Thursday, 21 September 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

By Jackie Raphael

3.5 stars

While it is not as good as the original, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a lot of fun. It is no surprise that Colin Firth's charming character survived being shot in the first film and Taron Egerton returns as the loveable Eggsy. When the Kingsman headquarters is destroyed, the remaining members turn to the allied US spy organisation called the Statesman. The members are made up of Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Pedro Pascal. Julianne Moore also joins the cast as the villain, Poppy, and does a wonderful job.

Unfortunately, Berry is underused and was given a one-dimensional character. Elton John also makes a cameo appearance, but they over did it, taking away from the humour. Tatum was not very believable in his role, he just made me want to laugh every time he was on screen. I think they tried to fit in too many new characters and did not give enough opportunity to develop them.

The film is rather long, but maintains the audience's engagement. There is a great use of music throughout and some good action scenes, however some of the effects were too fake. Director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn has set it up for a third film, which I'm sure fans will be excited about.


Thursday, 14 September 2017

American Assassin

By Angie Raphael

2 stars

Lame title, equally weak film. American Assassin is long, somewhat boring and so scientifically wrong it is laughable. The film has a decent concept to work with but the script by Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz is over the top and messy, especially towards the end. Based on one of more than a dozen novels by Vince Flynn, American Assassin is about Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien), who is a young man devastated by the death of his fiancee at the hands of terrorists. Rapp becomes a vigilante seeking revenge until CIA deputy director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) convinces him to become a counter-terrorism operative under the tutelage of veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), and together they go on a mission to stop the villainous Ghost (Taylor Kitsch). 

I have not read the book series so I cannot compare the film to the novel, but the screen adaptation is cringeworthy and clunky. It is such a shame because the cast is made up of a solid group of actors, including O'Brien whose career is worth following, Kitsch who is always loveable even as the bad guy, and Keaton who has enjoyed a well-deserved resurgence in recent years. Unfortunately, they all seem to give a half-hearted performance and the highlight of the film was when Keaton (probably unintentionally) used his Batman voice. Lathan and Shiva Negar, who plays another operative, at least portray strong women but there is little time given to character development for either of them. Meanwhile, perhaps in an attempt to distract audiences from the poor script, director Michael Cuesta showed a lot of graphic violence throughout the film. Many action films can get away with being ridiculous, but the team behind American Assassin seem to take the story too seriously to be enjoyable in that way. It is mostly a waste of time. 



Tuesday, 12 September 2017

From Naples With Love (Troppo Napoletano)

By Angie Raphael

3 stars

Often silly but always fun, From Naples With Love is a joyful family comedy about childhood crushes. This Italian film also offers a sweet representation of Naples that may inspire travellers to explore the famous city. Ciro (Gennaro Guazzo) is an eleven-year-old boy trying to navigate his first big crush on schoolmate Ludovica (Giorgia Agata) with the help of his geeky psychologist Tommaso (Luigi Esposito), who soon finds himself falling in love with the boy’s gorgeous single mother Debora (Serena Rossi). Writer/director Gianluca Ansanelli has created a heart-warming tale akin to Liam Neeson's storyline in Love Actually mixed in with a slice of Little Miss Sunshine. Some scenes are over the top but Guazzo is a delightful young actor and carries the film well.

* From Naples With Love (Troppo Napoletano) is screening at the Italian Film Festival


Thursday, 7 September 2017

It

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

Stephen King's novella The Body, which was made into the coming-of-age 1986 film Stand By Me, will forever be my favourite adaptation of his work because it is both hilarious and poignant. But the latest adaptation of his horror novel It, definitely has a Stand By Me vibe, with surprisingly good laughs and a core group of young characters that are complex and entertaining. For anyone unfamiliar with the spooky tale, It is about a group of bullied youths fighting a clown monster named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), who feeds on the fears of children every 27 years. Skarsgard is just as terrifying and creepy as Tim Curry was as the villainous lead in the famed 1990 mini-series. But it is the scenes with the children that are the most enjoyable to watch, especially Sophia Lillis as the strong-willed girl in the group, Finn Wolfhard as the motor-mouth joker, Jaeden Lieberher as the stuttering brother of a boy who goes missing, and Jeremy Ray Taylor as the chubby geek. Director Andy Muschietti steers the lengthy film strongly and keeps the thrilling moments consistent throughout. The 80s fashion and music, such as repeated references to New Kids on the Block, are also effective. Writers Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman have kept the story relatively true to the concept of the novel but there are some significant changes that fans of the book will notice. The film is also set up conveniently for a sequel, which will delight fans wanting more. 


Friday, 1 September 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard

By Jackie Raphael

3.5 stars

We can never have enough buddy films and while The Hitman's Bodyguard is no Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it is still a lot of fun. Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is the bodyguard tasked with protecting the jailed hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), who must give evidence against the villainous Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) to ensure his wife (Salma Hayek) is released from prison. Reynolds and Jackson have great chemistry and there are consistent laughs throughout the film. However, there are times where the soppy conversations between the pair become too ridiculous. The film has a great soundtrack and fantastic action scenes, with director Patrick Hughes taking the production to several distinct countries, including the Netherlands and England. The Hitman's Bodyguard did drag on a bit and some jokes were repeated too often, but overall it is an enjoyable film.



Thursday, 31 August 2017

Gifted

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

There is little originality to Gifted but it is the kind of film that will repeatedly tug at the heart strings until you are on the verge of tears. At its core, Gifted is about the universally relatable love of family, and particularly the bond between a father and daughter. It also raises interesting questions about parenting styles. Frank (Chris Evans) is a single man raising his niece Mary (Mckenna Grace), but when her school realises she is a maths genius, he faces a custody battle with his mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who wants to nurture Mary's gift instead of giving her a “normal” childhood. Writer Tom Flynn expertly develops the relationship between Frank and Mary with several funny and poignant moments, which director Marc Webb astutely executes. Evans and Grace are adorable together and their relationship is convincing. Grace is especially brilliant, particularly in one heartbreaking scene of perceived abandonment. Duncan is also impressive as the English grandmother with good intentions but questionable methods. Rounding out the main cast are equally strong performances from Jenny Slate as Mary's kind teacher and Octavia Spencer as Mary's motherly neighbour. Gifted is unlikely to be a box office hit but anyone who does see it will be completely sucked into the emotional roller coaster. 


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Ali's Wedding

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

This romantic comedy is not perfect but it is the film Australia and the world needs right now. No overt political or religious statements are made in Ali's Wedding, but anyone who wants to learn more about Islam and the peaceful, family-orientated Muslim society in Australia should definitely see this film. As a Christian Lebanese-Australian, even I found parts of this film (sometimes embarrassingly) relatable. Like The Big Sick, this film is an eye-opener for anyone with questions about cultural hurdles many Muslims and people with non-Western backgrounds experience growing up in the Western world with parents still stuck in their traditional ways. It also hilariously shows how well Middle Eastern people do actually embrace Australian culture, especially the passion for AFL and cricket. Furthermore, there is still very little representation of people of colour and diversity of cultures in Australian film and television, so Ali's Wedding is refreshing. The film challenges racial, religious and gender stereotypes, but does it in a fun and engaging way.

Based on a true story, Ali's Wedding is about Ali (Osamah Sami, playing a version of himself), who wants to make his Muslim cleric father Mahdi (Don Hany) proud by becoming a doctor, but Ali does not do well enough in his exams and his true dream is (hilariously) to play a terrorist in a film. He also wants to be with Australian-born Lebanese medical student Dianne (Helana Sawires), but Ali has been promised to another woman. So, he lies and cheats until it all becomes too much for him to juggle duty and his own desires. Sami, who also co-wrote the film with Andrew Knight, is charming and has good chemistry with the delightful Sawires, while Hany adds gravitas to the film. Director Jeffrey Walker, known for his television work, clearly has no problem transitioning to film and the music throughout is also excellent. Ali's Wedding is so heart-warming and funny, it is no wonder it is already a multi-award-winning film.



Thursday, 24 August 2017

Terminator 2 in 3D

By Jackie Raphael

5 stars

How do you make a near-perfect film even better? Re-release it in 3D! Many films have tried 3D restoration over the years but sometimes it adds very little to the experience and is often just a technique to make more cash. Perhaps money was the key driver for re-releasing James Cameron's 1991 classic Terminator 2, but regardless, the 3D effects are fantastic. While 3D technology is frequently used as a gimmick in other films, Cameron always uses it as a tool to enhance the viewing experience and make the audience feel like they are in the scene with the characters. As the creator of Avatar, the first feature film to be shot in 3D, Cameron certainly knows how to use the technology to add to the action sequences. I watched Terminator 2 when I was far too young, so I cannot remember a time before I loved it. I was skeptical of the 3D release, but it actually does make the film aesthetically stronger. Whether you have seen the film 100 times or never before, it is worth enjoying on the big screen in 3D. It is only in cinemas for one week, so take the opportunity while you can.







Wednesday, 23 August 2017

American Made

By Angie Raphael

3 stars

This "true crime" comedy is a fictionalised version of the life of infamous pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise). In this story, he flies drugs, money and guns between Latin America and the United States while working for the CIA in the 1980s. American Made is an extraordinary story and yet the film is a little boring and superficial at times, which is the fault of screenwriter Gary Spinelli. Despite being a comedy, it lacks enough genuine laughs. But to Spinelli's credit, he keeps the relatively complex story easy to follow with a linear plot and voice over storytelling from Seal via a videotape confession. Director Doug Liman has re-teamed with Cruise following their success with Edge of Tomorrow, and Liman adds some strong stylistic elements to the film. Cruise clearly enjoys being back in the cockpit two decades after Top Gun but Seal is no Maverick, and sadly, neither is Cruise. The upbeat soundtrack is excellent and the fashion is mostly good too. The archive footage used throughout is also quite effective. I would love to see a mini-series fully explore Seal's story, it would surely be more satisfying.



Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Girls Trip

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

There are moments in Girls Trip that are so funny I was close to tears, but other scenes went too far with the crude humour. Nonetheless, the film certainly has some original gags. For example, I do not recall ever seeing a Hollywood film discuss the sexual act of "grapefruiting" before, although perhaps more sensitive viewers will wish that had remained the case. There are other hit-and-miss moments too. A dance-off and a sequence where the women get their drinks spiked with strong absinthe are entertaining, but a scene involving public urination fails to hit the mark. Unfortunately, the film also offers a mixed message about feminism despite the best intentions.

The Flossy Posse are former college friends including self-help guru Ryan (Regina Hall), celebrity gossip blogger Sasha (Queen Latifah), divorced nurse and mother Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and aggressive motor-mouth Dina (Tiffany Haddish). They get together for the Essence Festival in New Orleans, but things start to unravel when Ryan is forced to deal with her cheating husband Stewart (Mike Colter). Hall plays the straight character, while Pinkett Smith and Latifah are both very funny, but Haddish has the most outrageous and raunchy lines. Importantly, the friendship between the quartet is believable. Viewers will also enjoy spotting the many performers making cameos in the film including Sean "Diddy" Combs, Common, Mariah Carey and Ne-Yo. For a very simple story though, Girls Trip did not need to have a running time of two hours. That was just sloppy of director Malcolm D. Lee and writers Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver. Nevertheless, Girls Trip is still a fun film to see with a group of friends.