Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Atomic Blonde

By Jackie Raphael

3 stars

This film has action, sex and violence, but Atomic Blonde does lack originality. It is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and tells the story of undercover agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), who is sent to Berlin in 1989 before the wall came down, to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover “the list”. While director David Leitch did a good job in terms of cinematography and use of the 1980s soundtrack, the plot itself was much like any other action film. More effort could have been taken to have costumes that better reflected the period, but there were subtle elements in the fashion.

Theron’s accent slipped several times, which was distracting, however her acting overall was strong and she is believable in the role. James McAvoy, who plays another spy deeply entrenched in Berlin, was amazing as always, in particular during a scene where he was being beaten and screaming in pain. There is a lot of gruesome violence throughout, which drew gasps of enjoyment from the audience. Leitch’s experience as a stunt double and coordinator was evident in the way he directed many of the highly-skilled and powerful fight sequences. The pace of the film was good, although it could have been slightly shorter.

Monday, 24 July 2017

A Monster Calls

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

The real takeaway from this film is its inspiring message about dealing with the gamut of emotions experienced during times of grief. A Monster Calls encourages people to vent their feelings, whether they are good or bad. It is a “family film” but is not for very young children because they will not understand the depth of the adult themes explored. Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is a lonely 12-year-old boy who is bullied at school. His mother (Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer, his father (Toby Kebbell) rarely sees him and his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) is cold towards him. But one night, The Monster (Liam Neeson), who is a giant tree, enters Conor's life, saying he will tell the boy three stories and then Conor must reveal his own dark truth. Each story The Monster tells explores the complexity of human nature and has its own little moral message. Author Siobhan Dowd created the story but died before she could write it, leaving Patrick Ness to write the novel and the screenplay. Spanish Director J. A. Bayona makes good use of the special effects and also uses paper cut-out animation during the stories. Neeson's booming voice adds gravitas to the tree creature, while Jones is sweet and MacDougall has no problem carrying the film. Unfortunately, Weaver's accent slips too often and it is jarring. A Monster Calls may work well as a novel, but as a film, it is difficult to market. There is an audience for the film, but it does not have wide appeal. 

Monday, 17 July 2017

Top 20 Animated Films

By Jackie Raphael

1. Aladdin (1992) – One of the few Disney films to be focused on a male lead. He also happens to be the most attractive animated character of all time. The film has so much heart and although it is an overly stereotypical representation of the Middle East, it was one of the first to show cultural diversity in the Disney world. 

2. The Lion King (1994) – While I get sad every time I watch this film, it is deeply moving and has one of the best soundtracks of all time.

3. Shrek (2001) – A clever parody with a lot of laughs. Eddie Murphy steals the show as Donkey.

4. Frozen (2013) – One of the first Disney films to explore an in-depth love triangle, but more importantly focus on the love of sisters. Of course, it also has a great soundtrack.

5. Anastasia (1997) – People often mistake this as a Disney film, as it is stylistically similar. Inspired by the real Russian royal family, this film tells the mythical story of Anastasia surviving the execution of the Romanov family and her journey to return home.  

6. The Little Mermaid (1989) – A beautiful story about impossible love becoming possible. Ursula is a terrifying villain.

7. Cinderella (1950) – There is a reason this classic story has been told in so many different forms over the years. Although there are some ugly stepsisters, it is a beautiful love story.

8. Finding Nemo (2003) – A wonderful father and son story, but the hilarious and forgetful Dory, played by Ellen DeGeneres, steals the show.

9. Beauty and the Beast (1991)  - How could a woman not fall in love with a beast after she sees his library? It is interesting to see a male lead who is so flawed rather than a stereotypical dashing prince. 

10. Toy Story (1995) – A film about friendship and nostalgia that beautifully personifies toys and is very emotional. 

11. Inside Out (2015) – A unique and layered story that is both heartbreaking and uplifting. It will also leave you reflecting on your range of emotions. 

12. Zootopia (2016) – The sloth scene is the most memorable part of this fun animation. The film also encourages diversity.

13. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) – A film about jealousy, friendship and love. While she is perhaps too much of a damsel in distress in the original film, there have been many adaptations that have strengthened her character.

14. A Bugs Life (1998) – A sweet story that makes you think about all the little creatures around us.

15. Pocahontas (1995) – One of the stronger female leads in the Disney franchise. This film discusses issues including racism and sexism.

16. Mulan (1998) – Also a strong female lead who rebels against cultural traditions. Unlike other Disney films, the love story is quite secondary to the main plot about family, respect and comradery.

17. 101 Dalmatians (1961) – I think everyone wants a pet dalmation after watching this film, although hopefully not for the same reason as the villain, Cruella De Vil.

18. The Jungle Book (1967) – I actually prefer the 2016 adaptation directed by Jon Favreau, but this film is a beautiful story that explores themes of friendship and family through a heroic adventure.  

19. Pinocchio (1940) – A classic story that teaches children about the importance of honesty.

20. Bambi (1942) – So sad I could barely include it on the list. However, the animation of these gorgeous animals is so adorable!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Paris Can Wait

By Angie Raphael

3 stars

Foodies and travellers will probably want to take notes while watching Paris Can Wait because there are many tips about where to visit and what to eat while driving through the French countryside. Just make sure you eat before watching the film because the food porn only increases with every scene. Fashion designer Anne (Diane Lane) agrees to drive from Cannes to Paris with associate Jacques (Arnaud Viard) while her film producer husband Michael (Alec Baldwin) flies to Budapest for meetings before joining her. But flirtatious Jacques wants to take the scenic route and stop regularly to show Anne more of France and reawaken her zest for life. 

Writer/director Eleanor Coppola, who is making her narrative feature film debut at the age of 80, definitely encourages the concept that the journey is more important than the destination. But Paris Can Wait also tackles some important issues, such as what to do with your life when your children leave home. The cinematography is also beautiful and the film will surely be great for French tourism. Lane is as delightful and graceful as ever playing a devoted wife who is taken for granted by her high-flying husband, while Viard is a quintessentially smooth Frenchman and exudes confidence. The entire film hinges on their chemistry, which is very strong. Baldwin has a much smaller role but he is a welcome addition. Unfortunately, the film's resolution fails to satisfy and certain actions by the protagonists seem out of character. Paris Can Wait is only about 90 minutes long and the ending is open for a sequel, but audiences can certainly fill in the blanks as to what happens next in the story.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

A Conspiracy of Faith

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

This is the third instalment in the Department Q series, adapted from the novels by Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen, but seeing the previous films is not a prerequisite. Cold case detectives Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Assad (Fares Fares) begin an investigation after a note written in blood is found, dated eight years earlier, from a boy indicating he was caught in a religious cult. When the detectives learn two children recently disappeared under similar circumstances they begin digging deeper into the mystery. A Conspiracy of Faith is a well-made and suspenseful Danish film. While many crime thrillers often crumble into a nonsensical mess, this film finishes as strongly as it begins. Director Hans Petter Moland maintains the intensity throughout and there are some unexpected twists along the way. The cast is also very good, especially Pål Sverre Hagen, who plays the creepy and disturbing villain. People who do not usually enjoy foreign films might also find A Conspiracy of Faith more appealing because some of the actors are recognisable from Hollywood films, including Kaas and Fares. 

* A Conspiracy of Faith is screening at the Scandinavian Film Festival.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Beguiled

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

This feminist remake of the macho 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood, which was adapted from Thomas P. Cullinan's 1966 novel originally titled The Painted Devil, is dramatic but also funny in a real-life way. The Beguiled is set during the United States civil war. A group of girls living at a boarding school are sheltered from the outside world until Amy (Oona Laurence) finds wounded union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell). Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), who runs the school, agrees to care for John until he is well enough to leave. He soon starts to build a relationship with each female in the house, including lonely teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and flirty teenager Alicia (Elle Fanning), resulting in sexual tension and rivalries. 

Writer/director Sofia Coppola offers a version of the story that is a lot simpler, focussing more heavily on the women and removing other sub-plots that were in the novel. She also takes a light-hearted approach to the drama of the situation, poking fun at the way the females suddenly dress in their best clothes and throw themselves at the first handsome man they have seen in years. The use of natural light and shadows was also effective in setting the tone. All the females are great in their respective roles but Kidman, Fanning and Dunst are especially strong, while Farrell also has some particularly memorable moments. The story could have been presented in a way that demonised women as competitive and jealous, but Coppola has made it far more empowering for female audiences and leaves a good moral lesson for everyone.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Baby Driver

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

Striking a surprisingly successful balance between 1940s film noir and modern self-awareness, Baby Driver is like an extended music video but with more story depth and a stream of pop culture references. Baby (Ansel Elgort) wears ear buds and listens to music constantly to drown out the tinnitus he suffers as a result of a car accident he was in as a child. He also mixes his own music using snippets of recorded conversations. Baby is working off a debt to crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), who never uses the same team twice for a heist except for Baby, who is his exceptional getaway driver. But when Baby meets waitress Debora (Lily James), he has more reason than ever to live a straight life. 

Writer/director Edgar Wright has a song playing in the background of almost every scene and the action revolves around the beat of the music, rather than the other way around. He also cleverly uses foreshadowing and symbolism throughout. Baby Driver is stylistically brilliant and the story is compelling. Unfortunately, much of the final act is disappointingly over-the-top, although the conclusion brings the story back on track. Elgort is charming and sympathetic in the lead role, while Oscar winners Spacey and Jamie Foxx, who plays the villainous Bats, are both strong but not distracting from their younger counterpart's performance. Jon Bernthal (Griff), Eiza Gonzalez (Darling) and Jon Hamm (Buddy) are also great additions as other bad guys working for Doc, while CJ Jones gives a bittersweet performance as Baby's only family member. Baby Driver is obviously a passion project for Wright and it is creatively unique. 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

It Comes At Night

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

This post-apocolyptic psychological thriller is very mysterious and has a relatively open-ended conclusion worth pondering. Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, It Comes At Night is about 17-year-old Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr), who lives with his parents Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) in a secure home in the middle of nowhere after an illness wiped out most of civilisation. But everything changes when desperate young couple Will (Christopher Abbott) and Kim (Riley Keough), and their son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) seek refuge at the house. In a similar way that The Walking Dead examines complex human relationships and interactions, so too does It Comes At Night. It is a fascinating character study as the protagonists experience panic, paranoia and suspicion of each other over the course of the 90-minute film. But Shults has made a horror film that has no obviously scary villains, such as zombies. Further, he is less concerned with showing what the disease is, and more focused on what people do to survive. 

Shults also cleverly changes the aspect ratio throughout the film to show audiences the difference between reality and Travis' nightmares. In fact, the film is really told through Travis' eyes, and in many ways, is a coming of age story. Travis is mourning the death of his grandfather at the start of the film and later begins questioning his father's decisions and even experiences a crush. Meanwhile, he never knows if the sickness is going to get him too, which would mean the end of his life. It is a lot for a teenager to go through. Harrison Jr is excellent in the role, and both Edgerton and Abbott are also worth singling out, especially for some of their one-on-one confrontations. It Comes At Night is not necessarily a typical horror film, but it is definitely spooky. 

Monday, 3 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

By Jackie Raphael

4 stars

I did not think we needed another Spider-Man film. In fact, I skipped the whole Amazing Spider-Man series because I thought it was too soon after Sam Raimi's trilogy starring Tobey Maguire. However, Spider-Man: Homecoming was surprisingly good. It brought new dimensions to the character with the help of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who invented a new costume for Spider-Man (Tom Holland), giving him more technologically advanced ways to use his superhero abilities. The plot picks up from where Captain America: Civil War ended, with Spider-Man trying to balance his new life as a hero with his ordinary life at high school as Peter Parker.

The film is perhaps most stylistically aligned to Ant-Man, with a great use of goofy humour throughout. While director Jon Watts could have edited the film down by about 15 minutes, the plot and character development did keep the audience entertained throughout. It was also great to see cultural diversity on screen, in particular within the context of Parker's school peers. 

Holland brings a cute, boyish charm to the character, as we saw in Civil War. Marisa Tomei returns as the loveable (and sexier version of) Aunt May, and Jon Favreau is back as Happy Hogan, who Iron Man tasks with looking after Spider-Man. There are also some great cameos and references to the Avengers throughout the film, which fans will enjoy. Michael Keaton, was a welcome addition to the Marvel Universe as the villain, Vulture. As, always it is worth sticking around until the very end of the credits for a Marvel surprise. 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight

By Angie Raphael

1 star

Has a blockbuster ever had such a convoluted and incomprehensible plot? Probably not. Aside from the original film in this franchise, the others have been woeful, but this latest instalment takes it to an even lower level of ridiculousness. This time the screenwriters have decided the Transformers back story should include Merlin, the Knights of the Round Table and Nazis. I spent half the time concentrating to try to follow the nonsensical and overly ambitious narrative, and the other half laughing at the terrible dialogue and one-liners. Transformers: The Last Knight introduces audiences to Sir Edmond Burton (Anthony Hopkins), who is desperately searching for a mystical talisman that ends up in the possession of Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), who is hiding in a junk yard with the Autobots, minus Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), who has disappeared. Joining Yeager on his transformer adventure is 14-year-old orphan Izabella (Isabel Moner) and stereotypically stuck-up Oxford professor Viviane (Laura Haddock). There are some good action sequences but the film is excruciatingly long at about two-and-a-half hours, and I actually left early. Director Michael Bay has what should be another flop on his hands, but it remains to be seen whether fans will heed reviewer warnings or make up their own minds.