Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Dark Tower

By Angie Raphael

2.5 stars 

I often complain about directors being self-indulgent with overly long films. But director/co-writer Nikolaj Arcel should probably have added 15 minutes to The Dark Tower's 95-minute running time to flesh out the story and further develop the villain's background. Based on the book series by Stephen King, The Dark Tower is about last gun slinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), who is trying to stop Walter “The Man in Black” O'Dim (Matthew McConaughey) from bringing down the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is the child from Earth with special prophet powers who may be the key to either stop or help Walter. Elba's magnetic charm hugely improves the film and Taylor is also decent in his first feature role. But McConaughey seems uncommitted and his character is one-dimensional, which is a shame because Walter could have been a much more exciting villain. The final act is also messy and rushed. The Dark Tower is full of references to King's work, which fans will delight in noticing, but they will likely be disappointed with this film adaptation.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Elvis is Underrated

By Jackie Raphael

I realise the title of this post may perplex you. Elvis Presley is of course an icon, known as The King of Rock. While his music is widely celebrated, his films are often mocked. Some say they are all the same, his characters just change occupations slightly. I disagree. Sure some were similar, but that was certainly not Elvis’ fault. As we know, the studio dictated what he could do. Even still, among the 31 acting roles, he managed to touch many people over the decades. 

My mother partly learnt English by watching Elvis films, so as you can imagine, I grew up with a lot of Elvis in my life. Now the next generation is also being inspired by his swaying hips, deep voice and dreamy eyes. Even, my six-year-old niece has a little crush on Elvis. I hope in this new world of streaming and downloading that Elvis films are still found by the new generation. They are unlikely to fall upon the films as I did growing up with them appearing constantly as midday films. Now, everything is available at the click of a button, but you need to know what to search for. 

I am writing this post in celebration of his life on the 40th anniversary of his death. The best way to celebrate, of course, is to watch one of his many great films.

Here are my top 10 Elvis films:

1) Girl Happy - Always makes this girl happy! Elvis accidentally falls in love with the young woman he is meant to keep an eye on for her dad.

2) Fun in Acapulco - diving, circuses, a cute child ... what more could you want?

3) Clambake - a fun movie about fortune and love.

4) Love Me Tender - a tragic cowboy film. One of his best acting performances. 

5 ) Frankie and Johnny - based on a poem allegedly inspired by a true story. This film is about a woman who shoots her man. Great songs and fantastic costumes.

6 ) Follow That Dream - a goofy, loveable role for Elvis. The bank scene is especially hilarious.

7) Jailhouse Rock - a classic that helped form much of his identity today.

8) GI Blues - he makes a bet to win the girl, but who can deny Elvis in uniform?

9) Girls Girls Girls - singing and sailing is a great combination. 

10) Easy Come, Easy Go - a fight for treasure. This film is worth watching just for the yoga scene.

What are your favourite Elvis films? 

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Killing Ground

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars 

If you ignored TLC when they sang the lyrics “Don't go chasing waterfalls”, perhaps you will heed the warning from writer/director Damien Power, whose first full-length feature Killing Ground is absolutely chilling to watch. It may not be the most original story, but this Australian film expertly plays up the idea of having a tranquil and isolated place turned into a creepy and dangerous situation. The story is told in a non-linear way, which adds some intensity as the sub-plots build and finally merge. Young couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer) are going camping. When they arrive at their destination, they find another tent already set up but no sign of its owners until they find a toddler wandering alone, which sets off a chain of harrowing events. What makes this film so unnerving is that the concept is plausible and it is not something many Aussies want to think about. The cast is solid but the villains, played by Aaron Pederson and Aaron Gelnane, are especially impressive. It is also great to see Sam being strong rather than a damsel in distress. One thing is certain – Power does suspense well. 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

By Angie Raphael

3 stars 

With a poor film title and a woeful performance at the US box office, I was apprehensive about seeing Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, but I was pleasantly surprised. The film is a visual feast and the action sequences are great. The story definitely needed some improvement, but I do not understand why the film flopped so badly. Far worse films have done better. Based on the comic book series Valerian and Laureline, which partly inspired Star Wars and has some obvious similarities, this is an ambitious film by French writer/director Luc Besson. When a dark force threatens the diverse metropolis of Alpha, special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Deleveingne) go on a mission to save the city of a thousand planets. Unfortunately, DeHaan is hardly believable as the lovable rogue he portrays, but he does have decent chemistry with Delevingne. Clive Owen is a fantastic actor but his evil character was one-dimensional and it is a waste of his talent. Rihanna and Ethan Hawke are also very random additions to the film. Valerian and the City of a Thousands Planets will probably attract a cult following and the special effects are memorable, even if aspects of the tale and dialogue are weak.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Big Sick

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

Striking the right balance between humour and tragedy, The Big Sick is original and surprisingly relatable. Based on the true story of how writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani met and fell in love, this is a film especially enjoyable for anyone who has ever tried to navigate a relationship with someone from a different cultural background. Kumail (Nanjiani playing a version of himself) is from a strict Muslim Pakistani family that wants to arrange a marriage for him, but he wants to be a stand-up comedian and date a woman of his choice. He does not tell them about his blonde non-Muslim girlfriend Emily (Zoe Kazan), but when she has a serious health scare Kumail is forced to make some life-changing decisions. Nanjiani may not be Hollywood's typical leading man but he is great in this film and has good chemistry with Kazan too. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are also welcome additions as Emily's concerned parents with their own relationship issues to deal with, while Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff are a great pairing as Kumail's intrusive and traditional parents. Director Michael Showalter could have tightened a few scenes but The Big Sick is still one of the best romantic comedies in a long time. 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Wind River

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

There is one brutal scene in particular in Wind River that is so disturbingly confronting that I am still not quite over it. The story itself is not particularly unique, but it is the way writer/director Taylor Sheridan slowly reveals the tale that is so powerfully memorable and quite devastating. Whether he has done it intentionally or not, the film also bears relevance to current social issues about sexual violence. Wind River is about wildlife officer Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), who stumbles upon the body of an 18-year-old woman, who has been raped and left in the snow at an Indian reservation. Rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is out of her depth in the wintery climate and needs Cory's help to solve the crime. 

Gil Birmingham, who plays the victim's grieving father, is the stand-out actor in the film and Renner also gives one of his strongest performances. Olsen is good too, but her character is often a damsel in distress.‬ Jane is a fish out of water, which provides a few lighter moments in an otherwise very dark film, but for all the dialogue suggesting she is a strong and smart person, her actions are actually sometimes a bit too stupid. She does however have a few moments where she outdoes the men around her. Sheridan also weaves in a few too many impassioned speeches and it is doubtful these characters would actually speak that way. But he does keep the pace and shocks of the story moving quickly. The cinematography also beautifully captures the isolation and natural wonder of the Wyoming wilderness. You can almost feel the tortuously freezing temperatures depicted on screen. Wind River is a very good crime thriller.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

A Ghost Story

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

There is nothing scary about this ghost film but it is beautifully haunting and melancholic. A Ghost Story is about a man (Casey Affleck) who dies and continues to “live on” as a ghost in the home he shared with his partner (Rooney Mara), even after she moves on from the house. It is at times heartbreaking but also bittersweet. Writer/director David Lowery keeps the film short at about 90 minutes but the scenes are tense, often lacking dialogue and sometimes drawn out, which might put some people off. This is a surprising indie film with a white-sheeted ghost that looks childlike and comical but somehow it makes the film all the more powerful. The existential meaning behind the ending is also worth debating

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

War For The Planet of The Apes

By Angie Raphael

4 stars 

Each film in this series has touched on a slightly different aspect of the broader theme about scientific interference. This instalment delves further into social issues, drawing on parallels with current real life wars and politics. War For The Planet of The Apes is layered with emotion, thought-provoking and packed with action. The film begins with a brief summary of what transpired in the previous instalments before launching into a massive battle scene between the apes and human soldiers. After the apes suffer a significant loss, Caesar (Andy Serkis) seeks revenge and justice while also trying to avoid becoming the savage that humans believe the apes to be. 

Every scene is intricate in its detail and has a purpose, although sometimes director/co-writer Matt Reeves pushes the message and full circle moments too far. As a result, some scenes involving Amiah Miller, who plays a mute girl befriended by the apes, feel repetitive and the film is about half an hour too long. But watching Serkis do just about anything is such a mesmerising joy. If you never previously jumped on the bandwagon demanding his motion capture acting be recognised at the Oscars, this film might get you onboard. Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson is a formidable foe playing a Colonel who is such a horrible and unredeemable villain. Steve Zahn also provides a few laughs playing a former zoo ape, but the film perhaps needed more light moments. War For The Planet of The Apes is a fitting end to this blockbuster franchise and it is difficult to see where else the story can successfully go. 

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.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Dave Made A Maze

By Angie Raphael

4.5 stars

Seemingly inspired by 1980s adventure films, Dave Made A Maze will probably go down as the most wonderfully weird film of the year. This existential comedy is about a man named Dave (Nick Thune) who builds a fort in his living room only to become trapped in his own booby-trapped filled creation. His girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) leads Dave's friends on a rescue mission, but they soon realise the labyrinth is deadly and constantly growing as Dave's imagination takes over. Writer Steven Sears and director/co-writer Bill Watterson have created a wacky and hilarious film including puppetry, animation and other clever camera work. The entire cast clearly had a lot of fun making this film. Dave Made A Maze is unique and absolutely worth seeing.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Cars 3

By Angie Raphael

3 stars

Nostalgic and mostly pedestrian, Cars 3 never pushes any boundaries but is certainly entertaining for younger audiences. Struggling with the new and improved car models like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) sets out to prove he is still the best race car in the world and enlists the help of trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). The film mirrors the original to some extent with its central theme and peels back some emotional layers, including further exploring McQueen's relationship with Doc Hudson (the late Paul Newman). It was bittersweet to hear Newman's voice again in this third instalment. Other familiar voices include Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Kerry Washington and Tony Shalhoub. In his directorial debut, Brian Fee, who was a storyboard artist on the first two films, offers a sweet story with a solid message about mentors and feminism. There is also some cute animation, but the film overall is nothing remarkable and even a little long. It feels like this Pixar franchise has run its course.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Rough Night

By Angie Raphael

2.5 stars

This comedy about what is essentially the worst thing that could happen to a group of women on a night out had me eye-rolling more than giggling. To some extent, Rough Night is a female version of The Hangover, but it also rips off other successful comedies like Weekend At Birnie's. Unfortunately, it repeatedly fails to hit the mark. The story centres on a group of college friends who are reuniting for the first time in three years to celebrate the bachelorette party of Jess (Scarlett Johansson) in Miami, but things take a criminal turn when they accidentally kill a stripper at their holiday home.

It is a very different role for Johansson, whose character is a bit of a stick in the mud, while the always funny Kate McKinnon has such a terrible Australian accent, it remains unclear if it was intended to draw laughs or not. Jillian Bell has a few good moments but is mostly irritating, while Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer are slightly more likeable but we also get less information about their characters. Paul W. Downs, who also co-wrote the script, plays Jess' fiance and spends half the time in a gender role reversal, drinking wine with his friends and wondering what his partner is up to, and the other half bizarrely wearing a diaper for a ridiculous reason. Director and co-writer Lucia Aniello has gone for a low-brow approach in her first feature but this raunchy comedy feels like a series of sketches strung together by a loose and silly plot. I wish I could celebrate the feminism of having a female director leading a predominantly female cast, but Rough Night is a dismal mess.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

All Eyez On Me

By Angie Raphael

2.5 stars

In a similar way that iconic actor James Dean was immortalised following his untimely death at the age of 24 in 1955, so too was Tupac Shakur when the 25-year-old rapper was killed in a mysterious drive-by shooting in Las Vegas in 1996. With the massive success of biopic Straight Outta Compton, perhaps expectations were too high for All Eyez On Me, which fails to capture the essence of a complicated and fascinating artist. Tupac had a tumultuous life but the film glosses over many important details, leaves some vital moments out completely, and assumes audiences already know about a lot of his troubles and influences. If this is supposed to be a film for fans, they will be disappointed, and if it is meant to inspire new fans, it only scrapes the surface of Shakur's relevance. The truth is Tupac was a great poet and social commentator, who was also prone to violence and criminal activity, but the film mistakenly canonises him, and that oversimplifies his legacy. In many ways, Benny Boom's film feels more like a made-for-television production.

All Eyez On Me begins with Tupac's youth when he was raised by single mother Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira), a member of the Black Panther Party, who taught Tupac the value of an education. Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr) was exposed to racism and police brutality early and he had a chequered history with the law, but the truly pivotal moment came when he was jailed for a sex crime in 1995, which led to him working with the menacing Death Row Records boss Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana). The film also shows Tupac's friendship with rapper Christopher “Biggie” Wallace (Jamal Woolard), which when it soured, escalated the deadly rivalry between the rapper factions. Shipp Jr makes his debut in the lead role and is convincing throughout most of the film, while Gurira is also good in an intense and passionate role. But many of the other supporting cast members are weak and look little like the real people they portray. There is no doubt that fans will flock to see All Eyez On Me, but that does not mean they should.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Whitney: Can I Be Me?

By Jackie Raphael

3.5 stars

There is no denying that Whitney Houston is an icon with a voice like no other. A documentary about her life was inevitable. Stylistically, Whitney: Can I Be Me? offers a good mix of modern interviews, older interviews and backstage footage, providing a fresh look at her life. While this unauthorised film does share aspects of her story in detail, it would have been good to hear more about her career and not just focus on her drugs. The documentary celebrates Houston's career to some extent, but centres heavily on her fall from grace. This has been a common approach from writer/director Nick Broomfield, who created a similarly skewed documentary about Kurt Cobain. Broomfield has looked at Houston's struggles in life and essentially framed the death of her career as being the end of her 1999 tour. 

The documentary also narrowed on the questions around Houston’s sexuality and her close relationship with Robyn Crawford. Without any evidence, the film suggests they were more than friends. It is mentioned at the end that Crawford is officially gay, leaving the suggestion that Houston was either bi-sexual or homosexual. It was also suggested by centering on the tension between Crawford and Houston’s husband Bobby Brown. It feels tacky and disrespectful to suggest Houston was publicly untrue about her sexuality given she cannot clarify anything now. The film implies a heterosexual person cannot be friends with a homosexual person, which I also find offensive. Had they provided some form of evidence then it could have been more accepting. 

Obviously, Houston's tragic story ends with her untimely death in 2012 at the age of 48. Broomfield suggests it was due to her heartbreak over her father suing her before he died and Brown dating after their divorce. While Houston had been taking drugs since she was young, it unfortunately consumed her life. In contrast, to the recent Heath Ledger documentary that left audiences inspired, this film left me feeling sad. Still, it is worth seeing for Houston fans. Apparently, Kevin Macdonald will be releasing an authorised film in the future, which will be interesting to see and compare. 

Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Mummy

By Angie Raphael

2.5 stars

The Dark Universe franchise could be in danger of collapsing into a pile of dust if the other films are anything like The Mummy. This disappointing film appears on the surface to be an action-packed horror, but when examined closer, it has a raft of plot holes and does absolutely nothing for feminism, which is made all the more painfully obvious when compared to Wonder Woman's recent success. Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is an army sergeant who loots antiques from Iraq war zones with his friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson). They are looking for their latest treasure using a map stolen from archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) when they uncover an Egyptian sarcophagus with the body of the villainous Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), whose wrath they accidentally unleash. 

The Mummy herself is terrifying, not because she is a strong badass, but because she is terrifyingly one-dimensional. Boutella, who was great in The Kingsman: The Secret Service, could have done so much more with the character if she had been given the opportunity. Meanwhile, Jenny is a boring damsel in distress who is constantly following Nick around like a lost puppy. Again, Wallis deserved better. Speaking of Cruise, he looks completely out of place. Not only is he much older than the women, he is too old to play such a spirited and charming rogue. Russell Crowe is a rare highlight playing Dr Jekyll, who we all know has a Mr Hyde side he is trying to keep under wraps. In some ways, with his split personality he has the potential to be a more compelling villain or anti-hero. 

The Mummy is quite scary in parts and there is the level of suspenseful action we have come to expect from a Cruise film, including the memorable zero gravity scene. However, the laughs peppered throughout felt jarring rather than offering relief from the thrills. The film also feels longer than it is and I found myself looking at my watch too often during the third act. The Mummy may be a blockbuster but it is not worth your money at the cinema. 

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A Quiet Passion

By Angie Raphael

2.5 stars

Long and boring, this biopic fails to honour the great American poet, Emily Dickinson, despite the best intentions of writer/director Terence Davies. A Quiet Passion explores Dickinson's early life as a schoolgirl, through to her creative successes and later years as a recluse. Cynthia Nixon is very good in the complex lead role and Jennifer Ehle is also charming as Dickinson's sister. Their scenes together are by far the strongest. But most of the remaining cast appear uncomfortable, as if they do not understand the words they are speaking. Perhaps Davies relied too much on dialogue, but every moment of forced laughter from the actors whenever someone made a witty remark was jarring to watch. There are some positives to take away, such as Dickinson's powerful feminist voice and the beautiful costumes, but overall the film is too ambitious. 

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Wonder Woman

By Angie Raphael

4.5 stars

Believe the hype. Wonder Woman is almost everything I hoped it would be. It is funny, emotional and action-packed. Plus, it has a strong message about war, diversity and feminism. In this origin story, Diana (Gal Gadot) is raised on a secret island by women until WWI spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane and ruins their peaceful existence. Steve, who is in possession of a book by the villainous German scientist Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), wants to use it in his quest to save lives during the war, but Diana has an even more ambitious plan to kill the god of war, who she believes is responsible for humanity's destruction. Armed with her shield, sword and Lasso of Truth, Diana travels with Steve to London and then onto the centre of the war zone.

Gadot is a near-perfect Wonder Woman. What sets Diana apart from the male superheroes we have seen on screen in recent years is that she is not arrogant or full of angst. Rather, her motivations are steered by love and kindness, but it never feels sappy. Like Superman, Diana is pure goodness and wants to believe in the best of humanity, but is constantly let down. She is superior to humankind but desperately wants to make the world a better place. In this film she is naive and innocent, which is very different to her portrayal in Batman v Superman where she is far more experienced.  Meanwhile, Steve is a loveable rogue and also grounds the film in many ways. The chemistry between two of the world's most beautiful people sizzles on screen. The supporting cast are also good, including David Thewlis as a British politician, Danny Houston as a German general intent on using chemical weapons, and Said Taghmaoui as a Moroccan undercover operative.

Screenwriter Allan Heinberg ties the plot in to WWI history surprisingly well and the story is framed by the modern era with a reference to Bruce Wayne. In the capable hands of director Patty Jenkins, the film makes its point about feminism and gender roles often in a comical way, without being politically pushy. It is especially well presented in the London shopping scene with Steve’s secretary Etta, played by the very funny Lucy Davis. However, the film is a little slow to start and has an unnecessary running time of more than two hours. Nonetheless, Wonder Woman is a refreshing and exciting superhero film.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017


By Jackie Raphael

3.5 stars

This is a fun and nostalgic film that maintains a lot of the same elements of the television show. Baywatch focuses on a group of lifeguards who try to uncover a crime. It takes a similar approach to the 21 Jump Street film by parodying components of the original show. For example, making jokes about women appearing to move in slow-motion. However, it is not quite as clever or successful as 21 Jump Street. The comedy was consistent throughout but, director Seth Gordon could have crunched it down by 15 minutes as some of the plot lagged. There is a good balance of objectifying both men and women in a hilarious way and there are several romantic story-lines. 

The cast did a wonderful job, with Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron certainly standing out. Johnson plays Mitch and has many great one-liners, mainly his various nicknames for Efron's character. Efron looks even more muscular than usual and provides many of the laughs playing fallen Olympic champion Matt Brody. There are also cameos from some of the original cast, which fans will enjoy. As someone who grew up watching Baywatch, I certainly appreciated the reminiscing.

Friday, 19 May 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

Charlie Hunnam, who is perhaps best known for his work on the television show Sons of Anarchy as well as the films Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak, has been waiting patiently to be recognised as a Hollywood leading man. It is a shame King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was such a flop in the United States because it is actually a decent film with plenty of action, drama and humour. The story centres on Arthur (Hunnam), who is robbed of his royal birthright by his villainous uncle Vortigern (Jude Law), and is raised in a brothel until he is forced to face his legacy and role as the true king. Hunnam definitely looks the part and is convincing in the lead, while Law is also very good and never veers into over-acting as so many actors do in similar roles. The supporting cast, including Djimon Hounsou, Astrid Berges-Frisbey and Aidan Gillen, are also solid, while Eric Bana has a small but pivotal role as Arthur's father. 

Director/co-writer Guy Ritchie provides his signature style of film-making, including his showy effects and sense of humour in the storytelling, but it is not to the extent of some of his other work, so if you are not a fan of his approach you should not be put off by King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The CGI is also incorporated well in the film and the soundtrack is complementary. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a little self-indulgent with a running time of about two hours, but it is set up nicely for a sequel. Whether that will happen is unclear, but I would certainly like to see it.