F you think dogs are the best thing ever (let's be honest that's most people, other than weirdos like me that thinks cats are the true MVP's), you're going to love A Dog's Way Home.
Based on W. Bruce Cameron's best-selling novel of the same name, Home takes the A Dogs Purpose approach of examining the life of our 4-legged friends, filled with clichés, cute doggy voiceovers (here provided by Bryce Dallas Howard) and some randomly poor CGI as we follow cute adopted doggo Bella on a quest across the American wilds to be reconnected to her beloved owner Lucas, of whom she was separated from by a nefarious pound employee.
It's a story that's been told a million times before in different incarnations, from classic Disney yarn Homeward Bound through to Australia's beloved Red Dog but unlike those films, Home doesn't have the charm, smarts or heart to work to those higher levels of feel good entertainment.
There's still moments within the film that are all types of cute and loveable, particularly Bella's friendship with a baby cougar, but overall you can't help but feel as though this sappy and soapy tale doesn't have that magic ingredient or the likable humans to make it a film worth seeking out by anyone that's not a young child or a diehard dog lover.
It's never a good sign for a film of this ilk when Bella or even the voiceless cougar is a more well-rounded character than any of the people in Home's story.
From Jonah Hauer-King's bland Lucas, Ashley Judd's lifeless Terri, Edward James Olmos's homeless Axel or Alexandra Shipp's token love interest to Lucas Olivia, no humans in the film make much of an impact in the story and dilute any true investment in Bella's dangerous and adventure filled plight and more time spent developing these additions to the film could've gone a long way to making Home a more memorable and heartfelt story.
It is a story however that many will find enjoyment from and the kind-hearted and well-meaning nature of the film goes a long way to ensuring that Charles Martin Smith's blandly directed film is sure to be one with a long and prosperous streaming/home video life, watched and adored by all those that just can't get enough of big screen canine adventures.
Final Say -
A lack of wit, imagination and a collection of soulless human creatures weigh A Dog's Way Home down but there's sure to be many fans out there of this doggy centric tale, that once more showcases why man's best friend is king of movie animals.
Tackling the high school comedy in a way that's usually reserved for the boys of the world like Superbad, actress Olivia Wilde has excitedly and lovingly crafted her ode to growing up and school based shenanigans with the year's most likable and fresh comedy Booksmart.
Showcasing that the girls can in fact be just as crazy, crass and enjoyable as the boys, Booksmart is like a breath of fresh air for the female-centric comedy, one that while struggling unfairly to make a massive splash at the box office this year (meaning it was sadly hard to track down in the cinema here in Australia) will likely be a cult favourite for years yet to come thanks to Wilde's energetic direction and the chemistry of its two leads Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein.
Naturally charismatic and gifted performers, Dever's straight edged Amy and Feldstein's academic driven Molly make for one of the year's best pair-ups and bring a verve and enthusiasm to Booksmart that is undeniably impressive and as the two pent-up work focussed best friends finally let loose on the night before their high school graduation, Booksmart takes us on an over the top but also relatable trip to the final days of care free living as adult lives begin to become the aim of the game.
Similar to such films as the aforementioned Superbad and classic last day of school based romp Dazed and Confused, Booksmart sets its story up over literally the last days in our protagonists high school lives but thanks to the work of Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman perfectly in-tune script that mixes belly laughs with genuinely touching moments of humanity and heart, each one of the characters that come in and play a part of Amy and Molly's wild night feel lived in and full of life and spark.
There's no question that this is the Dever and Feldstein show but Booksmart's winning ensemble that includes bit parts from recognisable faces such as Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis and great career building turns from the likes of Skyler Gisondo, Diana Silvers and Billie Lourd ensures that Wilde's film is filled to the brim with talent and enthusiasm that can only come from a film that that quite clearly provided the environment for creativity and spark to be formed around the basis for what could've been "just another" teen based comedy touching on themes that have been explored ad nauseam since the dawn of cinema.
Thankfully nothing in Booksmart feels copied or stale and while it's over the top central premise and happenings may not always ring true, Wilde and her team have managed the impossible in today's climate and managed to create something that feels, new and unexplored and in the modern age of increased female-centric features, Booksmart stands out from the crowd as a natural and well deservingly praised outing that just so happens to be side splittingly funny on more than a few occasions.
Final Say -
Joyously bought to life by Wilde and her lead duo of Dever and Feldstein, Booksmart is a wickedly fun night out on the town and one of the best recent examples of a female led comedy that puts many of its more phony counterparts to shame.
We may all be fans of things in our lives (nachos, cheap Monday's) but I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story examines a whole different side of fandom that exists around the world in Australian documentary filmmaker Jessica Leski's fun and insightful locally made product.
Taking a microscope to four very different women and their obsessions with a boyband of their choice and what that obsession means to them, Fangirl may be hard for some people to fully understand but it's a carefully considered and non-judgmental film that displays the facts clearly in front of us without ever making us take a side about how we should feel about how these potentially unhealthy fan habits shape and mould those that harbor them.
Leski does a great job at sourcing and showcasing a range of fangirl's in her film, we have American teenager Elif whose a One Direction diehard, Sydney-sider and brand awareness strategist Dara who has a long time obsession with Take That, San Francisco journalist Sadia whose jam is the Backstreet Boys and the more elderly Melbournian TV producer Susan who was around in peak Beatles mania and remains a fangirl to this day.
With a broad section of cultures, backgrounds and bands to discuss, Leski's film gives us a smorgasbord of material to enjoy in her film, with there being no need for us to know much about these bands beforehand to understand why our subjects found something to fall in love with.
Whether it was the boyish good looks, the pure musical talent or the subject matters the bands sing about, it's clear to see how and why these type of groups have a time and place in our subjects lives, that at more than one point throughout the documentary showcases to be a life-altering and life-saving thing.
Leski should be commended for offering up such an open-book look at this subject, its one that would be easy to ridicule or dismiss but for anyone that struggles to understand why these groups have a time and place, perhaps a parent struggling to understand their child's deep seeded love for a band or group, Fangirl is a documentary that will likely open your eyes to the unbridled joy they can offer their fans and make a good case for their need as a bonus.
Seeing our subjects enjoy various music, performances or even awkwardly at one stage a fan cruise is a smile inducing sight and Elif, Dara, Sadia and Susan all make for carefully considered guides through this wild fangirl world with their heartfelt explanations and willingness to allow themselves to be truthful to what and who they are ensuring Fangirl is a likeable and memorable outing.
Final Say -
You'll never judge that screaming concert goer in quite the same way after having watched Leski's film as I Used to be Normal is an accessible, likeable and eye-opening Australian documentary that can be enjoyed by a wide-ranging audience both young and old.
Firstly, if for whatever reason you are reading this review and have never seen 2011's The Intouchables, one of the biggest French films of all time and one of the most likeable films you're likely to have the pleasure of watching, stop reading right now and track down a copy, you'll thank me later, trust me.
The true story of quadriplegic millionaire Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his friendship with his anything but ordinary carer Abdel Sellou was fabulously told by filmmakers Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano in The Intouchables and many would be right in thinking that the French film was most definitely not crying out for a Hollywood remake.
As is the case with the billionaire dollar industry however, The Intouchables has found itself being re-hashed for a subtitle hating American audience in the form of The Upside (which was a surprise box-office hit in the USA earlier in 2019), with Illusionist and Divergent filmmaker Neil Burger and his cast lead by the Oscar seeking Bryan Cranston, comedian Kevin Hart and Australian darling Nicole Kidman taking on the beloved true story.
Filmed many moons ago and held back due to the Weinstein saga and some mediocre early festival release reviews, The Upside is surprisingly tolerable and far better than it has any right to be, which isn't to say its anywhere near as good as its far better early offering that managed to be both hilariously honest and moving in a much stronger sense than is to be found here.
Gone are the subtleties, laugh out loud and tear inducing moments from The Intouchables and welcomed in are sign-posted plot and character developments, caricatures, mild chuckles and some slightly moving moments in Burger's effort, that keeps the core of the story in tact but never expands or delves too heavily into the themes and motivations that would've helped The Upside feel like more of a memorable addition to this true life tale.
Importantly for the film, Cranston and Hart make for a likeable double act, Cranston's as good here as his been post Breaking Bad as the forlorn Philip, while perhaps most surprisingly Hart is relatively restrained as the criminal turned straight shooting Dell Scott, who begins to open up the world of Philip while also learning important life lessons himself.
It's a shame Burger couldn't of mined more from this double act as the two's relationship and on screen chemistry is only ever surface deep, an issue that was never a problem for The Intouchables that got the most out of its star double act in the form of François Cluzet and Omar Sy, who bought the house down by fully inhabiting the mismatched duo and bringing them to life in fun and unexpected ways.
Final Say -
A generic offering that's very much the lesser feature film of the touching story of two oddball friends, The Upside is watchable and often enjoyable thanks to its true life tale and lead performers but far from memorable or necessary.
2017's It was a genuinely surprising smash-hit that faithfully adapted the first half of Stephen King's famed novel, seemingly coming out of nowhere to take the box office by storm and receive raves from critics, now two years on the stakes are higher than ever with It Chapter Two arriving with a raft of expectations attached to it.
They're expectations that are impossible to ignore and that aren't met here in returning director Andy Muschietti's bloated, at times great, at other times just plain bland sequel that sees us re-join the Losers Club 27 years on from their initial terrifying battles with Pennywise the demonic (alien?) clown.
Most glaringly detrimental to Muschietti's horror outing is the fact there's no justifiable need for Chapter Two to be 169 minutes long.
Featuring one of the most overblown and long-winded finale's I can remember laying my eyes on, there's a lot of great individual scenes in this new clown filled ride (another effectively creepy opening, a visit to a tea drinking grandma and a baseball game encounter particular highlights) but Muschietti over estimates how much we want to see of this film that outstays its welcome and gets overly sentimental on the past far too often, easily becoming 40 - 50 minutes too long in the process.
Hot off the heels of the cultural phenomenon that was and still is Stranger Things, the first It also benefited hugely by our likeable Loser Club being filled with a rag-tag group of mismatched buddies and misfits, a squad of kids and teens that got caught up in a terrifying ordeal and while our protagonists remain the same characters, having them now become tortured adults doesn't quite give us the same experience the first outing offered up.
It's not to say the casting is bad, on the contrary, by having interesting casting choices such as James McAvoy as the stuttering Bill Denbrough, Jessica Chastain as the tortured soul Bev Marsh, James Ransone as the easily scared Eddie Kaspbrak and MVP Bill Hader as the wise-talking Richie Tozier, Chapter Two gives us some great character beats that are well played by its cast but there's a lot of filler in amongst all the necessary development, holding back the film from making us care as much as we did previously for this group of acquaintances.
Elsewhere in the film the returning Bill Skarsgård is on point again as Mr. Pennywise but used in intriguingly short bursts that make you wish he had a little more to do overall, whenever his on screen the film feels unpredictable and more than a little unnerving, bringing an excitement and energy that lights up the screen, just when you think you can't take any more of our Loser's looking back to the past or wandering around their old town of Derry.
Some other elements of Muschietti's film that also fail to fire outside of the overdone extended final stretch are the lack of genuine scares that are to be found in the film that seems to want to focus on spectacle rather than memorable scares, some really quite bad CGI work, while the bizarre decision to have old-time foe/bully Henry Bowers to return once more to terrorize our gang is a seriously odd one as his reappearance is so unneeded and underdone you wonder what on earth the whole point was.
Final Say -
Fans of 2017's It will find enjoyable moments within Chapter 2 while newbies will be wondering what on earth is going on in a film that is far too long for its own good. Filled with some great scenes scattered around a lot of filler, It Chapter Two really does float rather than fly.
I've admitted to a few cinema sins over the time and one of them that I can now safely take off the list is I've never seen 1982 puppet masterpiece The Dark Crystal.
A film that's reputation has only grown over the years, so much so that Netflix recently released the next chapter in the Crystal universe in August with Age of Resistance, Jim Henson and Frank Oz's fantastical puppet-filled adventure is one of those films that has a unique and lived in charm that is impossible to fake and while it lacks a little nuance and falters on its way to its end goal, this mostly hand-made and artistically wondrous creation is a whole lot of fun to watch.
Centred around Jen, a young Gefling (an odd human like creature) whose thrown into a dangerous mission to track down a part of a powerful crystal that is currently under the control of the evil birdlike nasties known as the Skeksis, who have taken over the land and plot to destroy any good thing left, Crystal is your typical everyday hero on a mission type set-up with a very 80's dark tone that would've been enough to scare its fair share of children back in the day but thanks to the imaginative world the story takes place in and the painstakingly detailed puppets at its core, Henson and Oz's feature is worth watching for this aspect alone.
While the advancement of CGI and technological wizardry has allowed film-making to evolve and stun audiences more and more in the years after 1982, there is something timeless about a creation like Crystal that would've taken countless hours of blood, sweat and tears and more than its fair share of creativity to bring to life and while at times things feel outdated and a little haphazard, there's a lot about this cinematic treasure that can be enjoyed.
Crystal is the type of film that can only come about due to passionate and driven filmmakers and over a long standing career its exactly what Oz and Henson proved to be as the two filmmakers went on to be apart of some of the most beloved and well-known properties of the 80's and 90's and their spark of imaginative prowess has no doubt inspired a large collection of artists, dreamers and cinema masters over the last 30 years, people who would've watched Crystal as a young and impressionable soul and taken away by what they were seeing on the screen in front of them.
It's the type of unquantifiable aspect of a film like Crystal, that while flawed and certainly not even close to the best of the best of cinematic classics has no doubt created a lasting legacy that will never die and helped foster and unearth other glorious creations that just so happened to be bought to life thanks to a bunch of puppets and some very angry crustaceans that came to be in the early 80's.
Final Say -
There are aspects of The Dark Crystal that leave a lot to be desired but this creative and artistically appeasing adventure is deserving of its reputation and a perfect example of how artistry can be used to tell stories and inspire through its creativity.
Based on a fascinating true story, featuring a cast of genuine British legends, directed by the competent and proven James Marsh and based in everyone's favourite sub-genre, the heist film, King of Thieves seems to have it all happening on paper but sadly not so much on screen.
An almost entirely lifeless and dull exploration of the true life tale of a bunch of geriatric career criminals that undertook a daring and financially abundant heist on a U.K jewelry store, Thieves should be a darkly humorous, thrilling and engaging offering but Marsh fails to ignite any sparks within his film that sadly seems to thinks a bunch of scenes of beloved actors like Michael Caine, Ray Winstone and Michael Gambon swearing at each other equals quality entertainment.
It's unfortunate to witness such a cast, that also includes Charlie Cox, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay and Paul Whitehouse get given such uninspired material to work with, as we know via years of quality performances that this is a cast that can most definitely deliver the goods when given the scope to do so.
We never feel any true comradeship between this rag tag group of elderly criminals and long term friends/associates, there's no truly witty banter between a collection of so called comrades and to the films detriment, the actual heist these fellows pull-off is seemingly set-up to be a white knuckle sweat-inducing affair but it's a heist that comes and goes with very little pre-thought or after-thought meaning by the time all is said and done, all we are then left with is a rather boring thriller filled with a bunch of characters we care very little about.
The best type of these ensemble crime capers always work to a high level thanks to great character building, inspired direction and smartly constructed narrative rug-pulling but Thieves has none of this as Marsh appears to be the shadow of his former self when compared directly with his previous films such as Man on Wire and The Theory of Everything.
Showing such promise in the mid to late 2000's, the English born filmmaker has undoubted talent but Thieves raises concerning questions about his ability to work with such a loaded cast and with material that seems like a sure-fire hit, with hopes being that this poor quality effort is nothing but an aberration on an otherwise mostly impressive C.V, ditto to all esteemed actors involved who must surely be disappointed that their team up equates to nothing more than mismanaged potential.
Final Say -
Instantly forgettable and utterly disappointing, King of Thieves squanders a fabulous cast of cinematic treasures and a rip-roaring true story to become nothing more than a complete waste of time and talent. Avoid at all costs.
A gritty crime thriller that's too slow for its own good
As is the case with S. Craig Zahler's previous two feature films, the well regarded and cult favourites Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, your enjoyment of his newest grizzly feature Dragged Across Concrete will depend on how much you like a slow burn, in this case a really slow burn.
Officially clocked in at 2 hours and 39 minutes in runtime, Concrete will test the patience of even the most patient of viewers, as Zahler's dialogue heavy examination of Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughan's boundary pushing suspended police officers Ridgeman and Lurasetti is an often downright snail paced experience that features some great scenes and top-notch script work but also fails to justify why Zahler needed 2 and half hours to tell a relatively simple tale.
This is a problem that has affected all of Zahler's films so far, and while I for one am all for storytelling that takes its time to set up character, place and narrative, I've yet to understand why his films seem to escape the editing room suite on each instance.
There's a number of seemingly irrelevant scenes in Concrete, from long-winded conversations between Gibson and Vaughan as they tail a bunch of criminals, stoic acts of unimaginable violence (that have become a staple of Zahler's works) and rather pointless scenes with side characters that don't add a whole lot to the narrative as a whole and while this slowly paced approach ratchets up the tension in the films brilliant last act, so much of the lead up is unnecessarily hard to enjoy.
It's a shame this is the case because Zahler has crafted a unique concept around the well-worn corrupt police sub-genre and also unearthed a great double act we never knew we needed in the form of Gibson and Vaughan's partnership.
A controversial casting decision considering Gibson's colourful past private life dealings, the choice to cast Gibson in the role of a grumbled and potentially racist cop is a brave move from Zahler and one that works wonders for the film with Gibson as good as his been in years as the had enough of all the rubbish Ridgeman.
As a film fan it's great to see Gibson given such screen-time and when partnered with Vaughan (who stole the show in Cell Block 99), Zahler manages to really bring Concrete to life through some wise casting, that goes hand in hand with stand-out cameo appearances by Jennifer Carpenter as a bank employee and Michael Jai White as a petty criminal in over his head.
Final Say -
Filled with Zahler's biting dialogue, hard-hitting violence and self-indulgent run-time, Dragged Across Concrete has its moments and a brilliant pairing of Vaughan and Gibson but one can't help but feel a more streamlined and energetic approach would've made this gritty experience so much more.
Rififi is the grandfather of the modern heist movie, a tense, taut and well-constructed French crime caper directed by Jules Dassin that became the new benchmark for what a heist film should be and one of those rare golden age of cinema films that stands the test of times these many years on from initial release.
It's a flawed classic, one that suffers from a lack of character development and sometimes gets side-tracked by some rather outrageous plot occurrences but at the end of the day, the key component that made Rififi the revered cinematic entry now is seen as remains perfectly intact and utterly gripping.
Taking the bold step of including its defining set-piece around the half way point of proceedings, Dassin and his team of willing performers pull-off what could arguably be the greatest cinematic heist of all time (certainly the most well-constructed) in the form of an extended near 30 minute sequence in which four criminals lead by Jean Servais's recently released from prison Tony attempt to rob a jewelry store in the heart of Paris, silently.
It's a sweat inducing and tension riddled exercise that perfectly captures the atmosphere that must be present in such a daring escapade and one that could never be bettered even by today's increasingly boundary pushing film-making techniques.
There's little doubt that this particular sequence is one of the most assured and confident sequences of the cinematic period and even cinema history thanks to Dassin's wonderfully handling of the situation and the actors on-song turns during it, making it the type of extended scenario where you won't be able to turn away from what's happening on screen and will barely be able to take a breath, as our collection of criminals flirt the line of danger as time ticks by on their heist.
The rest of Dassin's film pales in comparison to this defining segment but there's still nicely defined constructions within the film such as its willingness to not allow the heist to be the conclusion, more so the jumping off point for further troubles and trials, while for a film of this era, Dassin isn't afraid to push the boundaries dealing with such issues as drug abuse and cold-blooded murder that would've no doubt had the film classification board up in arms at the time.
Its unquestionable that without Rififi films such as Ocean's 11 or even other crime outings such as Reservoir Dogs or Mission Impossible wouldn't have been the films they ended up being, marking this genre-defining noir crime caper a cornerstone of cinema history.
Final Say -
A fine film with a particularly stunning segment that makes it a must watch for cinema die-hards and genre fans, Rififi is an oft-referenced and oft-copied classic that holds up incredibly well to this day.
There is no denying that Brightburn's premise is one to get excited about, clearly appealing to those in the know such as well-liked filmmaker and Guardians of the Galaxy mastermind James Gunn who backed this film in from the get-go, but sadly director David Yarovesky's film is nothing more than a disappointment outside of a few neat scenes and half-cooked ideas, that never create the film Brightburn could've been had the stars aligned.
Doing a lot with a small budget in regards to set-pieces, Brightburn has some fantastic individual scenes that will appeal to gore hounds in particular as Yarovesky doesn't shy away from the dark and blood-filled nature of his supervillain film done the way of the horror genre but with an abhorrently obvious lack of character development and equal amounts dim-witted character motivations and reactions, it's hard to get invested in a film that appears to have forgotten all the other important features outside of its winning premise.
As the much hyped trailer suggested, Brightburn offers a nice alternative to a marketplace jam-packed with generic superheros that may have their flaws but mostly do the good deeds required of them to save the planet and its citizens, as in this film we follow Jackson A. Dunn's evil child from another planet Brandon Breyer's who utilises his otherworldly powers for bad rather than good as his two supportive but concerned parents Kyle and Tori ignorantly ignore the fact their adopted little troublemaker is perhaps not the ideal son.
Unfortunately for the film, Brandon is a bit of a wet-blanket of a central figure, we are supposed to hate him, that much is clear but there's no real explanation for why Brandon has decided to become a vicious murderer and it makes viewing his increasingly bloodthirsty incidents a curiously uninvolving affair, even if some sequences such as Brandon's visit to a late night diner or his uncle's house have their moments that appear too be from a much more thrilling and engaging affair.
As his parents, Elizabeth Banks and David Denman get a rather short straw as well. Both Tori and Kyle are likeable enough but there reactions to Brandon's frequent and ramped up actions of defiance and strength are quite bizarre and it won't be too long into the film where you'll start questioning if they are in fact blind to the bleeding obvious as Banks and Denman get stuck with some of the film's most awkward and eye-rolling dialogue and moments.
For Brightburn to have truly enacted upon its promising concept and moments of engagement its characters needed far more love and care, with no thoughts one way or the other about any of our protagonists fate or with Brandon's quickly established quiet boy turned mass murderer setting the film up to fail, this is a film that stood very little chance of achieving its goals, showcased in a set of end credit scenes that are far better than much of what had come before it.
Final Say -
A wickedly inventive set-up and some ingeniously constructed blood soaked moments aren't enough to save this cold and heartless disappointment from mediocrity, with Brightburn burning out not long after the opening credits have rolled.
We're all well aware of the doom and gloom surrounding our planets future and what our beautiful Earth may look like if we fail to address the many issues affecting it at present, but thankfully Australian documentary filmmaker/actor Damon Gameau doesn't want to focus on these known issues in a negative way, he wants to provide plausible possibilities on how we as a species can implement changes today to ensure our future is a much brighter one.
Inspired by his daughter Velvet's future, Gameau takes us on a journey across the globe to look at things being done this very day to help counteract our mistreatment of our planet that stems from emissions and pollution that have changed the very way in which the land around us is able to provide for of lives.
One of the rules of 2040, is that these new technologies or ways of doing things must be implemented in some way, shape or form at present, meaning what Gameau is showcasing in his lovingly crafted and technically marvelous film feels real and inspiring, not far-fetched or dreamy, making his documentary a fantastic showcase for positivity and good that exists all around us should we care to look.
There aren't many films or documentaries arriving at our doorsteps with this amount of positivity and good-natured vibes and the love and investment Gameau has clearly put into his follow-up to the very good That Sugar Film is evident for all to see, establishing himself in the process as one of the local industries most exciting film-making talents, that has seen the recognizable performer evolve from likable on screen presence to one equally at home behind the camera, with 2040 much like That Sugar Film offering up a global appeal that should resonate with viewers from across the globe.
It's important also for the success of the film that Gameau never over-steps into a preaching or know it all type persona which can sometimes weigh down documentaries of this nature that fail to address both sides of the story but 2040 never threatens to get preachy or hard-edged as it instead remains at the core of its existence a film about a father looking lovingly at his daughter's world and wondering how he can help make it a better place and seeing his heartfelt quest and his well-meaning examinations take place is a joy to behold as an observer.
There's no doubt many that watch the film, one filled with seamlessly inventive special effects and easy to understand explanations of subjects that are anything but, will be left encouraged and inspired to do things a little differently, making 2040 not only an important film for Australian audiences to seek out but one that should be sought out globally with Gameau's focus around children of this modern era and accessible information making it the perfect companion piece to our future leaders and thinkers development.
Final Say -
Proving That Sugar Film was no fluke, 2040 officially announces to the world Damon Gameau as a documentary filmmaker of the highest order with his newest passion project a lovable and important call to arms that should be required viewing for those of all ages and backgrounds.
An adult oriented comedy that coasts off the back of the chemistry between its two leads, Long Shot fails to rejuvenate the mismatched rom-com genre in any significant way but with a constantly moving plot and some genuine belly laughs, Jonathan Levine's polished genre entry is the perfect companion to a casual night in on the couch.
Honing his skills with similar comedic outings such as The Wackness, 50/50, The Night Before and the lets just forget it ever existed Snatched, Long Shot sees the talented filmmaker provide a rather generic affair that offers up very few narrative surprises (you know exactly where this plot is headed from the moment the whole shebang begins) for viewers but this isn't the type of film that necessarily needs surprises or rulebook change-ups to work and thanks to the on paper intriguing match-up of Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, Long Shot remains constantly enjoyable.
Failing to inspire much memorable material over the last couple of years, it's great to see Rogen team up with someone as talented as Theron, who here let's all her inhibitions go and delivers a knock-out turn as potential American president Charlotte Field, a talented woman just as at home negotiating climate change initiatives as she is rocking some Eminem branded clothing and having a night out on the town.
Rogen's usual slacker/joker role isn't stretched in the slightest here as likeable but awkward journalist Fred Flarsky but his everyday charm is perfectly bought to life thanks to the support of Theron's glowing turn, in what's becoming a seriously impressive few years for the actress thanks to stand-out performances in Mad Max: Fury Road, Tully and Atomic Blonde.
Theron seems like a naturally gifted comedic actresses, blessed with timing and character beats that only the best of genre specialists can deliver, it's always a joy to watch an Oscar calibre performer get back to the simple yet entertaining heart of their profession and while she's been a part of comedy outings before, Long Shot really does allow her to have time to shine and Theron is more than up for the task as Field and Flarsky's budding romance begins to build around a bunch of rather strange and over the top scenarios.
It is a shame that Levine's material doesn't really try to be anything but a by the numbers affair as you get the feeling that both Rogen and Theron would've been more than capable of getting their hands dirty on some off-kilter comedic adventures but in an age where mainstream and cinematic comedy offerings appear to be a dying breed, it's refreshing to see a film of this ilk actually deliver on its promise of laughs and not take itself too seriously in the process.
Final Say -
Unlikely to leave any type of lasting impression in the years to come, Long Shot is still a likeable and often very funny comedy outing that wonderfully brings together Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen in a match-up that ensures even when the film lurches into mediocrity, they are there to correct the path whenever needed.
The type of Western that you could see the Coen Brothers putting their name behind, Damsel is further proof that there's life in the age-old genre yet as filmmaking duo David and Nathan Zellner take us on a darkly comedic trip to the wild west.
It's not to say Damsel is a roaring success, as its slowly paced and rather emotion-free experience is often far too ponderous and cold for its own good, but the twisting, turning and non-conforming tale the Zellner's have created is an odd beast that is sure to find its fair share of fans amongst the many likely detractors.
Filmed in the eye-capturing surrounds of the American wilds, Damsel is a pretty sight indeed that's anchored by creative actors Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson, as the two young lovers reunite after years apart, as the Zellner's take us on a zany journey through a time and place that was filled with more than its fair portion of colourful and cuckoo characters, all on a quest to find meaning and purpose in a harsh unforgiving land, filled with much promise and even more dreaming.
We never really get much of a backstory or foundation of where Wasikowska's competent Penelope or where Pattinson's more dim-witted but well-meaning Samuel Alabaster come from or what shaped them into the people they are as we meet them but it's quite clear we can gather Samuel has been on some type of journey (with a miniature pony in tow), it's just a shame we couldn't get to partake in any of it, as the Zellner's choose not to relay any of this in Damsel's near two hour run-time.
It's a runtime that at times draws to a near halt as the story at the heart of it flows rather slowly and despite the good work of Wasikowska and Pattinson, Damsel struggles to maintain an energy and vibe to keep it going and you do wish that someone like the aforementioned Coen Brothers could've lead the charge here as Damsel feels as though it had the potential to be quite special.
There's brief moments where darkly attuned humour and hilarious encounters (Adams apple comparisons and town hangings) happen throughout Damsel, while David Zellner's side character Parson Henry and other oddball creations add spark to proceedings at certain times but it's not enough to enlighten the film as a whole as you feel as though Damsel missed the opportunity to maximize its unique tale.
Final Say -
Damsel is a curious entry into the western genre with some nice moments of black humor and well-staged strange happenings but overall the Zellner's film ends up being a rather forgettable feature.
Forever to be known as the film that changed its star Liam Neeson's career forever, after an unfortunate interview with the well-liked star overshadowed the film before it was even released, leading to a large-scale backlash against Hans Petter Moland's bitingly dark black comedy/thriller, Cold Pursuit is an odd beast that would've came and disappeared with very little fanfare regardless of the notice it gained with Neeson's misstep.
A remake of the 2014 Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, Cold Pursuit is a strange hybrid of Coen Brother's like black comedy, straight up revenge thriller and gun-toting actioner set in the unique surrounds of snow-capped surrounds of small Rocky Mountain town of Kehoe, where Neeson's grieving snow ploughing father Nelson "Nels" Coxman seeks vengeance on a bunch of drug dealers in the wake of his son's untimely drug-related death.
None of Cold Pursuit's elements or abundance of characters, that include a collection of native Indians, generic drug goons lead by Tom Bateman's hammy turn as crime head Trevor 'Viking' Calcote and some seemingly dim-witted cops come together in any real shape or form with fans of Neeson's Taken persona sure to be disappointed by the fact the late action bloomer is relegated to a more supportive turn as the film continues to push forward with its bloody tale of vengeance and unlikable people.
Trying to be a moulding together of genres hurts Cold Pursuit's chances of connecting on any real level with the humour more forced than natural, the violence more grizzly than entertaining and the splattering of characters barely getting a chance to breathe or evolve as the run-time wears on meaning we are always finding it hard to care about their various plights or activities even if you know somewhere deep down lies a truly entertaining and oddball delight.
The setting is certainly there, the story is in many ways generic but had potential to be a thrilling yarn, while the actors involved such as the recognizable Laura Dern, Domenick Lombardozzi, John Doman and Emmy Rossum all could've delivered the goods had they been given the chance to but Moland (whose responsible for the brilliant and criminally under-seen Terrence Malick backed A Beautiful Country from 2004) fails to ignite his wind-swept and snow-filled outing with the heart, energy or creativity needed to make it really shine.
Final Say -
More than likely a completely different film than you expected when you first heard about it or saw the trailers, Cold Pursuit is a film with ample potential that's only ever slightly met. An odd mix of genres that never truly gels, Cold Pursuit is a film not worth venturing out into the cold for.
Most, if not all of us know that beloved director Quentin Tarantino adores his cinema and the history behind it and if for some reason you didn't know this, you will after watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Tarantino's love letter and nostalgic look back on the bygone "golden era" of the industry that his dedicated his life to, this slowly paced and undeniably indulgent film may alienate some viewers chasing more of a hard plot, featuring less scenes of Brad Pitt picturesquely driving a vintage car around lovingly recreated sets, but for those that fall under Hollywood's charismatic charms, Tarantino's film will act as pure cinematic ecstasy.
Quite possibly Tarantino's most easily accessible (even if its many throwbacks and wink wink moments may not hit with everyone) and definitely most sentimental film, Hollywood's breezy plot line of Leonardo DiCaprio's aging actor and alcoholic Rick Dalton coming to terms with his dwindling career prospects, taking place around his long-standing friendship with stunt double and best "only" friend Cliff Booth (played by a scene stealing Brad Pitt) and the Sharon Tate/hippie filled surrounds of his hometown, allows Tarantino to go all in on his love letter to a time gone by that ends up feeling like a dreamlike trip to the past, that's carefully considered construction makes it come alive in the best way cinema can offer.
From greyhound buses in the background, radio ads taking place as our characters traverse the colourful locations, TV programs blurring from the insides of a rundown trailer situated at the back of a drive in movie theatre or the signs of the Hollywood strip being lit up for a night of entertainment and good times, Hollywood's lived in and lovingly staged surroundings become a character unto themselves as Tarantino takes his cast and us as viewers on a journey through a production that clearly comes from the heart and soul of fan that we should be thankful to for inviting us along for the ride.
This sense of playfulness and care extends wonderfully to Tarantino's main cast who have an absolute blast bringing the filmmakers renowned script work to life in fun and exciting ways.
While not Tarantino's most quotable or laugh out loud funny pieces of scripted work, Hollywood's deeply considered and even emotionally powerful work (Dalton's discussion with a child actress or breakdown in his set trailer particular highlights) is wonderfully played out by his expert cast and while there's gems to be found in cameos from the likes of Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning and Al Pacino, its Tarantino's key trio that further ensure Hollywood will go down as one of the year's best and most memorable offerings.
Front and centre for most, the dream pairing of DiCaprio and Pitt plays out just as joyously as you'd expect with both actors bringing their A-game to this unique offering.
Some may bemoan the seemingly pointless scenes these two characters sometimes are involved in but should you just sit back and enjoy what these performers are bringing to the table, they quickly become two of Tarantino's most memorable character creations with Booth in particular a genuine classic, with Pitt's Oscar worthy turn as one seriously cool but also potentially bad guy stunt man a highlight of proceedings.
Tarantino with help from Margot Robbie also make sure that the film's lovingly staged and whimsical depiction of the tragic Sharon Tate is a powerful component of the film and as we get an insight into her brief but memorable time in Hollywood, playing out around the lives of our two main characters, Tate is given wonderful and heartfelt time in the spotlight in this Tarantino affair.
It would be remiss also to not pay respects to what I would argue to be Tarantino's best endgame yet and while not wanting to enter into spoiler filled territory, Hollywood's final stanza is likely to draw shock, gasps and even belly laughs in what becomes a conclusion audience members won't soon forget.
Final Say -
Far from a typical mass-audience crowd pleaser, Tarantino has here indulged his love for cinema and its players like never before and while this is likely to alienate just as many as it enraptures, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a stunning example of cinematic craft and imagination that is made all the more wonderful by its killer cast that are clearly (just like us willing participants) having the time of their lives.
A cold survival thriller elevated by a strong Mikkelsen turn
There's some impressive film-making elements behind survival thriller Arctic and some stunning visuals thanks to its Icelandic setting, but sadly for debut filmmaker Joe Penna, Arctic's lack of character building and backstory makes it a rather cold experience.
Getting his start on Youtube where his collection of short films and projects garnered him a following in the millions, the Brazilian born Penna is clearly adept at his craft and that is evidenced throughout Arctic, which maximizes its small $2 million dollar budget to feel like an epic film that's anchored by the reliable presence of esteemed actor Mads Mikkelsen.
The problem with this well shot and proficiently put together tale of Mikkelsen's plane crash victim Overgård trials to stay alive in the harsh surrounds of the Arctic landscape, while also trying to escort Maria Thelma Smáradóttir's nameless helicopter crash survivor to a safe haven is that we as an audience are never given anything to lay hold of in an investment sense, there's no backstory, not even hints of who these people really are, meaning their plight to overcome the odds is more curiously interesting rather than downright engaging.
The best of the best of the survival against the odds films like heavy hitter The Revenant, Alive, Cast Away or underrated classic The Grey all share a common theme, characters we get to know and understand, emotionally connecting us to their plights and unfortunately Arctic has none of this as we join Overgård days/weeks into his battle to survive, with no time spent moving forward on developing him any further.
It's through no fault of Mikkelsen, who commits a full bodied performance here, with it always a joy to see the one time Hannibal get time to shine in a lead role it's just a shame Penna and his co-writer Ryan Morrison didn't spend more time putting in place reasons to make us really care for an against the odds tale that includes time for fishing, bear attacks and ample shots of Mikkelsen shown against some of Iceland's most harsh and unforgiving surrounds.
Final Say -
A promising feature debut from Penna that is sadly let-down by a lack of genuine character development or emotional connection, Arctic is a visually impressive but forgettable tale of survival that's worth seeking out purely for the chance to see the always good Mikkelsen ply his trade.
A strange beast of a film that's hard to pin down and even harder to review, Ari Aster's follow-up to his brilliant classic in waiting Hereditary is at times an equally impressive psychological and visceral horror but also one that struggles in parts to overcome its self-indulgent run-time, collection of unlikeable characters and a feeling that the slow build up isn't quite worth it come the nothing short of bizarre final portion.
For me it was around the 90 minute mark of the films 140 minute run-time that I couldn't help but shake the feeling Midsommar could've done with a healthy edit.
From an incredibly effective opening hour that perfectly establishes a sense of fear and ominous threat thanks to a hard-hitting pre-credits segment, some stylistically outstanding directing by Aster (never has a shot of a car driving along a highway been so engaging) and a captivating turn from rising star Florence Pugh who makes the very difficult character of Dani work thanks to her commanding presence, Midsommar does so much right but as things progress further and further into Aster's uncomfortable examination of grief, mental illness, folk music and cultism, Midsommar at times flat out stalls to a halt with murky character decisions and repetitive sequences that culminate in a visually arresting and shocking climax that sadly manages to tie things up satisfactory, not exemplary.
Hereditary will always be a two-edged sword for Aster, much like other filmmakers before him that have announced themselves with full-fledged debuts, as the directors products will now always come with a certain expectation of quality and while technically Midsommar is a masterpiece of sound design, production quality and performance management, it's hopefully a learning experience for Aster to remain on course and not get side-tracked with too much of a good thing.
There are a lot of these good things in this trippy, at times nerve-wracking and sometimes wince inducing holiday to the woods of Sweden as we follow the grieving and anxiety ridden Dani and her group of "friends" that includes Jack (letting it all hang out) Reynor's self-indulgent boyfriend Christian, Will Poulter's girl obsessed comic relief Mark, Vilhelm Blomgren's unnerving Swedish national Pelle and William Jackson Harper's thesis driven Josh, who discover quite quickly that secluded European festival's may not be the smartest of holiday destinations.
From the moment our group touch down in the fairy tale like fields of Pelle's home village and step through into what feels like another world entirely, Aster sets the scene for one of the most unique horror settings of recent memory, that is made all the more off-putting by the choice to film most of Midsommar entirely in the daytime sun, creating a vibe and feeling that is hard to put down in words but one that allows viewers to be taken away from reality and embraced by Aster's warped and singular vision.
There are scenes here that viewers will not soon forget, moments that genuinely send your body into a shocked feeling of catharsis and further establish Aster as a director whose way with storytelling can create mood and atmosphere that would match it with the very best of Hollywood's current crop of auteurs.
Without question one of the year's most visually arresting and shocking big screen experiences, there's many reason why one should ensure they catch Midsommar in the surrounds of a cinema, with willing audience members like mine that winced, laughed (both from humour and pure disbelief) and let jaws drop in unison and while it's a shame Aster takes us to a conclusion that doesn't feel entirely right, its undoubtedly that we are still seeing the beginnings of one of the industry's brightest and uncompromising talents who has so much more still to give.
Final Say -
Filled with moments of pure unadulterated cinematic brilliance, an unforgettable world inhabited by white robed locals and anchored a fiercely powerful Florence Pugh performance, Midsommar is a trip unlike any other that suffers from a raft of unlikeable characters, lack of scares, an overly generous running time and a curiously disappointing finale. Close to being something truly special, Midsommar may not reach all its lofty goals but remains the horror film to beat in 2019.
What is it with Netflix and squandering potential for products that are less than mediocre?
From Mute, Bright or Extinction through to The Legacy of the White Tail Deer Hunter, Netflix's strike rate for turning their funded and distributed movies into something worthwhile is worryingly low with 1 hit barely making up for 9 or so misses and despite the ample potential for a thrilling feature length film, The Red Sea Diving Resort is another lifeless and tame offering from a streaming giant that should be genuinely concerned about the wastage of its film budget allotments.
Led by Chris Evans and supported by recognisable faces such as Michael Kenneth Williams, Alessandro Nivola, Greg Kinnear, Ben Kingsley and Haley Bennett, Resort feels like it has enough talent behind it to bring the true life tale of a group of Mossad agents who set up a front at a Sudanese retreat to help rescue 100's of refugees from the violence and persecution of the land and transport them to Israel to live but it fails to inspire any type of emotion or thrills as director Gideon Raff takes us on a dull 2 hour plus journey.
Paramount to Resort's failings is the fact every single character in the film from Evan's lead agent Ari Levinson through to supports such as William's Kabede Bimro or Kinnear's government official Walton Bowen are so thinly drawn and unevolved that there's never even the slightest chance that we can feel like we are getting to care or know these characters in any particularly meaningful way which hampers any chance the film had of making the stories more dangerous components or story developments interesting in the slightest.
In some ways its almost disrespectful just how cold and uninvolving the film is, as the incredible true story at the heart of this tale is one that deserves to be told, especially from the perspective of the men and women that put their lives on the line for the greater cause as the real life people behind these amazing feats of bravery and humanity end up becoming nothing more than thinly veiled creations bereft of any true substance, which is undoubtedly not the case in real life.
With Raff's careless direction and stodgy set-pieces (working in conjunction with his trite script) weighing the film down even further there was never any chance that this Netflix clunker had a chance to better itself with not even the name brand cast able to add anything of note to the tale other than Evan's trying his workmanlike best and showing off his still there Avengers body on more than a few screen hogging moments.
Final Say -
Even with an amazing true life tale at its core and potential to be a moving and thrilling event, The Red Sea Diving Resort is another Netflix misfire that's so instantly forgettable you wonder what the very point of the whole outing was.
Hailed as Australia's very first one-shot feature film, Watch the Sunset is an impressive example of boundary pushing independent filmmaking that heralds in some noteworthy talent in the form of co-directors and co-stars Tristan Barr and Michael Gosden and the films true MVP, cinematographer Damian Lipp.
Shot in the picturesque rural country town of Kerang, Sunset follows Barr's drug-addled bikie gang member Danny Biaro across a fateful 80 or so minutes as the tormented soul finds his breaking free of the ties to his gang The Bloodless Brothers anything but smooth sailing as his young daughter and on and off again partner are drawn into a dangerous game of life or death as Biaro must confront those he once saw as family.
There's nothing overly new or ground-breaking in this tale of a criminal seeking redemption and family connection after years of neglect and bad decisions but Barr and Gosden's ability to craft this narrative in a singular take ensures Sunset is never anything but captivating and while it's hard to form too much of a strong bond on a human level to those that come and go in the single take offering, Sunset grips the viewer from the opening 10 minutes and won't let you go until its impressively staged finale.
What makes this feat even more incredible is the fact these filmmakers constructed such a polished offering outside of big-studio and big budget backing and from everything from the performances that are led impressively by Barr in the lead role, the moody score by Richard Labrooy, through to the realism drenched and hard hitting dialogue, Sunset feels like a film made by a team of highly skilled and dedicated filmmakers that will surely be mainstays of local and overseas cinema in the years yet to come.
There's a care and professional that seeps out of every pour of the film, while at times its grimy, grungy and grainy, this is perfectly suited to a tale that deals with hard hitting issues, unafraid to showcase the pitfalls and problems that follow drug addicts around like a black dog, many unable to escape from its constant stalking and preying despite their best efforts.
While it doesn't make for mainstream feel-good entertainment, Sunset is the type of Australian production that is far too rare in today's current marketplace and for fans of local cinema and for those overseas cinephiles that are seeking quality foreign content, Sunset is a prime example of what can be achieved from our home grown talent and skill sets.
Final Say -
Both an impressive feat of filmmaking workmanship and hard hitting story-telling, Watch the Sunset is a stunning example of Australian film and a truly exciting calling card for all involved.
Evolving from fun genre mash-up and action extravaganza Zombie Ninja's vs Black Ops, Australian based filmmaker's Kylie and Rody Claude take things back down to Earth in their newest cinematic outing with basketball themed character driven drama Balboa Blvd.
Filmed in the picturesque South Australian capital of Adelaide, Balboa is a proficiently shot and acted independent offering that is sure to please basketball fans the world over, while also introducing us to potential future star Ek Harris, whose central turn as Balboa's driven protagonist and basketball prodigy Marquise is one that is likely to see the budding actor garner a fair share of well-deserved attention from here and across the pond.
Marquise appears in almost every scene of Balboa's runtime and Harris is both an impressive athlete capable of delivering the goods on the court but also equally as capable delivering the emotionally driven aspects of Marquise's journey off the court, that see him try to overcome the fact he was given up for adoption at a young age by a mother his never met, while also dealing with his new friendship with Adam T Perkins mentor and coach Ray and potential love interest with Tiffany West's Stella.
Its undoubtable that Balboa (the title of which stems from the famous street in the basketball surrounds of sun-soaked Los Angeles) follows a rather predictable and tried and true formula and that the central relationship between Marquise and Ray could've been evolved further, but with Harris and Perkin's working off each other to great effect, there's never a time where you aren't enjoying your time with these two lost but likeable souls as they look to better each other in a dog eat dog world.
Another key element of Balboa that marks this down as an above average local independent offering is the handling of the cinematic moments found within the Claude's tale and both Kylie and Rody show a deft hand at capturing the raw power and captivating nature of one of the world's favourite games.
Utilising Adelaide's natural beauty and directing the ample basketball action on show in Balboa in a way that lets us sit back and enjoy the spectacle and skill of the sport, the Claude's ensure that Marquise's obsession with the game isn't just a story gimmick but a character unto itself.
By doing so Balboa becomes a much more universally appealing film that would sit right at home in the American, European and Asian markets not just the local one and whilst it's a problem with many home grown films, having limited appeals outside of the rather unique Australian tastes and sensibilities, Balboa's relatable human interactions and lovingly crafted basketball set-pieces ensure it's a film for all to partake in.
Final Say -
Lead on court by a fantastic central turn from rising star Ek Harris and energized by its basketball showpieces, Balboa Blvd may not be a slam-dunk but its strong heart and execution ensure it's well worth the price of admission.
Since 2014 British actress Rosamund Pike has delivered two of the most well-rounded and haunting female lead turns thanks to her role in David Fincher's now classic thriller Gone Girl and the criminally underrated western Hostiles.
Both films stripped back Pike's performance to nothing but raw power and emotion and established the long-standing actress as one of the finest performers working today.
Further adding to that string of impressive turns is Pike's awards nominated lead performance in 2018 drama A Private War, telling the tale of renowned war correspondent/journalist Marie Colvin in a highly dour and politically charged drama from documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman.
Based on Marie Brenner's well publicized Vanity Fair article on the life of Colvin and her daring exploits to seek the truth out no matter the personal cost or danger presented to her, A Private War paints Colvin as a fiercely determined woman who was hell-bent on doing the best job she possibly could in the most harsh and unforgiving surrounds imaginable.
It's a meaty role and a highly unglamorous one for Pike but as she has proven in the past, its one she is entirely up for.
Masked under an eye-patch and rarely seen without a cigarette in her mouth (or a comb to brush her wild hair with), Pike is outstanding inhabiting the hard as nails Colvin and brings a warmth and believability to her turn but despite her best efforts, Heineman's film is unable to keep up with its leading lady as it struggles to give the energy and emotion needed to really bring Colvin's life to the forefront.
There's a lot happening here as Colvin enters various war zones, enacts upon various relationships and deals with both an abundance personal traumas and more public breakdowns but A Private War feels merely like a scattering of various key scenes of her life, not so much a heartfelt or engaging account of a life that was anything but ordinary.
It's a real shame, as Pike's turn deserved a film that was able to match her powerful portrayal but A Private War never quite clicks into the next gear needed for Colvin's unbelievable life to become the feature film prospect it deserved and it's not hard to see why, despite Pike's noteworthy work, that Heineman's feature failed to reach a mass audience upon release late last year.
Final Say -
An incredible woman portrayed by an incredible actress, Colvin's tale in A Private War has its moments but overall lacks the heart or soul needed to make this eye-opening account of a world class reporter a must-see feature.
Anchored by two strong leads, Ben is Back is a solid and confronting drama
Ben is Back is certainly not light entertainment but thanks to some solid direction from its director Peter Hedges and great lead turns from Julia Roberts and the increasingly impressive Lucas Hedges, this 24-hour tale of the life of recovering teenage drug addict Ben Burns and his return home on Christmas Eve is one worth seeking out.
At times leaning towards the slightly unbelievable and sometimes Hollywood cliche side of things, Back mostly remains on the right side of the ledger thanks to Roberts and Hedges and some solid doco-like directing that keeps things firmly moving in the right direction, as we are embedded with the Burns crew (namely Ben and Holly) as they work together to overcome a serious of issues they are facing as well as a quest they are on to find their stolen family dog.
It's an interesting concept and one not usually associated with the drug-addict sub-genre, a 24-hour like plot-line but it adds an underlying tension to Back which forgoes any flashbacks or character grounding scenes to instead let the story be played out in almost a real time manner as we slowly begin to understand past indiscretions and occurrences that have led the son and daughter combo of Ben and Holly to where they sit when we meet them on Christmas Eve.
In this duo we have a great double bill of Roberts and Hedges who very early on establish a great chemistry on screen that reverberates through the entire picture.
Sometimes prone to overacting or "awards" baiting moments, Roberts strips it right back as the powerful yet emotionally charged Holly in what's her best performance in years while Lucas Hedges on the back of supporting turns in the likes of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Mid90's and Lady Bird here further establishes himself as one of the best younger talents working today, making Ben a flawed, likable and totally believable creation.
These two performers go a long way to making the most of the films confronting nature, this really is a no-holds bar examination of drug addiction as we learn of what became of Ben and what lengths he went to in the past to fuel his unhealthy habit and its commendable that Back never shy's away from the intense nature of drug affected lives and what it does to families and friends, making this tale of love and family a highly watchable one even if it at times stretches the credibility meter ever so slightly.
Final Say -
Anchored by two great lead performances and an intriguing 24-hour narrative arc, Ben is Back is a solid Hollywood examination of drug addiction that doesn't shy away from the gritty reality of its subject matter. Not always easy viewing, Ben is Back is well worth checking out in the right frame of mind.
A memorable pitch-black comedy with Rogen's best performance
It may seem like a controversial decision to label cult 2009 comedy Observe and Report a classic, but Jody Hills sophomore feature, following on from his underground success with The Foot Fist Way, is one of the finest examples of pitch black comedy of the modern era that also underneath its tough exterior offers an eye-opening account of mental illness and other taboo subject matters for the genre.
Attracting a name brand cast that's led by one of Seth Rogen's most impressive and undervalued performances and supported by the likes of Anna Farris, Ray Liotta, Michael Pena and Jesse Plemons, Hill's middle-budget offering that introduces us to the wild and complicated world of Rogen's mentally clouded mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt and his quest to find and bring to justice a local perverted criminal terrorising the shopping centre his sworn to predict isn't light comedy but Hill's ability to extract laughs from dark, confronting and often shocking situations is some type of skill.
Whether this is good or bad will depend entirely on your mindset when watching the film.
It's not hard to see why Report polarized critics upon initial release, with some taking it to task over its subject matter and more shocking scenes, while others applauded Rogen's impressively considered turn and Hill's insistence on not shying away from the darkness of his tale yet in the 10 years on from it initial release, it feels as though Report is only growing in stature with its unique stylings and narrative seemingly even more relevant in today's climate.
There's no doubt that Report isn't a film for everyone, it wouldn't be at all surprising to hear that someone will watch the film without a hearty laugh to be found while others will watch and have the polar opposite response to Barnhardt's increasingly wild and over imaginative quest to win the girl of his dreams, enact justice and potentially join the police force as a one man shotgun wielding army.
It's a simplistic set-up and Hill isn't afraid to throw in an abundance of rude, crude and immature gags around the place but look a little deeper and not only is Rogen delivering a much more impressive performance than the cover would suggest, but so is Hill.
This skill that was arguably underappreciated here, yet was explored in very similar manners in HBO hits Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals, that saw Hill reach mainstream critical and audience recognition, meaning any fans of those works would do well to seek out this confronting and no-holds barred journey into the mind of a delusional yet well-meaning soul who wants nothing more than to please in a world that discounts him at every turn.
Final Say -
A truly unique and undeniably bizarre comedy ride that is as pitch black as they come, Observe and Report most certainly isn't for mass market appeal but 10 years of time have done nothing but enhance the feeling that Hill's hidden gem was ahead of its time and far deeper than it was given credit for when it was first judged, made only better by the fact it features a career best turn from Rogen.
Witness the demise of Hellboy in this shoddy affair
With many overcoming the initial sadness of the failed Hellboy 3 that would've seen Oscar winning director Guillermo Del Toro re-team with his favourite leading man Ron Perlman for another dose of imagination overload and Barry Manalow's singalongs, hype began to grow for a very adult take on the cult graphic novel creation that starred Stranger Things breakout star David Harbour and was directed by the man responsible for cult films such as Dog Soldiers and The Descent as well as some of the all-time great Game of Thrones episodes.
Unfortunately for the great big red guy, Harbour and director Neil Marshall, this violence filled and expletive ridden reimagining of Mike Mignola's creation is one of the great failures of 2019, virtually killing off the chances of future Hellboy installments and halting Harbour's chances of leading too many more Hollywood films moving forward.
Budgeted at a quite decent $50 million dollars and featuring talented performers such as Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane and Daniel Dae Kim, Hellboy certainly had enough talent surrounding it to be something of note and still maintains slight moments of character charm, creature carnage and possibilities throughout that never help it overcome a feeling that this cold, heartless and rather cheap and nasty feeling film just lacks the soul or energy to do its character and plot justice.
Featuring such random interludes as giant hunting, Nazi era flashbacks, Jovovich's evil plan for ultimate destruction and bizarrely a resurrected Merlin, Hellboy has a lot of ideas and components going on that Marshall never wrangles together into a cohesive whole and while the capable director knows how to handle an action scene or two, most of Hellboy's big set-ups and set-pieces take place in a lethargic and enthusiasm free environment that stems mostly out of a bored looking cast, tired and heartless sets, sub-par CGI and over the top violence that feels more forced than natural in the modern age where adult focussed comic book films are a sub-genre unto their own.
Del Toro's previous Hellboy films all mixed soulful characters and emotionally strong components with fun and wild blockbuster sensibilities, something that this Hellboy lacks in spades.
You feel sorry for Harbour in particular who doesn't get the best material to work with here thanks to the mediocre script work by Andrew Cosby.
It's a shame as he feels like a solid choice for the big handed red devil and shows more than a few moments where his natural charisma and presence shines in the film but there's frighteningly little support around him and as Hellboy's downright terrible story draws us across the globe in a variety of situations we can't get invested in, it's quite clear early on that Marshall's film had very little chance of matching Del Toro's take on the figure or enlivening the series enough to make audiences care about ever seeing another big screen Hellboy moving forward.
Final Say -
With a few very minor wins over its run-time and a committed but misused David Harbour at its disposal, this rough and bloody Hellboy isn't a complete horror story but it's not a film you'd be recommending loudly in a crowded marketplace filled with far better graphic novel/comic book offerings. Seemingly a sad ending for a character and universe that had a lot more still yet to give.
A decent political drama with a great Jackman turn
There's a lot to like about The Front Runner, an intriguing examination of the last few weeks of the political career of one time US presidential candidate Gary Hart, as it features one of Hugh Jackman's best high-profile turns as the under the pump Hart and also asks questions regarding our treatment of politicians, the problem is many questions remain unanswered in what feels like a half-baked affair from the talented Jason Reitman.
Filmed in a docu-drama like way that throws viewers headfirst into the energy infused final days of Harts doomed bid at the White House, thanks to his private affairs and inability to remain faithful to his wife, Runner starts with a bang as we get thrust along for this journey and if there was ever a character made for Jackman to bring to life its Hart, with the charismatic and intelligent actor fitting into the role with aplomb but as the novelty wears off and as the films runtime draws closer and closer to its endgame, you can't help but feel as though Runner is only a bare basics examination of what went down and of the questions it so intriguingly asks.
It's a shame, as Runner is the most energetic and interesting film Reitman has made in a number of years and it's rare to see Jackman in such an everyman role (even if Hart was clearly a seriously charismatic and switched-on individual, determined to make a difference) but the film doesn't feel well enough set out or planned for to make the most of the tools at its disposal.
Alongside its topical true life narrative and leading man, Reitman has also recruited reliable performers Vera Farmiga as heart's wife Lee and old mate and living legend J.K Simmons as Harts main campaign manager Bill Dixon but in the midst of all the scenarios the film throws up and screen time it allocates to Hart, these notable actors get short changed in a film that is hastily edited and perhaps not ponderous enough as it needed to be as we get lost in a collection of side characters, situations and scenarios that keep the plot ticking along, but not so much the emotional investment or intrigue that's evident when the film first kicks of proceedings.
One thing the film does unquestionable well is in its recreation of a time gone by when the press and media was still more genuinely concerned with the politics of politics not so much the mind games and innuendo that gets played out in today's climate with Runner making you pine for a time gone by where questions and pieces that were raised and developed were more around the betterment of the country, not so much the mudslinging and misdemeanors that now take pride and place in the headlines for many a politician.
Final Say -
Gary Hart's story is one worth telling and offers Reitman a solid feature to deploy but The Front Runner never reaches the potential you feel it had at its fingertips, especially with such a loaded subject matter and a fine central turn from its leading man. All said and done, The Front Runner ends up being disappointingly forgettable.