Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Captain America: Civil War: Blu Ray Review

Captain America: Civil War: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Ent

That the latest Captain America is perhaps one of the better Marvel entrants should come as no surprise, given how strong the first two of this trilogy have been.

That it achieves this with a taut mix of action, thrills, a re-invented Spider-man and a film of some degree of consequence should be no surprise either.

But that it manages to blindside you in its final act is the real surprise of the piece, whipping the carpet with such aplomb from under your weary cynical expectations of where the story may go.

Taking a lead from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the 13th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is all about collateral damage, both of the physical and emotional variety.

When Captain America's team inadvertently cause a series of deaths and destruction while trying to save the world, pressure grows to build a system of accountability for the Avengers and their ilk. But the proposed status quo fractures the Avengers, with Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark in favour of it after his conscience is pricked by a mother whose son died in the events of Age of Ultron 

However, Chris Evans' plucky straight arrow Steve Rogers isn't as in favour, fearing the bureaucracy could limit their abilities to save the world... and so, a show down is set between long time friends and new potential enemies.

Distraction is the name of a lot of the game here (complete with plenty of globe-trotting and juggling many balls in the air): and while many will head to this slightly overlong flick with the delicious anticipation of an Avengers internal clash (which delivers in a set piece that does what you'd expect), the larger joy in among all the buzz of the clearly and concisely executed CGI clashing, is that Captain America Civil War has the smarts to realise the smaller emotional moments of devastation as sides are drawn and friendships tested are where the true strength of the red white and blue lie. 

Captain America: Civil War is a film where the veracity of character moments shine and where the strength lies (something perhapsGuardians of the Galaxy realised earlier on and went to more comic extremes thereof) and not a routine rote CGI Smash-and-grab ending that has blighted the rest of these films.

It's in the heart of the film and the heart within the film that the success of this one lies - Cap's main raison d'etre is to do right by his old pal Bucky aka The Winter Soldier (Stan in an expanded role from previous outings) and his ethics come into direct contrast and clash with Stark's ideologies. The series has been building to this - and that it pays that set up off well is perhaps testament to not only the investment we've had in the characters but that also our patience to get to this point was tested too.

Both Evans and Downey Jr rise to the occasion, underplaying their hands respectively and helping ground the film in a more human edge that it needs.

It also helps that Captain America: Civil War proffers up some thrilling set pieces of action that dazzle with effortless ease, as well as some throwaway humour to enhance the engagement. 

When the visceral action is shorn of the CGI trickery, there are chase scenes that elicit gasps and dazzle with their freshness of execution - both Joe and Anthony Russo have managed to up the game once again with a clear concise vision of what the audience wants and what will engage the non-fans. (Although there is perhaps one or two mano-a-mano sequences too many).

Juggling the introduction of new characters into the MCU with ease and lack of distraction is not easy, but there won't be many who will come away feeling that the new faces are under-served (and perhaps Tom Holland as Spider-Man is the real find of the piece; a Peter Parker who is a kid from the comic-books). And don't even get me started on the energy that Paul Rudd brings to the piece with his spiky electric Ant-Man.

Daniel Bruhl also deserves commendation for his mournful role - it's a smaller, more subtle touch that he brings and his involvement in the piece provides more than can be discussed in this spoiler-free review.

That said, Captain America: Civil War is not perfect.

For a film about consequence, there are still troublingly less than realistic physical ramifications for the central gang - while there are thrills to see Cap and Iron-Man go at it, there's never really a feeling that either will fall (and perhaps nor should there be) but there is a feeling of seeding of buds of emotional unrest that will continue to ripple out.

And some characters fall by the wayside as the third act plays out, simply fading away into the peripherary as their narrative use loses traction.

Equally, at 2 hours 27 minutes, it's overlong in the final stretch but it's hard to say where the trim could have come from. This is a film that feels full, but never bloated; an important distinction as the past transgressions storylines come to a head and the Captain America trilogy wraps up.

Ultimately, while there had been signs of apathy threatening to overtake the onslaught of Marvel Cinematic Universe films (stand by for Doctor Strange, coming soon), Captain America: Civil War emerges as a contender as one of the best of the run, thanks to character moments, limited chaos and a concisely executed and fresher vision of what a genuine action blockbuster can offer.

Win a double pass to see The Secret Life Of Pets

Win a double pass to see The Secret Life Of Pets

For their fifth fully-animated feature-film collaboration, Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures present The Secret Life of Pets, a comedy about the lives our pets lead after we leave for work or school each day. 

Comedy superstars Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart make their animated feature-film debuts in The Secret Life of Pets, which co-stars Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Jenny Slate, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress and Albert Brooks. 

Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri and his longtime collaborator Janet Healy produce the film directed by Chris Renaud (Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2), co-directed by Yarrow Cheney and written by Brian Lynch and Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio.

To celebrate the release of The Secret Life Of Pets, which is in cinemas September 15th, I'm giving you a chance to win a double pass to see the film at the movies!

To enter simply email to this address: - simply CLICK HERE and in the subject line put PETS. 

Please include your name and address and good luck! 

NB Competition closes 15 September- editor's decision final!

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Chasing Great: Film Review

Chasing Great: Film Review

Directors: Justin Pemberton, Michelle Walshe

The ultimate film about rugby in New Zealand has already been made - and that film is The Ground We Won about the team in the heartland of the Bay of Plenty.

But Chasing Great aims to be more a film about the one man some would believe to be New Zealand's greatest ever rugby player - Richie McCaw.

And it faces a major hurdle too - it's not as if Richie himself is not an unknown figure, blessed with enigma and living life in the shadows. Most of what is known about Richie is already there in the media, as he lived the rugby life in the spotlight and in the glare of the camera both on and off the field.

So this is the nature of the challenge facing Pemberton and Walshe who followed McCaw around for a year; and in the run up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup with the hope that the All Blacks would lift the Webb Ellis trophy for the second time in a row and Richie would call time on his career.

With over 700 hours of footage on hand, what emerges in Chasing Great is predominantly more a film about rugby than the man himself - and perhaps is indicative of the fact how synonymous with rugby Richie has become (though whether that makes a great doco is, in this case, extremely subjective).

While there's use of home video footage from the McCaw family, showing a young but big unit Richie on the Otago rugby fields, in the early part of the film, there is plenty of insight into the guy that may surprise and delight his already mountainous number of fans.

From doing exceptionally well at school to capturing the moment when his family sat huddled in the front room around a radio waiting to hear if Richie gets the call up to the All Blacks, there's a degree of personal intimacy that's welcomed and offers a newer side to the man so over-exposed in the media.

But there's no escaping the line uttered at one point  - "We're an unemotional bunch, the McCaws".

And it's a flaw which shatters the second half of the film as it becomes like a sporting autobiography writ large on the big screen, as we are forced to relive the fatal loss to France in 2007, and various other games including the ultimate win in 2015 (itself a foregone conclusion that is still quite recent in our memories).

It's understandable that these moments should feature as it goes some way to explaining McCaw's mindset and shift in mental fortitude with the involvement of psychologist Dr Ceri Evans (shadowy room meetings leading to feelings of a cult-like abduction), but it still feels like a sports highlights package, with edited game moments and pumping music puncturing the changing room scenes and sporting celebrations, as well as talking heads either praising his field performance or criticising it.

There's no further insight into the man, and it's not as if pre-game brief interviews are enough to give a greater reading of McCaw.

To their credit, the directors have committed some truly impressive imagery to celluloid - from shots high over the Otago hills as Richie cruises in his glider to scene setting slow mo track shots across stadia seats, every moment sings quality and aims for epic.

But equally, there are moments writ large from the cinematic sporting cliches shot book - slow mos on the field, slow mo running through corridors et al.

Frustratingly the film ends abruptly after the victory and with the very Kiwi "Yeah I'm done" as Richie flies off in his glider. This is already the story we knew, albeit fleshed out with some younger days Richie insights - and it's tantamount to feeling underwhelming in its denouement.

Ultimately, that is Chasing Great.

If you're after a film that celebrates and mythologises the man on the field as well as wanting to relive some of rugby's spectacular highs and lows, then this is that film for you, delivered just in time for Father's Day and with the release of Richie's book.

But unfortunately, if you're after a warts and all insight into the man who's been dubbed one of the nicest in sport, then you may feel it's somewhat wanting as a rounded picture.

Win a double pass to see Blood Father

Win a double pass to see Blood Father

Mel Gibson returns to the big screen with shades of Sicario and Payback in this edge-of-your-seat action thriller.

Scripted by Straight Outta Compton’s Andrea Berloff and The Town’s Peter Craig (based on his novel), BLOOD FATHER is brought to the screen by the team behind The Prophet and Rust & Bone and helmed by the César-winning French director behind the acclaimed Mesrine films.

Action and attitude meets humour and humility as Gibson stars as John Link - an ex-con trying - none too enthusiastically - to embrace life on the straight and narrow.

Eking out a meagre existence as a tattoo artist in his trailer park home, he battles with his past and his future.

When his estranged daughter, Lydia is caught up in a drug deal gone wrong, she finds herself reaching out to the last man she ever thought she’d need – her father. Only he can protect her from those who want her dead, and only he will - no matter what  it may cost him

To enter simply email to this address:  OR simply CLICK HERE

In the subject line put BLOODY MEL

Competition closes Sept 8th
Please include your name and address and good luck!

Monday, 29 August 2016

Final Fantasy XV Live at Abbey Road Studios

Final Fantasy XV Live at Abbey Road Studios

Featuring Exclusive Live Performances from the London Philharmonic Orchestra and an appearance from FINAL FANTASY XV Composer, Yoko Shimomura
SYDNEY, 29th August 2016 – Square Enix Ltd., today announced that the world famous Abbey Road Studios will play host to a special one-off concert featuring music from the forthcoming videogame FINAL FANTASY® XV on Thursday 8th September.
The one-hour concert will be broadcast from Abbey Road’s iconic Studio One, and will feature live renditions of a selection of songs from the FINAL FANTASY XV soundtrack performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with a special appearance from world-renowned composer, Yoko Shimomura.
“With so many iconic recordings taking place here over the years, performing the music for FINAL FANTASY XV in the very same recording studio is a huge honour for me and for everyone involved,” said Composer, Yoko Shimomura speaking about the event.  “I am excited to be able to collaborate with Abbey Road Studios for this performance and to share the music of FINAL FANTASY XV with everyone. I hope that music and videogame fans around the world can tune-in and join me for this incredible experience”
The show will begin at 4am AEST / 6am NZST on Thursday 8th September and will be live streamed. Full details on how to watch the broadcast will follow.
The latest instalment in the classic series, FINAL FANTASY XV is set in an enthralling world where fantasy meets reality. Players will embark on an adventure like no other. Join Crown Prince Noctis and his comrades on an epic journey of brotherhood, love and despair as they unravel Noctis's destiny and take up arms against the warmongering empire, Niflheim. With a captivating cast of characters, breath-taking visuals, open world exploration and thrilling action-packed real time combat, FINAL FANTASY XV is the ultimate FINAL FANTASY experience for both newcomers to the series and series fans alike.
FINAL FANTASY XV will be available on the 29th November for the Xbox One and PlayStation®4 system. For more information on FINAL FANTASY XV, visit:

KONAMI Announces Argentinean Teams and Pre-Order Content Details for PES 2017

KONAMI Announces Argentinean Teams and Pre-Order Content Details for PES 2017

KONAMI Announces Argentinean Teams and Pre-Order Content Details for PES 2017
Sydney, 29 August 2016 - Konami Digital Entertainment, B.V. announced today it will be showcasing all 30 teams from the first division of the Argentinian national league in PES 2017. KONAMI will feature all current kits and players from each respective team in PES 2017, allowing fans to take to the pitch by representing their favorite Argentinian clubs. Additionally, PES 2017 will feature two notable Argentinian football stadiums - Estádio Alberto J. Armando (La Bombonera) and El Monumental.

PES 2017 will feature the following 30 Argentinian teams: Aldosivi, Argentinos Juniors, Arsenal, Atlético de Rafaela, Atlético Tucumán, Banfield, Belgrano, Boca Juniors, Colón, Defensa y Justicia, Estudiantes, Gimnasia y Esgrima, Godoy Cruz, Huracán, Independiente, Lanús, Newell's Old Boys, Olimpo, Patronato, Quilmes, Racing Club, River Plate, Rosario Central, San Lorenzo, San Martín, Sarmiento, Temperley, Tigre, Unión Santa Fe and Vélez Sarsfield. Among the teams featured, KONAMI and Club Atlético Independiente have also signed a unique marketing license agreement. Weekly status and roster updates for all teams will also be available.

Additionally, users who pre-order PES 2017 will receive the following bonus content: TOTY
1 random player among the 11 TEAM OF THE YEAR 2015 (Lv.30) *Players may change subject to events such as transfers.
Special Agent×1
Coming Soon
FC Barcelona Agents 80+
2 Player from FC Barcelona who has an overall rating of 80 or more (Lv. 30).
FC Barcelona Agent 75+
1 Player from FC Barcelona who has an overall rating of 75 or more (Lv. 30).
PES 2016-17 Special Agent
1 player (Lv.30) who has an overall rating of 80 or more can be obtained.
Start Up Agent×4 (GK, DF, MF, FW)
1 Lv. 30 player for each core position (GK, DF, MF, FW)
10,000 GP x 10 WEEKS
10,000 GP* will be presented for 10 weeks when you register and start myClub PES 2017. *GP are Game Points that are presented in-game and can be used to improve and enhance your team, such as signing players and managers.
Theme (Sony Exclusive)
PES2017 Theme
*For full details, visit
PES 2017 is founded around the ‘Control Reality' ethos, elevating the series’ award-winning gameplay to a new level through incredible new control elements and a new standard of visual realism, without sacrificing what made PES successful in the first place: playing a match with your friends. The industry-leading Fox Engine is again central to elevating the series to new heights, with KONAMI focusing on first touch, the making and receiving of passes, and adaptive AI to elevate the game’s acclaimed realism.

PES 2017 will be available for PlayStation®4, PlayStation®3, XboxOne, Xbox 360 and PC September 15. View the latest trailer at

KONAMI Signs Partnership with Club Atlético River Plate for PES 2017
Sydney, 29 August 2016 - Konami Digital Entertainment, B.V. announced today that is has entered into an exclusive marketing license agreement with Argentina’s Club Atlético River Plate (River Plate) for PES 2017. The partnership will allow KONAMI to promote River Plate through its marketing and promotional activities for PES 2017, as well as feature River Plate’s current kits, players and iconography within its games, including the club’s official stadium, El Monumental.

Club Atlético River Plate is an Argentine sports club known for its professional football team, which has won the most domestic competitions in Argentina with 44 titles in Primera División and 2 second division championships. River Plate has also 15 official international titles, making it a total of 59 titles won in the top division and 2 Segunda División championships since its establishment in 1901.

PES 2017 is founded around the ‘Control Reality' ethos, elevating the series’ award-winning gameplay to a new level through incredible new control elements and a new standard of visual realism, without sacrificing what made PES successful in the first place: playing a match with your friends. The industry-leading Fox Engine is again central to elevating the series to new heights, with KONAMI focusing on first touch, the making and receiving of passes, and adaptive AI to elevate the game’s acclaimed realism.

Daddy's Home: DVD Review

Daddy's Home: DVD Review

Released by Universal Home Ent

Mining the Step dynamic has already proven fertile ground for Will Ferrell.

In the 2008 comedy Step Brothers, along with John C Reilly, Ferrell managed the fine line between sentimental and argumentative as the blending of two families took place.

But with Daddy's Home, Ferrell has managed to completely miss the comedic mark.

Ferrell plays Brad, a jazz radio station worker and step-dad to Linda Cardinelli's Sara's two young kids. Desperate to hear them utter the words Dad, Brad's world is turned upside down with the arrival of their leather-clad muscle bound biological father Dusty (Wahlberg, in reasonable comic form).

What starts off as genial jostling and an attempt to accommodate Dusty gradually sees Brad reach boiling point as Dusty starts to get his feet under the familial table...

Daddy's Home is excruciating, to say the least.

The best gags - all 3 of them - are to be found in the trailer of this weakly written and flat comedy that has neither the punch lines nor the sense of sparkle to carry it along.

Half the problem is at a script level where any such issues should have been ironed out; a lack of punchlines in relevant places doesn't help matters either as scenes limp to an end rather than a hilarious conclusion.

Ferrell plays mild-mannered fine and admittedly provides some laughs in some of the film as he tries to overcome his insecurities, bring his one-up-manship game and be the dad he's always wanted to be. There's some chemistry with former Other Guys co-star Wahlberg and Wahlberg at least appears to be having some fun flexing his comedy chops and flaunting his dance moves at the end. But there's little to no sparkle in the pacing of the story and its execution; it's almost as if someone's looked at the template of the Competitive Dad in The Fast Show and tried to bring it up to date.

Thomas Haden Church provides a few guffaws as Brad's blustering radio boss who's full of irrelevant stories - but his screen time is limited.

Ultimately though, Daddy's Home is a film which suffers because the funny just isn't there; it's too tame to be an R rated laugh-fest and too flat to be a family comedy. Plus, unbelievably at just over 95 mins long, it still feels too bloated.

There is a saying that sometimes you save the best till last, but with this Boxing Day release, it's clearly not the case. Daddy's Home is another embarrassment to Ferrell's CV and a comedy that forgets its simple MO - to provide laughs.


Sunday, 28 August 2016

13 Hours: The Soldiers of Benghazi: DVD Review

13 Hours: The Soldiers of Benghazi: DVD Review

With a more restrained touch and a degree of maturity, director Michael Bay's more excessive touches appear reined in in this film based on a true story.

When a US ambassador's compound is over-run in Benghazi after several waves of terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2012, it falls to six defence military contractors to try and save the day.

But, as this sat in direct opposition to orders from their CIA chief, the men felt doing the right thing was more important than bureaucracy, and put their lives on the line for 13 hours.

With the likes of American Sniper and Lone Survivor blazing the trail for homegrown hero stories, and coupled with the master of Bayhem at the helm, you'd expect that 13 Hours would be an all guts, all glory, guns blazing type of affair.

But what Michael Bay has done - despite characterisation of the men being more than a little lacking - is craft something tense which transcends its Call Of Duty: Benghazi potential and which delivers taut suspense that's as close to enthralling as any base under siege story can match.

Sure, it hits the tropes and cliches of the genre thanks to scenes of the guys bonding and reaching out to loved ones just prior to fateful events going down as well as its occasionally cliched dialogue, but as it ratchets up to its sickening end, it remains a compelling watch.  It's largely thanks to a controlled level of chaos and a major dose of mistrust that you're never quite sure who's on the right side as the team of six snake their way through the streets - the powderkeg does blow but Bay manages to prolong it to keep you guessing where and when it will go off.

As the leads, The Office star John Krasinki (all buff and beardsy) and James Badge Dale imbue their weary contractor characters with an appeal that will see you empathising with them and hoping they make it, despite their having cursory slight back-story.

But it's Michael Bay who delivers the biggest surprise here with his usual patriotic and jingoistic fare, all wrapped in a hyper-real colour palette and complete with compulsory final shot American flag motif in place - dialled down a bit more than usual. Granted, the men hardly stand apart from each other and when the emotional moments inevitably come, it makes it hard for them to be sympathised with as you're not sure who's been taken down.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi may be close to war porn at times, but it never falls short of delivering a tense experience that's heart in its mouth gripping from the moment the action begins.


Saturday, 27 August 2016

Newstalk ZB Review - Talking Bad Moms, Ben-Hur and Stranger Things

Newstalk ZB Review - Talking Bad Moms, Ben-Hur and Stranger Things

This week, talking Bad Moms, Ben-Hur and Netflix show Stranger Things with Jack Tame

10 Cloverfield Lane: DVD Review

10 Cloverfield Lane: DVD Review

"People are strange creatures - you can't always convince them safety is in their best interests".

It's this line from John Goodman's character that really sets the tone for the mystery that is 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film described as a blood relative to 2008's Cloverfield by JJ Abrams, rather than a direct sequel to the handy shaky-cam, found footage monster flick.

If anything this subterranean set film is best described as a taut chamber piece that you're better off knowing little about before viewing.

Loosely, Winstead is Michelle, who at the start of the film, is desperately scrabbling around, packing a bag and leaving her other half, for reasons unknown. Fleeing in her car, Michelle's involved in a car accident and wakes to find herself in a dingy room, her leg shackled to the wall, and with no idea where she is or how she got there. So far, so Saw (or so Room).

Enter into proceedings, Goodman's twitchy doomsday prepper Howard whose reasons for dragging Michelle down to the bunker appear to her to be less than clear. Also in this bunker is John Gallager Jr's Emmet, who's injured and appears to be captive too....

10 Cloverfield Lane is a masterful execution in suspense and a masterclass of Hitchcockian nail-biting drama in a three-hander setting.

Taut and lean, its strengths really are in the way it plays out, as well as the performances of both Goodman and Winstead. As Michelle does, the audience is drip fed potential reasons for her predicament and as a result, the ensuing paranoia is built as we gain empathy for her plight and her mistrust. There's a duality of trust at play here and no one knows who is telling the truth, even though at various stages, we swing the pendulum of doubt either way.

But smartly, Goodman's Hector is not just a one dimensional nutbar whose underground plans and murky reasonings make a kind of unnerving sense to the audience. The way the needle keeps flipping back and forth between believing him and distrusting him is sparingly but effectively used and is redolent of the lean story-telling on hand.

Thanks to Goodman's relative underplaying of the role (essentially a psychological bully who may or may not be blessed with a dose of veracity) coupled with his implied menace and Winstead's rounded pluck as she goes through her arc of vulnerability to strength, 10 Cloverfield Laneemerges as a thriller filled with dread that rewards as the onion peels back its layers. Hell is very much other people as they say, and in this Fallout Shelter-esque claustrophobic flick, that's evident from the nail-biting beginning.

It helps that the Twilight Zone-esque post Cold War vibe is severely amped up by a mood-ratcheting score from The Walking Dead's Bear McCreary, leading to an atmosphere of unease, mistrust and even in its most domestic scenes, distinctly unsettling overtones.

If the final act hints at more and sees the expected route taken for a Cloverfield film, then the tense and nervy journey there is nothing short of compelling as the mystery box is opened wide.

Unsettling, unease and uncertainty are redolent throughout and Trachtenberg manipulates these well throughout the lean run time (even if there are some mysteries which are never fully resolved). It's dramatic and rare to see a film these days surprise, but thanks to grounding 10 Cloverfield Lane in a relatable humanity and spinning the dial of doubt while simultaneously dredging every last drop of tension, it's one of the best genre films of the year.


Friday, 26 August 2016

Ben-Hur: Film Review

Ben-Hur: Film Review

Cast: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Pilou Asbaek, Rodrigo Santoro
Director: Timur Bekmambetov

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. 

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Blood Father: Film Review

Blood Father: Film Review

Cast: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna
Director: Jean-Francois Richet

Sparsity and brevity prove to be useful bedfellows in French director Francois Richet's stripped back action movie, Blood Father.

But they're nothing without wearied Mel Gibson's trailer park living, hard tattooing, former Nazi enforcer Link who delivers a ferocious turn in this pared back straight to video piece that lacks the narrative to compellingly drive it through.

With unleashed fury that's redolent of a 70s actioner, the Mad Max we all know and loved before that meltdown comes simmering to the fore again, and quite frankly, it's a welcome return to form.

And it's greatly needed too, because Gibson's spikiness and untamed rage is about the only thing to pull Blood Father kicking and dragging out of the hoary old cliches that fail to ignite within.

Loosely, when estranged daughter Lydia (Moriarty, who goes from unsure gangster moll to trembling terrified child within seconds) contacts ex-con and father Link for money, the duo are pulled into a fight for survival with drug cartels and killers on their tail.

Blood Father's taut action scenes punctuate a script that's lacking on all fronts in anything other than building up to the pot boiling and consequent bubbling over of Link.

It doesn't help that dialogue at the start feels unnatural and the so called rift between daddy and daughter heads more towards the forced and unrealistic. Moriarty's turn eventually succumbs to the inevitable lost father schtick that Link gives into, but even when the action starts, there's a feeling of relief that the end is near.

Narratively, as a small indie with some meta elements (you can't help but read into Link's dialogue and its allusions to Gibson's Hollywood redemption), it just about succeeds. But without Gibson's return to form, nuanced turn and some tautly executed fight sequences, Blood Father is nothing but hoary old cliches piled atop each other and which fail to ignite.

It doesn't help that the film desire to throw in a tattooed Terminator Sicario soldier whose skill set is uneven when the story needs it but lethal when it doesn't; equally, the great character set up of William H Macy as Link's sponsor is squandered later on. But not every supporting player is up to the mark, and as the film progresses, it's clearly Mel's joint above all.

But then, Francois-Richet manages to throw in some stronger character moments in the 85 minute run time and leave you with the feeling that the film would have been richer for more of them rather than resort to overt symbolism (such as a Lost Soul tattoo on Link's arm).

Ultimately Blood Father wins as Gibson demonstrates once again his old fire - it's a searing turn and return to angry old Mel that proved so caustic a cinematic tonic so long ago and is so welcome once again.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Bad Moms: Film Review

Bad Moms: Film Review

Cast: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Annie Mumolo, Clark Duke
Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

There's no denying that Moms have it tough.

Or so the new comedy from the writers of The Hangover, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore would have you believe.

Mining the girls behaving badly oeuvre that Bridesmaids championed and the competitive streak that soared in Amy Poehler and Tina Fey's Sisters, Bad Moms is the tale of suburban mom Amy (a relatable Kunis).

In her eyes, she struggles with being a mom of two, holding down a job and dealing with a self centred husband. But when she has the mother of all days, she decides enough is enough and cuts loose in anger at the PTA, headed up by Christina Applegate's harpy in high heels, Gwendolyn.

Bad Moms is essentially about rebelling against expectations.

With the triumvirate of Kunis' everyday over-worked mom, Kristen Bell's put-upon mother of four Kiki and Kathryn Hahn's sex-crazed, foul-mouthed Carla, it's clear the girls behaving badly motif covers all the spectrum of the mothers out there, wanting to cut loose and throw off the shackles of societal expectations.

Mining the observational side of the put-upon parents delivers some solid if unspectacular laughs in this chaotic comedy, but there's no denying that the female elements of the audience will get more out of this than the males. Though, with the casting of a younger demographic as leads, it's clear the males who are dragged along won't mind.

While Kunis has warmth, it's frustrating to note that her empowerment crumbles when she falls into a romantic sub-plot with a hunky widower and she simply becomes a doe-eyed love interest rather than a kicking-loose lady.

Hahn delivers the wide berth of belly laughs as the crazed Carla (in particular, a great supermarket sequence)- and coupled with the film's insistence on using slow mo and freeze frames to showcase the bad behaviour, she has the requisite comedic chops to carry it off. She gels well with Bell's Kiki, whose under-the-thumb meek turn inevitably goes where you'd expect it.

At its heart, Bad Moms will generate a great deal of empathy with its predictable core message of it's okay to not be a great mom and have bad days, but we just keep going, though it could be loosely condemned for not doing anything more subversive in its expectedly weak empowerment message.

It garners great cinematic truck when the ladies go brazen and it's hard to imagine there won't be a few hollers among the women in the audience during certain points.

If you're willing to overlook the inevitable sappiness (which is largely staved off until the end) and underwritten males in this piece, Bad Moms will offer a potty mouthed comedy alternative for a slight night out with comedy of recognition - but perhaps the most genuine part of the film comes with the credits, where the stars and their real-life mothers impart some pearls of wisdom from their years of growing up.

It's here the earnestness, authenticity and humour winningly combine to make you wish this were a longer side-piece to accompany Bad Moms - as it lingers longer in the memory than the film itself after the lights go up.

Mahana: DVD Review

Mahana: DVD Review

Lee Tamahori returns to the New Zealand screen with a film that reunites him with his Once Were Warriors star Temuera Morrison.

Based on Witi Ihimaera's Bulibasha, and set in provincial Gisborne in the 1960s, it's the story of the Mahana family, who are ruled with an iron fist by grandfather Tamihana, a traditionalist (played by Temuera Morrison).  There's a long-standing rivalry between the Mahanas and their fellow sheep-shearing family, the Poatas and the vendetta runs deep even if no-one talks about it.

But for Akuhata Keefe's 14 year old Simeon Mahana, life is a drudge of continually doing chores and trying to get out from under the yoke of his grandfather and become his own man. However, that brings clashes and things take a turn for the worst when Simeon uncovers more about the deep-held family secret and the anguish that has bound the families inextricably together in resentment....

Mahana is a film of two pieces, wildly meshed together.

At times, it's a dark family drama that plays nicely on the rifts between families and the enmity within as well as hinting at pre-colonial lifestyles and practices. But then other parts of it veer wildly into more traditional lighter elements such as concluding the film with a sheep-shearing contest that's as predictable as the day is long.

And unfortunately, there's a wild mix of acting talents too; at times, Temuera teeters dangerously into over-acting and is not well served by the overly bombastic soundtrack of the film being cranked up at the moments of extreme drama to emphasise that bad things are about to happen. Yet, there are moments when he gives the monster some more human edges that soften his on-screen Tamihana.

If anything, Keefe's the star of the film, giving a turn that has the subtlety that's needed for Simeon, a boy on the cusp of being a man and the awkward teen struggles that come with age and the desire to become your own person.

Tamahori makes good fist of the Gisborne scenery and there are some moodily evocative shots that stand out of mist settling in the valleys and hinting at the discord ahead. But equally, there are puzzling directorial choices that frustrate. One offender is the swirling camera around the exterior of a house as the reason for the conflict is revealed. Granted, it's more about creating a mood and evoking horror, but tonally, it sits at odds with the moment it's revealed - during a shearing contest.

All in all, Mahana is at times, a muddled film which sits at odds with what it intends to do.

By mixing the light with the dark, the film's missed its chance to stamp itself irrevocably on the NZ cinematic landscape; had it been more daring, it could have been a bold and blistering film. As it is, it  sadly feels parochial and limited, when its scope should have been wider.

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