FRED Watch Reviews

Scroll through our quickie, non-spoiler FRED Watch reviews below alphabetically or search through the archives by CLICKING HERE.

UPDATED FREQUENTLY!


ALEX STRANGELOVE (2018)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Mighty Engine / Red Hour Films / STXfilms / Netflix

Pressuring himself and feeling anxious about losing his virginity, high school senior Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny) and girlfriend Claire (Madeline Weinstein) are looking forward to having sex.

But things become complicated when Alex meets the openly gay Elliot (Antonio Marziale), who triggers within him a suppressed attraction to men…

Released only three months after the much-publicised Love, Simon (2018), and among the same momentum of mainstream queer teen flicks, Alex Strangelove sits comfortably with its contemporaries without adding anything we haven’t seen before. This is not to say, though, that this considerably cute coming out story isn’t worthy of attention.

Craig Johnson’s film touches upon a number of issues in relation to the broad queer community without ever delving too deeply. There are even a few plot elements that feel unnecessary, such as Claire’s mother’s cancer diagnosis. However, themes that are explored, are done so with attention and care. Alex’s self-discovery unfolds with confusion, questioning, exploration, and a lot of emotion. It is here where the incredibly goofy and charming Daniel Doheny shines and overcomes some of his character’s unrealistic moments (most notably, his school camp flashback).

Additionally, his onscreen chemistry with Madeline Weinstein, Antonio Marziale, Daniel Zolghadri, and others is a reflection of strong casting choices. In their senior year of high school, you really believe that these kids have known each other throughout the perils of puberty. It is in this vein that we see a potential for further stories relating to the characters because the film feels a little incomplete, as though it has more to say; at the very least, Johnson clearly does.

One particular quip I had with Alex Strangelove was the manner in which Claire is used for narrative progression in the final act. Weinstein is an appealing and likeable performer—qualities she gives her character—but Claire ultimately represents a trope which dictates that heterosexual women always know more or know what is better for gay men than gay men do. Her argument to Alex that coming out is not a difficult thing to do because her twelve year-old cousin did it is not only problematic, but perhaps speaks to a suggestion of underlying disconnect between queer and straight communities that is not being acknowledging.

Overall, there is plenty to like about Alex Strangelove. Even though it doesn’t quite hit the bullseye, it is harmless and heartfelt fun. 3 / 5

 

Starring: Daniel Doheny, Madeline Weinstein, Antonio Marziale, Daniel Zolghadri, Nik Dodani, Fred Hechinger, Annie Q., Ayden Mayeri, Kathryn Erbe, Joanna P. Adler, William Ragsdale, Isabella Amara, Sophie Faulkenberry, Dante Costabile.

Director/Writer: Craig Johnson | Producers: Jared Goldman, Ben Stiller, Nicholas Weinstock | Music: Nathan Larson | Cinematographer: Hilary Spera | Editor: Jennifer Lee


BAYWATCH (2017)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Paramount Pictures

Devoted lifeguard and local hero Lt. Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) butts heads with a cocky new recruit, shamed gold medal Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron).

Brody also struggles to get along with seasoned professionals Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) and C. J. Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), as well as fellow recruits Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass).

However, Brody learns the importance of teamwork and humility when he and Mitch uncover a plot that threatens the bay, involving businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra)…

One of many comedies based on TV shows that appeal to audiences who watched them as teens or are teens now, Baywatch fails to make a splash. Falling short of the standard set by similar ventures, such 21 Jump Street (2012), this incarnation of the popular beachside drama’s plot has not only been done before, but done better. A paint-by-numbers approach is not such an issue when it comes to light entertainment such as this, but it is simply not all that engrossing.

Most of the gags hit the mark (though the morgue sequence scrapes the bottom of the barrel) and the film is perfectly cast. Johnson and Efron demonstrate incredible rapport, engaging in amusing banter; Rohrbach and Bass also appear to be having plenty of fun—if only the audience could too.

Unsurprisingly, the film is aesthetically beautiful and nicely shot, but lots of wasted potential and a yawn-inducing script makes Baywatch more style than substance. 1½ / 5

 

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Rob Huebel, Hannibal Buress, Jack Kesy, Oscar Nunez, Amin Joseph, Belinda, Izabel Goulart, Logan Paul, Charlotte McKinney, Arian Foster, Seth Gordon, David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson.

Director: Seth Gordon | Producers: Ivan Reitman, Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz, Gregory J. Bonann, Beau Flynn | Writers: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift (story: Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant; based on Baywatch by Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz, Gregory J. Bonann| Music: Christopher Lennertz | Cinematographer: Eric Steelberg | Editor: Peter S. Elliot


BLACK PANTHER (2018)

—Kendall Richardson, reviewing film.

Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to the isolated and technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to take his place as King.

However, when an old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s fortitude as King and superhero Black Panther is tested when he is drawn into a conflict that puts the entire fate of Wakanda and the world at risk…

Nothing gets me more hyped for the trip to the cinema than the prospect of the latest Marvel Studios production. I’m an avid fan and follower of all things Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), so when the time comes around to go and see their latest release for the first time, I am literally jumping up and down with excitement. As it was with Black Panther, the eighteenth film on the MCU’s roster, and the first release of its tenth anniversary year, needless to say, I had a blast.

Marvel has the superhero origin story film down to a fine art now, as they should, but it is with Black Panther that they have done one of the best things yet—show diversity. Whilst they are sadly lagging in the female lead superhero game, Marvel have proven to the public that they can tell a story with a cast that is 98% black and have it be beyond the success they dreamed of. (Earning over $200 million in it’s opening weekend, the film is the second highest debut of the MCU behind 2012’s The Avengers.) They have made a movie where the hero is a proud African warrior and king, who is supported by the strongest women—nay African women—I have ever seen on screen, and opposed by an incredible African-American villain that some are saying could give Loki a run for his money. It is just so beautiful to see these characters displayed before our eyes, and in roles young kids can look up to and admire, particularly those who share the colour of their skin with the Black Panther himself. And this film could really not have come at a better time. With the Black Lives Matter movement still prominent across the globe, race is still one of the biggest issues out there. Hopefully Black Panther can serve not only as a vehicle to entertain, but to inspire and teach as well.

As for the film itself, it is sad to say that it is a little slow to start, until the momentum of the plot and its action fully kick in, but that isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable, because it is. We get a beautiful rendition of the history of Wakanda and the Black Panther, as well as wonderful introductions to each of the characters that make up that beautiful nation. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home after the death of his father King T’Chaka (John Kani), which occurred in Captain America: Civil War (2016), to assume the throne, but it’s not that simple, and I love it. There is so much tradition alongside the beauty of the Wakandan people, as T’Challa must fight any man that challenges him for the throne and for the powers of the Black Panther. Meanwhile, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), whom we last saw losing an arm in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), is on the prowl for more vibranium, and with a new robotic arm to boot. Here is where we meet the real villain of the piece, Erik Killmonger, played with uncompromising intimidation by Michael B. Jordan. The two may have teamed up for this heist, but it soon becomes clear that Killmonger has an agenda all his own.

Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Boseman is definitely more than capable of leading this film; he is wonderful as T’Challa, and it was great to see what he could do outside of Civil War. Serkis takes the eccentric up a notch with this version of Klaue, and it is sinister and hysterical. Fellow Middle-Earthling Martin Freeman surprised me with his return as CIA agent Everett Ross, who was also last seen in Civil War, but this time around there is more for him to do. And whilst we don’t get too much of his character fleshed out, how his involvement becomes crucial to the film’s plot is awesome. I’m always here for more Freeman, even if he is putting on that American accent.

But my favourite thing about this film is the ladies! As a lady myself, I may be a tad biased but they really are the best thing here. First you have Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s sixteen-year-old technology and science genius sister, who is responsible for most (if not all) of Wakanda’s current tech, and the Black Panther’s suit and gadgets. Then there is Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). And while she may be T’Challa’s ex, for now, she is also an awesome fighter and spy. I hope her and Black Widow get to have spy training reminiscing/bonding time at some point. And thirdly, there is the badass general and leader of the Dora Milaje, Okoye (Danai Gurira). She loves her country more than anything and will smack a bitch down the second it is called for. She is the sass queen in this film and I love her. All three of these actors are so strong and incredible in their performances as great Wakandan women, I cannot wait to see more of them down the track.

Director/co-writer Ryan Coogler has given us a fantastic film, which beautifully shows off the fictional nation of Wakanda and its people. With the MCU tending to expand further into space, it is great to see that there is some wonderful unexplored territory for them to showcase at home. Wakanda forever! 4 / 5

 

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis.

Director: Ryan Coogler | Producer: Kevin Feige | Writers: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole (based on Black Panther by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) | Music: Ludwig Göransson | Cinematographer: Rachel Morrison | Editor: Michael P. Shawver, Claudia Castello


THE BOOK OF MORMON (2017-2018 Melbourne Season)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing theatre.

Main image supplied to ABC News has been edited by FRED the ALIEN Productions

Two Mormon missionaries, the ambitious Elder Price (Ryan Bondy) and socially awkward Elder Cunningham (Nyk Bielak), attempt to share their scriptures with the inhabitants of a remote Ugandan village, where their fellow missionaries have failed to baptise anyone.

The young men are challenged by the lack of interest of the locals, who are more concerned with such issues as AIDS, famine, female genital mutilation, and their warlord…

When accepting that a musical about Mormon missionaries comes from the the collective imaginations behind the animated television series South Park and the theatrical Sesame Street parody Avenue Q, you feel as though you know what sort of show you’re about to experience.

And while there are common trademarks of South Park‘s Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q‘s Robert Lopez throughout The Book of Mormon, an audience has no right to express offense at the material. Also, those who are familiar with the creative minds behind the show will be pleased to know that this production stands on its own.

Ryan Bondy as Elder Price is the personification of musical theatre perfection. (Image: Joan Marcus)

Parker and Stone frequently poke fun of and critique religious institutions (most notably, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Scientologists), however the easily-targeted Latter Day Saints seems to be their favourite subject matter. (The 1997 sex comedy Orgazmo was an early indication of this trajectory.) That is not to say, however, that The Book of Mormon does not have a lot to say on a broad range of matters; it is an effective critique on fundamentalism and traditional patriarchal customs, among other topics. Additionally, it is a sweet story of friendship and the importance of community.

Like all good musical comedies, the songs are catchy and humorous, with opening number Hello! setting the tone perfectly. The show is ideally paced and maintains a solid momentum throughout, with the cast’s incredibly infectious energy and enthusiasm adding to the atmosphere. The cast is always in fine form, particularly the stunning Zahra Newman as Nabulungi and audience favourite Rowan Witt as closeted queer stereotype Elder McKinley. As our protagonists, Bielak has the ideal geeky adorable qualities the role of Elder Cunningham dictates, but make no mistake about it, The Book of Mormon belongs to Bondy. Oozing more charm and enthusiasm that you would think is humanly possible, it is difficult to take your eyes off him; his portrayal of Elder Price is quite easily the production’s strongest component. In the realm of contemporary musical theatre, Ryan Bondy is perfection personified.

The almost sold-out matinee audience I sat with was hooked from the get-go, buzzing during the interval, and laughing throughout. And this is where The Book of Mormon succeeds. It works on a number of levels, coming together so swimmingly, that it would be difficult for the production not to have broad appeal, particularly in a city such as Melbourne. This is not to say that the show is completely flawless: when the writing is so clever, are gags about feces and blood really necessary? Also, there is so much movement and noise during some songs that not every lyric will be heard clearly by each audience member, particularly those in the nose-bleeds. But with a production that is so engaging and entertaining, these are minor quips.

Do not be mistaken, it is impossible for The Book of Mormon to live up to the hype—it is not the greatest musical of the century, though it may come close! 4½ / 5

Starring: Ryan Bondy, Nyk Bielak, Zahra Newman, Bert LaBonté, Rowan Witt, Andrew Broadbent, Augustin Aziz Tchantcho.

Book, Music, Lyrics: Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone | Directors: Casey Nicholaw, Trey Parker | Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw | Musical Supervisor, Vocal Arrangements: Stepher Nremus | Music Director: Kellie Dickerson | Associate Producers: Laura Manning, Ben Prudhoe


DON’T EVER WIPE TEARS WITHOUT GLOVES (TORKA ALDRIG TÅRAR UTAN HANDSKAR) (2012)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing television.

Sveriges Television

In 1982, practicing Jehovah’s Witness Benjamin (Adam Lundgren) meets Rasmus (Adam Pålsson), a university graduate who has just moved to Stockholm from his rural home.

Embraced by a new group of gay friends, Benjamin and Rasmus fall in love while going through the process of self-exploration and discovery. And then a lethal disease impacts their tight-knit community…

It is best to brace yourself when approaching a story about the devastating consequences of the HIV/AIDS virus that is set during a time when the recipients of the disease’s wrath were primarily young gay men. Productions about the early days of the AIDS epidemic are plentiful, and they tend to be either deeply impactful or manipulative fodder. Thankfully, Simon Kaijser helms Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves with skilful restraint and care, keeping the material in a believable world and away from the all-too-easy realms of melodrama. Stylistically, Stefan Kullänger’s cinematography, as well as Agneta Scherman and Kaijser’s editing, make this an aesthetically affective production.

Best-selling author Jonas Gardell’s screenplay, which coincided with the release of three novels (2012-2013), is a beautifully woven tale in which present, past, and multiple stories are linked seamlessly. Do not be mistaken, all the usual character and narrative tropes are there, but it works in the the story’s favour. There are an abundance of characters to get to know and understand; such shorthands make them easily accessible, but nonetheless complex, interesting, and relatable.

Our protagonist Benjamin is played with stunning purity by Adam Lundgren (a quality that Björn Kjellman carries through as the character in the present time scenes), whose inner conflict with his religion and the interpersonal tensions with his parents (solid work from Marie Richardson and Gerhard Hoberstorfer) demonstrate the actor’s phenomenal range. For example, just watch Lundgren in an emotional scene in which Benjamin fights for public acknowledgement against the wishes of Rasmus’s parents, played by the incredible Stefan Sauk and Annika Olsson. Such a moment brings to the forefront the underlying loneliness to Benjamin, insofar that he apparently cannot truly fit in with the religious customs with which he has grown, nor can he genuinely be himself among his fellow social outcasts.

Benjamin (Adam Lundgren) is given multiple reasons to weep, but who will wipe his eyes? (Main Image: Sveriges Television)

As Rasmus, Adam Pålsson possesses all the fearlessness that come with youth and beauty; this makes his trajectory even more heartbreaking, and Pålsson holds his own alongside the aforementioned talent. More open to sexual exploration than Benjamin, Rasmus serves as a complementary and contrasting figure to his partner. Pushing this further is Simon J. Berger, whose portrayal of unapologetic, flamboyant queen Paul is a refreshing consistent throughout the series. In spite of it all, Paul refuses to be anything but fabulous with a touch of kitsch charm.

All these characters, plus others, are drawn together in a world afraid of an unknown, ruthless disease; a world in which contemporary history’s most discriminated against people become even more vilified. So, one must ask: At a time when the progressive world continues to move towards greater equality for its queer community, is a series such as Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves really necessary? The answer is a resounding yes. And allowing yourself to be taken into this three-hour experience is heartbreaking, rewarding, and humbling all at once.

Please watch it. 5 / 5

 

Starring: Adam Lundgren, Adam Pålsson, Simon J. Berger, Emil Almén, Michael Jonsson, Christoffer Svensson, Kristoffer Berglund, Annika Olsson, Stefan Sauk, Marie Richardson, Gerhard Hoberstorfer, Ulf Friberg, Björn Kjellman, Jonathan Eriksson, Claes Hartelius, Belle Weiths, Gorm Rembe-Nylander, Alexi Carpentieri, Lisa Linnertorp, Maria Langhammer, Sanna Sundqvist, Jennie Silfverhjelm, Julia Sporre.

Director: Simon Kaijser | Producer: Maria Nordenberg | Writer: Jonas Gardell | Theme Music Composer: Andreas Mattsson | Cinematographer: Stefan Kullänger | Editors: Agneta Scherman, Simon Kaijser


DOWNSIZING (2017)

—Kendall Richardson, reviewing film.

Paramount Pictures.

In the near future, financially burdened couple Paul and Audrey Safranek (Matt Damon  and Kristen Wiig) are tempted to partake in “downsizing”, an irreversible process that involves shrinking humans to a height of five inches.

Paul and Audrey consider downsizing which, it is sold to them, is both environmentally and financially advantageous…

One of the main issues with movie trailers these days is either one of two things: Too much of the film’s plot and story can be revealed, leaving no surprises for the audience upon the first viewing, or the film that the trailer has been put out to promote is the furthest thing from what the trailer says it is. In the case of Downsizing, the trailer is definitely depicting what takes place in the story. Sort of. I can’t figure out if it was intentional or not, but we have been misled into thinking, going in to the cinema, that we know what kind of movie we’re in for.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that Downsizing is a bad movie—it’s not—it is just so far from what I expected. The trailer essentially shows you the first half an hour of the film, but the majority of the story takes place after that. The trailer is just the set-up for what sets the plot in motion. This funnily enough can also be a metaphor for the story of Downsizing’s lead character Paul Safranek, played vulnerably well by Matt Damon. There is a quote in the film that goes something along the lines of, ‘Nothing ever works out the way Paul expects.’ This really should have been a disclaimer for the viewer going in.

That aside, Downsizing is certainly nothing like we’ve ever seen—it contains an original story and original characters that pull you in directions you don’t expect. Apart from Damon’s excellent performance, the only other two characters that really stand out are Christoph Waltz’s Dusan, a hysterical party animal taking full advantage of the downsizing procedure for solely his own benefit, and Hong Chau’s Ngoc Lan Tran, who was downsized as a punishment and illegally immigrated to the U.S. via a TV box. Yes you read that correctly. Her performance was one of my favourite things about this movie; from the way she hobbled around on her fake leg (a result of the TV box incident) to the eccentric broken English she speaks, she emotes so fluently that I can see why she garnered a Golden Globe nomination.

I also really enjoyed the depiction of the whole history and process of downsizing. It was done in such a way that made it almost seem real: The film takes place in modern times; the procedure is created and presented in a no-nonsense scientific manner; and applicants can enquire about it all as if they were being sold at an expo, filled with public speakers, display homes, and salespeople talking you through it and answering any and all questions.

Whilst Downsizing is not the best movie of recent times, I applaud it for its ambition and total originality. In a world filled with reboots, remakes, and sequels, at least writer/director Alexander Payne is giving us something new. Also the visual effects are highly impressive. Keep an open mind when going into this one, and set your expectations… small. 3 / 5

 

Starring: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Maribeth Monroe, Udo Kier, Rolf Lassgård, Ingjerd Egeberg, Søren Pilmark, Margo Martindale, James Van Der Beek, Niecy Nash, Donna Lynne Champlin, Don Lake, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Joaquim de Almeida, Eric Burns.

Director: Alexander Payne | Producers: Mark Johnson, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor | Writers: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor | Music: Rolfe Kent | Cinematographer: Phedon Papamichael | Editor: Kevin Tent


GERALD’S GAME (2017)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Intrepid Pictures / Netflix

In an attempt to save their marriage, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) arrive at an isolated lake house for a weekend away that includes spicing up their sex life; this involves Gerald handcuffing his wife to the bed. However, it isn’t long until Jessie discovers that role playing does not interest her.

Following an argument in which the couple concede their marriage is over, Gerald dies of a heart attack. But it is before he can un-cuff Jessie from the bed…

Based on the novel by Stephen King and brought to life by Mike Flanagan, who also wrote, directed, and edited the far superior Hush (2016), Gerald’s Game is an overall disappointment. The premise alone promises plenty, and the addition of its source material’s author even more so, but the film resorts to too many genre clichés to be rewarding.

Gerald’s Game is combination of good ideas, but none of them are realised to their full potential, and a few of them are completely unnecessary; Moonlight Man feels like he belongs in another film altogether and the final reel fails to make the emotional impact it strives for. With the exception of Jessie, the characters aren’t all that interesting, and when we get to know more of her backstory, it exists as nothing more than a tried, tested, and overused narrative trope. Here, the men are immoral and the women are victims—they are as two-dimensional as that.

The film is, however, slightly redeemed with some strong points. Gugino and Greenwood do wonders with the constraints placed upon them (no pun intended) and the make-up effects are exceptional—they need to be for that infamous scene.

Not for the squeamish, but undemanding horror fans will get something out of it. 2 / 5

 

Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Chiara Aurelia.

Director: Mike Flanagan | Producer: Trevor Macy | Writers: Jeff Howard, Mike Flanagan (Based on Gerald’s Game by Stephen King) | Music: The Newton Brothers | Cinematographer: Michael Fimognari | Editor: Mike Flanagan


GLITTER (2001)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

20th Century Fox / Columbia Pictures

Set in 1982, back-up singer and dancer Billie Frank (Mariah Carey) meets DJ Julian “Dice” Black (Max Beesley) at a night club. While helping build her solo career, they fall in love…

A vehicle for one of American music history’s most successful singers, Glitter lives up to its infamous reputation. What is essentially yet another rendition of A Star is Born (1937; itself remade in 1954, 1976, and 2018), Mariah Carey unsurprisingly sounds and looks fantastic, but her acting is painfully monotone. For a better insight into Carey’s value as an entertainer, see her in Precious (2009) or any New Year’s Eve performance (particularly 2016 and 2017). Max Beesley does his best with undercooked material as Carey’s leading man, and Da Brat and Tia Texada are relatively fun as her best friends.

But there are too many things working against the film to pull Glitter through. The lacklustre pacing is established from the get-go with a dreary and overlong prologue, Vondie Curtis Hall’s direction is considerably pedestrian, Jeff Freeman‘s editing is sometimes annoying, and the costumes and set design don’t always scream the beautiful excess of the 1980s. Furthermore, what appears to be intended as the signature balled, ‘Never Too Far’, fails to deliver the gravitas that Whitney Houston achieved in The Bodyguard (1992) with ’I Have Nothing’ and, of course, ‘I Will Always Love You’.

As a result, Glitter is a considerably dull and pointless vanity project. 1 / 5

 

Starring: Mariah Carey, Max Beesley, Terrence Howard, Da Brat, Tia Texada, Eric Benét, Valarie Pettiford, Ann Magnuson, Dorian Harewood, Grant Nickalls, Padma Lakshmi, Kim Roberts, Bill Sage, Isabel Gomes, Lindsey Pickering, Courtnie Beceiro.

Director: Vondie Curtis Hall | Producer: Laurence Mark | Writer: Kate Lanier (story by Cheryl L. West) | Music: Terence Blanchard | Cinematographer: Geoffrey Simpson | Editor: Jeff Freeman


THE GOOD PLACE, Seasons 1 and 2 (2016-2017)

—Fulya Kantarmaci, reviewing television.

Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television / NBC

Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) wakes up in the afterlife and meets Michael (Ted Danson), who introduces her to the Good Place, a Heaven-like utopia he designed in reward for her righteous life. But Eleanor realises that she was sent there mistakenly and must hide her morally imperfect behaviour and try to become a better person…

‘Welcome to the Good Place. Sponsored by: otters holding hands while they sleep. You know the way you feel when you see a picture of two otters holding hands? That’s how you’re gonna feel every day.’ -Michael (Ted Danson).

 

I first heard about The Good Place when listening to an episode of the podcast Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Projectwhere Adam Savage talked about the series. After watching the trailer, I thought, ‘This looks fun, I’ll give it a shot.’ And my binge began!

Picture this: You wake up in a waiting room. You have no recollection on how or when you got there. You are then summoned inside an office where you are told that you are dead. You can’t believe what you just heard but then you are told that you are in ‘The Good Place’ which, according to an architect named Michael, is almost like Heaven where you live the rest of your afterlife in pure happiness… and you even get a soulmate!

The show’s premise is clever and storylines full of hilarity! Every episode has a weird and surprising plot. You are always being entertained no matter which character shows up on screen.

From the get-go, you find out that Eleanor was brought to the Good Place by mistake but tries her hardest to make sure she looked like she ‘belonged.’ Kristen Bell’s presence on the small screen is wonderful and I can’t think of anyone else who could play the role of Eleanor Shellstrop better. Also, the fact that she can’t curse in the Good Place makes it even more funny to watch.

Chidi, who is or was an ethics professor, is Eleanor’s ‘soulmate.’ He is the first to find out from Eleanor that she does not belong in the Good Place, so he helps her to be a better person by teaching her moral ethics. William Jackson Harper makes Chidi, Chidi. He speaks so eloquently in this role, but what I loved most about his character is the way he begins to spiral downwards into anxiety when having to make a decision. Hysterical!

The story continues on by introducing a few more characters:

Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil)—a wealthy philanthropist, born in Pakistan and raised in England (almost like she was royalty), who has traveled the world extensively and knows a lot of celebrities… she’s even friends with a lot of them! She begins in the Good Place as a highly-positive event planner and likes to suck up to Michael a lot. Eleanor is not a fan of Tahani because she thinks Tahani is an obnoxious ‘bench.’ (You can’t curse in the Good Place.)

Jianyu/Jason (Manny Jacinto) starts off as a Buddhist monk who has taken a vow of silence, but it is then revealed that he in fact is Jason Mandoza, an amateur DJ from Jacksonville, Florida. He is pretty much in the same situation as Eleanor—sent to the Good Place by mistake. This guy is basically the comic relief from all the drama that happens in the show because of his stupidity, though he does have his ‘smart’ moments.

Janet—the friendly mobile database of the neighbourhood who helps you with anything you ask her. This is one quirky ‘intelligent personal assistant.’ Apparently, her words, she’s not a robot nor is she human. What is she? Well… only the writers know. D’Arcy Carden plays Janet so well, I was always giggling when she appeared on screened. She has great comedic timing!

And let’s not forget about Michael—the architect of the Good Place where Eleanor and all her fellow Good citizens live out their afterlife. You find out later on in the series that Michael isn’t exactly who he says he is. Ted Danson is quite amusing in his role of Michael, perfectly cast with a convincing evil laugh!

Season 1 ends with a bombshell of a twist and sets up season 2 quite well. (No spoilers, here.) Season 2 starts off well, but drags on a little for a few episodes. Nevertheless, it is worth sticking it out for the final episode.

Season 3 is currently in the works and I am definitely looking forward to seeing it! 4/5

 

Starring: Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto, Ted Danson, Tiya Sircar, Adam Scott, Marc Evan Jackson, Maribeth Monroe, Jason Mantzoukas, Maya Rudolph.

Creator: Michael Schur | Executive Producers: Michael Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett, Drew Goddard | Composer: David Schwartz | Editors: Colin Patton, Matthew Barbato, Eric Kissac


HOWARD THE DUCK (1986)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Lucasfilm Ltd. / Universal Pictures

Howard, an inhabitant of Duckworld, is propelled from his loungeroom to Earth, where he rescues musician Beverly Switzler (Lea Thompson) from a group of thugs and forms a close friendship with her. An attempt to help Howard return to his home plant, however, unleashes an evil force on Earth…

Films based on Marvel Comics publications are all too common now and are generally held in high esteem by comic book geeks and film nerds alike. However, Marvel’s chief rival Detective Comics (DC) were leading the game in 1986, having dominated film and television adaptations for the previous two decades. Howard the Duck, Marvel’s first cinematic feature film, proves that even the most popular cinematic universes have the most humble of beginnings.

Howard the Duck (1979, Issue #1) as he appeared in the earlier comics. (Credit: Marvel Comics)

Originally intended as an animated feature, contractual obligations saw executive producer George Lucas pushing for a live action adaptation of Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik‘s anthropomorphic duck. The film, however, still feels like a cartoon; it is an offering of over-the-top, noisy nonsense that has numerous fun moments. The costumes and set pieces are a glorious product of the era, and even the score and theme song add to the vibe.

Unfortunately, Howard the Duck doesn’t know who its audience is. Its adult themes and dark tones aren’t appropriate for children who would get the most out of the stunt work and sight gags, and probably wouldn’t care too much about the paper-thin plot that focuses on Howard managing a rock band and saving the planet form an evil alien invasion.

Howard’s look was criticised at the time (his aesthetics in the comics resemble Donald Duck), but in the grand scheme of the unfolding shenanigans, this is really only a minor quip. Ed Gale is the man predominantly in the duck suit while Chip Zien’s voice was added in post production. The pair do a fine enough job and, in fact, Howard is perhaps the most subdued character in the film. Willard Huyck’s direction dictates that the usually reliable Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, and newcommer (and future Oscar-winner) Tim Robbins chew the scenery with striking confidence. But what lets the film down is the writing. Huyck and Gloria Katz have scaffolded their screenplay around cliches and countless, unnecessary one-liners.

Viewed in the right spirit—and why would anyone take a story about poultry zapped out of his arm chair and to another planet too seriously?—Howard the Duck is fun. The problem is, the mayhem doesn’t know when to quit, resulting in a messy third act. This is the sort of beer and pizza film that is best enjoyed with a group of mates. Howard would approve. 2½ / 5

 

Starring: Chip Zien (voice), Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins, Jeffrey Jones, David Paymer, Paul Guilfoyle, Liz Sagal, Dominique Davalos, Holly Robinson, Tommy Swerdlow, Richard Edson, Miles Chapin, Paul Comi, Richard McGonagle.

Director: Willard Huyck | Producer: Gloria Katz | Writer: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz (based on Howard the Duck by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik) | Music: John Barry | Songs: Thomas Dolby | Cinematographer: Richard H. Kline | Editor: Michael Chandler, Sidney Wolinsky


IN THE HOUSE (DANS LA MAISON) (2012)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

La Banque Postale Images 5 / Canal+ / France 2 Cinéma / Mandarin Cinéma / Palatine Étoile 9 / Région Ile-de-France / Mars Distribution

Literature teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) forms a bond with his sixteen-year-old student Claude (Ernst Umhauer), who possesses a remarkable talent for writing.

Germain tutors the precocious Claude, whose story inspiration comes from his transgressive manipulation of best friend Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) as well as Rapha’s doting parents (Emmanuelle Seigner and Denis Ménochet), as Claude becomes increasingly comfortable in their house…

François Ozon is one of France’s greatest directors and a standout among his contemporaries within the vast realm of filmmaking. As with In the House, his films tend to explore the complexities of interpersonal relationships and sexuality, delving into themes of humanity that are often relegated to low budget indie movies.

With In the House, Ozon presents a compelling story of manipulation, underplayed in such a manner that it has a subtle level of menace. Fabrice Luchini is in fine form as Germain, a middle-aged teacher whose passion for his profession is reignited by the skills of a student who sits quietly in the back row. That student is Claude Garcia, played with exceptional confidence, charm, and intelligence by Ernst Umhauer, who had only two film credits to his name at this stage and was the recipient of the Lumières Award for Most Promising Actor for his efforts here. It is not difficult to see why.

The tangled web of relationship dynamics becomes even more complicated as both Germain and Claude’s obsession with the execution and authoring of Claude’s story becomes the central focus of their existence. If the story can only be written with lived experiences and interactions with the Artole family, it is essential that Claude maintain access to their house; what Germain and Claude do to achieve this is the source of most of the plot points and narrative turns.

The subplot involves Germain’s wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is working tirelessly to open a gallery exhibition. This serves as a breather from the building tension as well as adding to it at the same time. It is a narrative device that can only be appreciated upon reflection and this is a testament to the sort of filmmaker Ozon is; the director also adapted the screenplay.

Overall, In the House is performed, photographed, and edited with beautiful subtlety. The focus is on the characters, their motivations and desires. It is the sort of film that pulls you in quickly and, thanks primarily to Umhauer, refuses to let you go. 4 / 5

 

Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Ménochet, Bastien Ughetto, Ernst Umhauer, Yolande Moreau.

Director: François Ozon | Producers: Éric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmeyer, Claudie Ossard | Writers: François Ozon (Based on The Boy in the Last Row by Juan Mayorga) | Music: Philippe Rombi | Cinematographer: Jérôme Alméras | Editor: Laure Gardette


INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE: THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES (1994)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Geffen Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures

In present-day San Francisco, reporter Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater) interviews Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt), who recounts the circumstances of his transformation into a vampire after he is bitten by Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise) in 1791 Louisiana, as well as their adoption of a little girl (Kirsten Dunst) and her impact on their relationship…

Interview With the Vampire was met with anticipation, discussion, and controversy leading up to its release. But the true merit of any film is how well it holds up when the dust has settled and it is simply one of many in its genre.

Adapting her own 1976 novel, Anne Rice’s screenplay is a mixture of musings and madness that enhance the mythology of vampires. Bringing her central characters to life are Tom Cruise (a casting choice Rice was vocally disapproving of until she saw the final product) and Brad Pitt, whose rapport is essential to their bantering dynamics. At first, Cruise feels miscast as Lestat, though once you accept that Neil Jordan’s vision of Rice’s homoerotic literature requires the subtlety of a daytime soap opera, it is easy to have fun with the unfolding story. And while the set design, costuming, and cinematography make this production quite handsome, Pitt is in stunning form as Louis and is undeniably one of the most beautiful vampires to ever grace the screen.

Kirsten Dunst, who delivers the film’s signature line and received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance of Claudia, fits right into the domestic dynamics of Cruise and Pitt. She is absolutely captivating, going from a ten- to thirty-year-old mentality as time moves on and she remains ageless physically. Strong supporting turns also from Christian Slater, Antonio Banderas, and Stephen Rea round out a hard-working cast.

Interview With the Vampire holds up relatively well, on the condition that you allow yourself to get lost in the world presented here, and doesn’t feature as much blood or gore as you would expect. The personal struggles of the characters—particularly Louis—give them depth and the action is handled with confidence. It is not a film that takes itself too seriously, so there’s plenty of fun to sustain its two-hour duration. 4 / 5

 

Starring: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea, Domiziana Giordano, Thandie Newton, George Kelly, Marcel Iureş, Sara Stockbridge.

Director: Neil Jordan | Producers: David Geffen, Stephen Woolley | Writer: Anne Rice (based on Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice) | Music: Elliot Goldenthal | Cinematographer: Philippe Rousselot | Editor: Mick Audsley


It (1990)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing television.

A group of seven outcast children discover and vow to destroy a predatory shapeshifter, mostly appearing in the form of a clown called Pennywise, who transforms itself into its victim’s worst fears…

The 1990 made-for-television adaptation of Stephen King‘s spooky best-seller has all the conventions of the author’s tales. As a two-part miniseries, there’s a lot to get through and is at its best when the action involves the Loser Club (including Jonathan Brandis and Seth Green) hanging out, fending off bullies, and battling killer clown Pennywise (Tim Curry) in the flashback scenes.

The momentum slows down, however, in the second-half of the piece where the kids are reunited as adults three decades later to try and topple their shared boogeyman once and for all. The action isn’t all that gripping, and the manner in which this particular evil force can be defeated or made dormant doesn’t carry much credibility when adults are involved, feeling like an easy cop-out.

An intriguing concept that fails to reach its full potential and, decades on, has not aged well, It is still worth watching if only for some fine performances from the youngsters, a scary turn from Curry, an engaging and sarcastic Harry Anderson, and because it is always lovely to see Annette O’Toole on screen.

Overall, this is a competent but ultimately unexceptional production. 3 / 5

 

Starring: Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Tim Curry, Jonathan Brandis, Brandon Crane, Adam Faraizl, Seth Green, Ben Heller, Emily Perkins, Marlon Taylor, Olivia Hussey, Sheila Moore, Jarred Blancard, Chris Eastman, Gabe Khouth, Michael Ryan, Venus Terzo, Frank C. Turner.

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace | Producers: Mark Basino, Allen S. Epstein, Jim Green | Writers: Lawrence D. Cohen, Tommy Lee Wallace (based on It by Stephen King) | Theme Music Composer: Richard Bellis | Cinematographer: Richard Leiterman | Editors: David Blangsted, Robert F. Shugrue


IT (2017)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Warner Bros. Pictures

A group of seven outcast children discover and vow to destroy a predatory shapeshifter, mostly appearing in the form of a clown called Pennywise, who transforms itself into its victim’s worst fears…

The second adaptation of Stephen King‘s novel was heavily promoted in 2017. The marketing campaign received a mixed reaction from those who grew up terrified of the 1990 miniseries and those who would be exposed to the sadistic, child-devouring Pennywise for the first time. IT had well and truly arrived.

Whether you are a fan of the novel or original adaptation, there is no denying that Andy Muschietti‘s vision has resulted in what has to be one of the most skillfully constructed, aesthetically stunning horror films produced in the twenty-first century. Chung-hoon Chung‘s exquisite cinematography gives the viewer a sense of place, from the darkened interiors to the bright small town landscapes; hillsides and rivers are a stark contrast to sewerage tunnels and dilapidated houses.

Furthermore, our Loser protagonists are perfectly cast. Some have extensive screen time and are fleshed out more so than others, but the young cast work well together with strong, natural rapport. Sophia Lillis possesses a gutsy spark as Bev, contrasted quite nicely by Jaeden Lieberher‘s subtle hero and love interest Bill. Jeremy Ray Taylor does a fine job as new kid Ben while Jack Dylan Grazer steals the show as hypochondriac Eddie. Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, and Chosen Jacobs round out the Losers competently, each with their own backstories and quirks. Nicholas Hamilton is ruthlessly on-point as lead town bully Henry, whose sociopathic intensity would have pushed believability in any other director’s hands. Muschietti handles his cast well; most of the adults here are incredibly grotesque, heightening the pressure on the youngsters, who really only have one another. But every character archetype is essentially represented, so there is someone to relate to, cheer on, or boo.

The success of the IT, however, rests on the shoulders of the villain. As the malevolent force at the centre of the story, the perfectly cast Bill Skarsgård is flawlessly creepy. His portrayal of the barbarous Pennywise is literally the subject of nightmares, not allowing make-up, costuming, or special effects to do the work, Skarsgård cements himself as one of the greatest movie monsters of all time.

IT focuses on the first half of the narrative and this is the film’s strength. The element of danger always feels higher when the heroes are innocents, so it remains to be seen if the second chapter in this creepy caper can be as involving. But in the meantime, immerse yourself in IT… and don’t float too far away. 4½ / 5

 

Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott, Owen Teague.

Director: Andy Muschietti | Producers: Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg, Barbara Muschietti | Writers: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman (based on It by Stephen King) | Music: Benjamin Wallfisch | Cinematographer: Chung-hoon Chung | Editor: Jason Ballantin.


JOE CINQUE’S CONSOLATION (2016)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Night Kitchen Productions

The volatile mental health of Canberra law student Anu Singh (Maggie Naouri) leaves her feeling that she is without an option other than to suicide. Unbeknown to her picture-perfect boyfriend Joe Cinque (Jerome Meyer), a dinner party she organises serves as a last supper. But things do not go to plan.

As Anu’s mental health continues to dissolve, she decides that Joe’s life must also end. Another dinner party is arranged with guests aware that their hosts will die, but no one tells Joe…

Sotiris Dounoukos’s adaptation of Helen Garner’s award-winning book offers an intriguing true-life tale that fails to completely captivate. As a character study, the story does not delve deep enough and as a psychological thriller, the film lacks any genuine suspense until the final act.

The complex narrative is painted in such broad strokes that the audience is kept at a distance. Anu is too fitful to approach and Joe is perfection personified; where one has no redeeming features, the other is immaculate. This is, of course, not to say that a distinction between the unscrupulous and the virtuous should not be made, but Anu is given so little room to move that it is impossible to try and empathise with her depleting mental state.

As for our central couple, Naori and Meyer are excellent. At the time of production, neither had extensive screen experience, and yet they command plenty of attention; the film is the most captivating when the pair share a frame. The assortment of supporting cast also handle their two-dimensional roles as best they can, particularly Gia Carides and Tony Nikolakopoulos as Joe’s doting parents. However, Sacha Joseph, as Anu’s misused friend Madhavi Rao, delivers one of the most frustratingly vapid performances seen in Australian cinema for a long time.

Produced with technical competency and demonstrating an exceptionally crafted final act, this is, nonetheless, a story that deserved more depth and leaves a number of questions unanswered. The flippancy with which Anu and Joe’s wider circle of friends treat ensuing events is incomprehensible, and the ultimate ramifications for those responsible, leaves the audience with a stronger sense of loss and grief than anyone in the film.

A respectful portrayal of Joe Cinque that needed to delve deeper. 3 / 5

 

Starring: Maggie Naouri, Jerome Meyer, Sacha Joseph, Josh McConville, Gia Carides, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Jacob Collins-Levy, Laura Gordon, Jackson Tozer, Eva Lazzaro.

Director: Sotiris Dounoukos | Producers: Sotiris Dounoukos, Matt Reeder | Writers: Sotiris Dounoukos, Matt Rubinstein (Based on Joe Cinque’s Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law by Helen Garner) | Music: Antonio Gambale | Cinematographer: Simon Chapman | Editors: Angelos Angelidis, Martin Connor


KIDNAP (2017)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Aviron Pictures

Overworked diner waitress Karla (Halle Berry) is the doting mother of six-year-old Frankie (Sage Correa). While enjoying an outing with her son one afternoon, she receives a call from her lawyer that her ex-husband wants primary custody of their child. When Karla’s phones battery dies, she returns her attention to Frankie, only to discover that he has gone missing.

Having witnessed him being forced into a car, Karla follows the abductors and goes to extreme lengths to retrieve her son.

Kidnap’s premise and ensuing plot is straightforward enough that it is not the sort of film that demands much from its audience. And therein lies the problem: Knate Lee’s screenplay is so heavy with exposition that the film would be far more engrossing if it weren’t as condescending. For example, Karla sees an AMBER Alert on a road sign describing the perpetrators’ vehicle. The catch: he has changed cars since she reported the kidnapping. We as the audience know this because we have seen it in quite a dramatic sequence, and yet, Karla needs to explain this to us anyway in case we are wondering why she is angry at the road sign. Similarly, we need the bad guy (Lew Temple) to tell us why he is frustrated with his gun because we would not have otherwise come to the conclusion that he cannot find his ammunition.

Unfortunately, these are more the rule rather than the exception to Kidnap; it is an unwanted distraction. Berry does an exceptional job of trying to rise above it (as one of the film’s producers, she has a little more invested in the project), but her efforts are not always enough—the dialogue gets that bad at times. It is a shame, really, because Kidnap showcases some edge-of-the-seat thrills, is edited meticulously, is framed and photographed beautifully, and has an engaging score.

Worth a look at, but leave your brain at the door. 2½ / 5

 

Starring: Halle Berry, Sage Correa, Chris McGinn, Lew Temple, Dana Gourrier, Jason Winston George.

Director: Luis Prieto | Producers: Gregory Chou, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Erik Howsam, Joey Tufaro, Taylar Wesley, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Halle Berry | Writer: Knate Lee | Music: Federico Jusid | Cinematographer: Flavio Martinez Labiano | Editor: Avi Youabian


KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Warner Bros. Pictures

In 1973 and in the midst of the Vietnam War, United States government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) hires former British Special Air Service Captain and skilled tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to guide an expedition to map out the recently discovered Skull Island. Their military escort is a helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who are joined by photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

As soon as the expedition is underway, specially designed explosives are dropped in an apparent attempt to learn more of this uncharted territory. But everything is not what it seems and it is not long until the assorted inhabitants rise—most notably, Kong, king of Skull Island…

The latest in a string of King Kong remakes, Kong: Skull Island may not offer anything new to the monster movie genre, or anything all that significant to the lead creature’s mythology, but it is quite easily one of the more entertaining to be made in recent years.

Make no mistake about it, the film relies on just about every narrative trope and character archetype the genre has to offer, but so what? Unlike Godzilla (2014), the first entry in the MonsterVerse produced by Warner Bros., Legendary Entertainment, and Toho, Kong: Skull Island actually features the titular character fighting a slew of menacing monsters in a series of exciting, bad ass action sequences. This is not to say that the humans do not get their fair share of the biffo; Hiddleston, Larson, and an obnoxiously patriotic Jackson’s collective and respective screen time are not wasted.

With real-world themes weaved into the mix with as much subtly as a sledgehammer, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers a good-looking, exciting, a suitably paced action caper, starring one of cinema’s most loveable monsters. 4 / 5

 

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly.

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts | Producers: Thomas Tull, Mary Parent, Jon Jashni, Alex Garcia | Writers: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly (Based on King Kong by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace) | Music: Henry Jackman | Cinematographer: Larry Fong | Editor: Richard Pearson


LEGALLY BLONDE (2001)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Blonde, busty, and beautiful fashion merchandising student Elle Woods (Reece Witherspoon) is heartbroken when elitist boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis) dumps her because his political future needs to entail a Jackie and not a Marilyn.

Determined to win Warner back, Elle follows in his academic footsteps and attends Harvard Law School. Dismissed by most of the faculty and her classmates, including Warner, Elle uses her unique personal experiences and perspectives to excel and is given the opportunity to prove herself when she interns on a high-profile murder case…

Revisiting Legally Blonde, it isn’t difficult to see why Robert Luketic’s entertaining comedy was such a huge box office hit upon release. Nor it is surprising to see why it has remained a fixture in popular culture, most notably introducing audiences to the ‘bend and snap’ pick-up method.

The success of the film rests squarely on our leading lady’s shoulders. Oozing more charm than you would think is humanly possible, Witherspoon makes what could easily be read as an incredibly narcissistic and materialistic figure into an endearing persona. There is absolutely nothing to dislike about Elle, whose heart radiates good intentions and loyalty. As a fish out of water in Harvard, she simply wants to be accepted, and it is at this point of the narrative—having continually being dismissed as a bimbo—that we as an audience are on her side. And once we are there, we are with her until the very end.

Legally Blonde is also cleverly written, having fun with the two-dimensional, stereotypical characters to such an extent that we really don’t mind and yet still care about them. The film does not pretend to break new ground, but what is presented feels fun and fresh, even after multiple viewings; that in itself is a remarkable accomplishment, and one that is a testament to the partnership of Luketic and Witherspoon.

Pour some pink champagne and raise your glass to ‘Woods comma Elle’, this one is a winner. 4½ / 5

 

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber, Jennifer Coolidge, Holland Taylor.

Director: Robert Luketic | Producers: Marc Platt, Ric Kidney | Writers: Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith (Based on Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown) | Music: Rolfe Kent | Cinematographer: Anthony B. Richmond | Editor: Anita Brandt-Burgoyne


LOVE, SIMON (2018)

—Kendall Richardson, reviewing film.

Fox 2000 Pictures / Temple Hill Productions / 20th Century Fox

Dear Blue,

I just watched this really incredible movie, and I think you will love it. I won’t give too much away, but I will let you know what it’s about. The main character is a high schooler named Simon, who’s played by rising star Nick Robinson. After his performance here, I’d expect we’ll see a lot more of him; his portrayal of Simon is so authentic, vulnerable, and done with great care and respect. You see Blue, Simon has this big secret he’s never told anyone.

He’s gay.

After another student posts an anonymous letter on the school’s social media site, Simon realises he’s not alone. There is another guy at school who is just like him. Plucking up the courage, he begins a regular email correspondence with him, but the two of them never reveal to each other who they are, despite Simon’s growing desire to. For the first time, Simon has found someone he can completely be himself with, and you feel his excitement, joy, and even anxiety over his situation—we’ve all been there, relishing the rush of just a minute of time with your crush. It is beautifully portrayed.

Speaking of beautifully portrayed, Simon is lucky enough to be surrounded by a small group of really wonderful friends, each of whom all have their own secrets and crushes. His best friend Leah is played coolly by Australian actress Katherine Langford of 13 Reasons Why fame. His other two close friends are sport-loving Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and new student Abby (Alexandra Shipp, who played a young Storm in X-Men Apocalypse). Simon’s family are also another group of wonderful people, from his intelligent psychologist mother (Jennifer Garner), to his ultra-sensitive and dorky Dad, played by the always charming Josh Duhamel, to his adorable younger sister and aspiring junior chef (Talitha Bateman).

There is one exception to this group of wonderful people in Simon’s life, however, and that is Martin. He an odd, slightly eccentric, and over-confident drama student, played by Logan Miller, who is fascinating to watch. You don’t know if he is going to do something super embarrassing or surprisingly wonderful. He is also the film’s antagonist. But I won’t tell you why.

Have I sold you on the film yet, Blue? If not, here are some more cool things you need to know. The soundtrack is off the hook. Singer/songwriter Jack Antonoff picked a bunch of killer songs to perfectly accompany the teenage angst, longing, heartbreak, and happiness. A few of the songs are by his own band Bleachers, who are seriously underrated. I saw them live once and had an awesome time. Also, this film features probably the best drama teacher ever on screen, or at least the sassiest! But seriously, this is a love story everyone will enjoy, whether you are gay or straight or something else all-together. I hope this is the first of many movies of its kind. At last, a story from the perspective of someone we’ve never really heard of. And it’s not an indie movie!

I’d rate it 5 out of 5.

So there you have it, Blue!  Go see Love, Simon. I can’t wait to hear what you think. Maybe we could finally meet and go together?

Love, Jacques.

Starring: Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Keiynan Lonsdale, Miles Heizer, Logan Miller, Talitha Bateman, Tony Hale, Natasha Rothwell, Drew Starkey, Clark Moore, Joey Pollari, Mackenzie Lintz, Bryson Pitts, Nye Reynolds, Skye Mowbray.

Director: Greg Berlanti | Producers: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner, Pouya Shahbazian | Writers: Isaac Aptaker, Elizabeth Berger (Based on Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli) | Music: Rob Simonsen | Cinematographer: John Guleserian | Editor: Harry Jierjian


MOONLIGHT (2016)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

A24

Chiron, a painfully shy and heavily bullied boy, comes of age in the low socioeconomic Liberty City, Miami. He finds parental figures with drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe), much to the suspicious disapproval of Paula (Naomie Harris), Chiron’s drug-addicted mother.

The dynamics and tensions among Chiron’s biological and surrogate families, his friends, and classmates set him on a path of emotional neglect and want.

Barry Jenkins’s beautifully photographed story pays homage to its unproduced stageplay roots, presented in three distinctive acts in which our protagonist Chiron goes from boy (played by Alex Hibbert) to adolescent (Ashton Sanders) to man (Trevante Rhodes). Because of this segmentation, Moonlight leaves plenty of information on the cutting room floor. What happens in the many years between the moments captured of Chiron’s troubled life are up to the audience to piece together or imagine.

The risk in such a narrative tool is that the audience is kept at bay, but Jenkins is a talented storyteller, drawing fine performances from Hibbert, Sanders, and Rhodes that their harmonious portrayals of Chiron keep us invested. Through Chiron, Jenkins presents a touching exploration of masculinity that shines like a full moon in a sky of tropes movie lovers are all too familiar with.

As Chiron’s surrogate parents, Ali and Monáe are stunning, suggesting that Moonlight could very well have been completely devoted to their complex relationship with the little boy lost and his mother. The importance of these early scenes is evident in the final act, in which Chiron reunites with childhood friend Kevin (André Holland). Here, Rhodes and Holland are heartbreaking, bringing to the surface the pain and loneliness we have been watching Chiron go through, when the narrative comes full circle.

Moonlight may have been a groundbreaking winner at the 2017 Academy Awards, but fanfare and accolades aside, it stands on its own as a beautiful portrait of masculinity. 4 / 5

Starring: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert

Director: Barry Jenkins | Producers: Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner | Writer: Barry Jenkins; Story: Tarell Alvin McCraney (Based on In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney) | Music: Nicholas Britell | Cinematographer: James Laxton | Editors: Nat Sanders, Joi McMillon


MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

20th Century Fox

Famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) acquires a spot on the Orient Express, a three-day train ride that is destined for London. On board, he is approached for protection by Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp), an unlikeable American businessman who has been receiving threatening messages.

Poirot declines the offer and that evening, hears noises coming from Ratchett’s compartment and sees a woman in a red kimono running down the hallway. Not long later, an avalanche derails the train and Ratchett is found murdered.

With an assortment of suspects, Poirot and Orient Express director Bouc (Tom Bateman) begin to investigate…

Actor/director Kenneth Branagh brings Agatha Christie’s famous detective to an audience, who may not be familiar with the book series or their numerous adaptations, in a polished production that has all the aesthetic charm of Hollywood’s golden era.

Indeed, contemporary cinema’s cream of the crop portray an assortment of suspects whose complexities are perhaps too constrained by the film’s timeframe to be anything more than archetypes; not all are fleshed out and most leave you wanting to know more about them. But that does not seem to matter as Branagh commands such attention with a charismatic and humorous portrayal of Poirot. His interactions with the top-notch ensemble keep this old fashioned mystery running at a steady pace.

Beautifully framed and photographed with a stunning colour pallet, Murder on the Orient Express is a refreshing offering in an era of studio films chasing the dollar with big budget comic book adaptations. 4 / 5

 

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Tom Bateman, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Marwan Kenzari, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Sergei Polunin, Miranda Raison.

Director: Kenneth Branagh | Producers: Ridley Scott, Mark Gordon, Simon Kinberg, Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Michael Schaefer | Writer: Michael Green (Based on Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie) | Music: Patrick Doyle | Cinematographer: Haris Zambarloukos | Editor: Mick Audsley


NYMPHOMANIAC (2013)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Les Films du Losange

On a cold evening, bookish bachelor Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) finds self-proclaimed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lying beaten and bloody in the alleyway behind his apartment.

He takes her back to his home and listens to Joe recount stories about her assorted sexual experiences. Seligman uses his academic knowledge to contribute and delve into discussion, relating Joe’s exploits to everything from mathematics and mythology, to religion and fly fishing…

When Lars von Trier’s exploration of sexuality and interpersonal relationships was first edited, his opus ran at a staggering five-and-a-half-hours. Rather than cut it down, he decided to divide the piece into two separate films—Nymphomaniac Vol. I (145 minutes) and Nymphomaniac Vol. II (180 minutes). With his blessing, though without his direct involvement, the two volumes were censored and edited even more so for international audiences, leaving some ninety minutes on the cutting room floor. (It is these versions—at 117 minutes and 124 minutes respectively—that form the basis of this review.) The films were always intended to serve as one seamless story, and it is in this spirit that they should to be seen: an epic delivered in two acts.

The narrative is told by Charlotte Gainsbourg, whose portrayal of the unapologetic, hypersexual Joe, is beautifully complex and compelling. As a female protagonist, she is a refreshing presence, embracing the limitless possibilities of self-exploration, and is vulnerable, selfish, and honest. As the best heroes are, Joe is incredibly flawed but is never at a distance.

As with everyday recollections, not everything is told in a linear manner, however, Joe’s dialogue is so eloquently written that it is easy to be taken on this ride that, like everyday life, is exciting, dull, tender, and confronting. Undermining the narrative tool, though, is most—not all—exchanges between herself and Seligman. Stellan Skarsgård is intriguing as the sheltered loner, but his academic analogies, which is his only method of relating to Joe’s exploits, come too frequently and soften the story’s pace. They also, at times, feel as though von Trier has the compulsion to spoon-feed his audience so they understand the deeper layers of what he is trying to achieve with Nymphomaniac.

This aside, there are many positives to draw from the film, mainly the supporting performances that make up the eclectic folks impacted by Joe’s desire-driven existence. Shia LaBeouf is engrossing and his character Jerôme deserves a film unto himself. Jamie Bell is also unsurprisingly perfect, in a role that benefits from the actor’s intensity and restraint (no pun intended). Christian Slater is solid as Joe’s father, with Stacey Martin completely captivating as the younger Joe in the flashback scenes, as is Sophie Kennedy Clark as her adolescent friend B; and Mia Goth possesses a dangerous edge as Joe’s apprentice P.

The film is beautifully framed, sharply edited, and features a gorgeous colour pallet. Such aesthetics are enhanced by some touches of humour within the screenplay. Sample dialogue: “Would it be all right if I show the children the whoring bed?” Uma Thurman’s jilted wife, Mrs. H, asks Joe at one stage!

Overall, Nymphomaniac is a skilled example of substance and style. It may not always get the balance right, though the second-half feels more polished, it is a worthwhile, thought-provoking cinematic experience that will leave some seeking out the original, uncut 325-minute rendition. 4 / 5

 

Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgård, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nielsen, Michaël Pas, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier.

Director: Lars von Trier | Producers: Marie Cecilie Gade, Louise Vesth | Writer: Lars von Trier | Cinematographer: Manuel Alberto Claro | Editors: Molly Marlene Stensgaard, Morten Højbjerg


ORCA (1977)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Paramount Pictures / Dino De Laurentiis Company

In the business of capturing marine animals for a local aquarium, Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) harpoons a pregnant orca who miscarries and subsequently dies.

Overcome by grief and anger, her mate goes on a rampage against Nolan, his crew, and associates… stopping at nothing until the captain himself has paid for the loss of the orca’s family.

The first in a slew of major productions to rip off Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), Orca falls short in every department. As its own production and without comparison to history-making masterpieces, however, Michael Anderson’s creature feature is a generally entertaining affair.

The film is quick to get straight into the action. And while the continuity of the footage used (natural stock versus artificial “movie magic”) is questionable thanks to the differing colour of the water, some nifty camera work and editing make the opening sequences relatively compelling. The first act climaxes with our titular mammal’s motivation; the unsettling miscarriage and disposal of his child, followed by the suicide of his mate.

In order to keep things as believable as possible, the story involves scientists and experts providing plenty of information relating to killer whales and therefore predicting and justifying the very concept of the film. However, it does not all quite come together. The main reason is that, even in creature features, it is the people that matter most. Richard Harris’s Captain Nolan is too unlikeable to be accessible; his aggressiveness is too prominent, too early on in the piece that the eventual revelation of his empathy for the avenging orca is diluted. Additionally, Orca’s story structure may begin with an effective hook, but fails to maintain it with two-dimensional archetypes, an inconsistent pace, and Carol Connors’s atrocious ballad ‘My Love, We Are One’ to round it all off.

But do not be overwhelmed by the film’s shortcomings. Even though Orca tries hard and fails to achieve what it sets out to, what it does offer still has some value. Taken in the right spirit, the film can be either fun or tragic. The action works incredibly well and the whale is believable enough to keep the audience invested in its plight. It is also the most likeable and fascinating character here.

Upon initial release, this cult classic was torn to pieces by the critics and saw modest box office returns. Admittedly, Orca is perhaps best enjoyed with a cold beer in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other. 3 / 5

Starring: Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson, Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, Robert Carradine, Peter Hooten, Scott Walker, Don “Red” Barry, Yaka, Nepo.

Director: Michael Anderson | Producers: Dino De Laurentiis, Luciano Vincenzoni | Writers: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, Robert Towne (uncredited) | Music: Ennio Morricone | Cinematographers: J. Barry Herron, Ted Moore | Editors: John Bloom, Marion Rothman, Ralph E. Winters


THE ORVILLE, Season 1 (2017)

—Ashley Hall, reviewing television.

20th Television

Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane), an officer in the Planetary Union’s line of exploratory space vessels, is given a ship called The Orville as his first command, only to discover that his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), has been assigned to be his First Officer…

The Orville is a great show. I’ll start off by saying that sure, Star Trek lookalikes are a dime a dozen, but not by Seth MacFarlane.

In his typical fashion, MacFarlane delivers something fresh, hilarious, and very on-point. I have been glued to the screen throughout the first season. There are a few social commentaries as well as uncomfortable situations and plot points; all of these panned out wonderfully and concluded beyond satisfactorily with a lot of intelligence. Much thought has been put into the writing, directing, and acting.

The delivery of MacFarlane and the writers’ material is perfect in The Orville. The casting is exactly as it should be and nobody you feel as though no other group of actors should play these characters. They look, feel, sound, and even smell the part.

All in all MacFarlane has created a truly wonderful and gripping show that I would recommend to anyone of almost any age.

Happy viewing, people, and most of all… have fun! 3½ / 5

 

Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J. Lee, Mark Jackson, Victor Garber, Chad Coleman, Norm Macdonald.

Creator: Seth MacFarlane | Executive Producers: Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jason Clark, Jon Favreau (pilot), Liz Heldens, Lili Fuller | Theme Music: Bruce Broughton


PAPER PLANES (2015)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Roadshow Films.

Upon discovering that he has a talent for making paper aeroplanes, Dylan Webber (Ed Oxenbould) works towards competing in the World Paper Plane Championships in Japan, if only to reconnect with his grieving father (Sam Worthington).

Paper Planes’s premise is simple and there aren’t any surprises lurking within Robert Connolly and Steve Worland’s sometimes corny screenplay. But, when you have a film that is abundant in positive messages and innocent charm, who cares?

The hero of the piece, upon whose shoulders the success of the film rests, is Oxenbould, who is one of the most likeable young actors cinema has offered in a long time. His rapport with other male cast members allows for an interesting depiction of masculinities, and offers some lovely scenes between Dylan and his father, portrayed by an underused but nonetheless solid Worthington, and grandfather, a charismatic Terry Norris. There are only two noteworthy speaking roles for women here, played by Ena Imai and Deborah Mailman; the latter isn’t given much to do, but Mailman is such a strong screen presence, she makes the most with very little.

Beautifully photographed by Tristan Milani, Connolly’s pint-sized underdog story will not only appeal to its young target audience, but will find favour with accompanying adults. You would have to be an absolute cynic not to get caught up in Dylan’s quest to be a winner. 3½ / 5

 

Starring: Sam Worthington, Ed Oxenbould, Ena Imai, Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke, Julian Dennison, David Wenham, Deborah Mailman, Peter Rowsthorn, Terry Norris.

Director: Robert Connolly | Producers: Robert Connolly, Liz Kearney, Maggie Miles | Writers: Robert Connolly, Steve Worland | Music: Nigel Westlake | Cinematographer: Tristan Milani | Editor: Nick Meyers


PITCH PERFECT 3 (2017)

—Kendall Richardson, reviewing film.

Universal Pictures.

Three years after winning the World Finals championship in Copenhagen, a cappella singing group the Bellas have graduated college and gone their separate ways.

Now in unfulfilling jobs and desperate to see each other again to sing once more, Beca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Chloe (Brittany Snow), Aubrey (Anna Camp), Lilly (Hanna Mae Lee), Cynthia (Ester Dean), Florencia (Chrissie Fit), Jessica (Kelley Jakle), Ashley (Shelley Regner), and Stacie (Alexis Knapp) reunite to compete once more…

It’s the final curtain call for the aca-amazing Bellas! I’m happy to report that Pitch Perfect 3 escapes the pitfalls that can befall any third installment in a franchise: the magic that crafted the success of the first film tends to wane, the jokes made are almost always the same causing the shtick to get old fast, and the storylines can head into shark-jumping territory. This film escapes them by the skin of its teeth, but escapes them nonetheless.

This time around the Bellas reunite to perform at USO shows across Europe, and find themselves competing with the other acts for a chance to open for DJ Khaled. Anna Kendrick is a joy to watch as always as the talented music producer Beca Mitchell, reaffirming effortlessly to her audience why she is the lead of this wonderful ensemble cast. Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy is back and still hilarious! Whilst her comedy isn’t as memorable this time around, she does well with what she’s given, leaving the viewer in stitches. Also enjoyable are Brittany Snow’s Chloe and Anna Camp’s Aubrey; the former getting herself a love interest, and the latter showing us how much she’s grown since the first film as we learn about her military father.

Speaking of fathers, John Lithgow shows up as a different than Daddy’s Home 2 Dad, giving the Aussie accent a half-decent crack as Fat Amy’s criminal and estranged papa. That’s where the shark-jumping pitfall is approached, but thankfully the slightly outlandish storyline works due to Wilson going full Black Widow on her dad’s goons and the Bellas scintillating take on Toxic (It’s Britney, Pitch!). The only disappointing thing for me was the lack of screen time given to the other USO acts. One of the best parts about the previous two movies has been the rivalry between the Bellas and their enemy teams, and unfortunately they only seem to touch on it briefly throughout the film. Although the riff-off scene when they first meet is very entertaining.

Without spoiling too much about the ending, I will say that it is a perfect (pun intended) and emotional conclusion to the trilogy, as it really highlights the bond shared between the Bellas, whilst simultaneously launching Beca into the career she truly deserves. 3½ / 5

 

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hailee Steinfeld, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Chrissie Fit, Kelley Jakle, Shelley Regner, Alexis Knapp, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks, John Lithgow, Matt Lanter, Guy Burnett, DJ Khaled, Ruby Rose, Andy Allo, Venzella Joy Williams, Hannah Fairlight, Whiskey Shivers, Trinidad James, D.J. Looney, Troy Ian Hall, Jessica Chaffin, Moises Arias, Michael Rose.

Director: Trish Sie | Producers: Elizabeth Banks, Paul Brooks, Max Handelman | Writers: Kay Cannon, Mike White (Story by Kay Cannon) | Music: Christopher Lennertz | Cinematographer: Matthew Clark Labiano | Editors: Craig Alpert, Colin Patton


READY PLAYER ONE (2018)

—Kendall Richardson, reviewing film.

Warner Bros. Pictures / Amblin Entertainment / Village Roadshow Pictures / De Line Pictures / Access Entertainment / Farah Films & Management

2018 was the perfect year for Ready Player One to be released. It contains so many of the things about current pop culture and technology we are excited about, and also rides the nostalgia wave quite successfully. When you think about it, this futuristic version of our lives does not really seem that farfetched or far away, for that matter. The quality and popularity of gaming is at an all-time high, and virtual reality headsets are becoming commonplace in electronic stores worldwide—a prime example of science fiction becoming fact.

Ready Player One is directed by non-other than the legend that is Steven Spielberg, and based on what some refer to as a pop culture bible, author Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, which was published in 2011. Sadly, I have not had the fortune of reading the book yet, but from what I’ve been told, Spielberg, screenwriter Zak Penn, and Cline (who also contributed to the screenplay) collaboratively made several changes to the source material when adapting it for the big screen. I have also been told that whilst these changes are radically different, they do not in any way ruin the book or the film, which is a rare thing when it comes to film adaptations that take the risk of making great changes. It obviously helped to have Cline working on the script.

The film follows our protagonist Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young man living in ‘The Stacks’ of Cleveland, Ohio. In reality, he is just an ordinary guy, living with his aunt (Susan Lynch), trying to get by. But in virtual reality, he assumes the avatar of Parzival, a CGI character that looks like a Final Fantasy and Dragon Ball Z love child. The premise of the film states that the creator of this virtual reality world known as the OASIS, has passed away, and has come up with a rather clever and challenging way to pass on his legacy and his company. There are three tasks that must be completed within the OASIS to obtain three keys. Once you have all three, you can unlock a door that leads to what he has so appropriately titled an Easter Egg (because this movie is full of them). Whoever reaches the Easter Egg first shall be granted total control of the OASIS and all of creator James Halliday’s assets.

Ready Player One is just as fun as it sounds, and the trailers did a perfect job of selling to you exactly what the film was going to be like without ruining too much of its plot. The visual effects are of course off the charts, and they had to be in order to sell the OASIS to the viewer convincingly. But the amount of pop culture references and yes, Easter eggs, in this film is just insane. Parzival races in non-other than the DeLorean from Back to the Future, there’s Jurassic Park’s T-Rex and the mighty King Kong chasing you down. There is a glorious, and my favourite part of the movie, homage to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, where our main characters spend some time in the infamous Overlook Hotel, and it is just beautifully done. There’s also a bunch of gaming references, so if you are a gamer, you will fall in love with this movie. And then there’s Batman, Harley Quinn, Freddie Krueger, and the Iron Giant just to name a few.

And to top it off, adding to the nostalgia kick, is the super cool ‘80s-heavy soundtrack—the movie opens with Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ and it only gets better from there. The performances from the relatively unknown cast are really wonderful and endearing; it’s good to see some new names popping up in such a big film like this. Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn brings it as the film’s antagonist Sorrento, leader of rival company IOI, and Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg, who play the creators of the OASIS James Halliday and Ogden Morrow respectively, are lovely to watch every time they appear on screen.

So happy to say that Spielberg has done it again, giving us a really fun adventure film, which is right in his wheelhouse, and will surely become a part of the iconic films he is celebrated for. 4½ / 5

 

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Susan Lynch.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Producers: Steven Spielberg, Donald De Line, Dan Farah, Kristie Macosko Krieger | Writers: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline (based on Ready Player One by Ernest Cline) | Music: Alan Silvestri | Cinematographer: Janusz Kamiński | Editors: Michael Kahn, Sarah Broshar


RIOT (2018)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing telefilm.

Werner Film Productions / Australian Broadcasting Corporation

In 1978, with the momentum to decriminalise homosexuality diminishing, a group of queer activists decide to take a different approach to their protesting and petitioning. Led by former union boss Lance Gowland (Damon Herriman), the activists choose to celebrate who they are in a public display of fancy dress and music down Sydney’s Oxford Street.

But ongoing tensions with the police promise to erupt into a mêlée…

Following the final curtain call, FRED the ALIEN Productions sent out surveys to those who had attended the 2018 Midsumma Festival season of our play Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning. As always, the responses are as diverse as our audience—generally positive, nonetheless—but a bit of feedback made me scratch my head. This person felt that it “was a bit weird” that the character Graeme (Jeffrey Bryant Jones) would disown his son Michael (Bayne Bradshaw) in a violent rage because of Michael’s sexuality. Unfortunately, there is a long history of LGBTQIA+ individuals who would not find that weird at all, but if such a scenario is perceived to be relegated to the past, and coming out is no longer a potentially devastating scenario, then the telling of queer social, cultural, and civil rights histories has never been more important. With marriage equality still new to Australia, our collective memories surely cannot be that short?

Regardless, there is no questioning the appropriate and continued relevance that a film such as Riot has.

This is because the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of Australia’s biggest tourist events and most colourful of street parties. It remains a contention among conservatives, but the slow swirl of social and civil progress has meant that the celebration of all things queer has persisted to increase in popularity and participation since its 1978 inception. Back then, it was a protest where a brave group of resilient individuals put everything on the line for appreciation, dignity, and respect; forty years later, the Australian queer community was awarded marriage equality and its associated legal benefits, but more needs to be done. It is in this spirit that Riot finds itself as a timely and necessary history lesson. Anti-discriminatory laws, social acceptance, and increasing civil rights make it easy for millennials to not truly appreciate the protections they have inherited from previous generations of activists.

Furthermore, it is great to see the collective known as the 78ers given individual names, personalities, and complexities. So it is also no surprise, then, that the people here are the most interesting component. As they manoeuvre through the political and social tensions of the 1970s, our story sweeps through a number of significant moments in history, covering obstacles and mini-milestones through the eyes and experiences of our ensemble, particularly Lance Gowland and Marg McMann, played by exceptional sincerity by Damon Herriman and Kate Box.

Riot, however, sometimes prioritises the politics over the people, making it difficult to have a strong level of attachment to everyone here. The film would have perhaps worked better as a miniseries, benefitting from an exploration of the political and social dynamics in greater detail, thereby allowing to delve into the characters impacted by them. For example, the gender politics and in-fighting between some of the gays and lesbians in the Campaign Against Moral Persecution is fascinating, but there simply isn’t enough running time to discuss the impact conflicting standpoints have on such an important social movement.

Although painted in broad stokes, it all comes together exceptionally well in the final act, where the first Mardi Gras takes place—talk about humble beginnings!—and its immediate ramifications reinforces the need to keep telling queer stories to a mainstream audience. 3½ / 5

 

Starring: Damon Herriman, Kate Box, Xavier Samuel, Jessica De Gouw, Josh Quong Tart, Kate Cheel, Eden Falk, Luke Fewster, Benedict Hardie, Patrick Jhanur, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Shaun Martindale, George Mulis, Luke Mullins, Fern Sutherland.

Director: Jeffrey Walker | Producers: Louise Smith, Joanna Werner | Writer: Greg Waters (Story: Carrie Anderson) | Music: David Hirschfelder | Cinematographer: Martin McGrath | Editor: Geoffrey Lamb


THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017)

—Kendall Richardson, reviewing film.

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Grieving the rape and murder of her teenage daughter seven months prior, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) rents three billboards to call attention to the unsolved crime as well as question Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) why this is so.

However, the billboards upset the townspeople, including the terminally ill Willoughby and his officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell)…

The title of this film alone suggests its Oscar worthiness, and so does the roster of talented actors that make up the cast. Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell are names always associated with great performances, and in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, they don’t deliver anything less.

This film presents a snapshot into a dark and depressing tale that began long before the opening scene and continues way past the screen’s fade to black. But it approaches the heavy subject matter in such an honest, vulnerable, and at times hysterical manner, that you not only feel the weight of the events that have taken place, but you also feel a part of the small community that makes up Ebbing, Missouri.

McDormand gives a tour de force performance as Mildred Hayes, the mother of Angela Hayes (Kathryn Newton) who was brutally raped and murdered, and whose killer has not yet been brought to justice. The movie opens with her immediate decision to rent out three billboards, and call out the Ebbing Police Department for their failure in solving her daughter’s case. The billboards, a blood-red background with bold black writing on them read thusly: Raped while dying; And still no arrests?; How come, Chief Willoughby?

The Chief Willoughby in question is portrayed by Woody Harrelson; he’s a respected citizen of Ebbing, a husband to an Australian wife, played by Abbie Cornish, and father of two little girls. He’s also dying of cancer. He feels terrible about the Angela Hayes case, and despite the billboards singling him out, assures Mildred they have done and are doing everything they can to catch whoever is responsible.

And then there is Sam Rockwell’s Officer Jason Dixon. A man that is as despicable as he is dimwitted. Dixon is truly a character that provides most of the film’s shock and laughter almost simultaneously, and only could Rockwell portray that so efficiently. He is also given the most interesting character arc of this movie. Just when you think you’ve got him made, he does something or says something that truly surprises you.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not only superbly acted, but also wonderfully shot and directed. The non-Missouri backdrop of North Carolina is simply stunning on the screen, filled with lush mountains and trees, gorgeous colours, and a lovely little town full of character, offsetting the dark nature of the story’s subject matter brilliantly. This film is a wonderfully crude and confronting piece, filled with humorous charm that will have you won over by the time the credits begin to roll. 4½ / 5

 

Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Kerry Condon, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Željko Ivanek, Amanda Warren, Kathryn Newton, Samara Weaving, Clarke Peters, Sandy Martin, Brendan Sexton III.

Director: Martin McDonagh | Producers: Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin, Martin McDonagh | Writer: Martin McDonagh | Music: Carter Burwell | Cinematographer: Ben Davis | Editor: Jon Gregory


THE TOWER (타워) (2012)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

CJ Entertainment

On Christmas Eve, a helicopter crashes into a luxury skyscraper, trapping an assortment of partygoers and residents inside. It’s a race against time as firefighters climb to the upper levels and the tower’s structure begins to succumb to the intense heat…

Disaster movies flourished in the 1970s, beginning with Airport (1970), and ruled by ‘Master of Disaster’ producer Irwin Allen, who was responsible for the genre’s masterpieces The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). A number of recent films have contributed to the catalogue of disaster epics, but none have come close to matching the X factor of the aforementioned classics.

Unsurprisingly, Kim Ji-hoon‘s The Tower owes much to The Towering Inferno. The screenplay’s structure mirrors its Hollywood muse, introducing an array of characters, many of whom are not given more than what their archetypical constraints permits, and isolates them in a burning building. Not all characters are accessible, but those that are add to the tension of the film as everyone’s life is on the line here.

Central to the story is busy single father Kim Sang-kyung, as Tower Sky’s manager Lee Dae-ho. He is in love with Seo Yoon-hee, the skyscraper’s restaurant manager, played by the stunning Son Ye-jin. It is their love for one another and protection of Dae-ho’s daughter Ha-na (Jo Min-ah) that contributes to a number of touching moments and intense action sequences. There are other characters that are worth investing in as well, such as rookie firefighter Lee Seon-woo (Do Ji-han) and Captain Kang Young-ki (Sol Kyung-gu). But not all are worth getting to know; it is perhaps no accident that the wealthiest and most socially powerful characters are the least interesting.

The Tower is also funnier than you would expect, mainly because of Jeon Bae-soo as cook Young-chul; his light touches are a welcome relief. The sentiment is a little overplayed at times (especially in the final act), hindering the momentum of some incredible action sequences: the helicopter smashing into the Tower Sky, panicked people rushing into and being trapped in a lift, crossing the sky bridge… the list goes on!

And this is where The Tower proves itself worthy of the admission ticket or DVD purchase. As an action piece, it is incredibly photographed, framed, and edited; there is no denying that the film is always good to look at. Overall, it’s an entertaining flick that found favour at its domestic box office.

The Master of Disaster himself would approve. 4 / 5

 

Starring: Sol Kyung-gu (설경구), Kim Sang-kyung (김상경), Son Ye-jin (손예진), Kim In-kwon (김인권), Ahn Sung-ki (안성기), Song Jae-ho (송재호), Lee Han-wi (이한위).

Director: Kim Ji-hoon (김지훈) | Producers: Lee Han-seung, Lee Su-man | Writers: Kim Sang-don, Heo Jun-seok (adapted by Kim Ji-hoon,Yoo Young-ah, Lee Min-jae) | Music: Kim Tae-seong | Cinematographer: Kim Young-ho | Editor: Kim Sang-bum, Kim Jae-bum


VERÓNICA (2017)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing film.

Apaches Entertainment / Expediente La Película A.I.E. / Film Factory / Sony Pictures International Productions

With her widowed mother Ana (Ana Torrent) working extensive hours, fifteen-year-old Verónica (Sandra Escacena) is responsible for looking after her younger siblings, twins Lucía (Bruna González) and Irene (Claudia Placer), and little brother Antoñito (Iván Chavero).

One day at school while the faculty and pupils are observing a solar eclipse, Verónica and two friends—Rosa (Ángela Fabián) and Diana (Carla Campra)—sneak into the basement and use a Ouija board to communicate with Verónica’s father.

But their seance brings forth a different entity; one that attaches itself to Verónica and terrorises her with increasing intensity…

Labeled as Spain’s answer to The Conjuring (2013) and promoted through Netflix as a film so scary, people couldn’t watch it to the end, Verónica is by no means the most terrifying or original film you will ever see. But this is not to say that it isn’t a good movie.

Unexceptional as it may be, Verónica delivers some effective seat-jumpers and is considerably captivating (without being overly riveting) throughout. Sandra Escacena is exceptional as our titular heroine; both likeable and relatable, hers is a compelling performance that drives the film when the action subsides. The supporting players also deliver fine performances, particularly Bruna González as Verónica’s sister Lucía, under Paco Plaza’s taut direction.

Overall, this is a competently made and beautifully photographed film, but Netflix subscribers who consider themselves horror aficionados may have pressed the stop button for a scarier alternative. For everyone else, Verónica is an intriguing ride, made even more so because it is based on actual events, and serves as a wonderful big screen debut for Escacena. May this mark the beginning of a lengthy and diverse career for this new talent. 3½ / 5

 

Starring: Sandra Escacena, Bruna González, Claudia Placer, Iván Chavero, Ana Torrent, Consuelo Trujillo, Sonia Almarcha, Maru Valduvielso, Leticia Dolera, Ángela Fabián, Carla Campra, Samuel Romero.

Director: Paco Plaza | Producer: Enrique López Lavigne | Writers: Paco Plaza, Fernando Navarro | Music: Chucky Namanera | Cinematographer: Pablo Rosso | Editor: Martí Roca


VOLDEMORT: ORIGINS OF THE HEIR (2018)

—Fulya Kantarmaci, reviewing film.

Tryangle Films.

This fan-made prequel to the Harry Potter film series follows Tom Riddle (Stefano Rossi), later known as Voldemort, a powerful wizard and chief antagonist in the Harry Potter franchise.

Sitting at over 11.5 million views as of this writing, Voldemort: Origins of the Heir runs at 53 minutes and goes through the backstories of each Hogwarts House heirs: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin.

The film begins with a wizard packing a suitcase of a few well-known items, followed by the showing of what turns out to be Tom Marvolo Riddle’s diary.

Cutting to an epic battle, Heir of Godric Gryffindor Grisha McLaggen (Maddalena Orcali) fights against Russian wizards, only to be captured after being hit with an unexpected spell. This allows for the set up of the film’s narrative structure: Grisha is strapped to a chair and questioned by General Makarov (Alessio Dalla Costa). With veritaserum flowing through her veins, she has no choice but to answer Makarov’s questions truthfully, and so unfolds the story of all four heirs.

Voldemort: Origins of the Heir’s cinematography is beautiful! I absolutely loved each shot’s framing and the film has also been cut together well. For a fan-made piece, the manner in which some of these scenes are so skilfully constructed is pleasantly surprising.

This film was generally amazing with a couple of exceptions. Unfortunately, all the actors were dubbed over. This made it difficult for me to concentrate on the story because their mouths were not in sync with the voice actors’ dubbing. Also, a bit of the story dragged on for a little too long.

Voldemort: Origins of the Heir is a well-made production by the fans of the magical world of Hogwarts. 3½ / 5

 

Starring: Stefano Rossi, Maddalena Orcali, Andrea Deanisi, Andrea Bonfanti, Gelsomina Bassetti, Alessio Dalla Costa, Davide Ellena, Aurora Moroni, Andrea Baglio.

Director: Gianmaria Pezzato | Producer: Stefano Prestia | Writer: Gianmaria Pezzato (based on characters and the book Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling) | Music: Matthew Steed, Stefano Prestia | Cinematographer: Michele Purin | Editor: Gianmaria Pezzato

 

Watch it here:


WILD WILD COUNTRY (2018)

—Wayne Stellini, reviewing television.

Duplass Brothers Productions / Netflix

Under the organisation and co-ordination of his secretary Ma Anand Sheela, Indian spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s disciples build the grand commune Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, United States, which eventually becomes its own city.

It isn’t long for tensions to escalate as the sannyasins (also known as Rajneeshees) and the Oregonians vie to survive one another…

‘Sheela, whatever your plans are, we don’t want the Rajneeshees. We don’t want the Orange People in our town,’ 60 Minutes journalist Ian Leslie tells the polarising Ma Anand Sheela.

Her reply: ‘What can I say? Tough titties.’

And in an instant, Sheela propelled a phrase into the Australian lexicon. But Sheela and the social and spiritual movement she was the spokesperson for are far more complex and intriguing than a simple, albeit catchy, soundbite.

Filmmakers Maclain and Chapman Way do a stellar job at weaving an extraordinary tale into a compact and comprehensive six-part documentary series. Wild Wild Country is a tangled web of spirituality, sex, and secrets that is unpacked through a number of interviews and an incredible amount of archival footage.

The four-year period that this documentary focuses on is fraught with so many emotions from those who lived it, it says so much about the will of ideology-driven people that Wild Wild Country touches on far more themes than you would initially expect.

The series benefits from the participation of the soft-spoken Sheela, the most vocal person from the time and, unsurprisingly, one of the more fascinating interviewees. Even by the end of it, I found it difficult to assess if she is misunderstood or a sociopath. But decades later and, on an intimate level, Sheela remains intriguingly charismatic.

Even more interesting is Jane Stork, whose narrative deserves a film of its own; every detail is compelling as compelling as it is sincere. The climax of her story—a crime that is reflection of her loyalty to Sheela—has to be heard to be believed from the seemingly docile Stork.

And it is the eclectic group of people willingly or coincidentally drawn together because of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh that is at the heart of Wild Wild Country. But Bhagwan’s personal allure is difficult to capture here; this is left up to his (past and present) followers to articulate.

A complex tale that doesn’t quite feel resolved, perhaps because his legacy has not waned (and it looks as though it never will), but Wild Wild Country is a surprising and engaging wild, wild ride. 4 / 5


FRED Watch is also a podcast and a video series!

CLICK HERE to listen to our podcast of in-depth reviews and discussions.

CLICK HERE to binge on the original FRED Watch Dr. Who video series and more.

You can also search through the FRED Watch review archives by CLICKING HERE.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: