Friday, 30 November 2018

The Meg: DVD Review

The Meg: DVD Review


The shark film is an easy hit genre.
The Meg: Film Review

In this latest, which is frankly more suited to a Syfy TV slot than a big screen release (and even that's being generous), Jason Statham is Jonas Taylor, a former diver whose life is haunted by a decision to leave some former crew members to die to save others. (Classic Kobayashi Maru type stuff.)

Retired from diving, Taylor's called back in when an exploration beneath the seabed goes awry and his ex-wife is trapped. Taking part in the rescue and still believing a massive creature lurked below despite everyone's contrary protestations, Taylor and his team inadvertently provides a chance for a megalodon shark to escape his surroundings.

Now with humanity on the lunch menu, it's a race against time to rid the seas of the shark.

The Meg: Film Review

The Meg is not smart enough to realise its trash concept and embrace it.

And while this shark tale hits every cliche with barely any relish, parts of its execution are brilliantly realised.

From the smart looking techno futuristic seabase to the submersibles, the design side of The Meg is wonderfully brought to life. And it's populated by some standout turns - primarily Cliff Curtis' de facto base leader Mac, whose grounded performance makes him the mate you'd want to call on in any given situation.

There are times when Statham plays it a little too close to zany, delivering his cornball dialogue with a little too much gusto. It would have been wiser to have played up the redemption angle of this character, mixing it in with kind of haunted turns those obsessed with either sharks or whales deliver (Jaws, Moby Dick et al), but Statham isn't too far taxed from his usual MO.

The Meg: Film Review

Disappointingly, Bingbing Li's scientist goes from strong model to weak-kneed at the sight of Statham's Taylor when he shows up, and it's poor scripting at best. Equally some of the final scenes where the shark menaces a bay full of foreigners, the racial stereotyping is dangerously close to offensive. It's very much like those are pandering to the Chinese box office, without writing for them.

The shark's execution is nicely done, and there are some reasonable action sequences early on (Taylor being hauled through the water with a rope and the creature snapping at its heels being one of the best), but Turteltaub doesn't really deliver anything other than rote shark action, a tacit admission and nod to what's expected, but nothing more.

Ultimately, The Meg, unfortunately, bites. Its cliched codswallop, along with an at times overly familiar and tedious story, doesn't do much to deliver any kind of originality to the genre - and the suspense and emotional pull when people are dispatched are solely missing.

This is one shark tale which sadly, is like a fish out of water, floundering for its life. 

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Creed II: Film Review

Creed II: Film Review


Cast: Michael B Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Neilsen, Florian Muntenau
Director: Steve Caple Jr

Essentially lacking the knockout blow that helped the first Creed achieve a technical win at the box office, Creed II does much you'd expect a film about pugilist pride to handle and still delivers a solid bout in the cinematic ring - even if you've seen a lot of it before in Rocky IV.
Creed II: Film Review

This time around, Michael B Jordan's Adonis Creed is on the top of the world - having won the Heavyweight champion title, and with his relationship with singer girlfriend Bianca (Thompson, making good of a role that barely calls on her for more than support and a few rote relationship scenes).

But when Ivan Drago, the song of the boxer who killed his father in the ring challenges him to a bout, Creed has no choice but to rise to the challenge, with or without the help of Rocky Balboa.

Creed II is as formulaic a sequel as you could expect for a boxing franchise that has spawned more than a few of them in its time. That's to say it very much wants to hit the beats of an expected sequel, and does so with veritable ease and aplomb.

Creed II: Film Review
However, without Coogler at the helm this time, and with a script that relies heavily on sports commentators providing the exposition via match commentary, it feels somewhat flat and lacking the killer punch, preferring instead to provide the requirements like a training montage and some inspiring speeches when necessary.

Jordan makes the best of his pride-before-a-fall arc, and there's a lot to be viewed in the hubris of the boxer and the subtext of American arrogance against Russian brute strength.

Equally Muntenau as Drago's son does much with what little he has as well, with hints of family tensions nicely put in place, and cinematography showing the icy conditions of Russia against the relationship opulence of Creed.
Creed II: Film Review

A reliance on the aforementioned commentary leads to a feeling the film's been heavily subsidised by pay-per-view channels, and robs Creed II of the kind of emotional depth and heft that was present the first time around. And what's outside the ring is more emotionally hefty than what's in - even if it does occasionally veer into heavy-handed territory.

All that said, while this doesn't quite go the full 12 rounds of cinematic excellence, it does provide a solid title card and spirited defence of the sports sequel, thanks in part to Jordan and also a taciturn Stallone as Balboa who's terrified of history repeating itself.

But with moments like an enforced family rift laid on heavier than repeated body blows raining down, Creed II emerges a victor only on a technicality, rather than delivering a knockout from beginning to end.

Beautiful Boy: Film Review

Beautiful Boy: Film Review


Cast: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, MAy Ryan, Maura Tierney
Director: Felix Van Groeningen

Beautiful Boy's take on crystal meth addiction aims for powerful tale, but presents a somewhat sanitised take on the tale, albeit blessing it with two strong leads.
Beautiful Boy: Film Review

Based on the memoirs Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff, van Groeningen's drama is aimed more at the middle classes unaware of the problems of rehab and addiction.

Carell, in downbeat dramatic mode, plays Sheff, who discovers his son Nic (Call Me By My Name's Timothee Chalamet) is taking drugs and who tries everything to turn him around. But this once close relationship is frazzled and fraught on the journey, in turn causing Sheff's family to be put through the ringer.

Looping nicely between the past and the present, the then and the now of their central relationship, Carell and Chalamet conjure up something special in many ways. Their bond feels natural and real, even if at times, they feel more like brothers than father and son; scenes such as Nic rocking out to Nirvana while David watches on in the car do much to build the bond and closeness before the addiction ripples through their life and damages it irrevocably.

In truth, there's little here that people who've seen addiction stories before won't know about - and the film's desire to portray the events unfolding is done in such a beige way and an almost hesitant approach to condemn the drugs' use that it mutes the final emotional impacts beyond repair, and makes what should be harrowing lesser than it actually is.
Beautiful Boy: Film Review

At times, it's maddening because of it.

Van Groeningen litters the screen with some beautiful vistas, some touching scenes which display the erosion of trust between father and son, and the heartbreaking feeling of the family left behind; it's almost honest in its empathy, even if it does fail to stir something deeply within.

There's an intriguing use of white noise at key moments, a sound where it feels like the pumping of the veins are overwhelming what's being heard, and if there's an over-reliance on this at times, it's an effective signalling of intent, a sign of what truly drives an addict and what pushes them over the edge.

But as it trawls through the druggy cliches, and builds towards an obvious conclusion, the inexorable march through blander territory robs you of a feeling of impending tragedy, no matter how great the work done by Chalamet and Carell; these two deliver powerhouse performances which do much to overcome the lesser impact of what should have been a stronger film to behold, a journey to be horrified at and a true-life trauma to have endured.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Netflix has announced exclusive slate of original animated event series from the iconic Roald Dahl story universe



NETFLIX TO CREATE EXCLUSIVE SLATE OF ORIGINAL ANIMATED EVENT SERIES FROM THE ICONIC ROALD DAHL STORY UNIVERSE

Netflix Will Reimagine and Extend Some of the World’s Most Beloved Stories:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The BFG, The Twits, and More



Willy Wonka and the Oompa-Loompas are joining The BFG, Matilda, The Twits, and a host of other iconic characters who have all found a brand new home together on Netflix! Netflix and The Roald Dahl Story Company jointly announced today that Netflix is extending the Roald Dahl universe of stories for global family audiences with an exclusive new slate of original animated event series, based on the books from the acclaimed and award-winning author’s best-selling library, including Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryMatildaThe BFGThe Twits, and many other beloved titles.

Roald Dahl stories have long inspired award-winning feature films and stage productions. But now, for the first time, Netflix will bring together the highest quality creative, visual, and writing teams to extend the stories in this first-of-its-kind slate of premium animated event series and specials for audiences of all ages and for families to enjoy together. Netflix intends to remain faithful to the quintessential spirit and tone of Dahl while also building out an imaginative story universe that expands far beyond the pages of the books themselves.

“Our mission, which is purposefully lofty, is for as many children as possible around the world to experience the unique magic and positive message of Roald Dahl’s stories,” said Roald Dahl’s widow, Felicity Dahl, “This partnership with Netflix marks a significant move toward making that possible and is an incredibly exciting new chapter for the Roald Dahl Story Company. Roald would, I know, be thrilled.”

“Immersing ourselves in the extraordinary worlds of Roald Dahl stories has been an honor and a massive amount of fun, and we are grateful for the trust the Roald Dahl Story Company and
the Dahl family have placed in our team to deliver more moments of shared joy to families around the world,” commented Melissa Cobb, Vice President of Kids & Family Content at Netflix. “We have great creative ambition to reimagine the journeys of so many treasured Dahl characters in fresh, contemporary ways with the highest quality animation and production values.”

“Netflix is known for innovative and high-quality storytelling,” added Gideon Simeloff, Strategy Director for The Roald Dahl Story Company. “There is no other place in the world that can deliver animated entertainment for the whole family at such quality and scale.”

The list of titles in the agreement between Netflix and the Roald Dahl Story Company includes Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryMatildaThe BFGThe Twits,Charlie and the Great Glass ElevatorGeorge’s Marvellous MedicineBoy – Tales of ChildhoodGoing SoloThe Enormous CrocodileThe Giraffe and the Pelly and MeHenry SugarBilly and the MinpinsThe Magic FingerEsio TrotDirty Beasts, and Rhyme Stew.

Production is set to commence on the first of the Netflix Dahl animated series in 2019.

Just Cause 4 Live-action Trailer

Just Cause 4 Live-action Trailer




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SQUARE ENIX RELEASES JUST CAUSE 4 “ONE MAN DID ALL THIS?” TRAILER
The Black Hand Recounts Rico’s Latest Accolades of Destruction in New Video

SYDNEY, 28th November 2018 – With just one week before the launch of JUST CAUSE® 4, Square Enix® is proud to present a new look at Rico Rodriguez through the eyes of the dominant rival faction known as The Black Hand.

Exclusive gameplay combined with live-action and set to an intense soundtrack from world renowned DJ/producer, Slushii, JUST CAUSE 4’s “One Man Did All This?” trailer delivers a humorous look at the destructive power rogue agent Rico Rodriguez can deliver this December 4. See Rico from the perspective of the enemy militia – The Black Hand – as faction leader Gabriela Morales listens to firsthand accounts of Rico in action from those who survived. From reigning down destruction onto an enemy base to tethering shipping containers with explosive barrels, see what makes the exciting JUST CAUSE series unlike any other.
Just Cause 4 Live-action Trailer

Set in the fictional South American world of Solis, JUST CAUSE 4 takes the series' incredible destruction and unique physics to a whole new level with the introduction of tornadoes and other Extreme Weather events. JUST CAUSE 4 has four distinct biomes: Rainforest, Grasslands, Alpine & Desert. With each biome offering its own individual, fully simulated weather event, players will have a truly unique experience as they traverse this deep, diverse world.

JUST CAUSE 4 is a landmark entry in the series, and will release on December 4, 2018 on Xbox One, PC and the PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system.

Red Dead Online Beta Launch

Red Dead Online Beta Launch

Red Dead Online Beta Launch 

Early Access Starts Today

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The Red Dead Online Beta is launching this week with early access beginning today. We are easing our servers and systems into handling the increasingly larger player base by scaling up the online population throughout this week – until Saturday the 1st – at which point the Beta will be open to everyone with a copy of Red Dead Redemption 2. This will help ensure that our servers can handle a steadily growing volume of concurrent players in the early hours and first days of the Beta and hopefully reduce the likelihood of any server crashes during the launch week as we get things up and running.  Here are the rollout specifics:
·         Wednesday, November 28: All Red Dead Redemption 2: Ultimate Edition owners. Please note, players who purchased the physical Ultimate Edition must redeem the Ultimate Edition code in the packaging to be eligible.
·         Thursday, November 29: All players who played Red Dead Redemption 2 on October 26th according to our data.
·         Friday, November 30: All players who played Red Dead Redemption 2 between October 26th to October 29th according to our data.
·         Saturday, December 1: All players who own Red Dead Redemption 2.
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We are aiming to deliver a stable and fun experience while collecting as much crucial information and feedback as possible to help us continually improve Red Dead Online. As with any Beta period, we plan to take the time necessary throughout to make Red Dead Online a complete, fun and fully-functional experience, which may take several weeks or months as we continually work to fix bugs, improve systems and implement player feedback into current or future plans.
If you encounter technical issues of any sort, please visit our dedicated Rockstar Support site to find help or report these issues. And we strongly encourage everyone to send us feedback on your experience, from ways to improve gameplay to suggestions for future content – we want to know what you like, love or dislike and what you’d like to see added, changed or implemented into Red Dead Online. Please visit reddeadonline.com/feedback to share your experiences and input with us.
Make sure you’re staying tuned here at the Rockstar Newswire for regular updates about Red Dead Online, including new content additions, features, changes, and other news about the game.
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The world of Red Dead Online will be a continually expanding experience. There will also be some additions and updates throughout the Beta period. Starting this week, you can ride with friends in a Posse, set up your Camp, embark on cooperative story-based missions or go head-to-head in competitive series, find strangers throughout the world to help (or hurt), tackle spontaneous Free Roam challenges, go hunting, fishing, bond with your horse, explore with friends or on your own (but look out for ambushes), and much more. 
All the while, you’ll accumulate XP through your explorations and encounters that counts towards your rank and provides added bonuses. Unlock items and improve your attributes while you progress. You can also take on Award challenges throughout your open-world experiences to earn Awards in 12 categories like combat, hunting, sharpshooter and survivalist. 
Red Dead Online begins with creating your character. Detail your appearance and attributes before you set out on your journey from Sisika Penitentiary where you’ll acquire a horse, set up a Camp, hunt down a treasure, equip your first Ability Card and meet some fateful characters with a larger story to tell; one that involves chasing truth, revenge, and honor.
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In Red Dead Online, your honor will shift high and low based on your decisions and behavior. You’ll shape your honor through your choices: from life or death decisions to natural interactions such as caring for your horse.
In addition to the world responding to you in subtly different ways, you’ll also notice the nature of certain missions will reveal themselves to you based on your current honor state. 
Free Roam Missions
Head over to the Stranger icons throughout the map alone or with your Posse to embark on Free Roam Missions. You’ll see some familiar faces along the way, and these missions can vary based on how noble or nefarious you are – for example, an honorable gunslinger may be asked to help escort a convoy, defending it from attacking gangs or even other players’ Posses, whereas a dishonorable outlaw may be asked to help spring a felon from the law.
A Land of Opportunities
Honor also plays into this deeper cooperative strand for two to four players that we will continually build upon. In A Land of Opportunities, you’ll be faced with a multi-part series of missions, with some parts changing as your honor changes on a larger journey to seek truth and justice, or revenge.
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Of course, Red Dead Online comes packed with all new competitive game play. The Beta includes 5 new modes at launch that are part of a larger series of Showdowns, and you can also enter your trusted steed into races including point-to-point, lap and open races strewn across the map.
Enter one of the Showdown Series Markers for fast matchmaking into a variety of modes:
Shootout & Team Shootout
Classic gunfight modes with unlimited lives. Compete to rack up the most kills before the timer runs out. Sudden death will trigger in the event of a tie: whoever gets the first kill wins.
Make it Count
A true test of resourcefulness in two game modes: use nothing but a bow and a handful of arrows or throwing knives to be the last one standing. With a gradually shrinking player area, there’s nowhere to run.
Most Wanted
A tactical race to the top. Every kill pushes you up the scoreboard, but watch out: the closer to the top you are, the more points everyone else gets for killing you.
Hostile Territory
Work in teams to control the land. Capture a territory to start racking up points: the team with most points wins - or you can win outright by capturing every territory.
Name your Weapon
Demonstrate your personal specialty in this free-for-all or team based match: the trickier the weapon you use to land the killing blow, the more points you get.
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  • Look out for more details and tips around all of the Red Dead Online Beta gameplay in the days ahead. And be sure to check the Companion App or log in to Social Club to see when you can jump into the Beta. As always, we want to hear from you and we ask for your help especially during the Beta process. In addition to reporting bugs, technical issues, glitches and exploits at https://support.rockstargames.com, please continue to send us your feedback and suggestions at reddeadonline.com/feedback.
  • We also ask for your help in keeping Red Dead Online a fun and fair environment for everyone. Please use the in-game reporting tools to report any abusive behavior, cheating or exploits you see occurring during the Beta, or that you happen to see posted on external sites like YouTube. A friendly reminder that our longstanding copyright policy rules about posting material from Rockstar games applies now as ever – any videos encouraging cheating in any way are subject to takedown.
  • You may notice some areas of the in-game menus are not yet accessible or available during this early period of the Beta, such as the Red Dead Online in-game Store which will eventually open up to provide the option of purchasing gold bars to directly acquire cosmetic items like Camp décor, or a special style for your weapons.
  • We hope that all player progress during this early period of the Beta will be able to remain intact long term, however as with many betas for large scale online experiences such as this, there is always the chance that we may need to implement rank or other stat resets in case of issues.
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Stay tuned for more updates to Red Dead Online over the coming weeks and months.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout: DVD Review

Mission: Impossible - Fallout: DVD Review


It's already been lavished with breathless praise, and it's fair to say that the sixth Mission: Impossible film goes some way to presenting a superlative piece of action blockbuster material, thanks to some truly breath-taking action sequences and Tom Cruise's commitment to live-action stunts.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout: Film Review

But in parts, Mission: Impossible - Fallout falters with dialogue and wooden characters barking out seeming like something out of the 1970s spy genre.

Plus, one of its twists can be sign-posted a mile off, thanks to an off-the-cuff line of dialogue that anyone familiar with the genre would slap themselves if missed.

However, all of that matters little when put in the context of spectacle, masterfully orchestrated by Christopher McQuarrie, as he manipulates the pieces of the overly-familiar plot into a knotty Rubik's cube of action.

This time around, Cruise's Ethan Hunt is facing the ramifications of a decision to save one of his team members and losing three pieces of plutonium to a terrorist organisation, The Apostles. With the group looking to purge the world, Hunt faces a race against time, against his past and also against a conspiracy to save the day.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout: Film Review

It may be a none-too-original plot (terrorists want to blow up the world), but what engenders Mission: Impossible - Fallout with such blockbuster chutzpah is a sense of scale, a sense of never letting the foot off the action, and some hints into the personal world of Cruise's hitherto blank slate Hunt.

For the most part, the women in this get level-pegging, a chance to hold their own with Ferguson stepping up majorly and Kirby playing the femme fatale role in a manner reminiscent of past film noir. In truth, Cavill flounders a little preferring in parts to chew the scenery as the agent sent to keep tabs on Hunt's team, and is maybe the weaker link in the chain. Coupled with a couple of narrative issues, some wooden dialogue barked in exposition fashion, it's not quite the slam dunk at times.

However, it's the set pieces that sparkle with bravura throughout - from a bathroom fight sequence executed with bone-crunching brevity and bravura to the Queenstown-set finale in the skies, McQuarrie's made sure that the tension is there when it needs to be, and the thrilling delivers when it needs to.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout: Film Review

In truth, as ever, this is still the Tom Cruise show, and while the hints of the personal make the plot a little more engaging (any top notch spy film needs to juggle the mix of the two, leading to the inevitable final act clash), some of the characters on the peripherary don't quite get their time to shine - a shame for both Pegg and Rhames' IMF agents who get breadcrumbs of time in the limelight.

While the IMF team feels unstoppable in their sixth iteration, and perhaps going even more personal may work for any further outings with a death of one their own, lest they become ever more closer to the superheroes of the spy world, Mission: Impossible - Fallout's utter commitment to scene-dazzling shenanigans and spectacle can't be denied.

Easily the best action film of the year, Mission: Impossible - Fallout offers a thrilling and occasionally emotionally grounded alternative to other blockbusters' flights of fancy.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to head to the cinema to see this. In truth, it's potentially one of the easiest decisions you're likely to make - and as long as future installments look to fix some of the narrative niggles presented here, the Mission: Impossible series will likely be in rude health for years to come. 

Sunday, 25 November 2018

The Darkest Minds: DVD Review

The Darkest Minds: DVD Review

Take a pinch of Young Adult, a snip of The Host, a snifter of The Hunger Games, sprinkle liberally with a shoe-horned romance, mix in some young X-Men, drop in some elements of Avengers: Infinity War, top with a hint of everything-you've-seen-before-in-this-genre and you've got new film The Darkest Minds.
The Darkest Minds: Film Review

Set six years after children mysteriously started dying and survivors were considered worthy only of rounding up and putting in camps, The Darkest Minds stars Stenberg as Ruby, a teenager who's broken out of a camp, thanks to the help of a mysterious doctor (Mandy Moore).

But unsure whether to trust her, Ruby ends up on the run with conveniently-nearby-hidden-kids Zu (who can control electricity), Liam (telekinesis to go with wooden good looks) and brainy Chubs (looks like a Fresh Prince cum Dope extra).

Searching for a utopia for the children who survived, Ruby and the gang are hunted from all quarters.

Frustratingly, The Darkest Minds has some potential.

Complete with a soundtrack clearly aimed at its audience of YA readers, and adapted from a book by Alexandra Bracken, it knows what it wants to do - even if it feels like a patchwork mesh of every YA film you've ever seen. (Those for those exposed to it for the first time, it could become something,
thanks to its diverse leading cast).

The Darkest Minds: Film Review

But rushing through dramatic edges, shoehorning narrative elements in and giving them nary a second to breathe or dispatching them with a laissez-faire approach does little to build this first outing into any kind of franchise.

It's even worse with the cursory way threats are tossed aside, having built them up to be something substantial. Matters are not helped by an obvious villain and some truly wooden acting when emotional clashes come to the fore.

The Darkest Minds: Film Review

Perhaps the greatest crime of the YA mesh with X-Men is how the film doesn't really resolve itself, preferring to dangle narrative elements for potential sequels and leaving to a feeling of frustration in the film's denouement, where poignancy and emotional heft should have done the heavy lifting.

There's potential for darkness here, and perhaps the target teen audience would have appreciated some truth (shots of kids being executed are truly chilling) but rather than build dystopia, The Darkest Minds is content solely to play it too safe to be relevant or compelling.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Whitney: DVD Review

Whitney: DVD Review


At first glance, there's no reason why Kevin Macdonald's Whitney doco should work.
Whitney Houston's demons were more or less covered in Nick Broomfield's 2017 documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me, leading the casual viewer to the feeling that another couldn't really add much more to the mix.

Whitney: Film Review

But what Macdonald's doco has is more access to family archives, in among the inevitable talking heads, and it's made the world of difference in the 120 minute running time.

The chronicles of Whitney's problems are not new, and while Macdonald's addition to her story is accusations of sexual abuse of Whitney in her childhood, a lot of the ground covered will be familiar to those who've seen the prior doco.

That said, what Macdonald (Last King of Scotland, State of Play) does is craft together a biographical piece that gleams in the spotlight of familiarity. Assembling together a veritable trove of archive material and interviews only of the closest members of Houston's remaining clan, Macdonald creates a portrait of a woman whose dreams and desires were gradually eroded by the industry and familial greed.

Whitney: Film Review

From the success of Houston's trailblazing musical ways in the mid 80s to the nondescript demise in a bathtub in 2012, Macdonald's packed the 2 hours with more than enough material to offer a full picture, and with a view to tautly editing proceedings, he's ensured there's never anything less than compelling material on screen.

The drugs Whitney fell into are widely discussed in the latter part of the piece, but Bobby Brown shuts down any talk of this in one of the few moments that frustrates. Macdonald prods further, but a lack of any level of engagement makes it difficult, and also demonstrates some of the problems Whitney Houston faced, with no one really willing or able to discuss her demons for fear of derailing her pop train.

Several scenes have Houston's soulful voice ring out, and it still provides goosebumps, even to the non-fans. Earlier insights such as Houston's nickname Nippy, and mother Cissy Houston's discussions add much to the doco's joie de vivre before the inevitable maudlin last 20 minutes or so kick in.

Macdonald keeps proceedings simple, letting others do the talking - but there are moments of flair. 

Whitney: Film Review

Montages of Houston's music are intercut with 80s pop culture references (from Pepsi ads to space shuttle launches, presidents and fellow pop stars), an intermingling reminder of how of the time Houston was and how prevalent her music was in the cultural collective consciousness.

Aside from all of that, what Whitney does, and does exceedingly well, is provide a compellingly complete portrait of what happened, and how it happened. Occasionally, the why becomes a little lost in the telling of the story, and the intuitive touches Macdonald brings helps lift the weaker touches out of any mire.

Willing to explore both the good and bad of Houston, the personal and the all-American tragedy, 

Whitney: Film Review

Whitney is a fascinating narrative, a warts-and-all exploration of where the dream went wrong, a distillation of a clutch of complex issues that all collided in one person.

Whitney is a thrilling and deeply engaging documentary that deserves to be up there with the best of the genre - a true exploration of a troubled genius, and an at times, damning indictment of the greed and abuse of others within the industry, and more upsettingly, within the should-be-safe circle of family. 

Friday, 23 November 2018

Shoplifters: Film Review

Shoplifters: Film Review


Shoplifters' tale of a Japanese family living in the slum downtrodden house is meant to shock from its beginning.

With the opening seeing a father and son stealing from a supermarket in a co-ordinated military style set of precision manoeuvres, we're thrown into the family world of the Shibatas.

Shoplifters: NZIFF Review

Living in low income and scraping by, the family's world is changed when the father brings home a little girl he sees living outside a house with no apparent parents nearby. As the girl doesn't want to go home and shows signs of abuse, despite the strain on the family, they keep her within their walls, a family giving love to an unknown.

However, that decision could prove as fateful as it will fruitful.

Subtle and perhaps aiming to provoke empathy throughout, without ever being manipulative Kore-eda's social eye on the affliction of some Japanese families is also a salutation to uncompromising love.

With her big eyes, and cute haircut, the abused little girl is never anything more than a tool to win over the audience, and to cast light on the insidious ways of abuse, so redolent worldwide that it hurts.

While there's humour in this social tale, there's also an undercurrent of anger that Kore-eda provokes in you that this family have to go through so much to just get by. But presented under a sunnier outlook, Kore-eda manages to make proceedings warmer than they perhaps should be, a chance to push a message in ways that could otherwise not work.

The Palmes D'Or winner Kore-eda Hirokazu's Shoplifting is a story that may move you, but ultimately, its last reel reveal feels cheap and easy, a narrative rug-pull aimed to disorientate and reassess.

What it actually does is make you question why some of the characters you've invested in over the past two hours don't do the one thing you'd expect them to. It's a unsettling turn and leaves an after-taste which is hard to shift (and which is too spoilery to discuss here).

While Kore-eda Hirokazu may wish to be saluting love and family in all its forms, and present a world similar to one glimpsed in Sean Baker's The Florida Project by centring on the children, Shoplifters' strength lies in its interactions within the family.

Some threads may go undernourished, and while the reveals at the end may pull together some of the looser ends, there are similar themes of family that Kore-eda has pursued before. Granted, this latest may see a more broken family than previously, but the social realism captured within is nonetheless heartbreaking throughout. And certainly the burst of consciousness and guilt is never belaboured throughout.

A thoughtful piece, but a flawed masterpiece to some, Shoplifters' strength lies in its willingness to expose the double standards of Japanese society - and ultimately, the hypocrisies and selfishness of us all. 

Thursday, 22 November 2018

The Happytime Murders: DVD Review

The Happytime Murders: DVD Review


On paper, The Happytime Murders should kill it.

A foul fuzzy felted mix of raunchy gags, meshed with the adult arm of the Henson Muppet Company, and a take on the buddy cop genre, it should in theory have worked.

The Happytime Murders: Film Review

But Brian Henson's attempt at muppet mayhem falls short in terms of its gag ratio, with perhaps the best of them used in the trailer, leaving the film lacking in prime content.

Set in a world where muppets and humans co-exist, but with lashings of discrimination against puppet-kind, Barretta is Phil Philips, a muppet former-detective-turned-PI, (who looks similar to David Boreanaz's Angel when he was turned into a puppet in Joss Whedon's show) who's called in to investigate a series of murders involving the puppets of a once popular TV show The Happytime Gang.

Forced to team up with his former partner Connie Edwards (McCarthy, who generates some reasonable chemistry with the forlorn Philips), the duo set out to solve the case...

The Happytime Murders meshes both buddy cop movie tropes with gumshoe shenanigans - but to middling effect in large sections.

Unsure of whether to fully embrace the foulness seen in the likes of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Avenue Q and Meet The Feebles, what actually emerges in The Happytime Murders is a tame and tepid, occasionally funny slice of homage that lacks the requisite humour.

The Happytime Murders: Film Review

That's not to say there aren't the giggles - presumably more if you've indulged / not seen the red band trailer, but The Happytime Murders falls short on several fronts.

McCarthy and Barretta actually gel well, and the dynamic, while overly familiar, hits the notes it should, with McCarthy dialling it down in parts. Better still are the moments where Rudolph and 
McCarthy riff off each other, bringing genuine comedy chemistry to the fore - and simultaneously reminding you what's really missing here. And it's galling as it slowly beats the fuzzy felted stuffing out of you.

Less Meet The Feebles, more just Feeble, with side order of squandered potential, The Happytime Murders is a killer for all the wrong reasons. 

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms: Film Review

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms: Film Review


Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Matthew McFadyen, Jayden Fowora-Knight
Director: Lasse Hallstrom, Joe Johnston

Possibly the best-looking film of the year, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms' fairytale approach is the one thing strongly in its favour.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms: Film Review

Foy plays Clara, whose life is staccato following the death of her mother; with her father trying to ensure Christmas still happens, even though nobody is interested, Clara's given a gift from her departed mother - a locked egg that says everything she seeks is within.

During attending an annual festive ball, Clara finds herself pulled into the magical world that's facing danger from Mother Ginger (Mirren). Recruited by Sugar Plum (Knightley in Marilyn Monroe squeaky voice territory) to help, Clara finds her loyalties torn as she tries to save the realms from falling into war.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms's production aesthetic is second-to-none, and is Oscar-worthy in extremis.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms: Film Review

Every sequence oozes with sumptuous details, with figures from fantasy tales standing out and with each scene dripping with colour and attention to detail. It's almost overwhelming, but does go some way to setting the fantasy tone needed for the film, whose plot sadly falls flat and feels uninspired and underwhelming at best.

The message is easy to decipher from early on, and even though Foy tries, she can't quite summon enough of the depth needed to sell the lighter story to an audience. Knightley's flouncy Sugar Plum is a joy to behold, although Mirren's baddie Mother Ginger feels underwritten and inconsequential.

Ultimately, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms feels more shallow than a tale as old as time should.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms: Film Review

Its fantastical visual images may capture the audience of a younger generation, but in truth, they may get restless later on with the film as it ploughs a furrow between whimsy and empowerment message.

It may have some elements of visual pleasure, but The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is more a confectionary headrush than a nourishing lasting pleasure.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The Equalizer 2: DVD Review

The Equalizer 2: DVD Review


Denzel's back with a sequel to the surprisingly effective at times, but under-the-radar The Equalizer about a vigilante roaming the streets, showering justice on those who need it.
The Equalizer 2: Film Review

This time, Denzel's Robert McCall is on the case after a crime becomes a little too personal - how far will he go to exact justice when his past comes calling?

The sequel to the 2014 film sees Washington carrying on his zen-like turn as McCall - but whereas the first granted him a victim who was a child, this second sees his familial edges pushed by the crime he's investigating and also a budding mentorship of Ashton Sanders' Miles, a resident teen in his building on the edge of making a wrong decision.

Like the first film, the sequel feels like a self-contained episode of the 1980s series it was spun off from, with brutal action sequences that are not elongated or extended, merely sharp and to the point.

The Equalizer 2: Film Review

Denzel channels again his measured approach to McCall as he puts out an intensely brooding version of his Man On Fire routine, with each take down he enacts being characterised by a gloomy stare as he visualises how it'll all go down and an over-reliance on choreographed slow-mo shots. Fuqua's really followed the template of the first in parts, and it shows, with the action impressive, but certainly not feeling fresh. Washington has the necessary charisma to carry it throughout, but occasionally his dead-eyed stare is perhaps reflected in the audience watching this play out.

Once again, there's little call for Washington to be anything other than emotionless and completely invincible throughout; and unfortunately, this time round the lack of subtlety is jarring, with inserted exposition or overly used hints of what's ahead repeatedly being jammed down the viewers' throats. It helps little that the plot feels rote in some ways, and McCall never feels anything like a from-the-projects superhero, and there's rarely any chance he's on the backfoot.

But that said, there are a couple of brutally impressive and tautly executed set pieces, unswervingly put in motion by Fuqua.

From a great inside-a-taxi fight as McCall's Lyft driver is menaced by a goon to a final set piece inside a hurricane (that again taps some of the trappings of the warehouse confined conclusion of the first), the action works well when it flies.

The Equalizer 2: Film Review

The problem with the at times grim and dour The Equalizer 2 is that its plot feels uninteresting and unengaging, a conspiracy that feels tenuous more than intriguing and which doesn't really push much on even when the connection is personal.

The Equalizer 2's commitment to brutality and the pushing of the older man as a superhero makes it feel different, but Fuqua's almost templated retreading of the first in this sequel-not-sequel makes the case for a return outing (3Qualizer anyone?) difficult to justify.

While the TV Series followed an inevitable pattern, it's to be hoped any further outings may see this vigilante pushed to the edge a bit more, and the stakes made to feel a little more uncertain.

Otherwise, bizarrely, The Equalizer risks becoming the geriatric version of a superhero franchise.