and the bravura of Verhoeven.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The BFG: DVD Review

The BFG: DVD Review

Back in 1982, Roald Dahl changed the landscape of kids' books with the release of The BFG.

Along with Quentin Blake's distinctive drawings, the 208 page book went on to sell 37 million copies and seal itself into the world's collective psyche.

The film version doesn't deviate too far from the original storyline, telling of 10 year old orphan Sophie (newcomer Barnhill) and her chance encounter with the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) after she sees him one night.

Scooping her up and taking her to Giant Country to avoid being revealed, the pair form a friendship - but Sophie's in danger with other Giants of the land sniffing her out and threatening to snuff her out. Because it turns out that a series of abductions in London are all at the hands of the Giants....

The BFG is a refreshingly wondrous and lovely piece of old school film.

Which is both its strength and bizarrely, its weakness.

Spielberg's eye for visuals is indulged in this Harry Potter-esque human beans flick, that keeps the original nonsense Jar Jar Binks style language that so perpetuated the book as it dawdles on its way to its final destination. The sequence where The BFG takes Sophie out to grab dreams is truly magical, and reminiscent of the flying lights in Close Encounters. Spielberg still has an eye for the mysterious, and shrouds part of this sequence in a mist and executes it in shadows, giving it a dream-like quality that's hard to ignore.

Equally, the execution of Rylance as Quentin Blake's BFG is nothing short of eye-popping CGI wizardry, thanks to Joe Letteri and his WETA cohorts.

A mix of Rylance's features and Blake's distinctive strokes gives the character the warmth, sadness and geniality that's so inherent within, and the expressive features and subtle touches from a heartfelt Rylance convey plenty of emotion and give life to a character which has so enraptured so many.

Perhaps a slightly weaker link though is first time actor Ruby Barnhill, who comes off as a mix of both precocious and and ever so slightly irritating. She's a few directions short of pantomime at the best of times but eventually settles down into the role - even if Spielberg's determined in the final stretch to purvey a parody of a monarchy England with pomp and ceremony that was so prevalent in the 1980s. (Though admittedly there are long swathes of just talking and bonding between the BFG and Sophie in Giant Country that the story could be accused of dawdling in its slightly overlong run-time).

It's true to the book (aside from the giant invasion) so is in keeping with Dahl's original take on it all, but in the final third of the film, the intrusions of the real world prove to be more of a distraction than anything.

The evil giants, led by Jemaine Clement's Fleshlumpeater, are a mixed bag.

While the digital execution of Fleshlumpeater looks like a cross between Austin Powers' Fat Bastard and a Warcraft Orc, Clement's Ali G style London intonations give it a comically threatening edge that feel like a gangster's taken on Dungeons and Dragons. The rest of the clan aren't so well fleshed out and ultimately never feel like a threat at all (particularly given that they're deemed to be so dangerous).

There's no real danger in The BFG; it's a genuinely lovely family film that feels very much of yesteryear and its failings as a story are predominantly led by the source material.

There's something nostalgic and familiar about The BFG and something comforting about Spielberg's execution of it - whether it proves to be box office gold though in a changed landscape remains to be seen

Paterson: Film Review

Paterson: Film Review

Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani
Director: Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch's reflective and languid approach suits Adam Driver's rhythms in Paterson, a thematic companion piece to Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake in its salutations of the common man.

Driver is Paterson, a routine bus driver in the burb of Paterson, who has a daily routine. His watch wakes him around 610am daily, he eats the same breakfast, heads to work at the bus depot and finds time to write poetry before his shift and during. Heading home every day at 6, he corrects a leaning post-box that moves daily, has dinner, walks his shared bulldog Marvin and goes to the local watering hole.

So far, so familiar as Jarmusch's patented loops play out over an 8 day period. But as the days progress, small variations crop up towards the end of the week in Paterson's life - from a girlfriend whose borderline OCD and creative obsession with black and white mean each return home is random to a cataclysmic moment involving his bus.

These are the beats of Paterson, where the ordinary is celebrated and the pace is languid to prosaic. As this ode to the mundane progresses, there are visual tics and tricks that Jarmusch throws into the mix to almost test as if you are paying attention to what's transpiring as the story's more lyrical edges wax and wane with time progressing.

Throwing in a cute scene stealing dog also helps proceedings (when the deliberate pace slows a little too much) as well with Marvin the bulldog (sadly RIP now) proving to be the juxtaposition to Paterson's life in a small way to many, but devastating to the celebration of the mundane. Driver's a relatively blank canvas throughout, with his small intrusions into life being catalogued more by the outre behaviour of others - from the bus depot boss whose life is full of dramas to the dreams of his cup-cake empire dreaming partner, his calmness gives the yin to everyone's extraordinary yang.

Blessed with dry humour and quiet reflections on life, Paterson's simplicity and gorgeousness is in its execution. Its rhythms and wry humour may not be for everyone, but for those who fall for the loops of life and the idiosyncracies within, this slow celebration of the mundanities of it all works wonders. 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

War Dogs: DVD Review

War Dogs: DVD Review

Imagine if the director of The Hangover decided to do a Wolf of Wall Street via way of Goodfellas- but with a couple of gun runners instead of white collar workers..

That, in a nutshell, is War Dogs, the based-on-a-true story tale of Miles Teller's David Packouz and Jonah Hill's Efraim Diveroli. 

Reunited at a funeral in Miami Beach in 2005, the old friends strike up where they left off with David decrying his desire to leave his personal masseuse job. But he discovers that Efraim's running guns during the Iraq War and exploiting loopholes within US military contracts to his advantage.

Seeing his way out, David tells his fiancee Is (Knock Knock star Ana de Armas) that he's selling sheets to the military - and thus begins his descent into working with the devil all around the world... 

War Dogs tries to do the anti-hero thing once again, this time hoping for the blue eyes of Miles Teller as Packouz to be our conduit in in this Wolf of War Street tale.

And despite the initial energy and semi comedic vibe, the film's wheels fall off as it tries to inject some drama into proceedings, with not enough consideration or fleshing out of the characters to give it the sense of jeopardy it needs.

Throwing in a few domestic scenes with Is and David rowing seems to feel enough for Phillips to believe we're invested in David's morally ambiguous ways and his avarice, but the honest truth is it simply doesn't work well enough. And while Teller and Hill work well together, the inevitable downfall and personal split feels lacking in anything emotive.

It doesn't help that Phillips has ripped off Goodfellas' voiceover / freeze frame tricks to help sell the necessary exposition or that the movie's clearly been configured around a soundtrack to fit its vibe; there's nothing fresh as War Dogs limps on. It begins to sag viciously towards the final third and even dangerously skirts the line of bland when suspense should have you on the edge of your seats as the denouement dangles more dangerously than Damocles' sword.

Fortunately, Hill injects some life into proceedings as the Scarface / Godfather loving Efraim and is a stand-out here. He's a heavy set huckster shyster with a high-pitched giggle whose morals have clearly been snorted in a whirlwind of coke and indifference. Teller's solid too, and while Phillips decides not to justify or moralise their actions too far (save for David's desire to stop being a masseuse), it's not enough to save War Dogs from indifference. A little subtlety and more lightness of directorial touch would have helped immensely, but these seem a little beyond Phillips' grasp unfortunately and elude him throughout.

Morally bankrupt can be fertile dramatic territory as every gangster pic and TV show will tell you - but in aiming for lighter fare and ramming home the message to the audience, War Dogs becomes an exercise in endurance as the slump sets in. 

By failing to embrace either the amorality of what's going on or play the comedy darker and with a defter touch, War Dogs may have been held on its leash a little too far and for a story about gunrunners, while it starts strong, it proceeds to stumble on its all guns blazing promise, and once too often, shoots itself in the foot. 

30th Nov

Very latest post

New Tales from the Borderlands: PS5 Review

New Tales from the Borderlands: PS5 Review Developed by Gearbox Published by 2K Games Platform: PS5 New Tales from the Borderlands follows t...