Category: Reviews

Review – Onward (2020)

Director: Dan Scanlon

Starring: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez

Onward

After a recent emphasis on sequels, with Toy Story 4, Incredibles 2, Cars 3 and Finding Dory all coming out in the last four years, Pixar is returning to original storytelling with Onward. Co-written and directed by Dan Scanlon, who previously helmed Monsters University (another Pixar sequel), Onward fittingly offers escapism and adventure at a time when everyone is housebound and in dire need of distraction.

Transferring high fantasy to the present day, Onward transports us to a magical world which has lost its magic. A brief prologue describes how long ago this world had been full of wonder, adventure and, most important of all, magic. But magic was hard to master so as time passed the world turned its back on it in exchange for the convenience of science. Thus, we find the town of New Mushroomton, a sprawling suburbia much like our own, except that it is inhabited by elves, centaurs, cyclopses and pixies, and has somewhat of a feral unicorn problem. Continue reading

Review – Extraction (2020)

Director: Sam Hargrave

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Randeep Hooda, Golshifteh Farahani, Priyanshu Painyuli, David Harbour

Extraction

With the exception of prestige productions like Roma and The Irishman, original movies from streaming companies have tended to be viewed as the contemporary equivalent of the old straight-to-video release. But with the world’s cinemas forced the close their doors by Covid-19 and Hollywood holding back their big budget releases in the hope of being able to recoup some of their investment down the track, Netflix, Amazon and the like find themselves the only show in town. The result is that a film like Extraction, a generic actioner which sees former Marvel stunt coordinator and second unit director Sam Hargrave making his directorial debut, ends up with more eyes on it than it might have otherwise anticipated.  Continue reading

Review – Little Women (2019)

Director: Greta Gerwig

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlan, Timothee Chalament, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper

Little Women

Before she made Lady Bird, the coming-of-age drama that put her on the map, Greta Gerwig had already written her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Despite there already being six film adaptations of the novel, not to mention numerous television movies and mini-series, and the knowledge that no one would back an unproven director to make it, Gerwig felt that was still something vital in the story of the Marsh sisters and a 21st century audience warranted its own telling of the tale. With Lady Bird’s Oscar-nominated success giving her the chance to prove it, on both counts it appears she was correct. Continue reading

Review – Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Director: Cathy Yan

Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina, Ali Wong

Birds of Prey

Despite being almost universally panned, the one element of 2016’s Suicide Squad which was consistently singled out for praise was Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn and it didn’t take long before plans for a spinoff for her character began. That film has arrived in the form of Cathy Yan’s Birds of Pray: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. Riding the first wave of female-led superhero blockbusters, this surprisingly violent and profanity-laden film offers a counter to the high ideals of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, instead peddling empowerment through fun and irresponsibility.  Continue reading

Review – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

Director: Marielle Heller

Starring: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, Maryann Plunkett, Enrico Colantoni

Mr Rogers

Growing up in Australia, we didn’t get Mr. Rogers. We got Sesame Street and a plethora of other American children’s television shows, but any awareness of Mr. Rogers was picked up secondhand, through mentions and references in other things we saw. In America, however, Mr. Rogers was an institution. For 912 episodes from 1968 to 2001, Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, would don one of his iconic cardigans and host the children’s television program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Looking straight down the barrel of the camera, in a gentle but never condescending voice, he would speak directly to the millions of children who tuned in everyday in a manner that made it feel like a one on one conversation. Never shying away from life’s difficult topics, his aim was to provide children with positive ways of dealing with their emotions. Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, based on Ton Junod’s 1998 magazine feature “Can you say ‘Hero’?”, examines the power of Rogers’ worldview even on a hardened adult. Skilfully constructed around a brilliant performance from Tom Hanks, even those with no pre-existing investment in Mr. Rogers will find this tale uplifting. Continue reading

Review – 1917 (2019)

Director: Sam Mendes

Starring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, Claire Duburcq, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden

1917

While war has provided fertile ground for filmmakers for a long time, historically there has been a much greater focus on the Second World War than the First. World War II occurred during the height of the Hollywood studio system while World War I occurred during the early years of industrial filmmaking, before even the advent of sound. From a storytelling perspective, World War II was a neater war, possessing a clarity of good and evil which the murkiness of World War I lacked. The recent centenary of the Great War, however, has seen more attention being given to that conflict. As its title suggests, Sam Mendes’ 1917 is a First World War film. However, it is not really about the War. While set on the Western Front, it does not give any indication of why the conflict is being fought or of the immediate context of the events. 1917 isn’t about history. It is about an experience, and it is a masterclass of immersive storytelling. Continue reading

Review – Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Director: Taika Waititi

Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates

Jojo Rabbit

There is a degree to which the life of the commercial film director is a process of building up and cashing in credits. After three critically celebrated independent films (Boy, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and a distinctive blockbuster hit (Thor: Ragnarok), New Zealand’s comedy auteur Taika Waititi was finally in the position to get backing for a project which had been in his desk drawer for a number of years. Based on Christine Leunens’ novel Caging Skies and filtered through Waititi’s distinctive comedic sensibility, Jojo Rabbit is an ‘anti-hate satire,’ presenting that standard story of a child coming into an understanding of how the world actually is. Except in this instance, that child is a Nazi.  Continue reading

Review – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Director: J.J. Abrams

Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Ian McDiarmid, Carrie Fisher, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Anthony Daniels, Domnhall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Mark Hammill

Rise of Skywalker

Twenty-nineteen was a big year for pop culture climaxes. In April, Avengers: Endgame drew Marvel’s 22 film ‘Infinity Saga,’ if not the the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole, to a close. May saw the culmination of Game of Thrones’ eight season run. Popular consensus suggests that one stuck the landing better than the other. Neither, however, carried quite the same level of pressure as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth and, we are told, final film in the central series which we are apparently now calling ‘the Skywalker Saga.’ Since its debut in 1977, Star Wars has in many ways defined contemporary blockbuster filmmaking as both a narrative and a franchise. Unfortunately, while a perfectly adequate piece of blockbuster filmmaking, watching The Rise of Skywalker confirms what has been suggested by the previous two instalments: that this has been a trilogy without a clear, overarching plan. Continue reading

Review – Knives Out (2019)

Director: Rian Johnson

Starring: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Noah Segan, Christopher Plummer, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell

Knives Out

While the classic whodunit has been all but absent from the big screen for some time, it has been a generic staple of television programming for decades. From Murder, She Wrote to Midsomer Murders to Death in Paradise, the pleasure of its formulaic structure makes it perfect for self-contained, episodic storytelling. With the ridiculously entertaining Knives Out, however, writer-director Rian Johnson reminds us of the effectiveness of the whodunit as a big screen product. Coming up for air between his Star Wars commitments, Johnson returns to his crime roots – his debut feature, 2005’s Brick, transported the hard boiled detective genre to a high school setting – to bring us a film that is equal parts homage to and parody of the classic Agatha Christie formula. Continue reading