Monday, 20 June 2022

Minions: Rise of Gru: Movie Review

Minions: Rise of Gru: Movie Review

Vocal cast: Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Taraji P Henson, Michelle Yeoh, Lucy Lawless, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Danny Trejo, Russell Brand
Director: Kyle Balda

The yellow cigar-shaped perils of slapstick return with what's touted as an origin tale for Despicable Me's Gru.
Minions: Rise of Gru: Movie Review

Set against the 1970s backdrop, Steve Carell's Gru yearns to be part of supervillain criminal gang, The Vicious Six, headed up by Henson's Belle Bottom. When the gang betrays their founder Wild Knuckles (Arkin, in usual sardonic form), an opening appears and Gru is one of the many applicants for the position.

However, seeing him only as a child, Gru is laughed out of the process, and told to come back when he's done something evil. So in among the chaos, Gru steals a talisman the Vicious Six has just purloined for their own nefarious ways - but when he's kidnapped and held to ransom, it's up to Minions Kevin, Bob, Stuart and newbie Otto to try and save the day.

Minions: Rise of Gru does exactly what you'd expect on the tin to be honest.

And that's perfectly adequate for a madcap film that doesn't dazzle the animated world with techniques, but delivers continual laughs and nods to what's to come in the Despicable Me series later on.
Minions: Rise of Gru: Movie Review

With rich backgrounds making the most of the groovy 70s' setting and San Francisco, as well as the music cues of the time, the Illumination animation stable knows about depth, but also wisely knows that it's not really about distracting with background gags, choosing to keep the Minions front and centre of proceedings, as that's what the children of all ages in the audience want.

Five films in, there's no sign yet of di-Minions-ishing returns for these yellow critters, though it is perhaps as far as they could go, given the split level nature of the narrative - is it a Minions film, is it a Despicable Me film - but there is more than enough to amuse all sectors of the audience.

Moments of inventive madness sit alongside great animation to make Minions: Rise of Gru a perfect family feelgood outing for children of all ages - big or small.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Mad God: Movie Review

Mad God: Movie Review

Some films defy description - narrative eschewed in favour of an experience, and a series of sensory moments thrust upon the big screen.
Mad God: Movie Review

Such is the way with FX genius Phil Tippett's Mad God, a blend of stop motion, live action, horror and disturbia in extremis.

Beginning with a gas mask clad figure known as the Assassin descending deep into a world of the
macabre, Tippett's vision starts starkly and rarely deviates away from its abnormal path.

As it descends on its 85 minute journey, Mad God with its mutations and horror elements is a singular vision of what a filmmaker can do. It's taken Tippett over 30 years to get to this end point, and as if the lead doesn't descend into madness, goodness only knows how Tippett survived this long with the project.

There are no easy comparisons with anything that's gone before for this film, it's of its own genre - part Radiohead video, part art project and all manner of upsetting, it's a collection of images that clearly have symbolism to those who look deeper within, and will reward those who know some of their religious iconography.
Mad God: Movie Review

But central to any of that, it's worth exalting the creativity on show here - around the 40 minute mark, the film changes its clarity of vision and it moves from muddied horror to a stop-motion miracle of a movie that's worth experiencing, rather than examining.

Mad God won't be to everyone's tastes, but there are moments when the futility of life (or afterlife) comes to the fore. From cloth creatures carrying out grunt-level work only to be dispatched with cruelty to literal forks in the roads and creatures flying through a lightning-filled sky, every frame has something - nightmarish or otherwise.

Mad God won't be for everyone - but that's fine. Tippett's vision is utterly terrifying, unnerving and
ultimately up for discussion - and that's no bad thing whatsoever.

Mad God is streaming now on Shudder ANZ.

Saturday, 18 June 2022

Studio 666: DVD Review

Studio 666: DVD Review

Studio 666 is a Scooby Doo film, a vanity project without the wit, inventiveness or decency to leave when it's not welcome.

It may have a Shaggy in its long-haired hero Dave Grohl, but the only dog in this movie is the script, which calls for ham, silliness and supernatural acting that's beyond the pale in so many ways.

Based on a story by Dave Grohl (that in truth should have been aborted and sent to hell), it's the story of the Foo Fighters as they try to record their 10th album. Relocating to an Encino mansion to record their masterpiece, Grohl becomes obsessed with creating a 45 minute masterpiece. 

Studio 666: Movie Review

However, the obsession is fuelled by demons which haunt the house, after a thwarted recording session from the 90s turned deadly - and soon all the Foo Fighters are fighting for their lives and their souls.

Mixing comedy and horror should be an easy win, but Studio 666 plays so fast and loose with its goofiness, and the extreme variable quality of the acting, that most of it fails to land anything. With some truly awful dialogue as well, the whole thing runs out of steam after about 30 minutes, and then flails badly around, trying to find a narrative path that doesn't head to hell.

Grohl plays goofy (as he demonstrated years ago in the Learn to Fly video) but the level of his acting is questionable, though not as questionable as others in the group as they try to act, and fail miserably. While the whole film does feel like a hangout movie steeped in gore in some ways, the project just doesn't have enough goodwill to see it through - even with the inclusion of the likes of John Carpenter and an utterly out there Lionel Richie cameo.

There are some impressive moments - the demons of the house are wondrously realised, and a dream sequence where Grohl is haunted by the spirits is cleverly and concisely executed. But hints of Freddy Kreuger and overblown soundtracks to lame jump scares just drag the goodwill into the mire and executes them mercilessly.

Studio 666 isn't a movie for anyone who's not a Foo Fighter fan or has lost control of their senses. For everyone else it's an utter exercise in tedium and endurance - for the record, it should be dispatched to hell as soon as possible.

Friday, 17 June 2022

Fire Island: Movie Review

Fire Island: Movie Review 

Cast: Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, Margaret Cho
Director: Andrew Ahn

The vibrant Fire Island's take on Pride and Prejudice, launched on Disney+ during Pride month, is a major step forward for representation on all fronts.

Fire Island: Movie Review

Booster, who wrote the screenplay, stars as Noah, one of a group of queer friends who head to Fire Island for a week-long vacation where frolicking, flirting and being fabulous all go hand-in-hand.

But Noah, who insists he isn't looking for a relationship, makes it his mission to help long time friend Howie (Yang, easily the vulnerable heart of the film) get laid and finally come out of his shell. However, when Noah and their gang fall in with another group of partygoers, romance and reputation are on the line.

With the levels of sass being obvious from Fire Island's opening salvo, it's clear that Ahn's film isn't here to mess about.

Likeable leads, quippy oneliners and a degree of zing give Fire Island the heart - even if some of the cast fare less well during the outing.

Fire Island: Movie Review

After making a big thing about Margaret Cho's character and her dilemma, the film drops a plot point never to be seen again, even as the one last holiday together vibe comes together. But biting dialogue and clever diversions from the Pride and Prejudice-inspired film make that seem less than it should be.

It helps that the leads of Booster and Yang are easily the film's beating heart, an out and out clear call for representation that sings loudly on screen and normalises the romcom relationship issues faced in every other film of the genre.

Sweet in many ways but not sickly, a reminder of the bonds and perils of family, Fire Island is heartwarming fare that is leaps and bounds ahead of anything else that's been glimpsed in its genre in 2022.

Thursday, 16 June 2022

Licorice Pizza: DVD Review

Licorice Pizza: DVD Review

More a hang out movie than an outright narratively driven affair, Phantom Thread director Paul Thomas Anderson's latest is a 70s set tale about the long route to a true love story.

Cooper Hoffman plays hustler kid Gary Valentine, a child actor, would-be businessman and hype maker whose grandeur comes from his own self belief. During the annual school photograph session, Valentine sees assistant Alana (Haim) and decides that she will be woman that he's going to marry.

Licorice Pizza: Movie Review

Pursuing her doggedly around the school, Gary's surprised when she shows up for a date with him despite a 10-year age difference - marking the start of their zig-zag romance and their adventures through the San Fernando Valley.

To call Licorice Pizza meandering is perhaps to do it a disservice, but the almost ramshackle nature of the film, its manifest-anything protagonist and its low self-esteem suffering female lead prove to be an intoxicating mix of mood more than anything.

Valentine may have his grifter trappings, the cocksure belief of a self-manifester and his seemingly persistent approach to life, but Cooper Hoffman imbues him with a sense of innocence that is painfully contrasted with the other older male role models in the Valley. 

From Sean Penn's seedy ageing actor, to Bradley Cooper's volatile and unhinged Jon Peters, via John Michael Higgins Japan-obsessed Jerry (who puts on an awful Japanese English accent to talk to his various wives), the older men in this tale are just varying degrees of repulsiveness personified, all indicators of how the Valley can produce nastiness when the sun goes down.

It's no wonder that Haim's Alana is wary of Gary, his youthful exuberance bristling against her never-ending feeling of being let down by men. It's a fascinating dichotomy that Anderson brings to the fore, an unsettling exploration of 70s exploitation within various industries.

Thankfully Haim's gradual softening into idealism blossoms, and with the flourishes, she brings her Alana to life as growing resentments and the push-and-pull dynamics of the burgeoning relationships come into play. Haim's a natural talent on the screen, and the pairing with Hoffman's Gary Valentine blooms over the 135 minute run time.

If Anderson does occasionally give a feeling of episodic ramblings in this hangout movie rather than a strongly pursued narrative, along with an evocative OST from Jonny Greenwood, some choice music from the likes of The Doors, and some excellent costuming, his recreation of the era is greatly rewarding.

Licorice Pizza is definitely all about the journey, rather than the destination, but it's an engaging and enjoyable one to behold from beginning to end.

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Nude Tuesday: Movie Review

Nude Tuesday: Movie Review

Cast: Jackie van Beek, Damon Herriman, Jemaine Clement
Director: Armagan Ballantyne

Billed as a comedy, but in truth, more a bittersweet tale of a relationship ending, Nude Tuesday is not quite the raucous romp that skin-filled posters proclaim, nor is it the gut-busting comedy others abroad have heralded.

Spoken entirely in gibberish throughout, with subtitles provided by Julia Davis, an English comedian renowned for her darker take on life, it's the story of Van Beek's Laura, whose marriage to Bruno (Herriman) is on the rocks.

Laura spends her day trying to sell pitches for adult diapers, whereas Bruno sells taps. Their existence is a muted one, an invisible but evident strain pulling apart their existence in Zǿbftąņ, a fictional island.

On the night of their wedding anniversary, the pair is gifted an excursion to a commune aimed at rekindling their love and putting them back on track - with its ethos of "putting couples back on track who no longer rumble in the jungle", it seems as if nothing can go wrong.

But headed up by Clement's Bjorg, a guru whose free love is as dodgy as his philosophy, it could be the final straw for Bruno and Laura.
Nude Tuesday: Movie Review

Barbs and bickering are the order of the day for this snippy melodrama that in truth is more depressing than uplifting. It has the feel of a Danish take on a relationship in its dying days, but lacks some of the sharper edges to craft something searing and sensational.

With its washed out aesthetic on show until Bruno and Laura relocate, there's a stiflingly unhappy atmosphere to engage with here - the joylessness is relentless, and coupled with Davis' subtitling, there's a maudlin feeling throughout. (The filmmakers claim there's a more riotous comedic version out there, but in truth, it's hard to see how that would match up with the visuals).

As the film builds to its naked glory, van Beek and Merriman make for good bedfellows, a poignancy and sadness enhanced by the script's subtle reveals. But it's in the guru and his shenanigans that the film comes undone, a mixture of obvious gags, slights at yogi-like shamans and a flailing ethos that feels flaccid when it should stand tall and revel in its own absurdities.

Instead, it's a high premise concept with only occasional low hanging rewards.

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Lightyear: Movie Review

Lightyear: Movie Review

Cast: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi, Peter Sohn, Dale Soules, James Brolin
Director: Angus MacLane

Disney Pixar's Lightyear knows exactly what it wants to do - it wants to take you back to 1995 when you fell in love with Andy, Woody and Buzz.
Lightyear: Movie Review

It's evident in the opening title cards which reveal that this is the movie that Andy fell in love with, and why he wanted a Buzz Lightyear toy.

Which, in someways, is perfect for the space-set romp that follows - a boy's own adventure of a trapped Space Ranger trying desperately to get his comrades back home, but failing to learn the lessons of teamplaying.

However, what Lightyear doesn't do is easily scale the heights of the emotional depth needed to rekindle the universal humanity of Toy Story - aside from one ageing montage, the likes of which was devastatingly deployed in Up and has remained the aspirational bar ever since.

Evans voices Lightyear, the brash arrogant Space Ranger who causes his crew of 1200 to be marooned on a foreign planet after failing to listen to pleas for help and to stop. Determined to right his wrong, and ultimately to beat his own punishing failure guilt, Lightyear keeps trying to break the hyperspeed barrier but ends up spending years in space. 
Lightyear: Movie Review

Upon his return some 60 years in the future, Buzz discovers that his settlement is under attack from the Zurg - and with a ragtag crew of cadet misfits, he sets out to save the day.

There are vicarious thrills to be had in Lightyear, a space saga that wants to take us to infinity, but barely gets beyond the stratosphere.

Chiefly, Peter Sohn's robot cat Sox, an emotional support companion thrust upon Lightyear to help him adjust by a colleague, steals the show with quips and unexpected moments that enliven proceedings. Evans is also strong, but he has to work within the boilerplate of Buzz's emotional characteristics brought so vividly to life in Toy Story, so you know he won't deviate from the brash, non-team playing, self-delusional toy we saw back in 1995. He makes the most of Buzz's arc of learning about team-playing, the crushing defeat of the passing of time, and to cope with failure.

There are touches of emotional too, from the aforementioned montage to the openly gay relationship portrayed on screen by Lightyear's cohort Hawthorne. And Pixar's animation here is superb - elements of Gravity and Top Gun: Maverick's tension mix with 2001: A Space Odyssey homage in the hyperspeed sequences mix deftly with the depth of space world-building on the alien planet - it's a vista packed with background details that builds the wonder of space. 

But Lightyear remains a fleeting joy, a space saga romp that disappointingly lacks a bit of depth but is a perfect rejoinder of the kind of space film boys adore when times were simpler and the likes of Flash Gordon and King of the RocketMen adorned Saturday morning cinema serials.

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