Thursday, 31 December 2020

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles: Film Review

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles: Film Review 

Director: Laura Gabbert

Revered Israeli-born chef, restaurateur, and food writer Yotam Ottolenghi stars in this genial yet unchallenging documentary from the City of Gold.

When Ottolenghi is challenged to cater for the 2018 New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art summer gala, he decides to assemble a crack squad of caterers and mavericks to help - in a sort of The A Team spinoff but for pastry chefs.

Matching his theory that every decent recipe has a story with it with the idea of the opulence of Versailles, it seems like a natural fit for Ottolenghi - and by extension for Gabbert who made such wonderful fist of her Jonathan Gold food critic film.

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles: Film Review

She has an eye for the food porn, and scatters shots of tasty delights among the proceedings, as well as using the sumptuous artistry of the Met itself and Versailles to complement the whole affair.

But, even with all that, there's about as much to Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles as a choux pastry - it looks mouthwatering from the outside, but probe the inside and you soon discover there's a hollowness to what's within.

A lack of conflict, and a lack of any kind of danger hovers over proceedings - there's no last minute failure to rise disaster, no tumbling of pastry on the floor and no Great British Bake Off style of competition to be beholden here. It's a fairly simple, fairly unchallenging film where Ottolenghi proves to be both curator of the event, and tour guide into the history of the Versailles era and some of the crack squad he assembles.

It's not that Gabbard doesn't pull it all together in a truly pleasant way, merely that this is a sugar rush which wears off fairly quickly and leaves the viewer feeling a bit deflated.

There is no real sense of build up to the actual event, just a workmanlike behind the scenes approach to capturing what goes on for the event, and allowing the chefs airtime to espouse their various views.

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles: Film Review

Perhaps that;s some of the problem - there are too many things to cover, and bizarrely too little time with one person to fully indulge; Gabbard's scope is a little too wide to retain a focus.

At the end of the day, Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles will satiate high end art lovers, and culture seekers but may leave the casual viewer deeply unsatisfied.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Promising Young Woman: Film Review

Promising Young Woman: Film Review

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Alison Brie
Director: Emerald Fennell

Denied a release in 2020 thanks to Covid-19 and scheduled for New Zealand cinemas on January 7, 2021, Promising Young Woman will have you squirming in your seat - both with unease and with glee that films as bold as this can still be made.
Promising Young Woman: Film Review

Destined for discourse on gender politics and rape culture, the film stars An Education's Mulligan as Cassie, a woman who seemingly goes out every night, gets blind drunk and waits for a "decent guy" to help her home. Only each "decent guy" turns out to be as predatory as the rest.

But Cassie's no damsel in distress - in fact as the opening moments of the film reveal, she's fully in control and on a mission to punish men for taking advantage. As to the finer details of why, it's honestly best to discover as the film plays out - needless to say, the med school drop out Cassie finds her life plans changed when she meets former classmate Ryan (Bo Burnham) and she begins to succumb to his charms...

With a searing lead and a provocative tone, writer director Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman is the kind of indignant cinema we frankly needed more of in 2020, but which life cruelly denied us.
Promising Young Woman: Film Review

With a punk ethos and an utterly edge-of-the-seat mentality throughout, the film's desire to leave you unsure is nothing but an outright success.

It helps that Mulligan owns every single scene she’s in and while some may take issue with a script where all young men are less than respectful it’s perhaps more a societal indictment and commentary than sweeping generalisation. In fact, it’s distinctly plausible there’s a reason only the older are more guilt-ridden or worthy of admiration.

But in amongst this tumultuous hurricane of unease is Mulligan's unswerving and fearless performance - it's one that appears brave and gutsy but demonstrates an actor who isn’t afraid to show their vulnerability when the script demands it. It's easily one of the standout performances of the upcoming year.
Promising Young Woman: Film Review

It's a brave film that offers such surprises as the last 30 minutes do - and while Promising Young Woman's ending is polarising to say the least, it's guaranteed to have you bolt upright in your seat, fearful of where Fennell is taking the seemingly toxic story. The volcanic mix is addictive, and fair play to Fennell and Mulligan, it's never enough to push you away from what's playing out, and will leave you wanting to debate long after it's done.

It’s an audacious film of conscience and unconscionable events - 
triggering maybe but demanding of thought, Promising Young Woman is unlike nothing committed to the screen this year - and is all the better for it.

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Disney+ Film Review

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Disney+ Film Review

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Terence Stamp, Eva Green, Samuel L Jackson, Chris O'Dowd, Ella Purnell
Director: Tim Burton

It should in theory work, as it has all the kooky elements of a Tim Burton caper – unusual kids, an unusual setting and some spooky bad guys.

But Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is mired in a lengthy set-up that takes forever to tie all its ends together and even get started, crippling it for the first hour.

For those unfamiliar with American author Ransom Riggs’ number 1 best selling novel and its Harry Potter-esque trappings, it’s the story of Jake (Enders’ Game Asa Butterfield who brings a degree of intensity even if his character is saddled with exposition) who heads to Wales after the grotesque death of his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp).

Jake was close with his Grandpa, who used to regale him with night-time stories of the oddball children who’d live at a school under the watch of Eva Green’s Miss Peregrine. Believing the stories to be true, Jake stumbles into their world in Wales and marvels at the peculiarity of it all.

But what initially appears to be dream-like soon turns into a nightmare with something stalking the children and their charge to carry out a terrifying scheme…

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children mixes the macabre and the Burton vibe with a degree of visual aplomb as the allegory for Jewish persecution and child alienation is brought to the fore.

There’s eccentricity all over the place but thanks to a disjointed flow and some middling acting from some of the younger charges under Burton’s watch, the piece never quite achieves the levels of quirkiness it’s aspiring to.

Samuel L Jackson gives good scenery-chewing as the ultimate bad guy menacing the kids, Eva Green is barely there as the slightly plummy, stuffily British toothy pipe-smoking schoolmarm (Scary Poppins, anyone?) and Butterfield manages the awkward emotions of Jack quite well and is fine, but nothing more; it never fully gels in the way it should on the human front, thanks to a convoluted plot and a muddled attempt to get there.

Even Burton’s touches on this feel muted, almost as if a darker approach proved a little too out there for the audience it was aiming for.

It’s a shame the Beetlejuice vibe is played down as the Gothic gallows humour that appears in places is a welcome touch, and the more comic touches add to an air of oddity that's crying out to be set free, but which withers under such underwritten side characters.

Nowhere is this more evident than a brilliant showdown on Blackpool’s pier (of all places) with animated skeletons taking on stretched Slender-men style shadow creatures. It’s inventive, meshed with touches of both Burton and Harryhausen as the bony bodies bounce manically around. (A similar stop-motion scene with two doll puppets, a la Toy Story spider-babies, fighting to do the death is equally as welcome.)

It’s certainly dark, and the more nightmarish touches may explain why Burton had to reign it in for a more Addams Family vibe (but without the jokes) and an ongoing gag about why Florida is so horrific to so many.

The darker touches work well too – the inherent sadness of the war, the displacement of children, mental health problems and parents summarily dismissal of their child's illness, the impressive visuals as the Nazi bombs drop towards the house, the persecution of Jews by human monsters, they all lurk below the surface, but never fully bubble upto the top, almost as if there are fears the audience wouldn’t engage.

Ostensibly lashed with timey-wimey sensibilities and more confusing moments, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fascinating could have been movie from Burton; the offbeat touches meshing with the more gruesome edges to form a queasy cinematic experience that frustrates rather than thrills. It could have done with more of its danse macabre ethos, and a little more ooky rather than just kooky to ensure this children's home is one you'd want to check into again.

Monday, 28 December 2020

Bill & Red: Face The Music: Blu Ray Review

Bill & Red: Face The Music: Blu Ray Review

More uneven than a fully formed coherent journey, Bill & Ted: Face The Music sees Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves reprise their William S Preston and Theodore Logan roles, nearly 30 years since we last saw them.
Bill & Ted: Face The Music: Film Review

It's 2020, and Bill and Ted are still living in the shadow and fear of their legacy. But the airheads are just about still married to their wives and have two daughters (Weaving and Lundy-Paine, a great source of vacant-headed energy throughout and the breakout stars of this, potentially setting up a new franchise) as the world starts to fall apart.

Unable to write the prophesied song that will unite the world, and with reality collapsing in on themselves, Bill and Ted are visited by Kelly, Rufus' daughter and told they have a deadline to sort the music or it's all over.

So, the boys decide to go into the future to steal the song from themselves...
Bill & Ted: Face The Music: Film Review

It may start off a little ropy, thanks to the feeling that Reeves is struggling a bit to recapture some of the lunk-headed nature of his younger self, but once Bill & Ted: Face The Music settles in, there's a great deal of charisma to be had from seeing this duo back together and interacting with various future versions of themselves.

There's a lack of comedy throughout, and it misses the knockabout charm of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (a reunion with William Sadler's never-not-funny Death happens too late in the piece); a sub-plot sees Bill and Ted's daughters Billie and Thea essentially doing a musical journey a la Excellent Adventure's history quest, and there is a general feeling that it could have used a more knockabout approach to a fan service script.

Whereas Reeves seems to be struggling to get the tone and intonation of the wholesomely goofy and enthusiastic Ted (he even says at one point to Bill that he's "tired, dude"), Winter effortlessly slips back into Bill and even offers a few subtle spins on the character as the story pans out. It's here Bill & Ted Face The Music finds its emotional core, and even dances lightly around the nostalgia of its franchise - there's a sweetness (and sadness) to these two friends never quite growing up and reaching their potential, and the script rightly recognises that fact.
Bill & Ted: Face The Music: Film Review

Generally, Bill & Ted: Face The Music is more adequate than excellent, but when it comes together in the last 20 minutes, it really does leave an undeniably goofy grin on your face. But it also does demonstrate that given a tighter script polish, and a bit more of a humorous edge, Bill & Ted: Face The Music could have been another time-travel cult classic.

As it is, it's perhaps the film 2020 needs right now - but thanks to the unevenness not quite the one we were expecting from the dudes.

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Blithe Spirit: Film Review

Blithe Spirit: Film Review

Cast: Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, Leslie Mann, Judi Dench

Director: Edward Hall

Not exactly highbrow, but packing a bit of a screwball edge, director Edward Hall's slightly over-the-top Blithe Spirit follows a familiar edge to the Noel Coward story.
Blithe Spirit: Film Review

Stevens plays Charles Condomine, a writer frustrated by writer's block as he tries to adapt his own book for the screenplay. Wife Ruth (Fisher) is equally frustrated by Charles' lack of progress - both on the book and on their marriage.

When Charles invites apparently fraudulent medium Madame Arcati (Dench, having a roaring time in the period drama and overplaying her role with some acerbity) to their home for a seance, she accidentally conjures up the spirit of Charles' dead wife Elvira (a playful and irritating Mann) - meaning suddenly there's three in the marriage...

Packed full of period art-deco touches and some truly eyepopping costuming, the 2020 version of Blithe Spirit zips along with some chutzpah and pizazz, without ever really being anything more than a shallow farce dressed up nicely for the big screen.
Blithe Spirit: Film Review

Stevens has a riot going over-the-top as the froth sets in, and a malevolent Mann displays a devilish impishness to her ghostly Elvira. Fisher brings the right amount of heart as Ruth, the woman in the middle of it all, but in among the wizz-bang chocks away approach of the time, the film's energy is 
enough to propel it through its stage derivation.

Leaning more into the wacky edges and all the better for it, Blithe Spirit has a frothy feel that's never quite contagious enough but it is more than enough to get it through its mischievous edges and will leave audiences not looking to be challenged, merely leaving them more than satisfied.

Friday, 25 December 2020

Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas everyone!

So this is Christmas, and if anything, 2020 has guaranteed this year's festive season will (hopefully) be unlike any other one ever.
Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks

Thanks to all those who've provided access to media screenings this year, to those who've provided review codes for games, to those who've provided review and giveaway copies of films on DVD and Blu-Ray and to those of you who've taken time to read and submit news to this site this year.

For now, it remains only to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a better 2021.

PS Don't forget Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks airs in the UK on New Year's Day (and in New Zealand on January 2), and prepare to farewell Ryan and the Chase's Bradley Walsh aka Graham!

See you in 2021.

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Nomadland: Film Review

Nomadland: Film Review

Cast: Frances McDormand, Gay DeForest, Patricia Grier
Director: Chloe Zhao

There's an authenticity to Chloe Zhao's Nomadland, an adaptation of the book by Jessica Bruder, that makes this tale of a nomad hard to shake.
Nomadland: Film Review

McDormand plays Fern, a disenfranchised widower who moves from region to region in a van after the mining village she was part of in Nevada is essentially shut down and removed from the US map. Stripped of the place she used to call her home, Fern travels around in a beaten up old van that she's made up to be her safety zone.

Bruder's 2017 tome looked at transient older people in mid-west America, and Zhao's film easily taps into that. It helps that McDormand feels so natural in the role (possibly due to the months she spent living in a van prior in the name of research) and that all the extras who appear in the film's cast are nomads themselves.

Zhao's at pains to point out that Fern has chosen the lifestyle ("I'm not homeless, just house-less - it's not the same thing," she intones at one point) that has to a degree been thrust upon her. But Zhao's lens and cinematographer Joshua James Richards paints an all-too different picture with large swathes of the countryside shot in wide angles to emphasise the scope of the landscape, and internal shots taken in close up to emphasise Fern's comfort.

Equally, the Amazon warehouse where Fern resides as a seasonal worker is shot with vast amount of spaces around her, as if to push the point that Fern doesn't fully belong within the world she's forced to be part of.
Nomadland: Film Review

McDormand lives and breathes the role, and never once feels like she's acting - it's all done on Fern's own terms, and it shows on screen. But there's an organic dignity running through this film that's hard to shake, and deeply compelling to watch.

At its heart, Nomadland is haunting, elegaic, and guaranteed to shake up your world view as a capsule of life in the 21st century, and the harsh economic realities faced by older Americans, it's disturbing. But bizarrely, it's beautifully hopeful, speaking to communities and connections of souls as Fern travels weaving in and out of people's lives as the days and roads lumber on.

Nomadland is the road trip 2021 deserves - a shake up reminder that our pasts and presents can collide in ways that are both freeing and frightening; it's a road movie of humans' innate desire for connection, but also strangely, of alienation.

Nomadland is simply unmissable; a film of layers and impressions rather than a normal narrative, it will stay with you long after its perfect final shot has faded from the screen.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Soul: Movie Review

Soul: Movie Review

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Rachel House

Director: Pete Docter

Pixar's Soul is the latest Disney movie to suffer an existential crisis.

Not just in the way that it's being premiered on Disney+ over Christmas after Covid-19 denied it its time to shine in the cinema, but also thematically with its somewhat simplistic and overtly obvious message of stop and smell the flowers.

Soul: Movie Review

Foxx plays Joe, a middle-aged middle school band teacher, who yearns to play jazz in the clubs. But life has denied him his break, and things get even worse on the day he ends up receiving success. For as soon as Joe is given a full-time job and scores a gig with a well-known jazz singer (Angela Bassett), he promptly falls to his near death by plummeting down a manhole in New York's streets.

Waking up in another realm, The Great Before, Joe's desperate to return to Earth - but ends up becoming a mentor to a listless soul called 22 (30 Rock's Tina Fey) who has yet to discover their purpose in life...

There's much to admire with Soul.

Soul: Movie Review

It starts off wonderfully pacy and a little bit out there by seemingly killing off its lead. Thrust into another world, complete with its Cubist characters and concepts such as shaping souls in the Great Before, as well as tackling going into the light, the film's dalliances with the existential and the spiritual is enough to send any adult meandering through life closer to the edge.

But then after about 40 minutes, a kind of Pixar universal reality sets in, and the filmmakers remember they're making family fare, and the whole thing comes back down to earth with a glorious jolt and into more familiar refrains and cartoon tropes.

That's not to deny Soul its due - it's a fairly robust odd couple film that's been done to death a million times before. However, imbued with its hues and etheral colourings, there's a vibrancy to the animation that sings as much as the jazz music scats. 

Yet, there is a feeling that the film could have pushed its edges a little more, rather than settling into the usual tropes, no matter how well executed. As a film with a cast largely filled by people of colour, and with praise for the African-American influence on the country's culture, there's daring to be had within the frames of Pixar's latest.

It's a shame Soul has been denied a big screen release thanks to lush animation, and daring concepts brought to life; complete with its desire to push viewers into an existential crisis, it would have soared on the big screen.

Soul: Movie Review

But alas, Soul is confined to Disney+, and while it's not a disaster, it is a travesty that a viral outbreak has robbed the cinemas of something a little more challenging and beauteous to behold.

While there is plenty of soul in Soul, and a rather simplistic learning to be had, there's much enjoyment from its weirder edges early on. Its unpredictability is its charm, and its trippiness is a great benefit with the animation paying homage to previous expressions of the artform.

At one stage, one character says “You can’t crush a soul here. That’s what Earth is for.” Soul is aimed at promoting a message of appreciating what you've got in the now, and after 2020, that's probably the soothing message we all needed, no matter how unoriginal it is, nor how well the story is presented.

Soul premieres on Disney+ on Boxing Day.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Savage: DVD Review

Savage: DVD Review

Released by Madman Home Ent

Sam Kelly's confrontational gangs-led story packs a powerful punch in places.

Opening with an unflinching act of brutality, Savage wears its gang patch on its sleeve.

Porirua-based director Sam Kelly's made no secret of the fact that Savage is supposed to be an honest and open look at the grim reality of life within a gang.

Zig-zagging across 30 years of Ryan's Danny, the film chooses three key timelines to dwell on, formative periods of Danny's life that ultimately lead him to a crossroads and a crisis.

But without wishing to sound trite, and perhaps it's more a reflection on society itself, the three key periods all cover very familiar ground to anyone who has an inkling of what violence begets further violence in life. That's not to doubt the film's authenticity though, more that its journey is not perhaps its strongest one.

It begins in 1965, where the child Danny is being brought up in a violent household. It moves to 1972 where the older Danny finds himself part of a new gang, The Savages, and on a collision course with family who are part of rival gangs. And it ends with Danny as the head enforcer of the Savages and who's questioning his role in the cycle of violence.

Central to Savage is the brooding presence of former Home and Away star Jake Ryan. With tattoos covering his face and with a brooding, glowering approach to life, Ryan imbues Danny with some of the inner turmoil he needs to try and sell the idea that enough is enough.

Savage: Film Review

Key to that narrative arc is John Tui's Moses, and his loyalty to the one person who's stood with him all throughout his life - despite the fact that person may be the bad apple Danny needs to step away from.

With a grim dour palette and a sense of foreboding in the atmosphere, Savage is successfull in capturing the mood and tone of calustrophobia in gang life, and the feeling that Danny's close to heading too far down a path that will claim him forever.

But where Kelly falters with parts of Savage is in the zipping between timelines. Even though some of the storyline is handled with restraint and subtlety, the lack of time in each period and the briefest of characterisations means the story fails to reach the emotional resonance and power that it's pushing for.

Equally, while Kelly hints at the fascinating power dynamics between men and women in the gang world (especially with two parallel relationships stretched out across ages), he never quite follows it up, preferring to leave it dangling and frustrating the audience immensely.

All in all, Savage has brooding intensity and shocking violence when it's needed, but it lacks the emotional heft it needs to fully sell its denouement. Kelly's to be commended for trying something different with a story, but the all-too-familiar edges of the narrative journey and jumping around timelines are what hinders Savage from being the powerful film it aspires to.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Win a double pass to see Monster Hunter at the cinemas

Win a double pass to see Monster Hunter at the cinemas

To celebrate the release of Monster Hunter in cinemas January 1, 2021, you can win a double pass thanks to Sony Pictures.

About Monster Hunter

Behind our world, there is another: a world of dangerous and powerful monsters that rule their domain with deadly ferocity. 

When Lt. Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and her elite unit are transported through a portal from our world to a new world, they are in for the shock of their lives. In her desperate attempt to get home, the brave lieutenant encounters a mysterious hunter (Tony Jaa), whose unique skills have allowed him to survive in this hostile land. 

Win a double pass to see Monster Hunter at the cinemas

Faced with relentless and terrifying attacks from the monsters, the warriors’ team up to fight back and find a way home.

Based on the global video game series phenomenon MONSTER HUNTER.


In Cinemas January 1

Rated M Violence


Sunday, 20 December 2020

The Croods: A New Age: Film Review

The Croods: A New Age: Film Review

Vocal cast: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage
Director: Joel Crawford

Seven years after its first outing, the stone age family returns in a sequel that's all about the zany, and the gorgeous visuals than a massively strong story.

With Eep and Guy (Stone and Reynolds) still going strong, the prehistoric Croods are continuing to search for a safer home, where something is not always waiting to kill them. But when they discover a walled paradise run by the Betterman family (Mann and Dinklage), who are a couple of steps ahead of them on the evolution scale, it becomes a battle between neighbours...
The Croods: A New Age: Film Review

The parenting parable that is The Croods: A New Age is good strong family film that may lack some of the originality of the first film but which delivers a frenetic and fun 90 minutes at the movies.

It helps that the animation is gorgeously presented, from wondrously coloured vistas to bright hues writ large upon the screen. The whole film sings with vibrancy and while it doesn't reinvent the stone age wheel, its zaniness does occasionally come with a price.

Lessons are espoused with ease and understanding, but in the final third of the film, there's a slight lull, before the script throws one last wacky turn into proceedings. There are times when it feels like there's a lot going on on the screen, but the all-ages fun element papers over some of the cracks of the narrative.
The Croods: A New Age: Film Review

The world-widening of The Croods: A New Age delivers more options for spinoffs of the Stone Age, and in truth, that's no bad thing. Sure, there's a level of emotion missing from this prehistoric proffering, but this is full-on family fun that more than delivers a few life lessons in among the full-on animated antics.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Tenet: Blu Ray Review

Tenet: Blu Ray Review

Christopher Nolan's high-concept action-filled Tenet is a blockbuster to see on the big screen.

That's not an exhortation given worries over Covid-19, social distancing and movie releases - more that the film's been primarily made for the big screen experience, and certainly for the IMAX screen with extended action sequences filling every inch of what is on offer.
Tenet: Film Review

Nolan's been sparse with details of the plot, but Washington plays an unnamed CIA agent who is called upon to stop a Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (played with devilishly dead eyes by Kenneth Branagh) from ending the world. 

So far, so run-of-the-mill spy thriller.

But Nolan then peppers the script with talk of entropy, backwards-moving bullets and time-shifting scenes and further muddies the water with a never-ending series of set pieces that each try to outdo each other with visuals and action.

The thing is with Tenet is that it's muddled in exposition serving as a bridge in between each action sequence.

Early on, one character says to John David Washington's The Protagonist "Don't try and understand it."

To be frank, it's a missive from Nolan that could also apply to the audience as the movie spools out.
Tenet: Film Review

On an emotional level, Tenet is less interested in providing something to grab onto. Whereas Elizabeth Debicki's gangster moll Kat appears to exist purely to service an abused wife storyline, there are hints of attraction between The Protagonist and her, but they exist only in passing.

More effective is the relationship between the Protagonist and Robert Pattinson's initially mysterious Neil. Pattinson delights in delivering one of the strongest performances he's mustered in a while, slipping into the intrigue and action with ease. Washington and he gel well, whereas solo, Washington's Protagonist is left to spout reams of exposition and supposition of what lies ahead. It's in the verbiage that Tenet gains its pomposity.

But at the end of the day, Tenet is all about the action.

Nolan delivers overly choreographed sequences of utter jaw-dropping consequence that are heavily scored by a bombastic and edge-of-the-seat score. An opening sequence inside a concert hall sets the tense atmosphere in motion, and the film very rarely lets up from then on.

It's here that Tenet more than delivers, shifting its pieces around the cinematic table with masterful ease - it's easy to understand why Nolan refused to compromise on his delivery of Tenet into the multiplex and it's easy to let the action wash over you.

There are hints at the end of a potential sequel, but it's hard to see how Nolan could top himself in terms of visual thrills and action sequences.

There's no doubt Tenet is a spectacle, and an at times extremely entertaining one. Just don't scratch below the surface, because emotionally Tenet is lacking. And while that may not be a key factor for those seeking out blockbuster entertainment, for all of its top notch bells and whistles, it does have you leaving the cinema feeling a touch confused and wondering if that was it.

Friday, 18 December 2020

Unhinged: Blu Ray Review

Unhinged: Blu Ray Review

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

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

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

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

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

But Unhinged requires nothing more of any of its actors.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 17 December 2020

The Dry: Film Review

The Dry: Film Review

Cast: Eric Bana, Genevieve O'Reilly, Keir O'Donnell
Director: Robert Connolly

The sense of oppressive heat is all over Robert Connolly's big screen adaptation of the number one best selling Australian book by Jane Harper.

From the opening shots of a gunshot-blasted body and blood-splattered walls with baby howling in the background to cracked ground that hasn't seen rain for over 350 days, Connolly's The Dry is a gripping thriller that builds on its sense of mystery as it progresses.

When Eric Bana's Aaron Falk returns to his hometown of Kiewarra after the apparent murder suicide of friend Luke Hadler and his family, he finds old wounds reopened after he's asked to look into the case by family. Shocked into returning by a note that says he lied and Luke lied, Falk rediscovers a mystery and secret from his past that he'd thought was long dormant.

There's an appealing grittiness to Connolly's adaptation of the book, even if the final moments see fit to drop a large amount of exposition to answer the mysteries posed throughout.

Essentially an examination of small-town prejudice and the pent-up rage of an angry community tarred by its past, Connolly keeps the helm of the film intimate yet just about wide enough to give a feeling that anyone could have done the crime then, and anyone could have done it now.
The Dry: Film Review

In amongst all this is a smoothly suave and calm Bana who plays Falk as a cool and collected character, who's clearly haunted by the past, and troubled by the present. There's little to no showy moments in the softly spoken turn that ensures you're along for the journey as much as Aaron is.  Bana is as good a guide as you'd need for the mystery and while the end challenges credulity due to its excessive info dump after a slow burn, he does more than enough to propel you along.

While there are one too many flashbacks that prove to be better for a book narrative than a big screen one, the diversions just about manage to serve the heightening of the tension and the growth of the mystery, thanks to a younger cast and the palpable sense of a bond from youth.

Ultimately, The Dry's drama and its central mystery are more than enough to keep you engaged over its 2 hour run time - but thanks to a more than affable Bana, who's rarely been better in the steely intensity stakes, this dry is likely to leave you thirsting for more.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Wonder Woman 84: Film Review

Wonder Woman 84: Film Review

Cast: Gal Gadot, Pedro Pascal, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Natasha Rothwell
Director: Patty Jenkins

Be careful what you wish for seems like both a good maxim for this film - and also ironically about it too.

Wonder Woman 84: film Review

After what seems an eternity thanks to the cinematic ravaging by Covid-19 to the release schedule, Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman 84 finally arrives on the big screen.

And it's a wonderfully uncynical piece that's clearly more about uplifting spirits than providing something deep and aimed at moving the DC world forward.

In 1984, Gal Gadot's Diana Prince is working at the Smithsonian Museum, but still stuck in the past pining for the love of her life Steve Trevor. Into her world comes the klutzy Barbara Minerva (Wiig, who seriously impresses with the mix of drama and comedy before the usual superhero blur sets in) and also Pedro Pascal's apparent televangelist Maxwell Lord who promises that what you want can come true if you believe.

But as with everything, it all comes at a price...

Wonder Woman 84 opens with a sequence of wonder as a young Amazonian Diana takes on a challenge, and ends up with a scene that feels like Love Actually crossed onto its set and was responsible for a reshoot to add something in for the festive season.

In between all of this is a mixed pot of both good, and bad. 

From Patty Jenkins' unfussy action sequences that unfold with ease and clarity (bar one final showdown) to a heart that beats loudly in scenes with Pine and Gadot that ripple with chemistry (especially in a scene with a plane in fireworks), there's much that will keep the casual DC fan happy. From the wonder and joy of Pine's comedy chops as he wonders at his out-of-time second life, to Barbara Minerva's gradual opening up, the film has its sense of purpose and mission statement high on its own agenda.

And yet, it also falters into an unusual mix of a film that's not quite sure it has what it takes to break out from the mold of the genre. From Pedro Pascal's hamminess as the ghoul of greed who really has nothing much to do to the 150 minutes oddly feeling like it's padded out via way of a MacGuffin that's barely anything, there's a distinct feeling of indifference that settles into the second act of the movie that's hard to shake. Central to some of that is Gadot, who never clearly seems to deliver lines, and exists mainly to assume the mantle of a model shot in slow mo for various action moments.

Wonder Woman 84: film Review

In among the kitsch opening, and the 80s nostalgia, it's easy to see why Wonder Woman 84 would have been a surefire thing - there's a comfort to the film's central messages and it would take a hard heart to not give in to the feelings of loss early on, the feeling of wonder in the opening scenes and the take on female friendship.

But this throwback film doesn't quite hit all the right beats, and Wonder Woman 84 is frankly, less of a wonder this time around, more a feeling of the formulaic and rote. It has moments of joy, but the pleasures feel more fleeting and the earnest heart which made so much of the 2017 film and its story arc beat with a vibrant life is noticeably missing.

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

The New Mutants: Blu Ray Review

The New Mutants: Blu Ray Review

The idea of the X-Men franchise getting a dose of horror is, in theory, a great one.

But what director Josh "The Fault In Our Stars" Boone delivers is something that fails to build on the potential, frustratingly drawing a veil over 20th Century Fox's involvement in the X-Men franchise.

The story, such as it is, centres around Blu Hunt's Danielle Moonstar, a native American who is the sole survivor of a tornado which destroys her reservation. Awaking having seen her father killed, Dani finds herself chained to a gurney inside a hospital with the soothing voice of Dr Reyes (Braga) telling her everything will be alright, as long as she just accepts the treatment.

Introduced to four other teenagers within the hospital, Dani soon believes they are being trained to be part of the X-Men. But when the group starts to be attacked, they find their loyalties questioned, and their grip on what is the truth crumbling....
The New Mutants: Film Review

The New Mutants never really gets going.

Despite a cast that has charisma in other roles, flat dialogue and limp direction hinders them from being truly memorable.

Add in to that mix, some truly ropey CGI and this X-Men spinoff never finds any of the feet it needed to launch a trilogy. Rough editing, and some uninspired visual choices stop The New Mutants from soaring when it should.

The asylum setting is a nice antithesis to the pristine brilliance of Professor Charles Xavier's school of mutants - and the oppressive claustrophobic nature of what's within should provide the film with the atmosphere it needs, but in truth, the film's script doesn't capitalise on years of prior X-Men films, nor does it show any of its own strengths.

Scenes from Buffy The Vampire Slayer play in the background right before the film practically rips off the moments on the big screen, hints of child abuse and same-sex relationships are danced around to hold off any darkness and the movie never really gains the wisdom of its own merits to soar.

Williams delivers a performance that seems to be another version of her character from (the more superior) schoolgirl murder mystery The Falling; Taylor-Joy appears to be channeling Jennifer Lawrence's Russian Red Sparrow via way of Villanelle and Heaton is playing a kind of Johnny Knoxville-mutant-hick hybrid.

Instead of revelling in the creepy, The New Mutants rolls in the familiar and by being left rotting on a release shelf for 3 years, it really shows that it's out of step and time for what it should be.

Massively frustrating, given the chance to reinvigorate the tired and stale X-Men universe, The New Mutants will fall easily into a category of what should and could have been, rather than what is. 

Monday, 14 December 2020

Shirley: DVD Review

Shirley: DVD Review

Released by Madman Home Ent
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Logan Lerman, Odessa Young, Michael Stuhlbarg

Director: Josephine Decker

Feeling like a woozy Gothic psychological romance rather than a detailed relationship drama, Josephine Decker's Shirley sees The Handmaid's Tale's Elisabeth Moss as writer Shirley Jackson (who went on to pen The Haunting of Hill House).

Unable to find her muse, agoraphobic and constantly in bed, drink or cigarette in hand, Shirley's hit a stumbling block. Into her life, at the behest of her professor partner (Stuhlbarg, in a vaguely monstrous role), comes youngsters Rose and her academic husband Fred (Young and Lerman) to help out around the house and at the college.

Shirley: Film Review

But Shirley is reticent to have them around, and Fred becomes frustrated at his lack of progression at the college. However, the more Shirley and Fred dig in, the more Rose awakens from her repression.

Shirley isn't a bad character study by any stretch of the imagination.

Thanks to Moss' wild-eyed approach to Jackson, the film thrives when she's on screen - and it positively sparks when she's paired up with Young as the two crackle against each other and against years of repression and expectation.

Hand-held camerawork, close ups, and a haunting OST along with a mystery of a missing girl all make for an intoxicating mix in Shirley, and Young and Moss deserve kudos for their time on screen.

Moss in particular revels in her character's messiness, and the script doesn't hold back from showing her flaws, but equally, it doesn't criticise her for them either.

A fascinating study of genius and an arthouse approach by Decker give the film the sheen it needs - and offers the audience a different way at looking at tortured authors.

Sunday, 13 December 2020

The Mystery of D.B Cooper: Film Review

The Mystery of D.B Cooper: Film Review

Director: John Dower

To the uninitiated, the legend of DB Cooper may sound preposterous.

A man in a suit who in 1971 hijacked a plane, demanded $200,000, four parachutes and then jumped out of the back stairs of the craft into a destiny unknown - it's practically got mythic status written all over it.

The Mystery of D.B Cooper: Film Review

Cooper was responsible for large scale aviation change and implementation of security protocols, but even more than that - he was responsible for a myth lasted since November 1971, given he was never found.

It's into this that John Dower's genial documentary dives headfirst as he gets wrapped up in the only unsolved airplane hijacking in America - and the fact everyone involved in the case has had a "I'm Spartacus" moment when asked if they know who he was.

It's this obsession which fuels the majority of this handsomely shot patchwork recreation doco as Dower delves into the mystery, essentially re-telling it and never providing a Eureka moment as it draws to a close.

From interviewer interjections to candid confessions from those involved that they've spent way too much of their lives obsessing about what happened to Cooper rather than living, Dower throws up a prism to the case, and delivers a film that's completely about the exaggerations of the story and of the points of view of many.

The Mystery of D.B Cooper: Film Review

From flight attendants caught up in the moment, to pilots in the cockpit, through to journalists intrigued by the tale, Dower threads a multi-layered webbing of a story that's compelling to watch, but ultimately forgettable after it's finished.

It's about the belief in the mystery and Dower does a fine job of amassing all those edges into something that's nicely entertaining fluff for the conspiracy masses all packaged up in one 90 minute serving.

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Midway: Neon NZ Review

Midway: Neon NZ Review

One-note, thin characters and some dialogue that's purely about gung-ho jingoism rather than deep insight, B-movie Midway is exactly the kind of film you'd expect from disaster movie director Roland Emmerich.
Midway: Film Review

Based on a true story and a sequel of sorts to Pearl Harbour, Midway is the story of what happened next as the Americans scrambled to prevent another attack from the Japanese after December 7, 1941.

In the wake of the attack, a group of fly-boys, led by Ed Skrein's Dick Best scramble to take to the skies, while Patrick Wilson's intelligence team tries to work out where the next attack could come from.

Midway has potential - Emmerich certainly knows how to effectively present disaster on screen, with his Pearl Harbour attack channeling some of his Independence Day roots with ease.

Midway: Film Review
But the script sends the Japanese to one-note villains, dressed in black and huddling to contemplate their next move (it's alarming the Chinese have backed this film so heavily) and it elevates the Americans to do gooders with whiter-than-white intentions. It could be hagiography, if it were deeper and more insightful in its character realisation.

However, as it stands, what Midway becomes after an interesting opening, is simply a series of attack scenes, which jump around the different viewpoints from within the American world. Much like levels of a video game, Midway doesn't have time to go deeper than the surface to get to its action.

CGI and jeopardy mix hand in hand, and granted Midway never aspires to be more than a computer-generated spectacle. Yet, with Wilson's stoic work, a practically wasted Eckhart, and Harrelson in a wig, the film wastes its best assets on the exploits of the gum-chewing, chiselled jaw jutting, rule-floutin' Dick Best, who's embodied by Ed Skrein with all the delicacy of a paper cut out; there's no nuance in this real life flyboy, merely a hollow shell filled with the script cliches, and brimming with nothing else.

Midway: Film Review

All in all, while Midway delivers on its spectacle early on, it soon becomes clear that the bombast and bombing raids are all it has - narratives are dropped and ignored, only to be resolved right at the end, robbing the film of an emotional edge, and a human element to cheer for in one of America's darkest days. 

Friday, 11 December 2020

Hitman III | Introducing Hitman Trailer

Hitman III | Introducing Hitman Trailer

IO Interactive’s latest HITMAN 3 trailer introduces new features and returning favourites


In-engine gameplay footage from Dubai, Dartmoor and Chongqing locations showcases new gameplay opportunities in the series’ signature living, breathing sandbox locations.

 IO Interactive is proud to present HITMAN 3 gameplay in 4K at 60 fps with the release of a new trailer, Introducing HITMAN 3. Showcasing in-engine footage, this new trailer introduces fresh gameplay opportunities, the return of fan-favourite features and a full overview of the gameplay concepts and scenarios that players will experience when the game launches on 20 January 2021.

Powered by IO Interactive’s proprietary Glacier engine, HITMAN 3 puts you in full control of Agent 47’s deadly abilities, his razor-sharp instincts and his entire arsenal of weapons and tools that you can use to master the art of assassination. Get to grips with the new camera that can open locks and analyse your performance with the return of post-mission Playstyles that are awarded based on how you complete missions.

Introducing Hitman 3


Get the full debrief on the new and returning features coming to HITMAN 3:


On next-gen consoles, HITMAN 3 will support 4k visuals, 60 fps, HDR and faster loading times. The game will also bring refinements to interaction animation and AI, as well as Glacier’s crowd technology that will allow up to 300 NPC’s in a location at once.


HITMAN 3 players can import locations from the previous games in the trilogy and have more than 20+ locations under one roof. All of the improvements to rendering, animation and AI introduced with HITMAN 3 can be enjoyed across all three games, making HITMAN 3 the ultimate place to play the entire World of Assassination trilogy.

HITMAN 3 will also support PlayStation VR at launch in January 2021 – but it’s not only HITMAN 3 locations that are supported. Every location from the World of Assassination trilogy can be enjoyed in VR when you play them through HITMAN 3.

HITMAN 3 will be available on 20 January 2021 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, Google Stadia and PC. HITMAN 3 will also be coming to Nintendo Switch, playable via cloud streaming technology. Pre-order today for access to the Trinity Pack, a celebration of the World of Assassination.

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