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A lovingly crafted throwback to a bygone era
Most, if not all of us know that beloved director Quentin Tarantino adores his cinema and the history behind it and if for some reason you didn't know this, you will after watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Tarantino's love letter and nostalgic look back on the bygone "golden era" of the industry that his dedicated his life to, this slowly paced and undeniably indulgent film may alienate some viewers chasing more of a hard plot, featuring less scenes of Brad Pitt picturesquely driving a vintage car around lovingly recreated sets, but for those that fall under Hollywood's charismatic charms, Tarantino's film will act as pure cinematic ecstasy.
Quite possibly Tarantino's most easily accessible (even if its many throwbacks and wink wink moments may not hit with everyone) and definitely most sentimental film, Hollywood's breezy plot line of Leonardo DiCaprio's aging actor and alcoholic Rick Dalton coming to terms with his dwindling career prospects, taking place around his long-standing friendship with stunt double and best "only" friend Cliff Booth (played by a scene stealing Brad Pitt) and the Sharon Tate/hippie filled surrounds of his hometown, allows Tarantino to go all in on his love letter to a time gone by that ends up feeling like a dreamlike trip to the past, that's carefully considered construction makes it come alive in the best way cinema can offer.
From greyhound buses in the background, radio ads taking place as our characters traverse the colourful locations, TV programs blurring from the insides of a rundown trailer situated at the back of a drive in movie theatre or the signs of the Hollywood strip being lit up for a night of entertainment and good times, Hollywood's lived in and lovingly staged surroundings become a character unto themselves as Tarantino takes his cast and us as viewers on a journey through a production that clearly comes from the heart and soul of fan that we should be thankful to for inviting us along for the ride.
This sense of playfulness and care extends wonderfully to Tarantino's main cast who have an absolute blast bringing the filmmakers renowned script work to life in fun and exciting ways.
While not Tarantino's most quotable or laugh out loud funny pieces of scripted work, Hollywood's deeply considered and even emotionally powerful work (Dalton's discussion with a child actress or breakdown in his set trailer particular highlights) is wonderfully played out by his expert cast and while there's gems to be found in cameos from the likes of Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning and Al Pacino, its Tarantino's key trio that further ensure Hollywood will go down as one of the year's best and most memorable offerings.
Front and centre for most, the dream pairing of DiCaprio and Pitt plays out just as joyously as you'd expect with both actors bringing their A-game to this unique offering.
Some may bemoan the seemingly pointless scenes these two characters sometimes are involved in but should you just sit back and enjoy what these performers are bringing to the table, they quickly become two of Tarantino's most memorable character creations with Booth in particular a genuine classic, with Pitt's Oscar worthy turn as one seriously cool but also potentially bad guy stunt man a highlight of proceedings.
Tarantino with help from Margot Robbie also make sure that the film's lovingly staged and whimsical depiction of the tragic Sharon Tate is a powerful component of the film and as we get an insight into her brief but memorable time in Hollywood, playing out around the lives of our two main characters, Tate is given wonderful and heartfelt time in the spotlight in this Tarantino affair.
It would be remiss also to not pay respects to what I would argue to be Tarantino's best endgame yet and while not wanting to enter into spoiler filled territory, Hollywood's final stanza is likely to draw shock, gasps and even belly laughs in what becomes a conclusion audience members won't soon forget.
Final Say -
Far from a typical mass-audience crowd pleaser, Tarantino has here indulged his love for cinema and its players like never before and while this is likely to alienate just as many as it enraptures, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a stunning example of cinematic craft and imagination that is made all the more wonderful by its killer cast that are clearly (just like us willing participants) having the time of their lives.
4 ½ flamethrowers out of 5
A cold survival thriller elevated by a strong Mikkelsen turn
There's some impressive film-making elements behind survival thriller Arctic and some stunning visuals thanks to its Icelandic setting, but sadly for debut filmmaker Joe Penna, Arctic's lack of character building and backstory makes it a rather cold experience.
Getting his start on Youtube where his collection of short films and projects garnered him a following in the millions, the Brazilian born Penna is clearly adept at his craft and that is evidenced throughout Arctic, which maximizes its small $2 million dollar budget to feel like an epic film that's anchored by the reliable presence of esteemed actor Mads Mikkelsen.
The problem with this well shot and proficiently put together tale of Mikkelsen's plane crash victim Overgård trials to stay alive in the harsh surrounds of the Arctic landscape, while also trying to escort Maria Thelma Smáradóttir's nameless helicopter crash survivor to a safe haven is that we as an audience are never given anything to lay hold of in an investment sense, there's no backstory, not even hints of who these people really are, meaning their plight to overcome the odds is more curiously interesting rather than downright engaging.
The best of the best of the survival against the odds films like heavy hitter The Revenant, Alive, Cast Away or underrated classic The Grey all share a common theme, characters we get to know and understand, emotionally connecting us to their plights and unfortunately Arctic has none of this as we join Overgård days/weeks into his battle to survive, with no time spent moving forward on developing him any further.
It's through no fault of Mikkelsen, who commits a full bodied performance here, with it always a joy to see the one time Hannibal get time to shine in a lead role it's just a shame Penna and his co-writer Ryan Morrison didn't spend more time putting in place reasons to make us really care for an against the odds tale that includes time for fishing, bear attacks and ample shots of Mikkelsen shown against some of Iceland's most harsh and unforgiving surrounds.
Final Say -
A promising feature debut from Penna that is sadly let-down by a lack of genuine character development or emotional connection, Arctic is a visually impressive but forgettable tale of survival that's worth seeking out purely for the chance to see the always good Mikkelsen ply his trade.
2 ½ trout out of 5
A unique & beautiful horror beast
A strange beast of a film that's hard to pin down and even harder to review, Ari Aster's follow-up to his brilliant classic in waiting Hereditary is at times an equally impressive psychological and visceral horror but also one that struggles in parts to overcome its self-indulgent run-time, collection of unlikeable characters and a feeling that the slow build up isn't quite worth it come the nothing short of bizarre final portion.
For me it was around the 90 minute mark of the films 140 minute run-time that I couldn't help but shake the feeling Midsommar could've done with a healthy edit.
From an incredibly effective opening hour that perfectly establishes a sense of fear and ominous threat thanks to a hard-hitting pre-credits segment, some stylistically outstanding directing by Aster (never has a shot of a car driving along a highway been so engaging) and a captivating turn from rising star Florence Pugh who makes the very difficult character of Dani work thanks to her commanding presence, Midsommar does so much right but as things progress further and further into Aster's uncomfortable examination of grief, mental illness, folk music and cultism, Midsommar at times flat out stalls to a halt with murky character decisions and repetitive sequences that culminate in a visually arresting and shocking climax that sadly manages to tie things up satisfactory, not exemplary.
Hereditary will always be a two-edged sword for Aster, much like other filmmakers before him that have announced themselves with full-fledged debuts, as the directors products will now always come with a certain expectation of quality and while technically Midsommar is a masterpiece of sound design, production quality and performance management, it's hopefully a learning experience for Aster to remain on course and not get side-tracked with too much of a good thing.
There are a lot of these good things in this trippy, at times nerve-wracking and sometimes wince inducing holiday to the woods of Sweden as we follow the grieving and anxiety ridden Dani and her group of "friends" that includes Jack (letting it all hang out) Reynor's self-indulgent boyfriend Christian, Will Poulter's girl obsessed comic relief Mark, Vilhelm Blomgren's unnerving Swedish national Pelle and William Jackson Harper's thesis driven Josh, who discover quite quickly that secluded European festival's may not be the smartest of holiday destinations.
From the moment our group touch down in the fairy tale like fields of Pelle's home village and step through into what feels like another world entirely, Aster sets the scene for one of the most unique horror settings of recent memory, that is made all the more off-putting by the choice to film most of Midsommar entirely in the daytime sun, creating a vibe and feeling that is hard to put down in words but one that allows viewers to be taken away from reality and embraced by Aster's warped and singular vision.
There are scenes here that viewers will not soon forget, moments that genuinely send your body into a shocked feeling of catharsis and further establish Aster as a director whose way with storytelling can create mood and atmosphere that would match it with the very best of Hollywood's current crop of auteurs.
Without question one of the year's most visually arresting and shocking big screen experiences, there's many reason why one should ensure they catch Midsommar in the surrounds of a cinema, with willing audience members like mine that winced, laughed (both from humour and pure disbelief) and let jaws drop in unison and while it's a shame Aster takes us to a conclusion that doesn't feel entirely right, its undoubtedly that we are still seeing the beginnings of one of the industry's brightest and uncompromising talents who has so much more still to give.
Final Say -
Filled with moments of pure unadulterated cinematic brilliance, an unforgettable world inhabited by white robed locals and anchored a fiercely powerful Florence Pugh performance, Midsommar is a trip unlike any other that suffers from a raft of unlikeable characters, lack of scares, an overly generous running time and a curiously disappointing finale. Close to being something truly special, Midsommar may not reach all its lofty goals but remains the horror film to beat in 2019.
4 sacred logs out of 5
Operation Brothers (2019)
Yet another Netflix clunker
What is it with Netflix and squandering potential for products that are less than mediocre?
From Mute, Bright or Extinction through to The Legacy of the White Tail Deer Hunter, Netflix's strike rate for turning their funded and distributed movies into something worthwhile is worryingly low with 1 hit barely making up for 9 or so misses and despite the ample potential for a thrilling feature length film, The Red Sea Diving Resort is another lifeless and tame offering from a streaming giant that should be genuinely concerned about the wastage of its film budget allotments.
Led by Chris Evans and supported by recognisable faces such as Michael Kenneth Williams, Alessandro Nivola, Greg Kinnear, Ben Kingsley and Haley Bennett, Resort feels like it has enough talent behind it to bring the true life tale of a group of Mossad agents who set up a front at a Sudanese retreat to help rescue 100's of refugees from the violence and persecution of the land and transport them to Israel to live but it fails to inspire any type of emotion or thrills as director Gideon Raff takes us on a dull 2 hour plus journey.
Paramount to Resort's failings is the fact every single character in the film from Evan's lead agent Ari Levinson through to supports such as William's Kabede Bimro or Kinnear's government official Walton Bowen are so thinly drawn and unevolved that there's never even the slightest chance that we can feel like we are getting to care or know these characters in any particularly meaningful way which hampers any chance the film had of making the stories more dangerous components or story developments interesting in the slightest.
In some ways its almost disrespectful just how cold and uninvolving the film is, as the incredible true story at the heart of this tale is one that deserves to be told, especially from the perspective of the men and women that put their lives on the line for the greater cause as the real life people behind these amazing feats of bravery and humanity end up becoming nothing more than thinly veiled creations bereft of any true substance, which is undoubtedly not the case in real life.
With Raff's careless direction and stodgy set-pieces (working in conjunction with his trite script) weighing the film down even further there was never any chance that this Netflix clunker had a chance to better itself with not even the name brand cast able to add anything of note to the tale other than Evan's trying his workmanlike best and showing off his still there Avengers body on more than a few screen hogging moments.
Final Say -
Even with an amazing true life tale at its core and potential to be a moving and thrilling event, The Red Sea Diving Resort is another Netflix misfire that's so instantly forgettable you wonder what the very point of the whole outing was.
1 passport out of 5
Watch the Sunset (2017)
A gripping Australian thriller
Hailed as Australia's very first one-shot feature film, Watch the Sunset is an impressive example of boundary pushing independent filmmaking that heralds in some noteworthy talent in the form of co-directors and co-stars Tristan Barr and Michael Gosden and the films true MVP, cinematographer Damian Lipp.
Shot in the picturesque rural country town of Kerang, Sunset follows Barr's drug-addled bikie gang member Danny Biaro across a fateful 80 or so minutes as the tormented soul finds his breaking free of the ties to his gang The Bloodless Brothers anything but smooth sailing as his young daughter and on and off again partner are drawn into a dangerous game of life or death as Biaro must confront those he once saw as family.
There's nothing overly new or ground-breaking in this tale of a criminal seeking redemption and family connection after years of neglect and bad decisions but Barr and Gosden's ability to craft this narrative in a singular take ensures Sunset is never anything but captivating and while it's hard to form too much of a strong bond on a human level to those that come and go in the single take offering, Sunset grips the viewer from the opening 10 minutes and won't let you go until its impressively staged finale.
What makes this feat even more incredible is the fact these filmmakers constructed such a polished offering outside of big-studio and big budget backing and from everything from the performances that are led impressively by Barr in the lead role, the moody score by Richard Labrooy, through to the realism drenched and hard hitting dialogue, Sunset feels like a film made by a team of highly skilled and dedicated filmmakers that will surely be mainstays of local and overseas cinema in the years yet to come.
There's a care and professional that seeps out of every pour of the film, while at times its grimy, grungy and grainy, this is perfectly suited to a tale that deals with hard hitting issues, unafraid to showcase the pitfalls and problems that follow drug addicts around like a black dog, many unable to escape from its constant stalking and preying despite their best efforts.
While it doesn't make for mainstream feel-good entertainment, Sunset is the type of Australian production that is far too rare in today's current marketplace and for fans of local cinema and for those overseas cinephiles that are seeking quality foreign content, Sunset is a prime example of what can be achieved from our home grown talent and skill sets.
Final Say -
Both an impressive feat of filmmaking workmanship and hard hitting story-telling, Watch the Sunset is a stunning example of Australian film and a truly exciting calling card for all involved.
4 church choirs out of 5
Balboa Blvd (2019)
A solid human drama with bonus on court action
Evolving from fun genre mash-up and action extravaganza Zombie Ninja's vs Black Ops, Australian based filmmaker's Kylie and Rody Claude take things back down to Earth in their newest cinematic outing with basketball themed character driven drama Balboa Blvd.
Filmed in the picturesque South Australian capital of Adelaide, Balboa is a proficiently shot and acted independent offering that is sure to please basketball fans the world over, while also introducing us to potential future star Ek Harris, whose central turn as Balboa's driven protagonist and basketball prodigy Marquise is one that is likely to see the budding actor garner a fair share of well-deserved attention from here and across the pond.
Marquise appears in almost every scene of Balboa's runtime and Harris is both an impressive athlete capable of delivering the goods on the court but also equally as capable delivering the emotionally driven aspects of Marquise's journey off the court, that see him try to overcome the fact he was given up for adoption at a young age by a mother his never met, while also dealing with his new friendship with Adam T Perkins mentor and coach Ray and potential love interest with Tiffany West's Stella.
Its undoubtable that Balboa (the title of which stems from the famous street in the basketball surrounds of sun-soaked Los Angeles) follows a rather predictable and tried and true formula and that the central relationship between Marquise and Ray could've been evolved further, but with Harris and Perkin's working off each other to great effect, there's never a time where you aren't enjoying your time with these two lost but likeable souls as they look to better each other in a dog eat dog world.
Another key element of Balboa that marks this down as an above average local independent offering is the handling of the cinematic moments found within the Claude's tale and both Kylie and Rody show a deft hand at capturing the raw power and captivating nature of one of the world's favourite games.
Utilising Adelaide's natural beauty and directing the ample basketball action on show in Balboa in a way that lets us sit back and enjoy the spectacle and skill of the sport, the Claude's ensure that Marquise's obsession with the game isn't just a story gimmick but a character unto itself.
By doing so Balboa becomes a much more universally appealing film that would sit right at home in the American, European and Asian markets not just the local one and whilst it's a problem with many home grown films, having limited appeals outside of the rather unique Australian tastes and sensibilities, Balboa's relatable human interactions and lovingly crafted basketball set-pieces ensure it's a film for all to partake in.
Final Say -
Lead on court by a fantastic central turn from rising star Ek Harris and energized by its basketball showpieces, Balboa Blvd may not be a slam-dunk but its strong heart and execution ensure it's well worth the price of admission.
3 beach-side buskers out of 5
A Private War (2018)
Pikes amazing in an otherwise so-so drama
Since 2014 British actress Rosamund Pike has delivered two of the most well-rounded and haunting female lead turns thanks to her role in David Fincher's now classic thriller Gone Girl and the criminally underrated western Hostiles.
Both films stripped back Pike's performance to nothing but raw power and emotion and established the long-standing actress as one of the finest performers working today.
Further adding to that string of impressive turns is Pike's awards nominated lead performance in 2018 drama A Private War, telling the tale of renowned war correspondent/journalist Marie Colvin in a highly dour and politically charged drama from documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman.
Based on Marie Brenner's well publicized Vanity Fair article on the life of Colvin and her daring exploits to seek the truth out no matter the personal cost or danger presented to her, A Private War paints Colvin as a fiercely determined woman who was hell-bent on doing the best job she possibly could in the most harsh and unforgiving surrounds imaginable.
It's a meaty role and a highly unglamorous one for Pike but as she has proven in the past, its one she is entirely up for.
Masked under an eye-patch and rarely seen without a cigarette in her mouth (or a comb to brush her wild hair with), Pike is outstanding inhabiting the hard as nails Colvin and brings a warmth and believability to her turn but despite her best efforts, Heineman's film is unable to keep up with its leading lady as it struggles to give the energy and emotion needed to really bring Colvin's life to the forefront.
There's a lot happening here as Colvin enters various war zones, enacts upon various relationships and deals with both an abundance personal traumas and more public breakdowns but A Private War feels merely like a scattering of various key scenes of her life, not so much a heartfelt or engaging account of a life that was anything but ordinary.
It's a real shame, as Pike's turn deserved a film that was able to match her powerful portrayal but A Private War never quite clicks into the next gear needed for Colvin's unbelievable life to become the feature film prospect it deserved and it's not hard to see why, despite Pike's noteworthy work, that Heineman's feature failed to reach a mass audience upon release late last year.
Final Say -
An incredible woman portrayed by an incredible actress, Colvin's tale in A Private War has its moments but overall lacks the heart or soul needed to make this eye-opening account of a world class reporter a must-see feature.
2 ½ grave sites out of 5
Ben Is Back (2018)
Anchored by two strong leads, Ben is Back is a solid and confronting drama
Ben is Back is certainly not light entertainment but thanks to some solid direction from its director Peter Hedges and great lead turns from Julia Roberts and the increasingly impressive Lucas Hedges, this 24-hour tale of the life of recovering teenage drug addict Ben Burns and his return home on Christmas Eve is one worth seeking out.
At times leaning towards the slightly unbelievable and sometimes Hollywood cliche side of things, Back mostly remains on the right side of the ledger thanks to Roberts and Hedges and some solid doco-like directing that keeps things firmly moving in the right direction, as we are embedded with the Burns crew (namely Ben and Holly) as they work together to overcome a serious of issues they are facing as well as a quest they are on to find their stolen family dog.
It's an interesting concept and one not usually associated with the drug-addict sub-genre, a 24-hour like plot-line but it adds an underlying tension to Back which forgoes any flashbacks or character grounding scenes to instead let the story be played out in almost a real time manner as we slowly begin to understand past indiscretions and occurrences that have led the son and daughter combo of Ben and Holly to where they sit when we meet them on Christmas Eve.
In this duo we have a great double bill of Roberts and Hedges who very early on establish a great chemistry on screen that reverberates through the entire picture.
Sometimes prone to overacting or "awards" baiting moments, Roberts strips it right back as the powerful yet emotionally charged Holly in what's her best performance in years while Lucas Hedges on the back of supporting turns in the likes of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Mid90's and Lady Bird here further establishes himself as one of the best younger talents working today, making Ben a flawed, likable and totally believable creation.
These two performers go a long way to making the most of the films confronting nature, this really is a no-holds bar examination of drug addiction as we learn of what became of Ben and what lengths he went to in the past to fuel his unhealthy habit and its commendable that Back never shy's away from the intense nature of drug affected lives and what it does to families and friends, making this tale of love and family a highly watchable one even if it at times stretches the credibility meter ever so slightly.
Final Say -
Anchored by two great lead performances and an intriguing 24-hour narrative arc, Ben is Back is a solid Hollywood examination of drug addiction that doesn't shy away from the gritty reality of its subject matter. Not always easy viewing, Ben is Back is well worth checking out in the right frame of mind.
3 ½ awkward mall encounters out of 5
Observe and Report (2009)
A memorable pitch-black comedy with Rogen's best performance
It may seem like a controversial decision to label cult 2009 comedy Observe and Report a classic, but Jody Hills sophomore feature, following on from his underground success with The Foot Fist Way, is one of the finest examples of pitch black comedy of the modern era that also underneath its tough exterior offers an eye-opening account of mental illness and other taboo subject matters for the genre.
Attracting a name brand cast that's led by one of Seth Rogen's most impressive and undervalued performances and supported by the likes of Anna Farris, Ray Liotta, Michael Pena and Jesse Plemons, Hill's middle-budget offering that introduces us to the wild and complicated world of Rogen's mentally clouded mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt and his quest to find and bring to justice a local perverted criminal terrorising the shopping centre his sworn to predict isn't light comedy but Hill's ability to extract laughs from dark, confronting and often shocking situations is some type of skill.
Whether this is good or bad will depend entirely on your mindset when watching the film.
It's not hard to see why Report polarized critics upon initial release, with some taking it to task over its subject matter and more shocking scenes, while others applauded Rogen's impressively considered turn and Hill's insistence on not shying away from the darkness of his tale yet in the 10 years on from it initial release, it feels as though Report is only growing in stature with its unique stylings and narrative seemingly even more relevant in today's climate.
There's no doubt that Report isn't a film for everyone, it wouldn't be at all surprising to hear that someone will watch the film without a hearty laugh to be found while others will watch and have the polar opposite response to Barnhardt's increasingly wild and over imaginative quest to win the girl of his dreams, enact justice and potentially join the police force as a one man shotgun wielding army.
It's a simplistic set-up and Hill isn't afraid to throw in an abundance of rude, crude and immature gags around the place but look a little deeper and not only is Rogen delivering a much more impressive performance than the cover would suggest, but so is Hill.
This skill that was arguably underappreciated here, yet was explored in very similar manners in HBO hits Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals, that saw Hill reach mainstream critical and audience recognition, meaning any fans of those works would do well to seek out this confronting and no-holds barred journey into the mind of a delusional yet well-meaning soul who wants nothing more than to please in a world that discounts him at every turn.
Final Say -
A truly unique and undeniably bizarre comedy ride that is as pitch black as they come, Observe and Report most certainly isn't for mass market appeal but 10 years of time have done nothing but enhance the feeling that Hill's hidden gem was ahead of its time and far deeper than it was given credit for when it was first judged, made only better by the fact it features a career best turn from Rogen.
4 Polaroids out of 5
Witness the demise of Hellboy in this shoddy affair
With many overcoming the initial sadness of the failed Hellboy 3 that would've seen Oscar winning director Guillermo Del Toro re-team with his favourite leading man Ron Perlman for another dose of imagination overload and Barry Manalow's singalongs, hype began to grow for a very adult take on the cult graphic novel creation that starred Stranger Things breakout star David Harbour and was directed by the man responsible for cult films such as Dog Soldiers and The Descent as well as some of the all-time great Game of Thrones episodes.
Unfortunately for the great big red guy, Harbour and director Neil Marshall, this violence filled and expletive ridden reimagining of Mike Mignola's creation is one of the great failures of 2019, virtually killing off the chances of future Hellboy installments and halting Harbour's chances of leading too many more Hollywood films moving forward.
Budgeted at a quite decent $50 million dollars and featuring talented performers such as Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane and Daniel Dae Kim, Hellboy certainly had enough talent surrounding it to be something of note and still maintains slight moments of character charm, creature carnage and possibilities throughout that never help it overcome a feeling that this cold, heartless and rather cheap and nasty feeling film just lacks the soul or energy to do its character and plot justice.
Featuring such random interludes as giant hunting, Nazi era flashbacks, Jovovich's evil plan for ultimate destruction and bizarrely a resurrected Merlin, Hellboy has a lot of ideas and components going on that Marshall never wrangles together into a cohesive whole and while the capable director knows how to handle an action scene or two, most of Hellboy's big set-ups and set-pieces take place in a lethargic and enthusiasm free environment that stems mostly out of a bored looking cast, tired and heartless sets, sub-par CGI and over the top violence that feels more forced than natural in the modern age where adult focussed comic book films are a sub-genre unto their own.
Del Toro's previous Hellboy films all mixed soulful characters and emotionally strong components with fun and wild blockbuster sensibilities, something that this Hellboy lacks in spades.
You feel sorry for Harbour in particular who doesn't get the best material to work with here thanks to the mediocre script work by Andrew Cosby.
It's a shame as he feels like a solid choice for the big handed red devil and shows more than a few moments where his natural charisma and presence shines in the film but there's frighteningly little support around him and as Hellboy's downright terrible story draws us across the globe in a variety of situations we can't get invested in, it's quite clear early on that Marshall's film had very little chance of matching Del Toro's take on the figure or enlivening the series enough to make audiences care about ever seeing another big screen Hellboy moving forward.
Final Say -
With a few very minor wins over its run-time and a committed but misused David Harbour at its disposal, this rough and bloody Hellboy isn't a complete horror story but it's not a film you'd be recommending loudly in a crowded marketplace filled with far better graphic novel/comic book offerings. Seemingly a sad ending for a character and universe that had a lot more still yet to give.
2 mute monks out of 5
The Front Runner (2018)
A decent political drama with a great Jackman turn
There's a lot to like about The Front Runner, an intriguing examination of the last few weeks of the political career of one time US presidential candidate Gary Hart, as it features one of Hugh Jackman's best high-profile turns as the under the pump Hart and also asks questions regarding our treatment of politicians, the problem is many questions remain unanswered in what feels like a half-baked affair from the talented Jason Reitman.
Filmed in a docu-drama like way that throws viewers headfirst into the energy infused final days of Harts doomed bid at the White House, thanks to his private affairs and inability to remain faithful to his wife, Runner starts with a bang as we get thrust along for this journey and if there was ever a character made for Jackman to bring to life its Hart, with the charismatic and intelligent actor fitting into the role with aplomb but as the novelty wears off and as the films runtime draws closer and closer to its endgame, you can't help but feel as though Runner is only a bare basics examination of what went down and of the questions it so intriguingly asks.
It's a shame, as Runner is the most energetic and interesting film Reitman has made in a number of years and it's rare to see Jackman in such an everyman role (even if Hart was clearly a seriously charismatic and switched-on individual, determined to make a difference) but the film doesn't feel well enough set out or planned for to make the most of the tools at its disposal.
Alongside its topical true life narrative and leading man, Reitman has also recruited reliable performers Vera Farmiga as heart's wife Lee and old mate and living legend J.K Simmons as Harts main campaign manager Bill Dixon but in the midst of all the scenarios the film throws up and screen time it allocates to Hart, these notable actors get short changed in a film that is hastily edited and perhaps not ponderous enough as it needed to be as we get lost in a collection of side characters, situations and scenarios that keep the plot ticking along, but not so much the emotional investment or intrigue that's evident when the film first kicks of proceedings.
One thing the film does unquestionable well is in its recreation of a time gone by when the press and media was still more genuinely concerned with the politics of politics not so much the mind games and innuendo that gets played out in today's climate with Runner making you pine for a time gone by where questions and pieces that were raised and developed were more around the betterment of the country, not so much the mudslinging and misdemeanors that now take pride and place in the headlines for many a politician.
Final Say -
Gary Hart's story is one worth telling and offers Reitman a solid feature to deploy but The Front Runner never reaches the potential you feel it had at its fingertips, especially with such a loaded subject matter and a fine central turn from its leading man. All said and done, The Front Runner ends up being disappointingly forgettable.
3 party boats out of 5
Apollo 11 (2019)
An uplifting and moving documentary
I'm fairly certain we all know the outcome of the Apollo 11 mission, the 1969 space mission that changed the destiny of mankind forever, but that doesn't stop Todd Douglas Miller's documentary celebration of the stunning achievement (that would make a great double bill alongside First Man) any less than thrilling as he crafts an edge of your seat and moving portrait of a journey that we shall never forget.
Utilising previously unseen footage and audio from the time period, Miller has forsaken talking heads or scientific explanations on every minor detail as he thrusts the audience straight into the thick of the action as he steadfastly and confidently builds his film purely around stock footage and audio that transports us all back to the time and place where mankind reaching for the moon (and the stars) was but a starry eyed dream long thought about but never thought possible.
It's a painstakingly and masterfully put together piece of documentary construction as Miller's wise editing choices and sound design literally builds up around us, fully immersing us into the mission that makes us feel like we are very much fly's on the wall to the whole she-bang, from being in the cockpit with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to technicians and scientists in NASA that all played an important part in bringing about the success of the life changing mission.
There's no doubt Miller and his team had some outstanding footage to draw from, from being on ground level as the shuttle is transported by a sci-fi like vehicle, beautiful landscape shots of the big launch day filled to the brim with wide-eyed and unified on-lookers and the moon landing itself, you'll constantly be reminding yourself that what you're seeing is the real stuff, amazing and wondrous as anything that could be conjured up by the great filmmaking minds, Apollo 11 provides us with scenes and spectacle you will not soon forget.
Coming out in the 50th year of the moon landing, Apollo 11 also provides an unexpectedly optimistic and unifying version of America and also the world, captivated by a common goal and power of humankind to work together to achieve so much good, in today's political climate and world where we constantly feel like we are hanging on to our sanity and safety by one thread at a time, Miller's film offers a stark reminder of the good we can all enact upon with the right mindset and with leaders paving the way for us to walk upon.
Seeing the smiling faces of thousands upon thousands of bystanders, the ecstasy of the NASA teams or the humbling presence of the Apollo 11 crew, Miller's film is nothing short of cinematic nirvana as we are transported into the past and enthused about our future as we are reminded of the magic of exploration and dreaming big in the face of countless obstacles and roadblocks.
Final Say -
As close as many of us will ever get to experiencing the world from an entirely different view, Apollo 11's captivating real life footage provides a thrilling, heartfelt and memorable examination of a very special moment in mankind's history. A film for all ages, Miller's soulful documentary is one of 2019's most assured feel good events that needs to be seen on the biggest screen available to your viewing needs.
4 1/2 Krispy Crème stands out of 5
A try-hard comedic superhero outing
I'm sorry DC, it's just not working for you.
After the doom and gloom and relatively po-faced outings of old didn't work, DC have tried the Marvel approach of fun and frivolity in amongst their narrative re-telling's of their favourite properties and while Wonder Woman was an easy watch and Aquaman a fun yet extremely silly splash, the bemusingly well-received Shazam! is a try-hard effort that's insistence on constant chuckles masks the fact is has an extremely dull main character, generic villains, poor CGI and a story we've seen countless times before and seen delivered in a much better fashion.
Despite lead actor Zachary Levi's commitment to his role as the wise cracking teenager in an adults body Shazam, David F. Sandberg's film mostly feels forced and lethargic as we head on a two hour plus journey that sees charisma free Asher Angel's orphan Billy Batson be transformed into the all-powerful Shazam, when a wizard chooses him to be the saviour of the world for some unknown reason.
It feels like it takes ions for Shazam to appear as we get stuck following around the depressive Batson as he looks for his real mum and gets introduced to his new foster family and potential new BFF Freddy Freeman (played in a scene stealing fashion by Jack Dylan Grazer) yet sadly when Shazam finally does make his appearance you quickly begin to realise this film isn't taking any risks as it takes us on a journey of Batson learning about his new powers, running away from fights and recreating Rocky Balboa iconic moments.
It's a real shame the film didn't decide to take more risks with its generic coming of age/origin story, nothing fresh or original happens here even if it's nice to see the film do away with a love interest subplot for Batson and the appearance of yet another Mark Strong big bad in the form of the lamely recreated Dr. Sivana is a major weakness of the film, that culminates in one of the most long-winded and un-exciting finales I can remember seeing in a comic book film, right up there with the end of the original Guardians of the Galaxy film or Man of Steel's crash and bash extravaganza.
With all the doom and gloom of the film (perhaps I'm just a grumpy old man?) there are moments throughout Sandberg's outing that suggest a great film lay somewhere within all the forgettable components.
In a career littered with horror outings such as Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation, Sandberg does bring some nice ominous moments to Shazam! around the hit and miss humour, highlights of which include a board room attack and some neat otherworldly side quests but all these little set pieces and moments make up very little for the overall feeling that Shazam! just isn't as fun, smart or hip as it thinks it is.
Final Say -
With an air of manufactured swag seeping out of every pour of Shazam's! being, this latest DC outing feels like an unfairly praised adventure that will likely be forgotten about quick-smart as the next batch of far more memorable superhero outings come our way. Funny in brief moments, this is superhero film seriously devoid of magic or wonder.
2 vending machines out of 5
The Lion King (2019)
A visual delight lacking the heart and soul of the original
To put it simply, weighed up against one another in a battle for ultimate supremacy, the original animated classic from 1994 would win the battle for The Lion King pride land in knockout fashion.
Full of heart, soul, imagination and of course singalong worthy songs and emotionally powerful music, the Disney classic of old still stands up today as a worthy cultural touchstone and while this new virtually carbon copied version of the tale of Simba and his quest to act out his kingly duties is still entertaining enough, Jon Favreau's visually sumptuous yet instantly forgettable redo is a relatively cold and unnecessary cash grab from the global behemoth that is the mouse house.
From the moment the film starts with the "I see Kenya" made famous in the original, as animals of all shapes and sizes gather to witness the unveiling of lion king Mufasa's newly born cub Simba, Favreau's film sets itself in motion to be a risk free affair that while stunning with its downright eye-popping mastery of visuals, fails to capture the audience's heart like the 1994 original did with ease, for those of all ages.
It's a shame for such a visual feast that Favreau and his Disney bosses failed to think of new ways to add a different flavour to proceedings here, as while there's some neat visual gags, added jokes (mainly courtesy of the films MVP's Timon and Pumbaa, voiced by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen) and some of the songs remain a joy to listen to without bettering the original, this version of The Lion King plays it way to safe without doing anything else of note that would make you choose to watch this take over the briefer and more energetic original.
Another curious element to the film is with Disney's insistence on going "photo real" they have managed like other live action re-doings to lose sight of some of the beloved characters that came to life in the original animations.
Here of course we have our cute and adorable and eventually fearsome Simba, the feisty Nala, comic relief Zazu and many more of the characters many know and love (or despise) but with the realism attached to these once animated figures much of the simplistic wonder and stretching of the imagination disappears and so too does much of the whimsy and loveable aspects.
Most notable in how the film deals with its musical numbers, as many will notice the outlandish nature of many of the original set pieces (such as Scar's Be Prepared Nazi like sequence or Can You Feel the Love Tonight taking place in the day time!) are now transformed into more plain set-ups that while looking great, lack the spark and memorability of what we've come to know and therefore expect.
It all brings in to question the very being of these Disney reimagining's, that while perfectly watchable and seriously profitable (other than poor old Dumbo), makes one wonder what the whole point of the whole escapade is other than Disney taking a seriously easy route to making quick and easy money.
If other future installments fail to add anything else of note like The Lion King, you can't help but feel much like the never spoken about Beauty and the Beast remake or the over praised Jungle Book, many of these experiences will go down as cold hearted money earners that very few would recall in future years as anything but entertaining distractions.
Final Say -
No doubt set to be one of the great box-office behemoths of all-time, this modern day Lion King provides much wonder for the eyes but offers very little else of note to lay hold on. Perfectly watchable but instantly disposable, Jon Favreau's film is a prime example that realism doesn't equal better when your film is stuck in auto-pilot.
3 juicy grubs out of 5
Welcome to Marwen (2018)
Another Zemeckis experiment gone bad
One of Hollywood's most esteemed directors, and for good reason, we have now entered into a sad phase of Robert Zemeckis's career where we have no idea what type of film we will be getting from the man responsible for such gems as Forrest Gump, Back to the Future or Cast Away.
It's a Jekyll and Hyde scenario, one that leans more towards Hyde since the early 2000's, with Zemeckis unable to restrain himself from trying out risky propositions, in films that have leaned more towards visual boundary pushing rather than good old fashioned story-telling or character development.
Since the joys of Cast Away in 2000, Zemeckis has delivered such forgettable outings as The Polar Express (a motion capture experiment), Beowulf and A Christmas Carol (ditto for CGI experiments) and hard dramas Flight, The Walk and Allied, with only Flight offering any real truly redeeming qualities in the memorability stakes, thanks largely to Denzel Washington's impressive lead turn, with Zemeckis's newest CGI/Drama experiment Welcome to Marwen one of his most terrifying misfires yet.
Based on the seriously good 2010 documentary Marwencol, that examined the life of traumatized artist Mark Hogancamp and his artistic endeavors after a life changing and violent attack, Marwen's ambition comes from a good place and one that seems ripe for exploring but with Zemeckis struggling to work off a script he developed alongside Caroline Thompson that uneasily balances Mark's doll-centric imagination with an incredibly bland real life arc around it, Marwen is sadly deserving of many of the critical blasting's it got given upon its dire box office run over the Christmas period.
Nothing feels natural or earned here, Mark as played by the Oscar seeking Steve Carell is a hard person to fully engage with while his Nazi filled doll world is mostly just cringeworthy, even if some of the CGI work is impressive in a forgettable way, while the less said about Mark's generic love interests and friendships that pop up in the real world courtesy of Leslie Mann's Nicol and Merritt Wever's kindly hobby store manager Roberta the better.
For a story dealing with trauma, love, loss and art, Marwen fails to inspire much in any of its facets, Zemeckis unable to transplant any of his many years of experience into a dull and dry tale that was crying out for some type of spark, with Carell in particular feeling somewhat miscast in another one of his softly spoken and rather lifeless dramatic portrayals that are starting to wear a little thin based on current form.
Another hugely annoying component of the oddball Marwen is the insistent and grating score from the very talented Alan Silvestri.
Having worked with Zemeckis before to great results in the likes of Forrest Gump and Cast Away, Silvestri's off-putting musical cues and overly chaotic music doesn't help the films causes in any way shape or form and when things are supposed to be touching or moving, the score will no doubt take you right out of the moment, disallowing the film any slight chance it had of connecting on an emotional level.
Final Say -
There's some interesting questions asked in Welcome to Marwen but don't expect to have any of them answered in Zemeckis's messy and misguided outing. A frequently odd hybrid, you're far better of tracking down a copy of doco Marwencol than investing two hours of your life into this misfire.
1 ½ pairs of high-heels out of 5
Pet Sematary (2019)
A dreary King adaptation
As a first port of call it's only fair that I share a cinema sin of mine.
I have never actually seen the much talked about 1989 original Pet Sematary that so many have watched as part of the cinematic education, so watching Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer new take on the classic Stephen King tale of evil cats, sinister children and ancient dark magic was done on my behalf with fresh and unknowing eyes.
Without being able to make comparisons directly to the original King novel or the late 80's film offering, I can safely say this modern day take on the story of Jason Clarke's kindly Maine Dr. Louis Creed experiencing some extremely odd happenings when his family move into their new rural home is a tame, energy free and curiously scare free affair that feels like it will fail to inspire much enthusiasm from fans of King's work or those seeking a solid horror fix.
The groundwork is quite clearly laid down before Kölsch and Widmyer to delve into but this charisma free offering that does nothing outside of the horror trope 101 rule-book fails to captivate us in its creepy exploration of loss and death that could've and should've been a skin crawling experience that burrows deep into the subconscious.
It's a kooky tale, right up there with some of the most bonkers of King's career but this version of Pet Sematary feels flat from the get-go and as we are just asked to accept the casual going's about of raised from the dead cats and local children providing ritualistic burials of dead pets, it's hard to get on board with much of what takes place and as the plot line becomes more and more over the top and really rather silly as this wannabe creep fest loses steam well before its final curtain call.
Also working against the films generic conception is the fact we never build much of a strong relationship with Creed and his family, that includes rather forgettable performances from its four leads that includes John Lithgow as nice old neighbor Jud, Amy Seimetz as Creeds wife Rachel and Jeté Laurence as their eldest child Ellie and as Pet Sematary relies heavily on us caring for this family and what occurs to them, much of the tension is pulled out from under the film before any of the real nefarious happenings start taking place.
In the rushed feeling film its likely you'll walk away from proceedings feeling as though the multitude of feline's that were used to play key film player Church were the films real MVP's, a nice bonus for the film but an indictment on an otherwise completely forgettable experience that offers nothing of note for viewers to remember or truly enjoy.
Final Say -
A by the numbers affair that neither scares, intrigues or captivates, Pet Sematary is another unfortunate member of the rubbish Stephen King adaptations that are littered throughout cinema history and another 2019 horror letdown.
1 ½ roadside birthday party out of 5
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
A fun dumb comedy with an amazing all-star cast
Put simply, upon release in 2001, Wet Hot American Summer was a disaster.
Ignored by most critics, failing dismally at the box office and genuinely disappearing from many peoples radars, David Wain's 80's spoof comedy seemed like just another low-brow comedy destined for an unmemorable life, until low and behold, the cult circuit took over and Summer has become somewhat of a classic.
Spawning a prequel and sequel series on streaming kingpin Netflix, Summer's reputation has grown over recent years thanks to the airplay its received from people's lounge-rooms and for the fact Wain's film is a hotbed of early career activity for some Hollywood's biggest players.
Early career turns from the likes of Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Amy Poehler, Joe Lo Truglio and Ken Marino as well as extended parts from established stars Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Christopher Meloni and Molly Shannon, Summer has one of the early 2000's greatest ensemble casts that helps make watching Summer in today's climate a genuine blast no matter what flaws the films has.
As a film, there's a lot wrong with Summer, it has a bare bones story cut straight out of the Richard Linklater rule-book (think Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!! with less nuance) and a fair chunk of jokes fall relatively flat but thanks to its carefree charm and the natural charisma of its cast, much of Summer is an easy to digest joy.
The dark sense of humor of Wain such as drowning children, crazed Vietnam war veterans with odd fetishes and a continual gag about a particularly long day timed with a frequent clock also help make Summer a black comedic delight, a comedy not afraid to go to some dark places even if its relatively non-existent story doesn't bother to delve deep into much else around its low-brow antics and end of summer camp activities such as a talent show or an odd game of capture the flag.
The haphazard nature of the film and oddball happenings are the likely reason Summer has managed to overcome its early failures to achieve a long-lasting success and while it's by no means a cinematic masterpiece, it's hard to see how one wouldn't enjoy their time in Camp Firewood with a crazy collection of flawed yet lovable counselors.
Final Say -
A time-capsule of early career moments for a raft of well-liked stars and an entertaining throwback to the heyday of raunchy 80's comedies, Wet Hot American Summer is far from a masterpiece but a thoroughly fun and frivolous one of a kind romp regardless.
3 cans of mixed vegetables out of 5
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
A royal letdown
This based on a true story tale has a great cast, fine production values and lavish sets and costumes but what Josie Rourke's film importantly lacks is a heart and soul, making Mary Queen of Scots a dull, lifeless and sadly rather boring historical epic.
At one stage touted as a potential key awards contender, that featured the appealing double act of leading Hollywood actresses Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie going head to head as warring royal cousins Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth 1 in Scotland and England in the late 1500's, Rourke's film is but a collection of scenes scattered together with very little emotional tie in or flow as Ronan and Robbie face an uphill battle to instill the film with any energy or charisma as its loaded plot-line moves from point to point.
There's a lot for the film to cover off, the tale of Stuart and Queen Elizabeth is one filled with political intrigue, backstabbing's, murmurings and power plays but Beau Willimon's screenplay commits the mortal sin of assuming viewers have deep knowledge of all the characters and occurrences that were prevalent in this time frame with Scots suffering badly from a feeling that many characters and key moments are being ticked off rather than explored in any meaningful or insightful way.
What we do know is that this was an important time in the monarchs history, a time where Mary was unafraid to mess with conventions in a time and place where woman were still seen as not much more than a baby-maker, if not that then some type of scheming harlot and in this sense Ronan delivers another noteworthy turn in a career that has been nothing short of impressive ever since she first appeared on our screens in the epic Atonement from 2007.
Ronan often showcases in her performance what the film lacks, heart, soul and energy and she walks away with many of the films best moments, with Robbie not given great material to work with, even though her turn as the outwardly and inwardly vile Queen is another example of the Hollywood beauty showing to all that she is after more than an everyday career, pushing herself as a performer and unafraid to get physically committed to a role.
It's a mighty shame that Rourke couldn't of utilized these two actresses to a greater level to bring this real life Game of Thrones (minus magic, dragons and hearty cussing) to life as you do feel as though both performers deserved a film that was more befitting of their turns, as as it stands as an end product, Scots is nothing more than a film for fans of lavish production designs and English history rather than a film to be enjoyed by movie-goers seeking out an emotionally charged political period drama.
Final Say -
A film that could've been special, especially with such committed lead turns, Mary Queen of Scots is but a dry, dull and forgettable examination of two fascinating woman that fails to ever capture the mind, heart or imagination needed to bring this loaded tale to life.
2 foals out of 5
A curiously experimental documentary
In what's a documentary that's sure to delight diehard Bob Dylan fans, Rolling Thunder Revue sees esteemed director Martin Scorsese once more delve into the life and times of the beloved folk superstar after his previous 2005 effort No Direction Home, with Scorsese this time choosing to focus on a very particular time and place in the music legends life in the mid 1970's.
It's important to note, Revue is very far from a straightforward documentary, with Scorsese curiously choosing to install into his film fake characters, misleading footage and potentially fake information as he takes an unorthodox approach in examining Dylan and his large cohort of offsiders journey across America as they played numerous shows in an effort to connect more with smaller audiences in more emotionally intimate gigs.
Scorsese's reasoning behind his trickery, that may not even at first be that apparent is never really explained and its off-putting to say the least as you begin to realise that despite extensive polished footage from this tour, Revue is not at all interested in providing us with the cold hard facts or anything of much substance as it instead flies by thanks to its wonderful time capsule like footage that transports us back to a time and place in American history where the country was healing from the wounds of the Vietnam war and the "hippy" movement was finding itself in a transitional stage of its life.
The footage that Scorsese and his team have managed to polish up and utilise for Revue is truly stunning and thanks to the intimate nature of much of the documents of the tour, we as an audience are literally transported to the stage Dylan inhabits and for anyone that has ever called themselves even a minor fan of Dylan's works, Revue will be like opening a treasure chest of the very best of the esteemed poet/singer.
All of Dylan's most well-known songs are here and Scorsese isn't afraid to let them take centre place in this documentary, as the films near two and half hour runtime is loaded with more concert footage than you could dare dream to see and while this is a sure-fire way to please fans of Dylan's particular brand of musical musings and instantly recognisable voice, for more casual fans or those along more for the cultural insight, Revue will begin to wear a little thin around the half way mark with Scorsese indulging his Dylan love to an arguably more self-indulgent manner that will alienate more casual watchers.
It's safe to say that Revue really is a film best enjoyed by Dylan fans as it appears set to be one of the more divisive Scorsese films ever made, most surely one of the most experimental and odd, and in a career littered with not only great fictional films but emotional and insightful documentaries such as The Last Waltz or Living in a Material World, Revue ends up being a mostly cold and rather forgettable experience.
Final Say -
With its odd mix of fact, fiction, archival footage and doctored narrative, Rolling Thunder Revue is an odd experience that will be a favourite amongst Dylan fans and one that gets by for the rest of us thanks to its amazingly captured 1970's footage.
2 ½ face masks out of 5
Instant Family (2018)
To much cheese not enough goodness
Instant Family is the very definition of a Hollywood crowd-pleaser.
Based on a true story, which pretty much means about 1% of this movie is true, Sean Anders film is glossy and shiny thanks to it being lathered in a liberal dosing of schmaltzy, manufactured and often irksome so called heart and soul, cooked up in the kitchens of the Hollywood machine but while it's in some ways inoffensive and easy to watch, it doesn't help make Family a very good film.
Expecting a good film from the man responsible for directing such cinematic delicacies as That's My Boy, Horrible Bosses 2 and not one but two Daddy's Home films would be akin to expecting politicians to tell us the truth or for Uwe Boll to win an Oscar but thankfully Family isn't "as" bad as some of Anders other efforts thanks to a hint of a beating heart and a nice message about family at its core.
The heart and soul of Family is the only thing saving it from becoming too much to bare, and co-lead Rose Byrne has that ability to always be engaging but for most of the time Family is so generic, predictable and genuinely not that hilarious that it's hard to recommend a viewer spending 2 hours of their life witnessing such a pedestrian and by the numbers affair.
Sometimes these type of run of the mill films can be pleasing and tolerable and its never a bad thing to get what you expect but Anders and his stars struggle to make the most of the potential of this story to instead focus on over the top scenarios (school ground beatings) and annoying children (yelling about potato chips or constantly hurting themselves) and often losses sight of the simple things that would've endeared it to a much higher level.
Another big issue with the film is the presence of Mark Wahlberg.
A frequent collaborator with Anders thanks to the Daddy's Home franchise, Wahlberg has once more with this performance as handyman father and husband Pete, found himself delivering another fast talking, wise cracking caricature that has been plaguing his career over the last 5 or so years.
We all know Wahlberg can act, we all know he can make a decent film but of late it feels as though the well-liked performer has resigned himself to easy wins, appearing in far too many films like Family that fail to raise much of a sweat for the well-paid star.
Final Say -
Sure to please many seeking light-hearted and even potentially heart-warming entertainment, Instant Family has its moments but a majority of its runtime is spent on generic, uninspired and eye-rolling material that's been done countless times before.
2 music loving judges out of 5
An oddball comedic delight
I'm not too sure there are words that could aptly describe the oddness and overarching strangeness of An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn.
The new film from The Greasy Strangler director Jim Hosking, Buff Linn will be a somewhat familiar experience for anyone that has partaken in Hosking's bizarre offering that got critics and audiences talking for both good and bad reasons a few years ago but its also its own beast entirely, with a more recognizable cast and an ever so slightly more straightforward story at the forefront.
Centred around Aubrey Plaza's (great as per usual) recently made redundant Lulu Danger and her quest to be an audience member in Craig Robinson's mysterious Beverly Luff Linn's show at a local hotel, as well as a potential romance with Jemaine Clement's criminal for hire Colin and the stalking of her husband Shane played by Emilie Hirsch, Buff Linn continues on Hosking's oddball and more than likely audience alienating humour and direction that is likely to win the filmmaker an equal share of detractors and champions.
In no rush to go anywhere fast, as evidenced by multiple scenes of intense coughing fits, wind troubles and Sam Dissanayake's Adjay's disdain at not getting his stolen money returned, whether or not you will enjoy Luff Linn rests entirely on how you take it on face value, with Hosking uninterested in doing anything by the rule book as his game and quite hilarious cast show themselves willing to dive headfirst into this kooky world of lost love, fandom and cheesy onion rings.
There's a fair portion of the film that doesn't work, and at over 100 minutes Hosking would've done well to cut 15 - 20 minutes from the runtime, but when things click, Luff Linn offers up a comedic experience unlike anything else in the market, with its mix of feelings and characters coming across like a strange hybrid of a Wes Anderson/Napoleon Dynamite/Indie Romance feature.
In amongst all the misfiring and drawn out jokes are absolute gems of comedy cold, a fantastic musical score by Andrew Hung while Plaza, Clement, Dissanayake and British comedian Matt Berry (as the wonderfully titled Rodney Von Donkensteiger) are an absolute blast, with the only real disappointment stemming from a misplaced Hirsch who just can't quite nail the tone of the film, while the usually scene stealing Robinson is sadly underutilized in a grunt filled role that only really comes to life once we get to witness Luff Linn's oft delayed magical show.
Final Say -
After The Greasy Strangler and now this, Jim Hosking is quickly establishing himself as a unique talent and while there's no way on current form he will crack the mainstream, for those that enjoy his clearly defined stylings and humour, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn may just be your new favourite cult comedy with added heart and soul to boot.
4 cappuccinos out of 5
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
A sugary return that lacks any real substance
It's been a long time between spoonful's of sugar, but finally the world got another dose of Mary Poppins magic late last year, over 50 years since the 1964 Disney original become a fan favourite to many around the globe.
We didn't exactly need another venture filled with magic and wonder, as the original is one of those rare films that seems transcendent to time and age, yet taking on board the slightly unenviable task, director Rob Marshall (an old hand in the musical department) has given this sequel a good crack as we once more get transported to London town of old for an all new whimsical and song filled journey.
When compared directly to the 1964 product, Mary Poppins Returns pales in comparison with its lack of genuinely memorable songs, slightly annoying children and lack of thrilling plot holding it back from any type of great feats but its kind-hearted nature, wonderful set design and joyfully constructed set pieces, including a fantastic animated sequence and a late night romp through London's back ally's, make this slight but fun sequel a nice companion piece.
Front and centre of this modern day incarnation is Emily Blunt who is as great as you'd expect as our different looking magical nanny.
Whilst nowhere near as instantly iconic as Julie Andrews original and never to be bettered take on the character, Blunt is having a blast sinking her teeth into this beloved character and whenever she's on screen, particularly whenever she gets to share the allocated screen-time with Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda as the happy go lucky Jack, Blunt is a bundle of joy.
Where Marshall's film falters despite Blunt's committed and likeable turn is its creation of all the side players.
From Meryl Streep's kooky cousin Topsy, Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer's thankless roles as the grown up Banks children, Colin Firth's pointless rich man villain Wilkins and particularly the three new rather forgettable young generation of Banks children, Returns doesn't surround Miss Poppins with the best collection of supporting players who all tend to flail about in a narrative that takes too long to deal with the Banks possibly losing their family home because their father can't manage his finances.
This basic and lame plot line could've been saved by a collection of toe-tapping and sing along worthy songs, and while there are a few memorable little ditties such as Trip a Little Light Fantastic and the Oscar nominated The Place Where Lost Things Go, mostly the musically tinged Returns fails to really set-fire in this space, leaving Blunt and the production crew too much to do to try and make Returns truly soar to the sky's, even if the late appearance of original male lead Dick Van Dyke threatens to do just that.
Final Say -
Well-intentioned and with some fun and colourful moments, Mary Poppins Returns is a nice enough addition to the beloved characters cannon that never gets close to the original's magical nature, despite the best efforts of its lead Emily Blunt and some top-notch visual flourishes.
3 BMX gas-lamp lighters out of 5
Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
A swinging good time across Europe
Much like its very entertaining and endlessly fun predecessor, Spider-Man: Far From Home may not be the type of film that will leave any form of lasting impression on viewers, but thanks to a loveable cast, energetic pace and a collection of visually strong set pieces, Marvel's newest event film is yet another win for the world conquering studio.
A film much lighter than this year's box office behemoth Endgame, Home sees the return of director Jon Watts and his main cast members for another bout of comedy infused/teen romance filled action adventure antics, that wisely moves Tom Holland's webslinger from the tried and true surrounds of New York City to a European filled vacation, that is anything but your run of the mill school based trip.
It's a fresh spin on the Spider-Man cinematic universe and one that removes Home from anything that has come before in the many Spidey lead movies that have found their way into existence over the last 20 years and it also allows Watts, Marvel and the character of Peter Parker time to reflect on the events of Endgame but also begin to move on from them, in what's an important next step for the Marvel film series.
While this is a big move for a Spider-Man film, Home doesn't mess with the formula too much as it fly's along at a rapid speed of which most of what occurs will be expected but thankfully its charming cast and wit goes along way to keeping things feeling fresh and fun, while the inclusion of fan favourite Mysterio is sure to delight diehard and casual fans alike and also helps the film achieve a great sense of added intrigue.
Played by Jake Gyllenhaal (who is a great get by the Marvel hierarchy), Mysterio aka Quentin Beck, is brilliantly bought to life by the endlessly talented A-lister who is quite evidently having a blast getting a chance to be a part of this large scale undertaking and his on screen chemistry with Holland is an additonal bonus as the two bounce off each other whenever they share the screen.
It's all relatively fluffy stuff, there's not a whole lot of meat on the bones of this newest addition to the Marvel cannon but there's enough growth in the character of Parker and Spider-Man to get exicted by where the next steps (swings) will take us, while the high hit ratio of jokes and some seriously juicy end credit sequences ensure this will be a huge winner for audiences.
Final Say -
With a great turn from new additon Jake Gyllenhaal, top notch work from it's returning cast and an overarching sense of playfulness and fun, Spider-Man: Far From Home is another highly enjoyable gift from the studio that keeps on giving.
3 1/2 Led Zeppelin songs out of 5
The Endless (2017)
A wickedly inventive low-budget hybrid
A high-concept and low-budget effort, after the underrated and really quite good Spring from 2014, The Endless see's directing (and this time acting) duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead once more showcase some serious talent, talent that suggests we're not far away from witnessing something truly special from the still up and coming combo.
While not as efficient and well-rounded as Spring, The Endless offers up another mind-bending offering from the team that will keep you guessing right the way through with the combination of sci-fi and horror making this independent offering a unique and sometimes mind-melting affair.
A slow-burning offering that takes a little too long to truly get going, The Endless focuses on Moorhead and Benson playing two brothers, who at a young age escaped a potentially dangerous UFO believing cult, whose habitat out in the American wildlands holds some dark and nefarious secrets.
Trying to live a normal life hasn't really worked out too well for the brothers so they decide its best to pay their old cult buddies a visit and see if they can find answers in the past to help with their future, only to discover that leaving the cult and its lands won't be as easy as they would've hoped.
Saying too much more about the mystery at the core of this tale would ruin much of the fun to be had but there's no doubt Moorhead and Benson have crafted a seriously wicked little yarn that is nothing short of devilishly inventive, even if it doesn't always feel like the payoff or explanation is as good as the idea at the core of the whole mysterious outing.
Taking some cues from classic genre offerings like Primer, Looper and even of all things Groundhog Day, The Endless doesn't always click and perhaps is slightly disappointing in the character development field with Aaron and Justin not the most interesting characters, as well as not being amazingly played by the directing partners, but at least there's a heartfelt effort here with a strong insistence on being constantly inventive and even wickedly fun in parts.
Final Say -
A high-reaching effort that is more intriguingly conceived more than astoundingly delivered, Moorhead and Benson have crafted a likable next offering after the success of Spring, which helps solidify the duo as an extremely exciting film-making pair.
3 unreliable vans out of 5
Kidman delivers one of the performances of her career
For all the flaws and missed opportunities that arise within Karyn Kusama's newest film Destroyer, a darkly observed and different take on the gritty crime genre with a female centric twist, one thing remains a constant throughout, an undeniable and powerful force: its lead performer Nicole Kidman.
Not afraid to transform psychically for her roles as evidenced previously across a multi-decade spanning career, Kidman's Golden Globe nominated (an Oscar worthy) turn as the emotionally tortured and outwardly unraveling detective Erin Bell is amongst the best work the esteemed actress has ever completed and a large reason why Destroyer should be sought out, even if it's sometimes frustrating story and mismanaged plot threads ensure Kusama's film never reaches grand heights.
Kusuma who made her name with the female orientated Æon Flux and Jennifer's Body ensures that Destroyer is a gritty affair throughout, from the moment we meet Bell stumbling into a murder scene, looking disheveled, unwell and genuinely not up standard, the slow sprinkling of info as we learn what drove her to become the shell of a human she is today, and a detective hell bent on uncovering the whereabouts of local Los Angeles crime figure Silas, of whom she was at one time affiliated with on an undercover operation.
It's a journey to the dark underbelly of the criminal world, led by a sometimes detestable anti-hero of sorts that we've seen countless times before and Kursama does struggle to do much with the character development and plot strands around Bell from Toby Kebbell's distracting hair, Sebastian Stan's thinly drawn partner to Bell Chris and the shouldn't of even bothered Scoot McNairy and Tatiana Maslany but despite the coldness of much of proceedings, thanks to Kidman, Destroyer's end coda and more emotionally driven moments are of the highest order, thanks entirely to Kusama's direction and Kidman's full bodied turn in these instances.
It's the type of performance that would've been headline making had Destroyer managed to connect to a more tangible level between critics and audiences, as Bell's journey of redemption seeking vengeance and closure on a horrifying past occurrence is utterly commanding when Kidman is given time in the spotlight and when combined with Kusama's keen directional eye and Theodore Shapiro's expertly designed musical accompaniment, Destroyer feels like a much better film overall, one that's fresh take on an age old sub-genre would've been quite the memorable event had all the stars aligned.
As it stands however, Destroyer is more a competent picture than a ground-breaking one, filled with scenes and a lead turn that appear to be from a more outstanding film, you can't help but walk away from this experience and wish for something more, even if it's never less than engaging thanks to Kidman's captivating turn.
Final Say -
Lacking the story nuance and emotional connection in too many areas, Destroyer may not be the film it had the potential to be but thanks to Kidman and some genuinely brilliant scenes, Kusama's film remains a film worthy of tracking down.
3 interrupted batting practices out of 5