Review – ‘Charlie’s Angels’

In a world full of superheroes and James Bond‘s, more female role models rise – and it’s about time! The ‘Charlie’s Angels‘-brand has stood the test of time and with every generation, a trio of badass, independent women get chosen to become the face of the Townsend Agency.

When Elena (Naomi Scott), a young systems engineer, blows the whistle on a dangerous technology, Charlie’s Angels are called into action, putting their lives on the line to protect us all. After the OG Bosley (Patrick Stewart) retires and another Paris-based Bosley gets killed on the job in Hamburg, first Angel ever to get promoted to Bosley (Elizabeth Banks), becomes caretaker of our duo of Angels, Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska). We get to join in on the action, city-hopping from Berlin to London, Istanbul and the ‘Night of the Stars’ Gala in Chamonix. These lady spies are on a mission, and they won’t stop until they’ve pleased Charlie.

Director, writer and producer Elizabeth Banks is known for starring in a lot of comedies. She more recently also directed Pitch Perfect 2. Her direction is decent, but Charlie’s Angels could’ve benefited from a tighter editing-job. There’s too much jumping around between cities in the first half and everything looks as if it’s filmed in the same city. The films action sequences – and there’s a lot of them – are solid and very well choreographed. As a fan of the previous Charlie’s Angels films (starring legends Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore), I would’ve liked it to be a bit more camp, though Banks doesn’t entirely shy away from it, and also knows how to be funny.

Together with Evan Spiliotopoulos (live action ‘Beauty and the Beast‘) and David Auburn (The Lake House), they know how to keep a powerful feminist action comedy engaging for two hours, by releasing compelling twists and almost turning the story into a modern whodunnit. A discussion about a classic film getting connected to Birdman and Batman, turns into a serious back-and-forth between our main ladies that made the entire audience at the screening I attended cheer. And a cute interaction between handsome, geeky science boy Langston (Noah Centineo) and Jane will for sure make many girls squeal in their seats.

To solely state that Kristen Stewart (Twilight-franchise) is the true MVP of this new chapter in the franchise, is maybe unfair of me, because Ella Balinksa (The Athena) and Naomi Scott (Aladdin) are each in their own way just as good. Stewart is interestingly enough the funniest of the band, after always being portrayed in the media as uptight and having no emotions, and this could once and for all prove those who thought she couldn’t act, wrong. Stewart has been active in smaller indie films ever since her “Bella-years” and has by now proven herself to be an acting genius. Time for the main audience to acknowledge her talent. Ella Balinska is a genuine surprise as leading lady, always ready to fight. With her more emotional arc, she gets to showcase her talents a bit more than others, and truly is a bright star in the making. We all know Naomi Scott has the range, and most of all, is having fun. These three women have some serious chemistry going on, and it’s contagious. Hell, even Patrick Stewart seems to be having the time of his life as Bosley, with some great one liners to prove it.

As far as the well promoted soundtrack goes, it fits with the film, although it cheapens the final product a bit. Every new scene starts with a new song, as if a jukebox controls the story. Luckily Banks turns the choppy first half, which feels like one long music video, into a genuinely entertaining second half, with lots of great set pieces – such as a big party set in a mansion, which raises the stakes – and an enjoyable, cameo-filled segment during the credits, that will make you want to sign up to this agency immediately.

Review – ‘Charlie’s Angels’

Reviewed at Event Cinemas George Street, Sydney, Nov. 13, 2019. Australian Classification: M. Running time: 118 min.

PRODUCTION: A Sony Pictures Releasing release of a Columbia Pictures, Perfect World Pictures, 2.0 Entertainment, Brownstone Productions, Cantillon Company production. Producers: Elizabeth Banks, Doug Belgrad, Elizabeth Cantillon, Max Handelman. Executive producers: Drew Barrymore, Leonard Goldberg, Matthew Hirsch, Nancy Juvonen.

CREW: Director, screenplay: Elizabeth Banks. Camera (color, widescreen): Bill Pope. Editors: Alan Baumgarten, Mary Jo Markey. Music: Brian Tyler.

WITH: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Noah Centineo, Jonathan Tucker, Nat Faxon, Chris Pang, Luis Gerardo Méndez.

JIFF Review – ‘What Will Become of Us’

I have spent my entire life building this company.” – Frank Lowy

Oscar-nominated documentarian Steven Cantor brings us a personal behind-the-scenes look into Frank Lowy‘s life. Lowy, the Sydneysider who founded the global shopping mall giant Westfield has been on the top of his game ever since he first opened a store in Blacktown, Australia, back in 1959.

As the prospects of a merger and retirement loom, Frank reflects on his past achievements and future. From living as a Jew in 1930s Czechoslovakia, to moving to Australia and building the first small and family-run Westfield stall, starting what would become a global, billion dollar enterprise. The relationship with his wife of 67 years, who lives with severe dementia has left a deep impact on his career and personal life.

Cantor really knows how to tell a linear story. We follow Lowy all the way back to his childhood home, recollecting early memories while walking down the streets of his Eastern European hometown. Traveling to Israel, where he thinks back on his teenage years being a soldier, he rekindles with old friends and talks about past events. The problem with this linear storytelling, is that it never really feels in depth. It’s also filmed as if the documentary was made for a late night tv-special. Combine that with a somewhat melodramatic score and it all becomes quickly all too sappy.

What does tugs at your heartstrings, is Frank’s relationship with his wife. Hearing him talk with so much love and witnessing the sadness in his eyes, makes you feel for him. This clearly took a high toll on his emotional state, which makes a final decision on merging with a European company almost unanimously minor. His family has always come first.

What Will Become of Us is a heartfelt private look into the life of one of the richest Australians ever. If you expect to see an in-depth exploration on his Westfield-empire, you’ll be let down. But the heart that made this enterprise is pure, and could motivate any one of us into achieving more than ever thought possible.

What Will Become of Us‘ screens as part of Jewish International Film Festival all over Australia. Check dates in your area and purchase tickets HERE.

JIFF Review – ‘What Will Become of Us’

Reviewed online (also showing as part of JIFF), Sydney, Nov. 12, 2019. Running time: 72 min.

PRODUCTION: A Tribeca Studios presentation of a Stick Figure Productions production. Producers: Steven Cantor, Nina Chaudry, Matthew Ferro, Jamie Schutz. Consulting producer: Jessica Cozzetta. Co-producer: Dani Drusin. Associate producers: Jonathan Field, Jocelyn Steiber. Line producer: Evan Needell.

CREW: Director: Steven Cantor. Story consultant: David Kushner. Camera (color): Johnny Saint-Ours. Editor: Lewis Rapkin. Music: Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner.

Review – ‘Ford v Ferrari’

Every year there is a film that has a little bit of everything to please anyone out there. A film that has heart, passion for a craft, strong performers, dreams that become reality – a film worth watching on the big screen, that keeps you entertained for 150 minutes. Well, Ford v Ferrari is that film.

American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, in 1966.

Shelby and Miles aren’t doing this for fame or the prize at the end of the finish line, they do it because they love racing, building something from scratch and making it even better than ever thought possible. That’s where the heart of this film lies. Just like those guys, you can tell director James Mangold and his team made this film with a passion for filmmaking. From production design, to camera movements in- and outside the race cars, to the attention to detail when it comes to costume design and historic accuracy. A true feat for Hollywood and for cinema goers worldwide.

20th Century Fox/Disney does seem to want to attract an audience that’s interested in cars and racing, but this film is more than just that. It’s about business and family, the message this film tells without any hesitance is universal and will keep everyone intrigued for its entire two and a half hour runtime. There’s never a dull moment in this what might seem boring on paper event-film. Even the longest dialogues are riddled with Bale’s over-the-top face acting and writers Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller made sure to have serious conversations supercharged with dry humour. Bale proves how much of an acting-chameleon he is – I’ve never seen him do anything like this before. Even Damon, who I’m personally not the biggest fan of, since I find him very one-note, deserves my recognition as being simply incredible as Bale’s on screen “co-driver”.

The supporting cast might not be filled with household Hollywood names, but this cast is without a doubt one of the best ensembles you’ll see all year. Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) and Caitriona Balfe (Outlander) as Miles’ son and wife will have many viewers look up their names on IMDb. Jupe has a joyful screen presence that makes you want to protect him at all costs, while Balfe stands her ground with her mesmerising charisma. Her chemistry with Bale feels so naturally intimate, as if they’re a married couple in real life – I found myself smiling every time they interacted with each other – magical! Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts and Remo Girone each give compelling performances in every scene they bump and run.

Although I said this wasn’t just a movie about racing, it does have the most spectacular race sequences I’ve seen in years, thanks to Phedon Papamichael‘s off the charts cinematography, flawless VFX and the amazing sound design team. Following the cars on ground level in hair clip turns is sweat inducing and will have you gasping for clean air when stuff completely goes wrong. There’s never a moment you won’t believe it’s not Bale himself who sits behind the wheel.

Ford v Ferrari is the kind of movie everyone will enjoy. It has big Hollywood stars telling a timeless story about friendship and making dreams come true. In a year, full of sequels and remakes, what more do you want? This is one of the most entertaining films you’ll see this year.

Review – ‘Ford v Ferrari’

Reviewed at Event Cinemas George Street, Sydney, Nov. 8, 2019. Australian Classification: M. Running time: 152 min.

PRODUCTION: A 20th Century Fox release through Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures of a Chernin Entertainment production. Producers: Peter Chernin (p.g.a.), James Mangold (p.g.a.), Jenno Topping. Executive producers: Dani Bernfeld, Kevin Halloran, Michael Mann, Adam Somner. Associate producer: Anthony Dixon. Co-producer: Aaron Downing.

CREW: Director: James Mangold. Screenplay: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller. Camera (color, widescreen): Phedon Papamichael. Editors: Andrew Buckland, Michael McCusker, Dirk Westervelt. Music: Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders.

WITH: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas, JJ Feild, Noah Jupe, Tracy Letts, Ian Harding, Remo Girone.

Netflix Review – ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ – Season 1

Green Eggs and Ham is a classic book from Dr. Seuss, one of the most beloved children’s book writers ever. First published in 1960, the book has sold over 8 million copies and has now been adapted by Warner Bros. Animation into an animated series for Netflix. It became the most expensive animated program to make, with each episode costing five to six million dollars. But more money doesn’t necessarily make it better. Luckily for this series, it did.

As told by narrator Keegan-Michael Key, he introduces us to Sam-I-Am (Adam Devine) who rescues the rare Chickeraffe from a zoo and intends to return it to its natural habitat. After he accidentally swaps his briefcase, containing the Chickeraffe, for that of failed inventor Guy-Am-I (Michael Douglas), Sam and Guy end up on an adventure with EB (Ilana Glazer), a girl who wants to adopt the Chickeraffe as a pet, and EB’s overprotective mother Michellee (Diane Keaton), who can’t deny the romantic chemistry growing between herself and Guy. The four are unknowingly pursued by Snerz (Eddie Izzard), a poacher who wants to claim the Chickeraffe as a trophy, and his employees, minions McWinkle (Jeffrey Wright) and Gluntz (Jillian Bell) and the bounty hunter Goat (John Turturro).

Produced by Ellen Degeneres‘ production company, A Very Good Production, each episode title is a place mentioned in the book where Sam-I-Am offered Guy-Am-I to try the titular dish. True to the book, Guy refuses to do so, saying he will not eat them in said location (ie. Train, Car, House, in the Dark, etc). We travel with our two main characters through inventive landscapes that not only rock kids’ worlds, but also adults’. Creator Jared Stern (writer of ‘The Lego Batman Movie‘), infused the timeless tale with modern jokes and pop culture references that would fly right over kids’ heads, such as an escape out of prison just like ‘Shawshank Redemption‘ – dialogue and everything. Enjoyable as it blends the well known writing of Dr. Seuss with a more contemporary style of writing to connect with a younger generation that’s new to Dr. Seuss’ story. Adults who grew up watching ‘Matilda‘ (written by another children’s book author – Roald Dahl), might even recognise David Newman‘s score, as it has a lot of similarities with his work on that particular film.

The wonderful storybook 2D-animation works well with the more modern 3D-animation, but it’s the voice cast, and in particular Adam Devine, who work magic with the source material that has truly been elevated. Devine, who’s known for his more adult humour in ‘Workaholics‘, brings a certain charm to Sam-I-Am, overly excited by everything that happens around him and totally obsessed with Green Eggs and Ham. But it’s the heart and story behind his love for the dish that will hit home to many of us.

Each episode dives even deeper into subjects such as, deception, love, friendship, success and dreams. With such a vividly colourful world on your screen, you can’t help but let your eyes drift away from what’s right in front of you, and explore what’s in the background. Some episodes will interest you more than others, in my case the “Box” and “Goat” episode didn’t really work entirely, although they are part of the bigger picture and there’s never really any filler episodes to get to the final destination of these beloved characters.

Green Eggs and Ham is 13 episodes of fun for the entire family. Staying true to its source material, this series handles the beloved book with respect and gracefully modernises parts of the story, without letting go of its fantastical setting and unique characters. “I do so like green eggs and ham, Sam-I-Am!

Netflix Review – Green Eggs and Ham – Season 1

Reviewed on Netflix, Sydney, Nov. 8, 2019. Australian Classification: PG. Running time: 13 episodes of each 28 min.

PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of A Stern Talking To, A Very Good Production Inc., Dr. Seuss Enterprises, Gulfstream Television, Warner Bros. Animation, Warner Bros. Television production. Producer: Helen Kalafatic. Executive producers: Ellen Degeneres, David Dobkin, Mike Karz, Jeff Kleeman, Sam Register, Jared Stern. Co-producer: Mark Rizzo. Line producer: Timothy Yoo.

CREW: Directors: Lawrence Gong, Piero Piluso. Based on the book by: Dr. Seuss. Creator: Jared Stern. Editor: Sheila McIntosh. Music: David Newman.

WITH: Adam Devine, Michael Douglas, Jillian Bell, Daveed Diggs, Ilana Glazer, Eddie Izzard, Diane Keaton, Keegan-Michael Key, Tracy Morgan, John Turturro.

Review – ‘Emu Runner’

“Nature can mend even the most broken heart”

Emu Runner is a story about a nine-year-old Indigenous girl, Gem Daniels (Rhae-Kye Waites), who lives in a remote Australian town. As she copes with her mother’s unexpected death, Gem finds solace in the company of a wild emu, unwittingly connecting with her mother’s traditional totem animal.

Death can be a tough subject to discuss, especially when putting a child front and centre. The way Imogen Thomas tackles this and the different stages within the subject, while never denying the discrimination and misunderstanding/prejudice the Indigenous population in Australia have to deal with on a daily basis, is done tactful and with respect for the traditional customs in modern Indigenous culture, and looks beyond what’s on the surface.

I couldn’t be more happy watching a film with a diverse cast, telling a story in a way everyone can understand, while educating its audience and bathing it in a colourful culture most of us didn’t grow up with. It’s time for white Australia to give attention to the Aboriginal heart that lies within the country.

Although the acting isn’t as strong all around, young actress Waites delivers her lines with such innocence and natural emotion, you’ll forgive her supporting cast members coming across a bit wooden. What helps is the way director Imogen Thomas and her DOP Michael Gibbs give the nature of the isolated community of Brewarrina country, that surrounds them, an authentic voice. Like breathing life into the silence that fills the voids. Birds chirping, wind blowing, the sun rising and stars shining bright above a crackling fire, all works as supporting characters, which makes you wonder once more how much we take nature for granted. Simply stunning.

Emu Runner might not be for everyone of us, since it’s narratively a bit thin, but it does a bang up job in telling the story it wants to tell, with people that are clearly passionate and driven. Your voices have been heard, and I hope more “white fellas” give this film a chance, in supporting Indigenous storytelling. Imogen Thomas‘ directorial feature debut leaves a rightful stamp on Australian cinema. Can’t wait to see what she brings next.

Review – ‘Emu Runner’

Reviewed from online screener provided by Umbrella Entertainment, Sydney, Nov. 5, 2019. Australian Classification: PG. Running time: 95 min.

PRODUCTION: An Umbrella Entertainment release of an Imogen Thomas Films production. Producers: Antonia Barnard, Victor Evatt, John Fink, Gabriel Shipton, Imogen Thomas. Executive producer: Stephen Vineburg.

CREW: Director, screenplay: Imogen Thomas. Camera (color, widescreen): Michael Gibbs. Editors: Jenny Hicks, Nicole Norelli. Music: Peter Michael Davison, Ben Fink, Glenn Skuthorpe.

WITH: Rhae-Kye Waites, Wayne Blair, Rob Carlton, Georgia Blizzard, Maurial Spearim, Stella Carter, Mary Waites, Lindsay Waites, Letisha Boney, Rodney McHughes.  

Netflix Review – The End of the F***ing World – Season 2

Last year’s critically acclaimed season of The End of the F***ing World was a surprisingly striking pitch black comedy. Thanks to its short format episodic style, it’s easy bingeable and gathered a true cult following online, who’s waiting anxiously to see how Alyssa (Jessica Barden) deals with the fallout of the events of the first series. The second series sees the introduction of a new character, Bonnie (Naomi Ackie), an outsider with a troubled past and a mysterious connection to Alyssa. The time has come for you to (probably) watch all eight episodes in one day, since this is more like a chopped up under three hours film.

Some of your favourite characters are back. And that’s a good thing. What I liked about the second series, is how much it ties in with the first series. The story focuses on Alyssa’s mental state and how she’s trying to fit in. Knowing Alyssa, you realise this isn’t an easy task for her, especially when she makes some hasty decisions that flips other people’s lives upside down. The images of her and James ending the abusive professor’s life in the previous series, still haunt her and even more she’s trying to run away from her responsibilities. New character Bonnie is just as mental, if not worse. As the series progresses, things get more serious when we dive into Bonnie’s past, what ends in a surprisingly emotional finale.

The original songs and score are once again written and performed by Blur‘s Graham Coxon. These rueful tunes set the mood for what might seem less of a road trip like the first series was and stays more in one place, where Alyssa’s aunt’s cafe almost feels like a character itself, with its moody red neon lights lighting up the dark woods surrounding it. Just like its first series, it’s geographically unreal, but this time it even feels as if David Lynch‘s Twin Peaks is set in the same universe. Lots of flashbacks get used, a bit too much if you ask me. Fans of the first series don’t need to watch Alyssa’s face covered in blood every time she thinks about what she has done.

Jessica Barden‘s layered performance is obviously terrific as she seems even more dead on the inside than she was before, with a glimmer of trying to break out of that coffin of hers. But BIFA-winning Naomi Ackie is tremendous as a broken and disturbingly mentally wounded woman, looking for answers.

The End of the F***ing World 2 is more of what you asked for, but all grown up. Stays true to what defined the series, and adds a mystery noir layer to it. A sharp, peculiar, stylised sequel that will make you want this story to go on for at least another season.

Netflix Review – The End of the F***ing World – Season 2

Reviewed on Netflix, Sydney, Nov. 5, 2019. Australian Classification: MA15+ Running time: 8 episodes of 20 min.

PRODUCTION: A Netflix presentation of a Netflix, Channel 4 production. Producer: Jenny Frayn. Executive producers: Andy Baker, Dominic Buchanan, Charlie Covell, Jonathan Entwistle, Murray Ferguson, Ed Macdonald. Line producer: Vaughan Watkins.

CREW: Directors: Lucy Forbes, Destiny Ekaragha. Writers: Charlie Covell. Editor: Tony Kearns. Music: Graham Coxon.

WITH: Jessica Barden, Naomi Ackie, Christine Bottomley.  

Netflix Review – ‘Marriage Story’

What you’re doing is an act of hope.” – Nora

With many directors, producers and actors blaming Netflix and other streaming services for what could end up being the end of cinema as we know, the streaming service is releasing several films in theatres for a number of weeks to be eligible for consideration during awards season. Many theatres are boycotting this strategy, so they aren’t playing Netflix’s films at all. The theatres in mostly bigger cities around the world that do play them , are selling tickets like hotcakes. After their short theatrical run, Netflix will make their Original Film available for their members. With Marriage Story, Netflix might even get their first Best Picture award handed over to them.

Noah Baumbach‘s Marriage Story is an incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together. While we flash through important and daily situations, we hear Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) explain what she loves about her husband Charlie (Adam Driver). Charlie loves being a dad, and how it’s almost annoying how much he loves it. He cries easily in movies. He’s very competitive, undaunted and is very clear about what he wants. These are only a few things Nicole loves about him. After that, it’s Charlie’s turn to tell us what he loves about his wife Nicole. She’s a great dancer – infectious. She’s a mother who plays, really plays. She gives great presents. While we hear this couple recite what they’ve written down, we get to meet them post-break-up in a marriage mediator’s office. This was part of an assignment, to fully understand why they got married in the first place. Nicole doesn’t want to hear what Charlie has written down, so what’s been put in writing is only something we, as the audience, get to hear out loud.

What follows then is an emotionally raw journey into growing up, while trying to figure out how to survive on your own. Happiness is a personal feeling and can’t be disguised as something as trivial as washing dishes or forgetting a grocery list on your way to the supermarket. We get to know little about Charlie’s childhood, but Nicole’s family and home are something that’s right in the middle of everything. There’s also their son Henry (Azhy Robertson), who gets pulled into this. Nicole thinks Henry is just like his father – almost joined to the hip. But when their marriage crumbles, and distance becomes an important factor in Henry’s upbringing, their assumptions are solely things that have been witnessed while being together, and are now changing rapidly.

The change in personality, after splitting up and having to deal with divorce, becomes very clear in both Nicole and Charlie’s behaviour. While Nicole seems very focused, meek and motherly, she turns into a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t holding back anymore. The only thing she’s holding back in front of Charlie – are tears. As if she doesn’t want him to see how vulnerable and damaged she is by everything that’s changing. “Love doesn’t make sense“, and no truer words have ever been spoken. Charlie on the other hand, who’s always been confident and career driven, is now crumbling down, defeated and uncertain of the future.

The cast is phenomenal. Adam Driver is the strongest of the bunch – a transformative, unseen, heartbreaking performance that no one will be able to shut up about during this year’s awards season, and deservedly so. Everyone is feeding off his energy and bringing their triple A-game to this truly exceptional film. Scarlett Johansson has never been better, playing a broken woman who wants the best for her family but can no longer wait for her dreams to become reality. Laura Dern as Nicole’s divorce attorney is Elle Woods all grown up and commands your attention. Ray Liotta in a comeback to the big screen (his last big film was in 2014’s ‘Sin City: A Dame To Kill For‘), makes you wonder where he’s been all this time. Merritt Wever and Julie Hagerty as Nicole’s sister and mother don’t get much screen time, but are here for some unexpectedly superb comic relief.

Baumbach also wrote the film and deserves all the accolades – a true master in writing and directing. He makes all of it seem effortless, with unprecedented results. The way he gets his cast to deliver minutes of dialogue, while his DOP, Robbie Ryan, zooms in and out, follows and swirls around them, to then play with shifting between different actor’s facial expressions in silent moments, is utterly enchanting. The cherry on top is Randy Newman coming back to compose a score for a live action film (his last live action film was 2008’s ‘Leatherheads‘) – masterful!

Marriage Story will get discussed in film school, years from now. It has everything to become an all time classic and will proudly get called one of the best films of the decade. A melancholic, heavy-hearted yet joyously bittersweet story about marriage and its unfortunate path to severance in order to find happiness. No cheek will be left dry.

Netflix Review – ‘Marriage Story’

Reviewed at Dendy Opera Quays, Sydney, Nov. 4, 2019. Australian Classification: TBC. Running time: 136 min.

PRODUCTION: A Netflix presentation of a Heyday Films production. Producers: Noah Baumbach, David Heyman. Executive producer: Craig Shilowich. Associate producer: Leslie Converse. Line producer: Marshall Johnson, Tracey Landon.

CREW: Director, screenplay: Noah Baumbach. Camera (color, widescreen): Robbie Ryan. Editor: Jennifer Lame. Music: Randy Newman.

WITH: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Azhy Robertson, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever, Wallace Shawn, Alan Alda, Mark O’Brien, Brooke Bloom.  

Review – ‘Finke: There and Back’

In God’s country, time can slow down.” – narrator, Eric Bana

Isaac Elliott

For the riders, the spectators and the town of Alice Springs, the Finke Desert Race is more than a race. Finke: There and Back delves below the surface to uncover what makes them tick, what drives them to put their lives on the line when they strap their helmets on. Paraplegic Isaac Elliott is attempting to complete the race that he started a decade earlier. Scruff Hamill, who lives in a shed full of bikes in Sydney, makes the trip to tick off a bucket list event. Meanwhile, the factory race teams at the head of the field fight for pride and to be named ‘King of the Desert.’

Finke: There and Back starts off as your typical documentary – some interviews that just scratch the surface on who these guys are, and archival footage of earlier editions of the Finke Desert Race. But once director/writer/director of photography Dylan River got that out of the way, and we finally travel down to the centre of Australia, that’s when the real fun begins. Majestic ancient landforms and aerial shots of the Finke river, the oldest river in the world, set against the backdrop of the vast Australian desert, are breathtaking. We take nature too much for granted. Seeing it like this, reactivates my wanderlust and makes me want to go travel again. While Eric Bana narrates what goes on before, during and after the race, we get to witness these compelling emotional character journeys combined with edge-of-your-seat high action.

Helicopters follow our bikers, while they get to know the track during a pre-ride. The indigenous locals take pictures with reigning winner Toby Price, who has to skip this year’s race due to a fracture in his leg a few months ago. All eyes are on local favourite David Walsh. “You’re either crazy or really want it.”, says his wife Kate. Two weeks before the race, Daymon Stokie has a follow up appointment with his physician, after breaking his fingers a while back. His hand still hurts and the closer we get to the race, the more his nerves take the upper hand. Alice Springs local, Luke Hayes, lost his dad the year before. He wants to step in his dad’s footsteps, as he talks about his father’s triumphant win, while we watch footage of that memorable day.

Volunteers flatten out the track, “to make sure their ass doesn’t fly through their brains”. While everyone is busy working out one last time at the gym, Scruff chugs a beer, hoping to just finish the race and get back in one piece. 15,000 tourists and locals from all different ethnic and cultural backgrounds set camp next to the hundreds of kilometres of race track. Spectators spread across the path, filled with excitement, as soon clouds of red dust will follow their favourite racers, for the race to Finke and back.

Dylan River isn’t new to the track, the Finke Desert Race is his home. This is a personal story to him, and he wanted to share the spirit of Finke with as many people as possible. And boy, does he achieve that. The intensity of the race track and the endurance these guys need to finish what they started, is jaw-dropping. What he accomplished with his team, behind-the-scenes and on location, is out of the ordinary.

Finke: There and Back is one of the most exhilarating and one-of-a-kind documentaries in recent history. I laughed, I cried, it felt like I was there. An unforgettable, roaring 90 minutes to witness the crowning of ‘The King of the Desert‘, that can’t be missed.

Review – ‘Finke: There and Back’

Reviewed at Palace Central, Sydney, Nov. 1, 2019. Australian Classification: M. Running time: 90 min.

PRODUCTION: A MadMan release in association with Zacka Films, Since 1788 Productions, Screen Territory produced with the assistance of Screen Australia, Create NSW, Film Victoria financed with the assistance of Indigenous Business Australia of a Brundle Films production. Producers: Rachel Clements, Isaac Elliott, Meredith Garlick, Trisha Morton-Thomas.

CREW: Director, writer: Dylan River. Camera (color, widescreen): Dylan River. Editors: Marcus D’Arcy, Kelly Cameron, James Bradley. Music: Sonaire.

WITH: Isaac Elliott, Scruff Hamill, David Walsh, Daymon Stokie, Luke Hayes, Toby Price. Narrated by: Eric Bana.

Review – ‘Doctor Sleep’

The world is one big hospice with fresh air.” – Danny Torrance

Stanley Kubrick‘s ‘The Shining‘ was released almost 40 years ago. While everyone knows how much writer Stephen King disliked the film adaptation of his novel, he did decide to release a sequel to it, focusing on survivor Danny Torrance, in 2013. The Shining has cult status as being one of Stanley Kubrick‘s best works, but can a sequel to such a classic thriller lure audiences once again to the cursed Overlook Hotel?

Years following the horrific events of ‘The Shining,’ a now-adult Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is afraid to turn into his old man, who was a violent alcoholic and ended up freezing to death while chasing after young Danny with an axe, into a maze he’d never get out of. Although it seems like Dan is following that path of destruction, boozing and taking drugs until he wakes up next to a messy stranger, not remembering what happened the night before, an interaction with a friendly handyman helps him get back on track. Haunted by the fear-hungry ghouls of the Overlook Hotel, he’s still in touch with his deceased Shining-mentor Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), who teaches him to lock these spirits into safe boxes in his mind, to never get out again. When Dan meets a young girl with similar powers, he will soon have to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.

Mike Flanagan is one of my favourite horror directors of the last decade. Since I first got familiar with his work, back in 2011, watching his horror mirror-film ‘Oculus‘, his unique vision kept surprising me with films such as ‘Hush‘ and ‘Gerald’s Game‘ as well as his Netflix series ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘. So it’s fair to say, I was very excited to see his sequel to the classic thriller. Disappointed with what was not only a series of re-imagined and added scenes out of ‘The Shining‘ with a new set of actors resembling the iconic roles Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Jack Nicholson made their own, his Doctor Sleep felt like it was set in a completely different universe. Having watched The Shining many times, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that this was nothing but a gimmick and totally unnecessary. Why not use the footage you have from the original film, or digitally create something? The technology is there and would have surprised me as a fan of the original.

When the film introduces us to The True Knot, lead by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), it becomes clear this isn’t just your typical ghost story. These “cult”-members feed on children with telepathic abilities as some sort of vampires, torturing them and scaring them until they die in true terror. One of these scenes stars a well known child actor, and showcases once again how good of an actor this kid is, with tears and screams filling the theatre. We don’t know anything about the origin of these creatures, who look like normal human beings, and this also never gets fully explained. I like a bit of mysticism, but in this case I would’ve liked to know more about them. Newest member of the pack is Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind), and it’s only her and Rose that truly matter. The rest of the gang are just extras who sit around, while Rose meditates, trying to locate children with Shining-abilities, going full Professor Xavier in Cerebro. Once Rose experiences the full potential of Abra (Kyliegh Curran), in a few mind-blowing face-offs in a supermarket and one covering different locations at once, Rose realises this girl has been training her Shining into the unknown extent of her powers.

Ferguson, well known to always having to carry an entire film herself, does just that in Doctor Sleep. Her beautiful hippie character is sweet as candy, but deadly to whomever she gets her hands on. A terrifying character to play, and Ferguson balances those characteristics like it’s nothing. Newcomer Curran’s Abra is an innocent but powerful addition to the story, basically becoming one of the main characters. Unfortunately McGregor is awfully tedious as Dan Torrance, as he has so many layers to him, yet never changes things up in tone of acting. The only glimmer on screen with him, is the scene in which we find out why they name him “Doctor Sleep”, as he works night shifts at a hospice.

Flanagan’s style of directing and vision is present, very similar to his grey colour scheme in ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘. Thanks to Michael Fimognari, we get some fascinating camera angles, although the many aerial shots of all the places The True Knot visit gets tired quickly. The Newton Brothers‘ score with a pulse mostly getting on your nerves, becomes more clear when they focus on instruments and the atmosphere of the scenery itself. Their new rendition of “The Shining Main Title“, as we re-visit The Overlook, is terrific.

Doctor Sleep is an interminable jumble of different settings, feeding on the nostalgia of The Shining, knowing well enough it could never reach that level, while throwing most of it overboard to introduce an unnecessary new breed of bad. Ferguson and Curran shine in a compelling way, which makes you care less about whatever happened to Danny after the events of The Shining, and made me want to rewatch that classic film. It’s never scary or tense and has a flicker of visually stimulating moments, but mostly makes the audience’s eyes fade in anticipation of something more electrifying.

Review – ‘Doctor Sleep’

Reviewed at Event Cinemas George Street, Sydney, Oct. 31, 2019. Australian Classification: MA15+. Running time: 151 min.

PRODUCTION: A Roadshow release in association with Warner Bros. Pictures of a Warner Bros., Intrepid Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment release. Producers: Jon Berg, Trevor Macy. Executive producers: Akiva Goldsmith, Stephen King, Roy Lee, D. Scott Lumpkin, Kevin McCormick, Philip Waley.

CREW: Director, screenplay: Mike Flanagan. Camera (color, widescreen): Michael Fimognari. Editor: Mike Flanagan. Music: The Newton Brothers.

WITH: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Alex Essoe, Cliff Curtis, Jacob Tremblay.

Review – ‘Pain and Glory’

It’s your eyes that have changed, not the film.” – Zulema

Pedro Almodóvar‘s work has never been something I would watch a second time. Every time one of his films would get some buzz, I’d go watch it and be disappointed. His newest film ‘Pain and Glory‘ however, might be one of my favourite films of 2019. Plot twist.

Antonio Banderas plays a film director, who reflects on the choices he’s made in life. As past and present come crashing down around him, he realises more than ever before, he’s lived his life the way he always wanted, but at a certain price. We first meet him underwater, sitting on the bottom of his pool, thinking about one beautiful day at the river with his mother and a group of women, doing their laundry. The women harmoniously sing a song under the bright sun, while young Salvador can’t help but smile and stare at his beautiful mother. That’s what I call an immaculate opening scene.

Salva – short for Salvador – explains by the hand of a digital presentation on screen how much of a hypochondriac he is, depending on how he feels or what is happening in his life. He’s obsessed with pain, not just physical, but also mental, which explains why he’s so depressed all the time. The biggest success of his career as a film director ‘Sabor’, is being digitally restored by the Madrilenian Cinematheque. After the release of the original film, he lost touch with Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), the rebellious star of his film. Since the studio wants to accompany the premiere of his film’s re-release with a Q&A, Salva will have to rekindle with Alberto. When Alberto introduces Salva to heroin, the present and past start to clash with each other and Salva sees this drug as a new awakening. Addicted, he starts a journey of self-discovery and deals with his problems once and for all.

Almodóvar really digs into his own mind and projects it onto the big screen, as if it’s some sort of dreamy autobiography. Nonetheless, this is his magnum opus. The use of colour, especially in Salva’s apartment, with red kitchen cabinets and colourful furniture, is pleasing to the eye, and when a stage play later on in the film gets held in front of a bright red screen, you really feel as if the monologue happening on screen is being told to you in person. Captivating and surreal.

Banderas won a Best Actor Award at Cannes Film Festival, for this film. His quirky portrayal of a depressed artist, stuck inside his own memories, is riveting and rooted in reality. Etxeandia is his equal, even if it’s just for his monologue in the second half of the film. I haven’t been so transfixed by a performance in a very long time.

The flashbacks to Salva’s childhood are sweet and have a sadness looming over them. Young Salva (played by Asier Flores) with his angelic voice and looks, is a star. The way he interacts with his on screen mother (played by an arresting Penélope Cruz) seems so natural, he could’ve been Cruz’s real son. The scenes with them were my favourite, I wish we could’ve seen more of that, but Almodóvar knew exactly what he was doing and kept us hungry for more, when the end credits roll over the screen.

Pain and Glory is a piece of art. It’s a painting filled with virile life. The effectiveness of vibrant colours polishes the canvas with wit, which otherwise would solely be filled with gloom. Almodóvar is a dreamer.

Review – ‘Pain and Glory’

Reviewed at NBC Universal Theatrette, Sydney, Oct. 29, 2019. Australian Classification: TBC. Running time: 113 min.

PRODUCTION: A Universal Pictures release in participation with Canal+, Ciné +, Radio Televisión Española (RTVE) supported by Gobierno de España of a El Deseo, El Primer Deseo production. Producers: Agustín Almodóvar, Ricardo Marco Budé, Ignacio Salazar-Simpson, Esther García. Executive producers: Diego Pajuelo, Barbara Peiro.

CREW: Director, screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar. Camera (color, widescreen): José Luis Alcaine. Editor: Teresa Font. Music: Alberto Iglesias.

WITH: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, César Vicente, Asier Flores, Penélope Cruz, Cecilia Roth, Susi Sánchez.