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.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

By Jackie Raphael

3.5 stars

This film carries on from where the first one finished. Wick (Keanu Reeves) is trying to stay out of the "business" but keeps being pulled in by his past. John Wick: Chapter 2 has amazing fight sequences and is an action-filled film. There is of course some heart behind the story, as in the first film, with many of Wick's decisions being based on the death of his wife. While you do not need to have seen the first film, I do recommend it. 

Reeves looks the same as he did 20 years ago and is convincing in his role as "the boogeyman". Ian McShane returns as Winston, the owner of the Continental hotel in New York. Riccardo Scamarcio joins the cast as the villain Santina D'Antonio. Also joining the franchise are Common and Laurence Fishburne in pivotal roles. Common's performance was strong and managed to build a character that the audience cared about, while Fishburne overacted in his role. 

While it could have been 30 minutes shorter, it is a fun action film with some memorable moments. You definitely will not be able to forget the pencil scene. The film ends hinting at a third instalment, which I am sure will have Wick killing many more people. 

Sunday, 14 May 2017


By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

Written by indie cartoonist Daniel Clowes and directed by Craig Johnson, Wilson is a quirky, funny and sentimental film. Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is a slightly condescending misanthrope, but when his father dies, he decides to reconnect with the only woman he ever really loved, drug addict Pippi (Laura Dern). Wilson always believed Pippi had an abortion after they broke up but when she confesses she gave the baby up for adoption instead, he tracks down their child Claire (Isabella Amara), who is now a chubby and miserable teenager with an outlook on life similar to her father. Wilson is a great protagonist because while he is totally neurotic and some of his actions are rather twisted, he is also innocent and has kind intentions every time he gives unsolicited advice to people he meets. This film is a layered and interesting character study with a story that is never too predictable.

Friday, 12 May 2017


By Angie Raphael

3 stars

I have never been much of a fan of Amy Schumer's sense of humour, mostly because I find her annoying rather than funny, but I did actually laugh a fair bit during this road trip comedy. Perhaps pairing her with the lovable and hilarious Goldie Hawn helped tone down some of Schumer's usually crass behaviour. She definitely still has a lot of stereotypical moments though, including some unnecessary nudity and crude one-liners. Snatched is about Emily Middleton (Schumer), who gets dumped by her musician boyfriend and is left with two non-refundable tickets to Ecuador, so she forces her boring mother Linda (Hawn) to come along for an adventure. But things take a disastrous turn when they are kidnapped and their captors demand a ransom for their release from Emily's weird homebody brother Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz). Director Jonathan Levine kept the running time tight and the momentum was good throughout, but writer Katie Dippold failed to provide a particularly fresh story. It seemed at times like she just strung a series of gags together. The disgusting and unfunny tapeworm sequence definitely should have been dropped. Snatched is entertaining enough but Hawn deserves better. 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Alien: Covenant

By Jackie Raphael

3.5 stars

It is hard to imagine any film in the Alien franchise ever being able to reach the excellence of the first sequel, Aliens in 1986, but this latest installment is better than 2012's Prometheus. Alien: Covenant, directed by Ridley Scott, is certainly more reflective of the earlier films in the franchise. It tells the story of a crew on a colony ship heading to a planet to start a new life when their journey takes a detour to another planet with an unexpected threat.

While the film is quite predictable, it has an interesting message about the creation of life. It is also visually strong and has some good performances. Michael Fassbender, who plays the robot David/Walter, improved his performance since Prometheus, while Danny McBride has a more serious role than we are used to seeing him in. Katherine Waterson plays a convincing strong heroine and Billy Curdup was a good choice as the uncertain leader who puts a lot of weight on his faith. However, there was still not enough character development to make the audience really care about the characters. This is something that Aliens did particularly well through banter, which is why it remains my favourite in the series.

Overall, Alien: Covenant helps to create an interesting backstory about how these aliens came to exist. While it is a bit too long, it keeps you entertained with some amazing gross scenes.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

I Am Heath Ledger

By Jackie Raphael

4.5 stars

A beautiful tribute to the amazing work and life of Heath Ledger, the film I Am Heath Ledger shares footage filmed by the Perth actor and interviews with many of those closest to him. Directors Adrian Buitenhuis and Derik Murray spoke to Ledger’s family and friends, who shared stories about his personality and creativity. He is depicted as a man who invited everyone into his home and stayed true to his Australian upbringing by maintaining friendships with people he knew since he was a young child. The film also conveys his natural talents for acting, art, photography and directing. The film does not dwell on his death, rather it celebrates his life and career. It would have been good to see interviews with people like Michelle Williams and Jake Gyllenhaal, but it is understandable why they may not have taken part. There are interviews with other big stars, such as Naomi Watts, Ben Mendelsohn and Ben Harper, who share tales of his generosity and dedication.

Ledger died on January 22, 2008 in New York. I personally still remember waking up and hearing the news. I could not believe he was gone. As a Perth local, I was particularly proud of him, but my love of his charm and talents began when I first saw him in 1997's Roar. The documentary touches on the series and chronicles his journey to fame from there. While not all the films he made are mentioned, there is insight into some of his greatest roles, including The Patriot (2000), Brokeback Mountain (2005) and of course The Dark Knight (2008). As expected, I shed a few tears, but I left the cinema feeling both sad and inspired. Ledger achieved so much in his short life and his early death should remind us to live life to the fullest.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

Based on a true story and adapted from Diane Ackerman's book, The Zookeeper's Wife offers a different take on the WWII stories we often see of brave people who helped protect their Jewish friends from persecution by the Nazis. Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) were the keepers at Warsaw Zoo, who risked everything to help save hundreds of people and animals during the German invasion of Poland. The film is an essentially accurate portrayal of what happened, although some important and interesting details are glossed over, while other fictional sub-plots are added in unnecessarily, to the point that the two-hour film at times veers into melodrama. Writer Angela Workman and director Niki Caro seemingly chose to focus on the Zabinskis' domestic issues, rather than the specifics of how Jews were treated in Warsaw, other than to leave hints such as a scene in which children unknowingly board a train to a concentration camp. 

Chastain portrays Antonina as a tender yet strong-willed heroine, while Heldenbergh is also convincing as the courageous and intelligent mastermind behind the dangerous plan, although he should have been given more screen time to really show what Jan achieved. Daniel Bruhl, who plays a Nazi infatuated with Antonina, is good but seems to be falling into a type-casting trap following his recently similar performance in Alone In Berlin and other villainous roles. The way in which Antonina and Jan used their zoo to essentially hide their activities in plain sight is miraculous and a film about their heroism is the least that can be done to honour them, even if it does oversimplify their accomplishments.