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.