Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Richard Jewell: DVD Review

Richard Jewell: DVD Review

If Richard Jewell achieves anything, it'll be proof that the best performances come from unshowy actors determined to fall into their roles and make the best subtle use of their time on screen.

Eastwood's tale of one man caught in a maelstrom is perfect for his ageing Libertarian views, as he aims a salvo at the media and pushes the old ways of the American dream.

Richard Jewell: Film Review

Hauser plays Jewell, a vulnerable oaf caught in his belief of authority and his inability to see the system is out to get him and manipulate him when he's accused of bombing Centennial Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

With his profile fitting the FBI's suspicions he's not the hero he's hailed as after he saved many in the park, Jewell finds his life - and that of his mother's - caught in the headlights.

Richard Jewell benefits from terrific turns from Hauser as the wronged man, Rockwell as the lawyer who decides to take the case after years of friendship, and Bates' silently-stoic-but-ultimately-rising-to-the-occasion mother.

When it concentrates on this triumvirate, the film packs a power punch that's subtle, unshowy and ultimately engrossing.

Which is why it's a shame that those swirling around Jewell's escalating plight, and those plotting his downfall, are nothing more than once-over-lightly stereotypes and caricatures.

From Wilde's contentiously sleazy reporter Kathy Scruggs who's made to trade sex for scoops (something the film's been slammed for) to Hamm's just bad FBI agent who was caught off guard when Jewell discovered the bomb, the film's outer edges damage the relatively engrossing tale that ensues.

Throw in Confederate flags, a scene of the US flag being waved in full camera that Roland Emmerich would be proud of and the whole mix starts to feel a little queasy, a touch of retro jingoism of the worst order.

Ultimately, Richard Jewell deserves to be seen for Hauser and Rockwell's performances alone, their character moments dazzling quietly under the ensuing heavy-handedness that Eastwood and his writer deploy.

It may be following Eastwood's desire to laud the common man caught in the unstoppable force of

the Government crusade his latest films have pushed, but the more powerful moments of Jewell, thanks largely to Hauser's understated and overwhelming performance, soar high above some of the other misdeeds of the rest of the film.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Birds Of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn: DVD Review

Birds Of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn: DVD Review

Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez
Director: Cathy Yan

DC continues its potential reinvention after the success of Shazam!, Joker, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, by taking the very best part of Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie's twisted Harley Quinn and giving her her own adventure in Gotham.
Birds Of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn: Film Review

In Birds Of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, Robbie's Quinn finds herself trying to help a girl in need when Ewan McGregor's Roman Sionis (aka Black Mask) puts out a hit on a young girl named Cass.

As Quinn's path collides with others in the city, a new team up emerges - the Birds of Prey.
Birds Of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn: Film Review

Trashy, hollow, yet distinctly pleasing and anchored by a power performance from Margot Robbie, Birds of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is one heck of a blast from the DC Universe, a film that makes it hard to match up a universe where Joaquin Phoenix's Joker lives.

Some impressively choreographed action scenes really add a bite to the pop art aesthetic of Birds of Prey, and give the supporting characters a chance to shine throughout.

Which is a good thing, because with a slight plot (kid finds themselves on the wrong side of crime, and forced on the run), Birds of Prey doesn't exactly go more than surface deep throughout. And outside of Robbie's phenomenal turn as the spinning-out-of-control-after-splitting-from-Mr-J, there's not much room for the supporting characters to get anything more than a once over lightly approach, and a slight mickey-taking for Winstead's Huntress.

But given the whole affair is narrated by Quinn, the wise-cracking, spiralling story works best with its unpredictability, the crackle largely given by Robbie's performance. McGregor goes from hammy to menace with ease, though his Black Mask feels like a spoilt brat with psychosis for temper tantrums - he's still watchable, but only thanks to the frisson of uncertainty of where it's all going.

There is a feeling of flagging within Birds of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn as the movie searches for an ending after delivering a killer action sequence inside a fairground funhouse; but the irreverence that's been lurking underneath comes flying out to finish the proceedings.

It's these touches which prove to be Birds of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn's saving grace - the film looks like nothing else that's been witnessed in this world since DC began. A blast of colour, inventive fight scenes and a sensational leading lady gives the flick the emancipation from the gritty grim DC Extended Universe that it's been searching for.

Sure, Birds of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is style over substance, but when it looks this good and enjoyable, who cares?

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Just Mercy: DVD Review

Just Mercy: DVD Review

That Just Mercy follows a conventional, cliched path for its tale of wronged black man seeking redemption is not a bad thing, but it lends the film a feeling of a lack of subtlety.

That it does it with Michael B Jordan leading the way, lends the film the agency it desperately wants from its beginning sequences to its obvious end, complete with its these are the people from the true story photos.

Just Mercy: Film Review

And yet in this quietly dignified story of Jordan's innocent lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, who, despite the exhortations of his mother who fears for his life, heads to Alabama to try and save Jamie Foxx's Walter McMillian from death row, every cliche and every dramatic beat lies in wait and is deployed when thematically necessary.

This may sound like a damnation of the film, but in truth, Just Mercy's strength derives from knowing the journey it's on, and being determined to tell it well, wrapping the whole thing up in an unshowy bow that gives it the kind of prestige sheen that won't attract awards praise, but will render its audience distraught with parts of its power.

Nuance is the order of the day with Just Mercy, and while Foxx is reduced to a side player thanks to his character's incarceration, Jordan's evident star power shines through. Sure, his lawyer doesn't resort to showmanship or tricks and ticks to get his result, but the story gifts Jordan with enough to ensure the overriding feeling is one of dignity in the face of overwhelming odds.

You've seen films like Just Mercy before - depressingly, these stories have been around from the John Grisham days to the Netflix contemporary series, and they've been told to varying degrees of success through the years. And sure, there are montages which show researching and lawyering at work, but Just Mercy does more than enough to justify its cliches, and exposes the horror of the Alabama state to the depressing maximum.

However, Just Mercy packs a powerful punch when it's needed.

An execution sequence is utterly heart-in-mouth horrifically burned into the screen, one of the few truly memorable moments from Just Mercy's overly bloated 2 hour run time that resolutely stands out and is deeply affecting. And Blake Nelson's performance as a witness in the original case gives the film a boost as it threatens to sag in its second hour.

Ultimately, Just Mercy and its depressingly familiar material is another of those has to be told tales that Hollywood occasionally does so well. What makes this one stand out though is a nuanced lead, a determination to showcase the grit under extreme pressure and the desire to lead with its earnestness.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

The Day Shall Come: DVD Review

The Day Shall Come: DVD Review

Lacking the savagery of a lot of Chris Morris' earlier work, and based on "a hundred true stories", The Day Shall Come's tale of ineptitude reeks of some of the themes laid down in the brilliant Four Lions and which course through the veins of his work like Brass Eye and The Day Today.

In this latest, which heads to America, Morris tells the tale of Marchant Davis' Moses, who leads a church of six (basically, his family plus a couple of hangers-on) who are trying to build a farm in downtown.

The Day Shall Come: NZIFF Review

Heading up the Star of Six, and constantly praising Black Santa, Moses is waiting for the day he and his followers are called to "overturn the accidental dominance of the white people."

But through an escalation of circumstances, Moses is thrust into the middle of an FBI office looking to make arrests of Jihadi to stand out, putting his idealism beliefs in the firing line of idiocy.

Essentially, The Day Shall Come sees Morris tackling themes he's already dealt with with his co-writers and perhaps more successfully so in Four Lions; the escalating one upmanship of those in power, the rise of idealism and the downtreading of the common man and their rights.

However what feels most disappointing about The Day Shall Come is how tame it appears to be when compared to the rest of his work.

Using his outrage more sharply, both he and co-writer Jesse Armstrong could have gone for savage barbs, instead of occasionally tame jabs. It's a major disappointment that feels under-developed and weak in parts, even if there are a couple of quotable moments which are up there with "Rubber Dinghy Rapids" from Four Lions.

The film's shot and edited in a workmanlike way, and Denis O'Hare and Anna Kendrick are simply okay in proceedings - it's with Marchant Davis the film rests. The debut actor's humanity shines through, and it's only the script that lets him down, leaving you feeling his arc's end is nowhere near as tragic or outrageous as it should have been.

Depressingly, The Day Shall Come will get lost in the pantheon of Morris' other work - it lacks the clarity and precision of the satirist that we needed for these times we live in, and consequently, it's underwhelming. 

Friday, 26 June 2020

The Way Back: DVD Review

The Way Back: DVD Review

In many ways, The Way Back is a film you've seen before.
The Way Back: Film Review

One of a broken sports person and alcoholic, not searching for redemption, who's offered the chance to get back in the game and tackle their own personal demons at the time.

But The Way Back suffers from the delicious irony that its central star has battled with these very demons and has slowly fought his way back.

Affleck is Jack Cunningham, a former high school basketball star, who's asked to coach the local team - for no real reason other than they're tanking and he was their next big thing. Initially reticent, the separated Cunningham takes on the mantle and begins his journey back.

The Way Back: Film Review

Dour and rightfully downbeat, The Way Back sees Affleck reteaming with his The Accountant director to create the sort of sports underdog film that is all too rote and all too familiar. And yet, with a relative career best from Affleck, the film's certainly got some redeeming features.

Sequences wondering if Jack will hit the booze again may ooze familiarity, but tempered with scenes where Jack goes through a 30 pack of beer in one night, with a routine of picking one out of the freezer, returning a fresh one in there ready feeling raw and tempered with the kind of veracity Hollywood rarely siphons for films about alcoholics. There's no doubt Affleck brings a lot of himself to the role, and it wouldn't work without him.

And it's in the central relationships the film rises too - a needling sister who's only doing it out of love, and a coach and head coach relationship that's tinged with respect, admiration and awareness of failing.

Certainly, in the rest of the film, there are a few narrative jumps too many.

The Way Back: Film Review

The team gets better somehow without any real conviction why, Jack decides to coach them without any real reason why he changes his mind so suddenly - these are the beats which feel off in The Way Back, and which ground the tale of a redemptive blue collar worker with moments that see you more questioning why and lifting you out of the moment.

In the final furlong, the film lapses into lamentable melodrama, and the maudlin elements threaten to topple Affleck's good work, rather than build on it; ending on mawkishness and a message of hope may be central to The Way Back's MO, but unfortunately, it leaves this final drink of drama stinging in your throat.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Whānau Mārama: 2020 New Zealand International Film Festival Programme Announced

Whānau Mārama: 2020 New Zealand International Film Festival Programme Announced

NZIFF At Home – Online and in selected cinemas and venues

The full programme for Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival has been revealed with 79 feature films and seven collections of short films from 41 countries screening online and in selected cinemas and venues from 24 July to 2 August.

“We’re delighted to finally reveal the full programme for the 2020 Festival. Bringing together this year’s programme of films has certainly been challenging as we’ve responded to the constantly changing landscape globally and in New Zealand caused by the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic,” Festival Director Marten Rabarts said.
Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt) 
Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt) 

“In March as COVID-19 led the world towards lockdown we made the decision to take the Festival online, rejecting the only other option at that time which would have been outright cancellation. Since then we’ve been working tirelessly to secure a strong programme of films and upgrade our video on demand platform to bring the festival to a nationwide audience.”

With New Zealand moving to Level One in June, the Festival explored opportunities to screen selected films in cinemas and venues around the country.

“This has been incredibly complex to secure both in-cinema and online rights for films, but we are very pleased to announce we will have 27 films showing in venues in six cities including Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

"And all films in venues will screen as part of NZIFF At Home – Online, so everyone around the country has the opportunity to select from all films in the Festival.”

Programmes have been confirmed for ASB Waterfront Theatre in Auckland and Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch, and further details of these and other in-cinema screenings will be announced next week.

The 2020 Festival will open with the Australian film, True History of the Kelly Gang screening in cinema at ASB Waterfront Theatre in Auckland concurrently with the online premiere on Friday 24 July.
True History of the Kelly Gang
True History of the Kelly Gang

The film, directed by Justin Kurzel (Snowtown NZIFF11) and based on the Booker Prize winning novel by Peter Carey, is a surreal adaptation of the outlaw legend featuring high-profile New Zealand actors including Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace, NZIFF18), musician Marlon Williams and Russell Crowe.

Other features this year include a new cooperation between European Film Promotion and Sydney Film Festival with seven films in a special collection EUROPE!: Voices of Women in Film.

“This year marks the fifth year of this programme at Sydney Film Festival and we are delighted to be able to also present this collection of exceptional films from women filmmakers from Estonia, Germany, Kosovo, The Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland,” Rabarts said.

Other programme highlights include Mardi Gras Film Festival 2020 Audience Award winner Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt) featuring New Zealand actor Rachel House (Bellbird, NZIFF19), Ai Weiwei’s latest documentary Vivos, Iranian blockbuster and Tokyo International Film Festival Best Director winner Just 6.5, Sundance Film Festival 2020 Audience Award (World Cinema Dramatic) winner Identifying Features, Berlin International Film Festival 2020 Teddy Award (Best LGTBQI+ Film) winner No Hard Feelings, Venice Film Festival 2019 Best First Feature winner You Will Die at Twenty, Venice Film Festival 2019 Best Film (Venice Days) winner The Long Walk, Venice Film Festival 2019 Best Actor and Toronto International Film Festival 2019 Best Film (Platform) winner Martin Eden and Palme D’Or winning director Kore-eada Hirokazu (Shoplifters, NZIFF18) returns to the Festival with French language feature The Truth, starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke.
Just 6.5
Just 6.5

Having its world premiere at Whānau Mārama is Steelers – The World’s First Gay Rugby Club, a debut documentary from New York-based Australian news reporter Eammon Ashton-Atkinson.

The film tells the story of the world’s first gay rugby club and was scheduled to premiere at BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival but the festival was cancelled due to the impact of COVID-19.

Options for younger film fans and their families have also been increased in the 2020 programme with four feature films and two collections of animation shorts – Animation for Kids 4+ and Animation for Kids 8+.

The Festival has previously announced four New Zealand films and a web series will have their world premieres and will be presented in cinema and online. Both New Zealand’s Best and Ngā Whanaunga Māori and Pasifika Shorts programmes will also have in-cinema and online screenings.

Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival 2020 will also include a programme of extra events in cinemas and online. Details for these are being finalised, but will include filmmaker introductions, Q&As, discussion forums, awards ceremonies and masterclasses.

“We are talking to filmmakers around the world who are eager to be part of these extra features to enhance the festival experience for our audiences,” Rabarts said.
You Will Die at Twenty
You Will Die at Twenty

Details of how to watch NZIFF At Home – Online have also been released today.

Films are only available to watch within New Zealand and films will be able to be viewed through a variety of devices provided a broadband connection is available.

One film – Ellie and Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) – will be available for one night only on Saturday 1 August, while another 26 films will have premiere screenings and then will be available to rent for up to a week.
The remaining films will be available for rental with varying start dates.

Tickets for premiere screenings will be on sale from 10 July, while rental options will be available to purchase from the first available screening date.

The Festival encourages people to start planning their Festival now by using the re-designed interactive online programme and the familiar Wishlist function on the website, and by setting up their accounts. A test film is available for account holders to check compatibility with their preferred devices.

The full programme is available online from 9am Thursday June 25 at nziff.co.nz

Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival is run by a charitable trust to enhance local appreciation of, and engagement with, global art and culture by providing access to a diverse range of high-quality film.

24 July – 2 August: NZIFF 2020 At Home – Online runs nationwide

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Sonic The Hedgehog: Blu Ray Review

Sonic The Hedgehog: Blu Ray Review

After the initial outcry over Sonic The Hedgehog having human teeth, those involved in the latest family film to hit our screens must be relieved at what's been achieved.
Sonic the Hedgehog: Film Review

The second look at Sonic proved to be more popular, with the Sega fave living and breathing the blue-shaped blur many nostalgia fans wanted.

So, with a flimsy plot, Sonic The Hedgehog has raced in to try and prove a box office fave and possibly relaunch a franchise - after all, console companion Tails is lurking about ready to be utilised.

In terms of plot, Sonic's simple - when small-town police officer Tom Wachowski (X-Men's Marsden) discovers the small blue hedgehog (voiced with energy by Schwartz), he's thrown into a fight with the Evil Dr Robotnik (Jim Carrey, back to his manic self).

Sonic the Hedgehog: Film Review

Sonic the Hedgehog is not the disaster you would have expected.

Featuring a performance from Jim Carrey that could be characterised as vintage Ace Ventura gone mad and a bit bad, his Robotnik is the highlight of a kiddy film that feels bitsy, yet is entertaining enough to speed by as quickly (especially through some lulls later on) as Sonic powering through the glens.

Marsden is affable enough as Wachowski the small town cop who wants out but who realised that home is where his heart enough. And his partnership with Schwartz gels nicely but is never overplayed for easy laughs. Schwartz treads a fine line between irritating, cute and heartfelt, and negotiates it with veritable aplomb, proving an engaging enough road trip buddy as the film plays out. 

Though jarringly, some scenes feel shoe-horned in to expand proceedings - notably a bar detour that exists purely to fill time, and to show off some VFX work.

Sure there are elements of Spider-Man: Far From Home with a drones denouement and some of the FX feel ripped from Evan Peters' Quiksilver from the X-Men films, but thanks to some nostalgia bursts and some moments which constitute spoilers, Sonic fans will be happy enough.

Sonic the Hedgehog’s never quite strong enough to standalone as a film franchise launcher, and a Sonic vs Robotnik series would be worryingly too repetitive, but this has a bounce and flimsy flounce that’s just enough to amuse both the younger ends of the audience, and the nostalgia-dripped older end, desperate to capture that SEGA vibe from some 30 years ago.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Quiz: TV Review

Quiz: TV Review

Here's your starter for 10.

Is the drama Quiz
A) a 3 part expose of the TV scandal that rocked the UK
B) likely to floor you with Michael Sheen's turn as Chris Tarrant
C) an entertaining watch to a story that's never really had a definitive conclusion
D) All of the above.

(The answer's D, for those not paying attention.)
Quiz: TV Review

For some the Coughing Major may be an unfamiliar name, but that seems unlikely.

The 2001 scandal involving Major Charles Ingram (Spooks star Matthew MacFadyen) rocked the TV quiz world when it was alleged the major who scooped the 1 million pound jackpot had been aided by someone in the audience, coughing away at the correct answers.

The subsequent trial in 2003 saw the major, his wife (played by Fleabag's Sian Clifford) and audience member Tecwen Wittockall thrust into the spotlight, and vilified by the press and the public who believed they'd cheated their way to the top prize.

Yet, Stephen Frears' 3 part drama is less interested in the controversy and covering the matter in glory. Instead of florid details and embellishments, Frears uses Matthew MacFadyen's relative everyman look to tell a story that's both compelling and entertaining.
Quiz: TV Review

Detailing how the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire quiz show came to life as UK broadcaster ITV struggled in competition with its BBC counterpart, the drama paints a no-nonsense portrait of how appointment TV was a centrepiece in a world before streaming and Netflix.

Rather than being a stuffy industry piece, the three-parter knows the drama is in the show and its quizzing major who was apparently clueless to the basic questions and somehow wanted us to believe he'd fumbled his way to the top.

As a result, what director Frears and his top-notch cast bring to the table is a look inside a scandal that thrilled a nation. It's a fascinating watch that never once decides which side it's on, and simply presents the facts with an eye for the same kind of tension that an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? used to generate.

While the third episode flounders a little as the focus shifts to a trial and talk of public persecution, MacFadyen and Clifford prove to be an eminently watchable duo, and one whose machinations are never quite clear if you believe what transpires in the final part.
Quiz: TV Review

There are insinuations that the wife was a driving force and Ingram was just a willing but clueless participant in this particularly British heist.

But what emerges from Quiz's 3 hour long episodes is a miniseries that's as thrilling as the drama of the quiz show itself - you may think you know the answers, but the show's uncertainties mean a definitive answer is never forthcoming, but is completely hellbent on having you flip back and forth between truth and the fiction.
Just don't expect any final answers.

Quiz airs on Soho over 3 weeks from Thursday June 25th, and then on Lightbox.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time announced

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time announced

There's a brand new Crash Bandicoot game on the way.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time has been announced.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time announced

Watch the first Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time gameplay trailer.

Crash Bandicoot 4 is out October 2, 2020.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Win a copy of Guns Akimbo

Win a copy of Guns Akimbo

To celebrate the release of Guns Akimbo on DVD and Blu Ray, thanks to Madman Home Entertainment, you can win a copy.

About Guns Akimbo

Miles (DANIEL RADCLIFFE) is stuck in a dead-end job, still in love with his ex-girlfriend Nova.

Unbeknownst to him, a gang called Skizm is running a deadly competition within his city in which complete strangers fight to the death for the entertainment of an online audience of millions. 

Miles soon finds himself caught up in the game and forced to fight in a battle to the death. 

Initially, Miles' lifetime of running from his problems pays off as he manages to elude his first opponent but when Nova is kidnapped, he must finally stop running and overcome his fears to fight for the girl he loves.

All you have to do is email your details and the word GUNS AKIMBO!

Email now to  darrensworldofentertainment@gmail.com

Sunday, 21 June 2020

A Guide to Second Date Sex: DVD Review

A Guide to Second Date Sex: DVD Review

Cast: George MacKay, Alexandra Roach, Michael Socha
Director: Rachel Hirons

From writer / director Rachel Hirons comes a comedy that feels very much in execution and in scripting like a three act play mixed with a UK sex screwball comedy.

Roach and MacKay play Laura and Ryan respectively, a pair whose dabbling in relationships has been less than successful. After meeting in a club, the pair stumble into a second date, and the expectations that come with it....

A Guide to Second Date Sex: Film Review

A Guide to Second Date Sex is a serviceable slice of awkwardness, that incorporates as much cringeworthy actions as it does recognisable insights into everyone's teenage years.

Roach and MacKay make affable enough bedfellows, and despite McKay's awful chin hair, the pair has enough universal quirks to make them relatable and to allow the situations to feel natural, and not forced. (Although a final act twist pushes the film a little too far as the histrionics are wound as tightly as they can.)

Side characters aren't as fleshed out as they could be, and the script's reliance on their quirks rather than a bit more depth gives the comedy an OTT edge that's not quite acceptable enough given the decent amount of groundwork that's already gone.

But with some moments of laugh-out-loud comedy, some moments where the awkwardness pushes it to excruciating, A Guide to Second Date Sex does just enough to transcend its play roots and feel like its own living breathing mirror onto all our failed fumblings and burgeoning relationships. 

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Downhill: DVD Review

Downhill: DVD Review

Ruben Östlund's 2014 movie Force Majeure was beloved by many.

A film that excoriated a marriage, threw up questions of male ego and dialled up the discomfort, the near 3 hour movie was lauded as a masterpiece.

It seems unlikely Downhill, which is inspired by the film, and follows many of the beats but in half the time, will be mentioned in the same breath.

Downhill: Film Review

Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus are Pete and Billie, parents of two, all together on a skiing holiday. However, there are already frustrations inherent among them, with Billie's generally uptight nature clashing with Pete's insistence on being in the moment above all else.

When a controlled avalanche nearly overwhelms the family at a restaurant, Billie is left with the fall-out of the fact Pete grabs his phone and runs off, leaving her and the kids to ostensibly die. As the chasm grows, the family will never be the same again.

Downhill has a tonal mismatch which doesn't help matters.

While Force Majeure dabbled in subtlety (although admittedly took a long time going anywhere), Downhill's halved run time and desire to inject broad bawdy elements within its story means it adds up to feeling like a mix between cringe-worthy comedy and flat moments that simply don't add up.

And yet with Louis-Dreyfus turning in a performance that's somehow excellent beyond the material, Downhill's watchable enough fare - albeit muddled. Icy, muted laughs come as the cordial atmosphere dries up immediately, and the excruciating irritations boil over. Ferrell's downbeat, but his restrained performance doesn't match up to the needs of the film, and he feels at times, out of place.

It's the Euro-stereotypes that flunder the film, with Otto's amusing-to-watch laissez-faire hotel owner ramping it up to 11 and a ski instructor hunk feeling ripped from the pages of another movie. It's these moments that give Downhill a level of inconsistency that's hard to match.

Ultimately, feeling muddled and muddying the waters, Downhill does offer some good moments of comedy if you know where to look. But were it not for Julia Louis-Dreyfus' performance, this film would be more of a downhill experience that its name suggests.

Friday, 19 June 2020

The Call of the Wild: DVD Review

The Call of the Wild: DVD review

Chris "How To Train Your Dragon" Sanders dials up the beauty of the Yukon for this relatively tried and tested formula story on owning a dog.
The Call of the Wild: Film Review

Based on the 1903 Jack London novel, The Call of The Wild follows the rambunctious pooch Buck, as he finds himself dognapped and sold into the Yukon wilds to the highest bidder. Initially falling in with Omar Sy's mail courier, and falling foul of the pecking order of the sledding pack, Buck's world appears to be a harsh one as he tries to find his place in the world.

But when he is taken under the wing of Harrison Ford's grieving prospector John Thornton, he finds a different life as he tries to help Thornton come to terms with what life has dealt him.

Essentially The Littlest Hobo mixed in with a very familiar wilderness story and poured through a prism of old time sentimentalities, The Call of the Wild has heart under an uncanny valley CGI dog.

Initially fine, Buck's transmission to the screen soon becomes a little too hyper real (a WWE move on another dog being the defining moment) - but when the film settles, it uses simplicity to convey its heartfelt message of finding your place in the world.

Episodic by nature (Buck's kidnapped, Buck's new owners, Buck's perils among the Snow Dogs) the film lags in its final third, even as it tries to find legs for the true nugget of the tale - Buck's discovery of his wilder side, and how humanity is not for him.

The Call of the Wild: Film Review

That's a big theme to rest on the film's shoulders, and it doesn't always quite pull it off.

But a grizzled and silent Ford (he's acted with a furry companion to reasonably famous effect before) brings out the film's gentler and more contemplative edge - even if that's partially ruined by Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens hamming it up as the big bad.

There may be stock standard elements of a family film here, and there may be no surprises as the sentiment's piled high enough for mush in this Yukon Tail, but The Call of the Wild may find you feeling more stirred than you would like.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival - first films announced

Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival - first films announced

Four New Zealand Feature Films And A Web Series To Have World Premieres at Festival

Four New Zealand feature films will receive their World Premiere screenings as part of Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival 2020 At Home – Online, and at selected cinema screenings across the country.

And, for the first time ever the Festival will screen a Web Series in its entirety. This year’s homegrown selection includes four documentaries and one episodic drama.

Festival Director Marten Rabarts said programming New Zealand films for the 2020 Festival has been challenging due to the impact of COVID-19 restrictions which brought shooting and post-production on a number of films to a halt or caused significant delay.

“We’re very proud to present this programme of films from Aotearoa for this year’s Festival. We’ve worked closely with all the filmmakers to ensure these films can be part of the Festival.”

Rabarts adds that as well as screening online as part of NZIFF At Home – Online, all five Aotearoa films will also be screened in cinemas.

“As COVID-19 restrictions began lifting in New Zealand, we have been exploring options to present a selection of films in many of our favourite cinemas and venues, and this includes the five Aotearoa films. We expect to reach agreement in the coming days as to which cinemas will be welcoming us for the 2020 hybrid edition.”

Details of screenings in cinemas and venues will be announced on Thursday 25 June alongside the announcement of the full festival programme.

The confirmed New Zealand films for 2020 are:

Before Everest

Director/Producer/Screenplay/Photography/Editor: Richard Riddiford
“I’d never share a rope with him” is about as damning a comment as anyone can make about a fellow mountaineer. Sir Edmund Hillary’s words about Earle Riddiford in his last autobiography set the uneasy tone of this nuanced documentary by Earle’s son Richard Riddiford.
“In his final autobiography, Hillary wrote some fairly damning remarks about my father... Why had Hillary been so ungracious? ... He was as close to a god as a mortal could be in our country, but it had been my father who had helped get him there.” — director Richard Riddiford

LOIMATA, The Sweetest Tears

Director: Anna Marbrook
Director Anna Marbrook honours the last voyage of the great waka maker, sailor and mentor Ema Siope in this chronicle of journeys – journeys of migration, spirituality, voyaging, healing and coming home.
“A stirring and visually gripping documentary… honouring the life and times of great woman whose wake will be felt for years to come.” — Michael Andrew, Asia Pacific Report


Director: Max Currie
Premiering their forthcoming web series as a special festival presentation, director Max Currie (Everything We Loved, NZIFF14) and writer Cole Meyers’ queer and trans-positive drama swells with character, heart and filmic sophistication in ways rarely seen in the web series form. Rūrangi was previously selected for the prestigious Frameline – San Francisco LGBTQ+ Film Festival (June 2020) which was cancelled due to COVID-19.  Rūrangi is fully worthy of its Film Festival world premiere and we’re proud to be part of its journey into the world.

The Girl on the Bridge

Director: Leanne Pooley
In the increasing public discourse on mental health, Leanne Pooley’s inspiring and fearless documentary tracks an extraordinary young woman’s journey from suicide survivor to advocate for those struggling. The fact it leaves you hopeful and with tangible advice makes it vital viewing.

Tupaia’s Endeavour – The Director’s Cut

Director/Producer/Editor: Lala Rolls
Re-edited from both the Māori Television series and with new material, Lala Rolls’ fascinating quest to examine what happens to a Tahitian high priest and navigator when he travels across the Pacific – and further on towards England as a translator and guest (or is it as a living trophy?) – aboard Captain James Cook’s HMS Endeavour.

Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival is run by a charitable trust to enhance local appreciation of, and engagement with, global art and culture by providing access to a diverse range of high-quality film.

The full 2020 Film Festival programme will be announced on Thursday 25 June and the festival will run from 24 July – 2 August.

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