Friday, 30 April 2021

What to watch on Netflix, Disney +, Amazon Prime and Neon in May 2021

What to watch on Netflix, Disney +,  Amazon Prime and Neon in May 2021

Another month has zoomed by in 2021, but there's still no sign of things letting up on the viewing and streaming front.

So without further ado, here's what to watch on Netflix, Disney +, Amazon Prime and Neon in May 2021.

Made for Love (Neon, May 1)
Made for Love (Neon, May 1)


Made for Love is a dark, absurd and cynically poignant story of divorce and revenge. The series shows how far some will go for   love and how much further others will go to destroy it.

It follows Cristin Milioti's Hazel Green, a thirtysomething woman on the run after 10 years in a suffocating marriage to Byron Gogol, an unstable, needy,  possibly sociopathic tech billionaire.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch (May 4, Disney +)
Star Wars: The Bad Batch (May 4, Disney +)


It wouldn't be a May 4th day without new Star Wars, and that's exactly what Disney + are offering up.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch follows the elite and experimental clones of the Bad Batch (first introduced in “The Clone Wars”) as they find their way in a rapidly changing galaxy in the immediate aftermath of the Clone War. 

Members of Bad Batch—a unique squad of clones who vary genetically from their brothers in the Clone Army—each possess a singular exceptional skill that makes them extraordinarily effective soldiers and a formidable crew. 
Begins with a 70 minute premiere, before episodes move to a Friday weekly release.

Jupiter's Legacy (Netflix, May 7)
Jupiter's Legacy (Netflix, May 7)


The debut show from Mark Millar follows a group of superheroes living in the shadows of their parents. 

The story, which is influenced by Star Wars, King Kong, Roman mythology and origin stories from the Golden Age of Comics, was written as Millar's treatise on superheroes' connection to the American ideal. 

The Woman in the Window (May 14, Netflix)
The Woman in the Window (May 14, Netflix)


Continuing the streamers' a new movie every week, the Amy Adams thriller, originally set to release in 2019, finally gets a release on Netflix.

An agoraphobic psychologist (Adams) befriends a neighbor across the street from her New York City brownstone condo, only to see her own life turned upside down when the woman disappears and she suspects foul play.

Love, Death & Robots (Volume 2) (May 14, Netflix)
Love, Death & Robots (Volume 2) (May 14, Netflix)


The much underrated sci-fi animated shorts series returns with 8 more weird and absolutely wonderful animated shorts.

The Underground Railroad (May 14, Amazon Prime Video)
The Underground Railroad (May 14, Amazon Prime Video)


Academy Award-winner ‘Moonlight’ director Barry Jenkins' first television series, The Underground Railroad tells the harrowing story of a woman’s amazing discovery of a fabled underground rail road during her attempt to break free from slavery in the deep south. 

Executive Produced by Brad Pitt amongst others, the series is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Colson Whitehead.

Solos (May 14, Amazon Prime Video)
Solos (May 14, Amazon Prime Video)


A seven-part anthology series that explores the strange, beautiful, heart-breaking, hilarious, wondrous truths of what it means to be human. 

Performed by eight of the finest actors of our time, Uzo Aduba, Nicole Beharie, Morgan Freeman, Anne Hathaway, Anthony Mackie, Helen Mirren, Dan Stevens, and Constance Wu, these character-driven stories contend that even during our most seemingly isolated moments, in the most disparate of circumstances, we are all connected through the human experience.

P!NK: All I know so far (May 21, Amazon Prime Video)
P!NK: All I know so far (May 21, Amazon Prime Video)


From New Zealand based, Australian director, Michael Gracey(The Greatest Showman), award-winning musician P!NK gives audiences an in-depth personal glimpse behind the curtain of her  record-breaking 2019 “Beautiful Trauma” world tour. 


Through footage from the road and behind-the-scenes interviews, she welcomes audiences to join her chosen family while trying to balance being a mum, a wife, a boss and a performer. 


Army of the Dead (May 21, Netflix)
Army of the Dead (May 21, Netflix)


Zack Snyder’s zombie heist thriller starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell and Omari Hardwick.

A group of mercenaries plot a heist on a Las Vegas casino during a zombie outbreak - what could possibly go wrong?

M.O.D.O.K (Disney + Star, May 21)
M.O.D.O.K (Disney + Star, May 21)


In Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., the megalomaniacal supervillain M.O.D.O.K. (Patton Oswalt) has long pursued his dream of one day conquering the world. 

But after years of setbacks and failures fighting the Earth’s mightiest heroes, M.O.D.O.K. has run his evil organisation A.I.M. into the ground. Ousted as A.I.M.’s leader, while also dealing with his crumbling marriage and family life, the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing is set to confront his greatest challenge yet.

Cruella (Disney +, Premier Access May 28)
Cruella (Disney +, Premier Access May 28)


Emma Stone stars in Disney’s “Cruella,” which explores the rebellious early days of one of cinema’s most notorious – and notoriously fashionable – villains, Cruella de Vil. 

Set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, the movie follows a young grifter named Estella and reveals the series of events that cause her to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous and revenge-bent Cruella. 

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart State of Play reveal

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart State of Play reveal 

More details of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and two new indie games are to be released in Friday's State of Play from PlayStation.

Earlier this week, Insomniac Games revealed that the female Lombax joining the game would be called Rivet.

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart State of Play reveal

The state of Play will show off new gameplay for Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart.

Watch the April State of Play from PlayStation below!


Returnal: PS5 Review in progress

Returnal: PS5 Review in progress

Developed by Housemarque
Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PS5

A spaceship soars through the skies.

A malfunction hits, and its sole pilot grapples desperately to save the ship from crash-landing, but fails miserably.

Suddenly, they find themselves alone on an alien world, with limited means of escape and no real clue what lies ahead.
Returnal: PS5 Review


It's an old science-fiction trope, and it's also the premise of Housemarque's PS5 debut, the roguelike Returnal.

Only this time, there's a twist - the pilot, Selene, finds herself on an ever-changing world, and stuck in a timeloop as she dies only to be reborn again, stuck at the start of her crashed ship and facing everything all over again. But this time around, each death brings about a whole new world to explore, and even more enemies to face - and further mysteries to unravel.

This mesh of Groundhog Day, Ridley Scott's Prometheus, the Live Die Repeat ethos of Edge of Tomorrow,the exploration/ scanning elements of No Man's Sky and a run-and-gun game is more than the sum of its parts - it's maddeningly frustrating, terrifyingly disorienting and utterly compelling as it unfurls its mystery upon you.

From its utterly stunning opening sequence where space stars glisten, and hurricanes appear to swirl around the planet Atropos, the game's visuals are truly impressive, building on what the PS5 should be offering as a cinematic experience and providing the best of what your HD TV can pump out.

Creatures on the planet pulse with bright blue neon edges, their tentacles waving in the atmosphere as they attack - the neon-soaked tinges see their menace stand out, and the screen pops with otherworldliness as you progress through.
Returnal: PS5 Review


The alien touches have also been built into the game's use of sound and it's here that Returnal starts to make use of the 3D audio and the controller to the fullest. Emerging from the crashed ship early on, rain drops almost imperceptibly from the controller's speakers; stepping into a transporter device later on in the game, the sound swirls around your ears like a localised tornado - pressing the triangle button to activate the transporter and the controller emits a low-level bass boom to signal you're off. And then there's the alien attacks which see all kinds of shrieks and screams emerge from within. It's stellar stuff - and it makes Returnal a more immersive experience.

Adaptive triggers and haptic feedback bristle when used, and the gunning element of the game feels like a shooter should. Push the L2 button down halfway and the gun sets itself; push it all the way down, and the triggers rumble ready to let go their deadly arsenal.

But - and there's a big but with Returnal - death may become Selene, yet it's likely to frustrate players repeatedly time and time again, thwarting their progress at every angle. Each death sees you reset, with any decent weapons you procured lost back somewhere in the new maze the planet has spewed forth, and hidden by the intricacies within. That would be fine if the game reset its creatures too, but if tougher ones have emanated, then basic weapons - and ergo, you - stand little to no chance of seeing them off.

It makes parts of Returnal downright difficult, and the lack of linear narrative may perhaps be a minor path to hindrance, rather than progression. But stick with overcoming this barrier and the rewards will be plentiful.
Returnal: PS5 Review


And yet, Returnal is showing the next gen console can do something different - it's a mission statement from Sony that this is a time to be experimental, and to embrace all that it can do - rather than setting the much-anticipated Ratchet and Clank as their first big debut exclusive title for the console, Returnal shows the company is willing to gamble on a new IP.

It's here PS Studios has signalled its intent - and in Returnal, it'll reap the rewards. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, even if it does show Housemarque has moved on from the truly wondrous Resogun.

Returnal does what good science fiction does well - it pushes boundaries for the console, plays with the tropes of the genre, builds on them, and creates a psychological horror-cum-shooter that shows the next cycle of PlayStation gaming will be riddled with originality, experimentation and clever use of all it can offer.

A review code for Returnal was provided by PlayStation NZ for the purposes of this review in progress.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Wrath of Man: Movie Review

Wrath of Man: Movie Review

Cast: Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Scott Eastwood, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett
Director: Guy Ritchie

Treading a similar route to Bob Odenkirk's Nobody, though with less of the humour and frenetic edges, Wrath of Man inextricably follows the Guy Ritchie formula to a tee, and reteams him with his Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' star.

A near mute Statham is H, a mysterious man who signs up to work as security for a cash truck delivery service. Seemingly average in all prior testing, H surprises all his colleagues when a heist goes wrong and he takes out all the bad guys.
Wrath of Man: Movie Review


H becomes a hero to the cash truck service and his colleagues for his seeming commitment to duty, but soon they begin to doubt who he is and why he is working for them....

Remade from the 2004 French thriller Le Convoyeur, Wrath of Man is clearly a Guy Ritchie joint, both in good and bad ways.

From some of the utterly appallingly awful dialogue that tumbles from his characters' mouths (proving Ritchie has never really left the East End of London since the 1990s - sample line "H like the bomb or Jesus H") to the penchant for some taut and brutal action sequences, Wrath of Man is clearly a film you're on board with early on - or not at all.

Statham is his usual action movie self, in that he rarely emotes throughout, delivers the required smackdowns and pretty much reins in what he's done before. But there's little really for him to do here except what the script requires, and to don his usual chunky cardigan attire to usual effect.

While Wrath of Man is divided into acts, with subtitles ripped from snippets of dialogue, the film's brooding edges and air of mystery are flatly punched 30 minutes in when the reason for H's behaviour becomes apparent. It feels like it's here that Ritchie fudges some of the tension by revealing H's hand too early, making latter parts of the film feel like unnecessary do-overs as sequences are replayed with more meaning.
Wrath of Man: Movie Review


There's no denying that in its final stages, there are vicarious thrills to be had from what Ritchie's concocted, but it feels like a long road to get there. Jumping timelines, providing motivations and once again exploring the seedier side of the underworld, as well as yet again criminally ignoring and underwriting any female characters, it bears all the hallmarks of a Ritchie joint - but little of the freshness and panache of what you've come to expect.

Mind you, it's all there to service the action - even if the big final showdown's overall effect is undercut by Ritchie cutting back and forth to a planning committee. Ritchie doesn't mess about, mixing bombastic sounds with the brutality of gunplay and delivering what you'd expect in bursts.

There's little of the levity of Ritchie's early work here - even if some of the truly awful dialogue uttered by the American owner of the cash truck company appears to be trying to inject some. But the sense of dourness that pervades does provide a welcome counterpoint to the darkness that runs within. 

All in all, Wrath of Man may spin its tale through the usual Ritchie web, and it may be enjoyable enough in parts, but elements of a frustrating execution of a morally grey tale overwhelm parts of the movie. 

It's solid enough Statham, and reasonable enough Ritchie - for a boys' night out, you can't really ask for anything more. 

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Land: Movie Review

Land: Movie Review

Cast: Robin Wright, Demian Bichir
Director: Robin Wright

It may be quiet and reflective in its opening salvos, but Robin Wright's Land is more an internalised film about the crippling effect of grief and the desire to get away from it all.
Land: Movie Review


Wright plays Edee, a woman who has suffered an unspeakable trauma, and has decided to go live life off the grid in the hills of Wyoming. Unfortunately, despite stocking up on plenty of food, and selling off most of her old life, Edee's wildly unprepared for the harsh reality of what lies ahead.

From crippling cold to a bear attack while she's stuck in her own outhouse, the elements are too cruel to tolerate, pushing her to the brink of death. But she's found in the nick of time by Miguel (a rugged, bearded Demian Bichir, whose performance is soulful and melancholy).

Nursed back to life, Edee finds her desire to not be around people is gradually being challenged....

Land does a uniformly good job of creating atmosphere, whether it's via Wright's solid use of vistas and framing, or the use of brief flashbacks here and there, dalliances of memories past and moments lost.

However, the film's desire to provide an exposition-heavy scene towards the end feels forced, with reasoning coming tumbling out when in truth, it never really felt needed or earned.
Land: Movie Review


It derails much of what Land manages to do early on, making the seemingly unapproachable Edee more grounded in her reality, but ultimately feeling more hollow in her loss. It's a strange feeling to convey and watch on the screen, but the film's emotional heft is lost by the garbled speed in which it finds itself wrapped at the end.

The meat of the story is in the earlier part of the movie, as Wright's Edee battles the elements, and the life she's chosen as she decides to be hermetic. It's here the film has the heft, rather than when the bon mots of Miguel's ethos ("You were on my way" he intones when asked why he saved her - a troublesome element of the film that a male saviour has to be on hold for a woman in desperation) come falling out.

Ultimately, Land squanders its more interesting questions in pursuit of a more reflective piece that for the large part works - it's just that when it chooses to answer the questions it doesn't need to it falls flat and disengages the viewer - no matter what hard work Wright has put in behind, and in front of, the camera.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart reveals new Lombax, Rivet and details of State of Play gameplay

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart reveals new Lombax, Rivet and details of State of Play gameplay

It's the most exciting news for fans of Ratchet and Clank, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Rift Apart on June 11.

More details of the mysterious Lombax Ratchet encountered in the first trailer for the game have been revealed - including her name which is Rivet.
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart reveals new Lombax, Rivet and details of State of Play gameplay


A brand new trailer for Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart has also arrived too.



Creative director for Insomniac Games, Marcus Smith says:

"Rivet is a Lombax resistance fighter from another dimension, where the evil Emperor Nefarious hunts all those who oppose him. 

You saw brand-new locations like Nefarious City, and alternate-dimension twists on old favorites like Sargasso and Torren IV along with a sneak-peak at some new weapons and gameplay mechanics.

The song we chose for the trailer has special meaning beyond just being a great, exciting track. It is from the (Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame nominated) band DEVO, a personal favorite of mine, but, some would say more importantly, the band that the incomparable Mark Mothersbaugh co-founded. I’m excited to announce that Mark is the Composer of the Rift Apart soundtrack! 

"Beyond his work in DEVO, you’ve likely heard his compositions across the years whether it was in the original three Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter games, as well as animated series like Rugrats, and the blockbuster film: Thor Ragnarok. We are so thrilled to be collaborating with Mark and cannot wait for you to hear the incredible score he’s come up with."

It was also announced that the next State of Play episode will be focused on Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, with 15 minutes of new gameplay.

 It will be available to watch on PlayStation Twitch and YouTube at 9am this Friday 30th April NZT.

First Cow: Movie Review

First Cow: Movie Review

Cast: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, a Cow

Director: Kelly Reichardt

More a frontier tale with a side of ambling pace than anything rushed, director Kelly Reichardt's latest will require an adjustment of attitude from viewers.

First Cow: Movie Review

The glacial pace of the storytelling here isn't a detriment to what occurs, more a complement to the story being told - and the effects of which are all the more devastating for it.

An apparent allegory into American capitalism, First Cow focuses its attentions around the discovery of two corpses in seemingly barren ground in modern way US. Immediately content to spring an air of mystery on its viewers, First Cow then loops back to the tale of John Magaro's Cookie Figowitz, a seemingly discordant jump back into 1820s America, where civilisation is brewing, however is anything but cooked.

As part of a prospecting group heading west, Figowitz is a target for the gang's hunger. But happening upon King Lu (Orion Lee) in the woods while foraging the pair form a bond and splinter off from the main group. Their world is shaken when a cow arrives in their world, and Cookie begins to flex his culinary muscles, garnering the attention of Toby Jones' Chief Factor...

It's no lie to say that First Cow ambles toward its destination.

It begins with a slow tracking shot of a container ship passing from the left of the screen to the right, indicating Reichardt's desire to go nowhere fast, but to savour every moment of the ride.

And as such, in its sparsity of storytelling and its minimalism of exhibition, First Cow is a triumph on that front.

Settling into the rhythms and the 4x3 ratio reaps rewards, as the "just one more" mentality creeps insidiously into Cookie and King's relationship, threatening to tear all asunder with devastating effect.

It may not be to everyone's tastes, but First Cow delivers a thoughtful compelling rumination on greed and desire, and also on the bonds of friendship. Its focus may be the 1820s, but its scope is timely and universal.


Monday, 26 April 2021

Oscars 2021: The full winners' list

Oscars 2021: The full winners' list

Here's the full list of everyone who won at the 2021 Academy Awards.

Oscars 2021: The full winners' list

Best picture: Nomadland

Best actress: Frances McDormand, Nomadland

Best actor: Sir Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Original screenplay: Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell

Oscars 2021: The full winners' list

Adapted screenplay: Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton, The Father

International film: Another Round, Denmark

Best supporting actor: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Best supporting actress: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari.

Best director: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Oscars 2021: The full winners' list

Sound: Sound of Metal.

Makeup and hairstyling: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Costume design: Ann Roth, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Live action short film: Two Distant Strangers

Animated short film: If Anything Happens I Love You

Animated feature: Soul

Oscars 2021: The full winners' list

Documentary short subject: Colette

Documentary feature: My Octopus Teacher

Visual effects: Tenet

Production design: Mank

Cinematography: Mank

Oscars 2021: The full winners' list

Film editing: Sound of Metal

Original score: Soul - Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste

Original song: Fight for You from Judas and the Black Messiah(Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas)

Oscar nominations 2021

Oscar nominations 2021

NOMINATIONS FOR THE 93rd ACADEMY AWARDS

BEST PICTURE
Oscar nominations 2021


The Father

Judas And The Black Messiah

Mank

Minari

Nomadland

Promising Young Woman

Sound Of Metal

The Trial Of The Chicago 7

BEST ACTOR

Riz Ahmed (Sound Of Metal)

Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)

Sir Anthony Hopkins (The Father)

Gary Oldman (Mank)

Steven Yeun (Minari)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial Of The Chicago 7)

Daniel Kaluuya (Judas And The Black Messiah)

Leslie Odom Jr (One Night In Miami)

Paul Raci (Sound Of Metal)

LaKeith Stanfield (Judas And The Black Messiah)

BEST ACTRESS

Viola Davis (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)

Andra Day (The United States vs Billie Holiday)

Vanessa Kirby (Pieces Of A Woman)

Frances McDormand (Nomadland)

Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm)

Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy)

Olivia Colman (The Father)

Amanda Seyfried (Mank)

Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari)

BEST DIRECTOR

Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round)

David Fincher (Mank)

Lee Isaac Chung (Minari)

Chloe Zhao (Nomadland)

Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman)

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Onward

Over The Moon

A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Soul

Wolfwalkers

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Sean Bobbitt (Judas And The Black Messiah)

Erik Messerschmidt (Mank)

Dariusz Wolski (News Of The World)

Joshua James Richards (Nomadland)

Phedon Papamichael (The Trial Of The Chicago 7)

BEST FILM EDITING

Yorgos Lamprinos (The Father)

Chloe Zhao (Nomadland)

Frederic Thoraval (Promising Young Woman)

Mikkel EG Nielsen (Sound Of Metal)

Alan Baumgarten (The Trial Of The Chicago 7)

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Alexandra Byrne (Emma)

Ann Roth (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)

Trish Summerville (Mank)

Bina Daigeler (Mulan)

Massimo Cantini Parrini (Pinocchio)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Terence Blanchard (Da 5 Bloods)

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Mank)

Emile Mosseri (Minari)

James Newton Howard (News Of The World)

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste (Soul)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Husavik (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga)

Fight For You (Judas And The Black Messiah)

Lo Si (Seen) (The Life Ahead)

Speak Now (One Night In Miami)

Hear My Voice (The Trial Of The Chicago 7)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

The Father

Nomadland

One Night In Miami

The White Tiger

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Judas And The Black Messiah

Minari

Promising Young Woman

Sound Of Metal

The Trial Of The Chicago 7

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

The Father

Mank

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

News Of The World

Tenet

BEST MAKE-UP AND HAIRSTYLING

Emma

Hillbilly Elegy

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Mank

Pinocchio

BEST SOUND

Greyhound

Mank

News Of The World

Soul

Sound Of Metal

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Love And Monsters

The Midnight Sky

Mulan

The One And Only Ivan

Tenet

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Collective

Crip Camp

The Mole Agent

My Octopus Teacher

Time

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE

Another Round (Denmark)

Better Days (Hong Kong)

Collective (Romania)

The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia)

Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

Burrow

Genius Loci

If Anything Happens I Love You

Opera

Yes-People

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Colette

A Concerto Is A Conversation

Do Not Split

Hunger Ward

A Love Song For Latasha

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Red Joan: Neon NZ Film Review

Red Joan: Neon NZ Film Review 

Inspired by a true story it may be, but Red Joan's insistence on miring everything in flashback means sadly it squanders its best asset - Judi Dench - as nothing more than a bookend to proceedings, with glimpses throughout.

Red Joan: Film Review


However, while this story begins in a leafy English suburb with Dench's Joan Stanley being arrested as a suspected informant who leaked top secret information, its flashbacks soon reveal another equally strong presence in the form of young Kingsman actress, Sophie Cookson.

Ripping back to Cambridge and exploring how Joan became affiliated with the disaffected communist movement, Red Joan seeks to keep questions in place about whether she is a willing participant in a crime or had been manipulated via love (fake or otherwise) in the past.

It's an interesting proposition, and while the relatively formulaic, almost TV-movie like telling of the story feels flat, the central performances are not. Its open-endedness is also its strength, with a final shot and simple facial smirk from Dench offering to throw everything up in the air that you've already seen in a kind of Keyser Soze-esque tribute.

Red Joan: Film Review


But where Red Joan falters is in some of the film's innate ability to play it safe.

Period details are nicely rendered, and the sense of atmosphere is palpable, but what transpires lacks some of the edge that say a pulpy thriller may have helped you get to the edge-of-your-seat and leave you questioning throughout.

Likewise, the almost minimal use of Judi Dench feels criminal; even the briefest of scenes in the present day, with her son's suspicions swirling around her, hint at a frustrating promise that narratively had to take place.

However, as mentioned Cookson's turn as the young questioning intellect caught up in the cold war and its machinations gives the film a welcome human edge. Hers is a performance that anchors the film and almost makes you forget about the bookending of its sidelined mammoth talent.

All in all, Red Joan's commitment to the straight storytelling serves it fine, but with a little more flair and more uncertainty, the sense of panache in this wartime tale of love and betrayal, both personally and at a country-wide level, could have helped it into some truly sterling stuff.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Penguin Bloom: Blu Ray Review

Penguin Bloom: Blu Ray Review

There's something awfully familiar about Glendyn Ivin's film version of the book Penguin Bloom.

Penguin Bloom: Film Review

It's a predictable tale of triumph over adversity, and one which hits pretty much all of the expected beats as it traverses toward its endgame.

Watts plays Sam, a surf-loving waterbaby whose perfect idyll with her husband Cam (The Walking Dead's Lincoln, just about managing an Aussie accent) and three kids is rudely shattered when holidaying in Thailand. Venturing up a roof, Sam falls thanks to a rotten barrier and falls to the ground, emerging paralysed from the "bra strap" bone down.

Heading back to Australia, Sam struggles to acclimate to what has happened, and as the family adjusts around her, feelings of frustration and loss of familial place bubble up in among the expected grief and inevitable depression.

When her son Noah (a sensitive Griffin Murray-Johnston) discovers a magpie that's unable to fly after falling from a tree - spot the parallels already - he brings it home, and asks his mother to keep an eye on it.

And you can tell what's coming next.

Penguin Bloom: Film Review

There's nothing new in Penguin Bloom, and whilst it's told with sensitivity by its director, it borders on occasionally cute thanks to the magpie's antics and the sappy as it treads into familiar waters and beats. There's little subtlety here thanks to the symbolism, and while the fall itself is a truly shocking moment, the film barely offers any further shocks as it plays on (aside from one third act out-of-the-blue incident which surprises).

But there are moments throughout that work - the growing relationship between Sam and the magpie named Penguin are believable and tenderly choreographed. Of the rest of the family, only Lincoln and Murray-Johnston are afforded a touch more characterisation, but those are broad strokes at the best of times.

And while the cinematography and sensitive camera work don't overplay much of the film's potential to head into saccharine waters, Penguin Bloom feels like a throwback of a film in many ways, a safe and family friendly one that would easily pass a 90 minute window in the coming summer months.

You'd have to be a fool to not know how it's all going to play out, and you'd have to have a hard heart to not be moved by parts of Penguin Bloom. It never quite soars, but is the kind of film that's rarely made these days - an inoffensive parable where everyone acquits themselves reasonably and younger viewers will be left mildly inspired.

Friday, 23 April 2021

The Dry: Blu Ray Review

The Dry: Blu Ray Review


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.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Mortal Kombat: Movie Review

Mortal Kombat: Movie Review

Cast: Lewis Tan, Joe Taslim, Jessica MacNamee, Josh Lawson
Director: Simon McQuoid

Sometimes, a film does exactly what it says on the tin and nothing more.
Mortal Kombat: Movie Review


One such case is Mortal Kombat, the latest in a line of video game adaptations to hit the big screen, much to the nervous anticipation of fans and the general apathy of a public that's overwhelmed by soulless game movies that amount to nothing and rarely get a sequel.

There's plenty of fan service in Mortal Kombat that pays homage to its fighting platform roots.

From the dropping of lines from the game's various victory voiceovers to the general adherence to the lore, it's clear director Simon McQuoid knows who he's pitching the film to - it's just a shame the script and parts of the execution don't do more to build an excellent prologue that pitches both mythology, mystical edges and a desire for revenge through the generations.

In truth, nobody expects a deep plot for video game films - just something serviceable to make sure the film hits its required beats without feeling choppily edited. But Mortal Kombat serves up a 1617 Japan-set opening that hints at epicness and then plonks it into current day with a washed-up MMA Fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) being hunted by Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) a dude who can throw ice and is taunting him about his destiny.

Soon Cole is slap-bang in the middle of a fight between good and evil as Earth's greatest champions face rivals from the Outer World, intent on destroying them.
Mortal Kombat: Movie Review


Maybe it's churlish to expect more, because in truth, with Josh Lawson's boorish and crass Kano providing comic relief (and borderline harassment machismo), and with fight scenes that stick to the MK aesthetic of side-scrolling and providing locations-based backgrounds for said fights, there's much that Mortal Kombat delivers for fans - even if too much editing renders some of the fight scenes a little trickier to engage with and the cheesier lines cause eyerolls.

Certainly, the film gels with its R16 rating, with enough gore to satiate the horrific levels of violence from within the game - but a film like Mortal Kombat is beholden to picking up a wider audience, rather than just fans who will see it. It's here that it falls short, promising set-up for future efforts and teasing in its final few minutes that there could be more.

But without some deeper writing so that characters like Cole Young don't just feel like hollow cyphers for the audience to follow, the future of the franchise is on shakier ground than it should be. It's serviceable enough, yet it can't help but feel more like a technical KO rather than a flawless victory you'd hope Mortal Kombat would deliver.


Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Promising Young Woman: Blu Ray Review

Promising Young Woman: Blu Ray Review


Denied a release in 2020 thanks to Covid-19, 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, 20 April 2021

Win a double pass to see JUNE AGAIN in select cinemas

Win a double pass to see JUNE AGAIN in select cinemas

To celebrate the release of June Again in select cinemas May 6, thanks to StudioCanal New Zealand, you can win a double pass.

About June Again

In the heartfelt comedy JUNE AGAIN, a twist of fate gives family matriarch June (Noni Hazlehurst) a reprieve from a debilitating illness. 
Win a double pass to see JUNE AGAIN in select cinemas


Much to their amazement, June re-enters the lives of her adult children, Ginny (Claudia Karvan) and Devon (Stephen Curry), and learns that 'things haven’t gone according to plan'. 

With limited time but plenty of pluck, she sets about trying to put everything, and everyone, back on track. 

When her meddling backfires, June sets out on a romantic journey of her own and discovers she needs help from the very people she was trying to rescue.

June Again is in select cinemas May 6
 

Win a double pass to see WRATH OF MAN in cinemas

Win a double pass to see WRATH OF MAN in cinemas


To celebrate the release of Wrath of Man in cinemas April 29, thanks to StudioCanal New Zealand, you can win a double pass.

About Wrath of Man

WRATH OF MAN is a revenge based action thriller from acclaimed and innovative director Guy Ritchie (Aladdin, Sherlock Holmes, Snatch). 

Win a double pass to see WRATH OF MAN in cinemas


This contemporary movie tells the story of the cold and mysterious ‘H’ as he goes to work at a cash truck company that moves hundreds of millions of dollars around Los Angeles every week. 


H’s objective is unique and unanticipated, but is only revealed incrementally, utilizing a suspenseful and carefully constructed nonlinear narrative to lay bare his true intentions. 


Shifting across timelines and various character’s perspectives, WRATH OF MAN builds to a thrilling, tragic, and inevitably bloody catharsis.


Wrath of Man is in cinemas April 29.

Savage: Neon NZ Film Review

Savage: Neon NZ Film Review 

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, 19 April 2021

Doom 3: PS VR Review

Doom 3: PSVR Review


Released by Bethesda
Platform: PS4 /VR

It's back to hell once again for the Doom franchise - and for the player to experience it in a way hitherto unendured.
Doom 3: PSVR Review


In this virtual remake of the 2004 original, it's upto you to take on the hordes of Hell’s demons which have overrun Mars through an inter-dimensional portal and threaten to invade Earth. 

You'll have to battle the demonic invaders through the claustrophobic corridors of an abandoned research facility and into the depths of hell itself to close the portal and stop the demons from getting to Earth.

So far, So Doom.

But what the VR version of the game brings to the classic is the very familiar trope of jump scares and then blasting like crazy to stop being overwhelmed. There's little new in the VR Shooter genre being explored here, but there is a sense that the game is mining the technology for a more than adequate series of frights and kills.
Doom 3: PSVR Review


From shining torches down corridors to suddenly discovering something coming for you, the game knows what it wants to do - and simply executes it as reasonably well as any near-20-year-old shooter game can.

With every weapon being fully realized in high resolution, gifted upgraded textures, shaders and visual effects, the game looks its best. To complement their new look each weapon’s sound effects have been completely revamped to be louder and meaner. Ripping and tearing demons has never looked or felt this good - even if the inevitable motion sickness from the speed of the game and movement do come in waves.

The straightforward port of the original and its expansions will entertain in doses, but given the game's more about atmosphere and moodiness than outright shooting like the reboots were, the PS VR version of Doom 3 will only have a limited appeal. 
Doom 3: PSVR Review


Immersive and worth it if you have an AIM Controller, Doom 3 may have benefited from a ground up reimagining for VR, but as ports go, it's not the worst thing to have emerged from hell.

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