Review – ‘The Assistant’

In Kitty Green‘s narrative debut ‘The Assistant‘, we follow one day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner – ‘Ozark‘), a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer, who has recently landed her dream job as a junior assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. Her day is much like any other assistant’s – making coffee, changing the paper in the copy machine, ordering lunch, arranging travel, taking phone messages. But as Jane follows her daily routine, she, and we, grow increasingly aware of the abuse that insidiously colours every aspect of her work day, an accumulation of degradation against which Jane decides to take a stand, only to discover the true depth of the system into which she has entered.

The condition of being involved with others in an activity that is unlawful or morally wrong, that’s the definition of the word “complicity”. Just like Jane, it’s up to every one of us to address wrongdoings wherever we work or live. The film, very much inspired by the entire Harvey Weinstein-scandal, in which he used his power to mentally and physically abuse upcoming and existing talent in Hollywood. This all exploded into the ‘Me Too’-movement, where women (and men) of all ages and background came forward to address the sexual abuse and intimidation they had to endure throughout their careers and personal lives.

The Assistant plays like a whistleblower kind of story, in which we follow Jane, who is trying to stop her boss’ behaviour, before things get even more out of control. Throughout the day, we meet her co-workers, who may or may not be aware of the immoral crimes that are going on behind-the-scenes, as they push Jane in a direction to keep her job safe and her mouth shut. We, as the audience, never leave her side, and even though Jane doesn’t say a lot, keeping a composed and professional attitude, we can feel the anger boiling deep inside her as it transcends into us.

The many smaller production companies attached to the film show that director/writer Green probably had a harder time to get this made. The story stays quite simple, which shows her talent in film making as she could’ve easily gone for full on shock value to keep a more mainstream audience entertained. Every action and camera shot speaks for itself, while Garner gives another career defining performance, after winning an Emmy for her work in ‘Ozark’.

The Assistant makes you feel just as powerless as its protagonist, while the subtle signs of intimidation pile up. Kitty Green handles her powerful #MeToo-statement with a unique vision, keeping the ball rolling to remind everyone there’s still a lot of issues that need to be resolved.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Now available to rent via Foxtel On Demand
From 10 June available to rent via Google Play, iTunes, Fetch TV, Telstra Bigpond, Sony (Playstation Network), Microsoft & Quickflix

Review – ‘The Assistant’

Reviewed online, May 11, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 87 min.

PRODUCTION: A Vertigo Releasing release of a 3311 Productions, Bellmer Pictures, Cinereach, Forensic Films, JJ Homeward Productions, Level Forward, Symbolic Exchange production. Producers: P. Jennifer Dana, Scott Macaulay, James Schamus. Executive producers: Abigail Disney, Philipp Engelhorn, Avy Eschenasy, Leah Giblin, John Howard, Sean King O’Grady.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Kitty Green. Camera: Michael Latham. Editors: Kitty Green, Blair McClendon. Music: Tamar-kali.

WITH: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth, Jon Orsini, Noah Robbins, Stéphanye Dussud, Juliana Canfield, Alexander Chaplin, Dagmara Dominczyk.

Netflix Review – ‘Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich’

Opening your four-part docuseries with a slide that states “The following series contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse involving minors, which may be disturbing for some viewers.”, sets the tone for what’s about to unfold. We then cut to an interrogation in 2012, where Epstein quickly uses his right to plead the Fifth Amendment to get out of some serious questioning, regarding soliciting minors for prostitution. Smiling his way through the questions and using the same answer over and over again, we jump right into the case which all started with a 2003-article in Vanity Fair.

Investigative journalist Vicky Ward is asked to write a business article on “the money manager for the überrich”, that leads her into the direction of two victims, who are labeled as survivors, a term that fits every single one of the women speaking out on the abuse much better. We find out this wealthy, but mysterious introvert, has befriended a legion of powerful men, such as Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Prince Andrew and Bill Clinton. (To be clear, although Trump and Clinton were seen hanging out with Epstein, none of the survivors ever accuse them of any wrongdoing considered sexual abuse). When seen at parties, he’d always be surrounded by beautiful women, because “he’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side”, to quote Trump bragging about his good friend.

Epstein was a sexual predator, and he didn’t act on his own. His wealthy lifestyle was used to show off and lure underage girls, but his longtime girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell was the one who’d recruit future victims. Ward’s original version of the article never saw the light of day, as she and her editor both were threatened and being watched by Epstein and his team. The ominous music playing in the background of every episode works stress-inducing to what’s already emotionally draining, while Epstein’s accusers are the leading voices sharing their stories on how the abuse started. There was a pattern, but by assembling a network of enablers who helped carry out and cover up his crimes, he was able to get away with all of it until his arrest in 2019.

Epstein came from humble beginnings yet managed to lie and manipulate his way to the top of the financial world. He eventually gained tremendous wealth and power while running an international sex trafficking ring. The serial sex abuser made a secret plea deal with the government in 2008 avoiding a potential life sentence and continued to abuse women.

Lisa Bryant‘s gut wrenching Netflix Original Documentary Series ‘Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich‘ shows just how vile and abusive the millionaire really was. But what makes the series stand out is the numerous survivors revealing their emotional scars, some even for the very first time. This is not an easy watch. Luckily everything gets wrapped up in only four one-hour episodes and never drags in any way. It does rely on cliffhangers at the end of each episode, which is a bit of a cliché, but that doesn’t undermine the strength of the series.

The way both Epstein and his partners-in-crime normalised the abuse that had been going on for years, shows how their wealth put them above the law until justice was served. Psychological profiling by the FBI, never-before-seen plea deals in court and the ways of extorting the government as a way of distracting the public, it’s all too crazy to be real – yet it did happen. One of the most powerful scenes is when a phone-interview with Epstein, in which he talks about his behaviour as if it is normal, plays under a series of photos of all the young underage victims sliding across the screen. Chilling and surreal.

Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich‘ watches like a true crime drama, taking you from his apartment in New York to his horrific ‘pedophile island’. An in-depth investigative report on the monster and his accomplices, that most importantly gives the survivors of his abuse their voice back. A must watch, that will leave you stunned from the very beginning.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Netflix Review – ‘Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich’

Reviewed on Netflix, May 22, 2020. Rating: 16+. Running time: 4 x 55 min.

PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of a RadicalMedia, James Patterson Entertainment, Third Eye Motion Picture Company production. Producers: Lori Gordon-Logan, Bill McClane, Frank Ombres. Executive producers: Joe Berlinger, Jon Doran, Lisa Bryant, Jon Kamen, James Patterson, Bill Robinson, Leopoldo Gout, Peter Landesman.

CREW: Director: Lisa Bryant. Camera: Patrick Bradley, Andy Cope, Jonathan Deaver, John Kelleran, Mike Ollek, Daniel Marracino, Osvaldo Silvera, Thad Wadleigh, Bill Winters. Editors: Cy Christiansen, Joshua L. Pearson, Marion Delarche, James Steelman, Maria Cataldo, Manny Nomikos. Music: Justin Melland.

Netflix Review – ‘The Lovebirds’

Only a handful of romantic action comedies are actually memorable. After 2020’s pandemic put a halt on all theatrical releases, Paramount Pictures made a deal with Netflix and ‘The Lovebirds‘ has now finally been released, six weeks later than initially planned. A lot of fun is to be had, but let’s make one thing clear, this was definitely meant to be released on Netflix.

A couple (Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani) experiences a defining moment in their relationship when they are unintentionally embroiled in a murder mystery. As their journey to clear their names takes them from one extreme – and hilarious – circumstance to the next, they must figure out how they, and their relationship, can survive the night.

Rae basically plays her character in HBO’s Insecure, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone knows how funny Issa can be, we also know she can rap, but watching her sing ‘Firework’ by Katy Perry will make even the coldest of hearts defrost. It also helps that her and Nanjiani have the best on screen chemistry. From the moment they fall in love during the opening sequence, to the bickering throughout all the crazy situations they find themselves in, it just works on every level. This is the kind of movie Nanjiani desperately needed to get that bitter taste of 2019’s abomination ‘Stuber‘ out of our mouths.

Director Michael Showalter (creator of ‘Search Party‘) does a great job at creating some fun chase-sequences, although a bit basic, he knows how to keep it entertaining for at least two thirds of the film. Comedies aren’t known for clever scripts, they’re here to make us laugh, and that’s just what writers Aaron Abrams (Blindspot‘s Weitz), Brendan Gall and Martin Gero (both writers on Blindspot) are able to do. Not every joke lands and some scenes get a bit dragged out, but the ones that land will make you laugh out loud. Especially a scene with a frat boy, which combines Kumail’s physical comedy with Issa’s wittiness.

Reminiscent of 2010’s Date Night, starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell, it doesn’t explore any new territory, but it’s a fun 86 minutes to get your mind off things. The Lovebirds isn’t as romantic as the title suggests, but for sure is a (mostly) good time with two hysterical lovers, taking us on a personal journey through their relationship’s ups and downs while getting in all kinds of trouble.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Netflix Review – ‘The Lovebirds’

Reviewed on Netflix, May 22, 2020. Rating: 13+. Running time: 86 min.

PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of a Paramount Pictures, Quinn’s House, 3 Arts Entertainment, Media Rights Capital (MRC) production. Producers: Martin Gero, Tom Lassally (p.g.a.), Jordana Mollick (p.g.a.), Oly Obst, Todd Schulman (p.g.a.). Executive producers: Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall, Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae, Ben Ormand, Michael Showalter.

CREW: Director: Michael Showalter. Screenplay: Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall, Martin Gero. Camera: Brian Burgoyne. Editors: Vince Filippone, Robert Nassau. Music: Michael Andrews.

WITH: Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani, Paul Sparks, Anna Camp, Nicholas X. Parsons, Kyle Bornheimer, Barry Rothbart, Catherine Cohen, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Lisha Wheeler.

Review – ‘Endings, Beginnings’

Bad breakups, toxic behaviour and fear of your own thoughts, that’s exactly what Daphne (Shailene WoodleyBig Little Lies) is dealing with in ‘Endings, Beginnings‘. Living in her sister’s guesthouse, she regularly witnesses her sibling and her brother-in-law fighting, which not only aggravates Daphne’s growing despair regarding long-term love, but on top of that makes her decide to take a “dating sabbatical”. Not long after, at one of her sister’s parties, Daphne gets caught in a love triangle with a free-spirited bad boy (Sebastian StanAvengers: Endgame) and his more stable, scholarly best friend (Jamie Dornan Fifty Shades Freed). Unable to choose between these almost polar opposites, Daphne finds herself bouncing between them instead, enjoying the distinct ways each man sees her. Life on the other hand has a way of making decisions for her, even when she’s not ready for them.

Drake Doremus‘ newest film, tackles one of his favourite subjects – love. He’s proven before with films such as Like Crazy, Equals and Zoe, he can fully develop an on screen-relationship with the right script, but this time something’s missing. It’s not so much Doremus and co-writer Jardine Libaire‘s (this is her first script) basic writing, but more the lack of taking it all to a more sophisticated level. The story is realistic, with real life problems some of us deal with on a daily basis, but there’s nothing here we haven’t seen in hundreds of other series and films. That’s where the cast comes in to somehow convince us to keep watching.

One thing that really works is every single scene Woodley and Dornan share. There’s a natural chemistry and on screen connection that makes both of them likable, even though Woodley’s character in the film is quite insufferable because of her messy way of dealing with life. It becomes clear from the very start, she’s stuck in old habits and self-destructing rapidly. Dornan surprises in both romantic and dramatic scenes, quickly stealing Woodley’s spotlight in the film. Stan, as the other love interest, does a fine job, but isn’t believable as a gas-lighting junkie. Too clean, too polished, and gives more of a rich-kid-gone-rebel-vibe.

The problem with Endings, Beginnings mostly lies with the technical aspects of the film. There’s clear signs of sloppy editing in which dialogues get cut mid-sentence, which becomes distracting quite early on. The way everything is shot also makes you feel like you shouldn’t be witnessing all of this. Most of the actors are being shown in profile close ups, or as if you’re standing behind them looking down on them. When we do get some sort of a wider shot at a party or a situation on the street, it gets shown from behind a window and from a distance, disconnecting with the viewer and making intimate moments feel very cold (which already happens because of its colder colour palette) and voyeuristic. When Doremus then also decides to include on screen text messages in bright neon brush stroke-style, it almost feels as if you’re watching a cheesy young adult novel that has been adapted to film.

Endings, Beginnings is easily Doremus’ weakest project to date. Most of the cast tries their best to sell their on screen dilemmas, but the film itself is one bitter pill to swallow.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Available to rent via Foxtel Store from May 23
Available to rent On Demand from July 15 via Google Play, iTunes, Fetch TV, Telstra Bigpond, Sony (Playstation Network), Microsoft & Quickflix

Review – ‘Endings, Beginnings’

Reviewed online, May 22, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 110 min.

PRODUCTION: A Rialto Distribution release of a CJ Entertainment, Protagonist Pictures production. Producers: Francis Chung, Drake Doremus, Robert George, Tae-sung Jeong. Executive producer: Jerry Ko.

CREW: Director: Drake Doremus. Screenplay: Jardine Libaire, Drake Doremus. Camera: Marianne Bakke. Editors: Garret Price. Music: Philip Ekström.

WITH: Shailene Woodley, Jamie Dornan, Sebastian Stan, Matthew Gray Gubler, Lindsay Sloane, Shamier Anderson, Sherry Cola, Wendie Malick, Kyra Sedgwick, Janice LeAnn Brown.

SSAFF Review – ‘Back of the Moon’

The closing film of Sydney’s South African Film Festival 2020 is Academy Award-nominated director Angus Gibson‘s (Mandela) ‘Back of the Moon’, a tragic love story set in a rundown part of Johannesburg. It’s 1958 and Badman (Richard LukunkuBlack Sails), an intellectual and the leader of the most powerful gang in Sophiatown, lives life on his own terms in this crazy, cosmopolitan, half demolished ghetto. We also follow the striking Eve Msomi (Moneoa Moshesh), a torch-singer on the brink of an international career who’s giving her last concert in the local hall before she travels to London.

Gibson’s film bathes in gorgeous lighting, with phenomenal production design all around. As soon as we enter the local hall where Eve’s performing, the clothes everyone’s wearing gives a sense of wealth. There’s clearly money spent on the design of these costumes. But on the flip side, Back of the Moon (the title refers to a grungy bar most of the film takes place at) does miss a sense of cohesiveness that becomes clear in the third act.

It’s Richard Lukunku who leaves a lasting impression by not only showing a very macho side of his character, but also showcasing a vulnerability that’s unexpected and doesn’t seem forced, which makes you want to see more of Badman. He does take the spotlight from the rest of the cast, which do a fine job at delivering their lines, but don’t bring anything deeper to the table. Especially Eve Msomi seems to struggle with the more emotional scenes, right beside Lukunku. Which is a problem, since the second half of the film mostly revolves around Badman’s feelings for Eve and him confiding in her by sharing his suppressed emotions and dreams that could’ve seen him live a completely different life.

The first two acts are entertaining, well written (by director Gibson and co-writer Libby Dougherty) and let the viewer go back and forth between our two protagonists, who’ll eventually share the screen after Badman’s gang, the Vipers, senses his vulnerability, and turns on him. This is where the film goes a bit off the rails, regarding extensive amounts of violence and with some sort of strange sexual undertone, in which a few men get humiliated by aforementioned gang.

Back of the Moon is a well made film, with a talented leading man, who commands your attention with his versatile performance. A film that not only looks, but feels like a modern South African classic.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Back of the Moon‘ will premiere at Sydney South African Film Festival on Sunday 24 May at 7 PM AEST (GMT +10) and you can also catch a repeat screening on Monday 25 May at 3 PM AEST (GMT +10).

Tickets are available at https://ssaff.org.au/film-2020/back-of-the-moon/

SSAFF Review – ‘Back of the Moon’

Reviewed online (also screening as part of Sydney South African Film Festival), May 20, 2020. Rating: MA15+. Running time: 95 min.

PRODUCTION: A VideoVision Entertainment release of a The Bomb Shelter production. Producer: Desireé Markgraaff. Executive producers: Teboho Mahlatsi, Angus Gibson, William Kentridge, Anant Singh.

CREW: Director: Angus Gibson. Screenplay: Angus Gibson, Libby Dougherty. Camera: Zeno Petersen. Editor: Megan Gill. Music: Philip Miller.

WITH: Richard Lukunku, Moneoa Moshesh, Siya Xaba, Jacob Ntshangase, Thomas Gumede, S’Dumo Mtshali, Lemogang Tsipa, Mohau Ravaza Shuncula, Isreal Matseke-Zulu, Emmanuel Gweva.

SSAFF Review – ‘Fiela Se Kind’

In Brett Michael Innes‘ adaptation of Dalene Matthee‘s classic novel, a coloured woman living in the dried up valley, Karoo, takes in a lost white child and raises him as her own. Nine years later, the boy is removed and forced to live in the Knysna Forest with a family of woodcutters who claim that he is theirs.

Fiela Se Kind is entirely in Afrikaans, a language you barely hear in modern cinema. The film won Best Feature Film & Best Achievement in Scriptwriting at the 2020 South African Film and Television Awards, but what’s striking within a matter of minutes, is the undeniably slick cinematography. Tom Marais (Hunter Killer) moves his camera with such finesse, it almost feels as if you’re part of the Komoetie-family. He has a way of capturing each and everyone of the talented cast’s emotions while paying attention to the atmospheric locations they find themselves in. Sure, there aren’t many different locations to be found, which feels a bit monotone at times, but this definitely doesn’t undermine the craftsmanship that’s been put into this.

After an officer visits Fiela (Zenobia Kloppers) and her family for a census of the country, little Benjamin (Luca Bornman) will soon face court to be reunited with his “rightful” parents. What follows is a series of problems that goes far beyond these two families and stretches throughout the nation. Segregation, racism and the violence that comes with it, causes for a heartbreaking story about the unbreakable love of a mother for her child.

Kloppers and Bornman’s performances are what makes Fiela Se Kind‘s heart beat. Their dynamic is something rarely seen between a full grown actor and a child actor, but feels genuinely real. Kloppers specifically acts with her entire body and face, she never holds back as a mother who’s becoming more and more desperate to get reunited with her son.

The runtime of the film doesn’t work in its favour. Clocking in at two hours, there’s a couple of moments where the story drags, more specifically when we find ourselves in the forest with the Van Rooyen-family. Child abuse and animal cruelty are put in place to shock viewers but doesn’t contribute to the plot whatsoever. When the overly dramatic score strings in one too many times, it becomes quite tiring to sit through something that is already emotionally heavy as it is. It’s actually Fiela Se Kind‘s more quiet scenes, in which there is barely any dialogue, that are the most effective.

A timeless story for all ages that isn’t just important but also has something to say. Family can be chosen, no matter what skin colour or social background you have.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Fiela Se Kind‘ will premiere at Sydney South African Film Festival on Sunday 17 May at 7 PM AEST (GMT +10) and you can also catch a repeat screening on Monday 18 May at 3 PM AEST (GMT +10).

Tickets are available on https://ssaff.org.au/film-2020/fiela-se-kind/

SSAFF Review – ‘Fiela Se Kind’

Reviewed online (also screening as part of Sydney South African Film Festival), May 14, 2020. Rating: G. Running time: 120 min.

PRODUCTION: A KykNET, Nostalgia Productions, The Film Factory production. Producers: Danie Bester, Brett Michael Innes. Executive producers: Jan du Plessis, Wikus du Toit, Anneke Villet.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Brett Michael Innes (based on the novel by Dalene Matthee). Camera: Tom Marais. Editor: C.A. van Aswegen.

WITH: Zenobia Kloppers, Luca Bornman, Wayne Smith, Carla Classen, Drikus Volschenk, Cindy Swanepoel, Melissa Willering, Wayne Van Rooyen, Gerald Steyn, Morne Steyn.

Sydney South African Film Festival goes national with virtual 2020 program

Tickets on sale now!

The Sydney South African Film Festival (SSAFF) is one of Australia’s first festivals to go online in 2020. The Festival will screen nationwide from 16 to 26 May, with four feature films, four documentaries and one short. Q&A-sessions and interviews with the directors are planned to run in conjunction with the films.

All ticket proceeds go to supporting Education without Borders in programs that assist young South Africans in some of the country’s most disadvantaged communities.

The films selected reflect South Africa’s diverse population, rich tradition of struggle for democracy and equality, and complex political and economic reality.

Festival Director Claire Jankelson said “South Africa is a land of great beauty, tragedy, vibrancy, complexity, humanity and colour.  It’s rich in unique stories that need to be told, which is why it produces outstanding cinema.

“Our films demonstrates a passionate engagement with the country’s history and evolution, triumphing as popular art without romanticising or flinching from the truth,” she said.

Beyond Moving

The festival opens with Beyond Moving, an uplifting documentary about Siphe November, a gifted ballet dancer discovered as a boy in the townships. A Billy Elliot story with a South African twist, the film follows Siphe as he trains with Canada’s National Ballet School and ultimately secures a premier position in the world of professional ballet.

Other documentaries include: The Space: Theatre of Survival, the story of the first racially inclusive arts venue in 1970’s divided South Africa; Buddha in Africa, which captures a Malawian teenager’s upbringing in a Buddhist orphanage, offering a revealing look at China’s influence in Africa today; and How to Steal a Country, which traces the looting of South Africa’s state-owned companies to the benefit of former President Jacob Zuma and his henchmen.  

Two documentaries on legendary countrymen will screen alongside one another. The feature length Johnny Clegg, The White Zulu is an adventure into the life of one of South Africa’s most exceptional musicians. While short film Billy Monk – Shot in the Dark explores renowned photographer Billy Monk who made a name for himself shooting the 1960’s underground nightlife of South Africa, a place untouched by the division of apartheid.

Feature films that were inspired by South Africa’s conflict-ridden history include The Last Victims, in which a former member of South Africa’s infamous death squad seeks to atone for his past when he helps one survivor search for the bodies of a missing anti-apartheid cell; and Oscar-nominated Director Angus Gibson’s Back of The Moon, which centres on Sophiatown, a black ghetto at the centre of Johannesburg, which in the 1950’s had been the first target for removal by the Apartheid government.

Fiela se Kind

Fiela se Kind (Fiela’s Child), adapted from South African author Dalene Matthee’s celebrated novel, tells the story of a mixed-race woman living in the arid Karoo who takes in a lost white child and raises him as her own. Nine years later, the boy is removed and forced to live in the Knysna Forest with a family of woodcutters who claim that he is theirs.

The final film in the line-up is a slick and gripping boxing flick by award-winning director Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, Knuckle City.

The single premiere screenings are just $8.00 each or you can see all 10 films for $60.00. Tickets can be booked online at http://www.ssaff.org.au 

Knuckle City

Review – ‘How To Build a Girl’

Caitlin Moran‘s novel (who also wrote the screenplay) ‘How To Build a Girl‘ tells the story of teenager Johanna Morrigan’s (Beanie FeldsteinBooksmart) journey as she reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde. Yesterday, a teenager in search of her own identity; today, a sex-positive wild child with an infamous look, and trash talking the finest artists of her era for her new job as a critic in London, to help out her financially struggling family in Wolverhampton.

Feldstein plays a somewhat similar, but this time British, character as she did in last year’s Booksmart. A tad bit more insecure, but still driven and charismatic. It does distract a little when she channels Melanie C in ‘Spiceworld’ with her British accent. Not necessarily a bad thing, since this is mostly the case in the first half of the film, before Johanna turns into a completely different version of herself. Heavily influenced by the collection of talking portraits of important historic figures on her bedroom wall, and by connecting with her brother Krissi (Laurie KynastonThe Trouble With Maggie Cole), she goes on to forming a young woman’s personality who can stand on her own for a big future to come.

The chemistry between the members of the Morrigan-family feels genuine. Especially Paddy Considine (HBO’s ‘The Outsider‘) as Johanna’s father and wannabe rock’n’roll-fanatic, has some heartwarming moments with his on screen daughter and is a lot of fun to watch. When it comes to a true scene stealing performance, we have to wait until about halfway into the film, when Johanna gets to interview rocker John Kite. Played by Alfie Allen (HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones‘), he has one big scene in a hotel room with Feldstein, which isn’t just emotionally raw, but showcases once again how good he is at playing a vulnerable, troubled man.

Coky Giedroyc has directed plenty of episodes for television (most recently ‘Harlots‘), but never seems to want to upstage that with something that’s made for the big screen. Everything feels a bit too BBC, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it does limit the wide range of people that could show interest in watching this. Nothing makes ‘How To Build a Girl‘ stand out. It feels like it borrows a lot from other coming-of-age films, and while there is a lot of clever stuff to be found, it doesn’t particularly digs itself into your brain to be memorable. The script itself is riddled with clever nods to iconic literary figures (such as Little Women’s Jo March), and you’ll never listen to Annie’s “Tomorrow” the same way ever again.

How To Build a Girl‘ was made to connect with plenty of teenagers out there, who might be struggling with finding their own identity. As far as originality goes, it doesn’t really discover any new ground, which for a film like this might be enough to entertain those who are looking for just a straightforward charming story.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review – ‘How To Build a Girl’

Reviewed online, May 11, 2020. Rating: R. Running time: 102 min.

PRODUCTION: A IFC Films release of a Film4, Lionsgate UK, Monumental Pictures, Tango Entertainment production. Producers: Debra Hayward, Alison Owen. Executive producer: Ollie Madden.

CREW: Director: Coky Giedroyc. Screenplay: Caitlin Moran. Camera: Hubert Taczanowski. Editors: Gary Dollner, Gareth C. Scales. Music: Oli Julian.

WITH: Beanie Feldstein, Paddy Considine, Sarah Solemani, Alfie Allen, Chris O’Dowd, Emma Thompson, Laurie Kynaston.

Review – ‘The Lodge’

Who doesn’t want to go to a remote lodge in winter to celebrate Christmas with the family?! Unless of course it’s with your stepmom, who you don’t necessarily have anything in common with. That’s exactly what happens in Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz‘s newest film ‘The Lodge‘. After its premiere at Sundance over a year ago, it garnered mostly positive reviews and has finally landed on VOD for everyone to enjoy*.
(*”enjoy” might not be the right word as you’ll discover for yourself)

This bone-chilling nightmare follows a family who retreat to their remote winter cabin over the holidays. When the father (The Hobbit‘s Richard Armitage) is forced to abruptly depart for work, he leaves his children, Aidan (IT‘s Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh – soon part of the MCU as one of the ‘Eternals‘) in the care of his new girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough). Isolated and alone, a blizzard traps them inside the lodge as terrifying events summon specters from Grace’s dark past.

You’d expect something like this from indie-horror powerhouse A24, but NEON has been growing their catalog significantly with titles such as ice skating drama ‘I, Tonya‘ and this year’s Oscar-juggernaut ‘Parasite‘. Not only does the film have that particular gritty low budget feel to it, it also delivers. Throughout the entire film there’s this certain icy menacing doom hanging above the family’s heads as we mentally and physically spiral down into the frigid gates of hell. The script is set up in such a way you’d question everything that happens in and around this cabin, surrounded by nothing but snow and ice. Nothing and no one can be trusted.

Since this is mostly newfound mommy dearest Grace and her soon-to-be stepkids’ vacation, they’re all in each other’s hair one way or another. The chemistry between these three feels perfectly ominous and threatening. Keough is quickly becoming an indie-queen, and once again proves she’s ready for her serious breakthrough and become a household name. Her vulnerable performance of a woman that has been through hell from birth, makes you want to help her, well knowing there’s another layer to her we can’t exactly understand. This becomes clear when once again the film’s genre turns itself from horror into more of a psychological mystery thriller.

Sound is such an important part of ‘The Lodge‘. It sets the mood in many scenes, freezing your spine in a way you almost feel as if you were part of this little family holiday. Composer duo Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans‘ score contributes to this hair rising effect. What might disappoint is the very simple cinematography that doesn’t do much for the story itself. We see a lot of the same wooden interior shots, without ever challenging itself in using interesting camera angles that could’ve lifted the atmosphere to unseen altitudes.

The Lodge is easily as sharp as The Shining and Hereditary – both classics in their own territory. What differentiates this film from others is how imperfect it is, while none of it ever feels like an error. Isolation terror in times of quarantine.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Review – ‘The Lodge’

Reviewed online, May 5, 2020. Rating: R. Running time: 108 min.

PRODUCTION: A NEON release of a FilmNation Entertainment, Hammer Films production. Producers: Aliza James, Simon Oakes, Aaron Ryder. Executive producers: Ben Browning, Alison Cohen, Marc Schipper, Brad Zimmermann.

CREW: Directors: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz. Screenplay: Sergio Casci, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz. Camera: Thimios Bakatakis. Editor: Michael Palm. Music: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans.

WITH: Riley Keough, Richard Armitage, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone.

Review – ‘Color Out of Space’

Cult director Richard Stanley (who once famously got fired as the director of ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau‘) directs H.P. Lovecraft‘s cosmic nightmare Color Out of Space. The story follows Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage continuing his Cage-aissance) and his family, whose recent retreat to rural life gets interrupted when a meteorite crashes into their front yard. The mysterious rock seems to sink into the Earth, and hereby seriously affecting everyone and everything around it – including time and space.

If you’re a fan of some bonkers sci-fi horror that mostly doesn’t make sense, you’ll dig all of the craziness that’s waiting for you. While nature and animals mutate into bizarre deformed creatures and spout purple rays of radioactive light, this family has to fight separately and save themselves from killing each other under the influence of this “color out of space”.

There’s some awkward exposition regarding the family in the first half hour of the film that just doesn’t work as an emotional back drop. The film would’ve worked better if the story focused more on the daughter of the house, Livinia (Madeleine ArthurTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), who has an interesting back story that involves an obsession with witchcraft and the Necronomicon. Instead we focus a bit too much on the bigger star of the film, Cage, who doesn’t really bring anything else than his “crazy shtick”, which felt much more deserved and honest in ‘Mandy‘, but doesn’t really fit here, and becomes a bit tiring at a certain point. It goes completely off the rails when Mr. Gardner’s newly adopted herd of Alpacas seem more important than his own children, while putting up a weird Trump-impersonation. If this was intentional, job well done, if not, it was too much.

Joely Richardson as the wife/mother is clearly miscast and can’t keep up with Cage’s level of insanity, as soon as their house gets surrounded by this mysterious cosmic cloud. There is a moment of body horror in which she gets to shine, and can count as one of the more shocking scenes in the film.

The film’s tone feels too uneven to be considered enjoyable, even to the extent of becoming frustrating with a running time of almost two hours. Colin Stinton‘s synth-score shamefully gets buried by the extreme amount of sound effects. While there’s no doubt a lot of the budget was spent on the impressive set design, it’s no excuse for the cheap looking VFX which really take you out of some of the more scarier scenes. This would’ve been so much more effective by the use of practical effects.

Sci-fi horror has seen a resurgence in recent memory with hits such as Annihilation and Prometheus, but this trashy B-film doesn’t work as a whole. Genre fans will surely enjoy and support Color Out of Space, which others might label as too abstract to have any real substance. A nice effort that won’t go unnoticed.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Color Out of Space‘ is available May 6 on demand via Telstra, Google Play, iTunes, Fetch TV, Foxtel & Umbrella Entertainment PLUS DVD & Blu-Ray

Review – ‘Color Out of Space’

Reviewed online (screener provided by Umbrella Entertainment), May 3, 2020. Rating: MA15+. Running time: 111 min.

PRODUCTION: An Umbrella Entertainment release in association with BRO Cinema of a SpectreVision, ACE Pictures Entertainment, XYZ Films production. Producers: Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, Lisa Whalen, Elijah Wood. Executive producers: Timur Bekbosunov, Johnny Chang, Stacy Jorgensen, Emma Lee, Elisa Lleras, Michael M. McGuire, Peter Wong.

CREW: Director: Richard Stanley. Screenplay: Scarlett Amaris, Richard Stanley (based on the short story by H.P. Lovecraft). Camera: Steve Annis. Editor: Brett W. Bachman. Music: Colin Stetson.

WITH: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Elliot Knight, Tommy Chong, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Q’orianka Kilcher, Josh C. Waller, Melissa Nearman.