Review – ‘Frozen II’

2013’s ‘Frozen‘ not only became the biggest animated film at the global box office of all time, it was a true pop phenomenon in every household with little children screaming along to Elsa’s rendition of ‘Let It Go’. Six years have passed and Disney is re-visiting Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven who hastily have to leave Arendelle to travel to an ancient, autumn-bound forest of an enchanted land. They set out to find the origin of Elsa’s powers in order to save their kingdom.

Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee are back to direct their sequel and have taken a darker approach to uncover the secrets of the kingdom of Arendelle. Whatever you thought you knew about the past and how this kingdom came to be, isn’t as clean cut as you’d think it is. In an attempt to brighten up things, Olaf (Josh Gad) is still around with a series of incredibly funny jokes. Although, as soon as we arrive at a forest that’s magically clouded in a glittery fog that won’t let anyone enter, this family gets ready to embark on a rollercoaster of elemental proportions. No one is safe and the stakes are higher than ever before.

Don’t fear, this is still Disney and unfortunately this is still a kids-friendly story. ‘Frozen II‘ changes the origin and its dark history behind everything we have learned about Arendelle in ‘Frozen‘. Anna (Kristen Bell) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) are still together, Sven is still as loyal as any reindeer could ever be and Olaf is enjoying the sun in his protective permafrost. But nothing lasts forever. An alarming voice (performed by Norwegian singer-songwriter Aurora) calling out to Elsa (Idina Menzel) to uncover the origin of her powers, earth giants, uncontrollable fires, mysterious gales spooking an entire community and an unknown menacing force in the water are definitely going to scare the smallest children, and some heartbreaking moments will fly right over their heads, while the adult crowd will try to control their sobbing.

Especially Idina Menzel‘s voice work is almost perfect, with an evolving character arc that goes right back to the start and is beyond impressive. The newest main single “Into the Unknown” (with a radio version performed by Panic at the Disco) is catchy and will get stuck in your head. Where Kristen Bell was the original MVP in ‘Frozen‘, this time her Anna becomes almost annoyingly whiny, and the solo song she’s given is one the weakest on the soundtrack. Jonathan Groff‘s rendition of “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People” is a fun mix of 80s/90s rock-pop – visuals and over-the-top musical arrangements included.

Emotionally manipulative and with some heavy context regarding colonialism and in some ways also global warming, ‘Frozen II‘ is much more mature than its predecessor. The songs might not be as grand and memorable as the well known tunes of ‘Frozen‘, but the rest of the film makes up for that loss. Magical, transformative, exulting and one heck of an unforgettable journey.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review – ‘Frozen II’

Reviewed at Event Cinemas Bondi Junction, Sydney, Nov. 24, 2019. Australian Classification: PG. Running time: 103 min.

PRODUCTION: A Walt Disney Pictures release of a Walt Disney Animation production. Producer: Peter Del Vecho (p.g.a.). Executive producer: Byron Howard.

CREW: Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee. Screenplay: Jennifer Lee. Story: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, Marc E. Smith, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez. Editor: Jeff Draheim. Music: Christophe Beck.

WITH: (voices) Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Rachel Matthews.

Review – ‘Knives Out’

Rian Johnson‘s (‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘) ensemble juggernaut ‘Knives Out‘ is a cutting edge whodunnit with lots of witty one-liners and twists, an underlying political sneer at modern America, and first-rate actors that will both shock and surprise you.

As soon as the classical music kicks in with the murder scene draped in fog, you know this is going to be a unique watch for 2019 audiences. What seems to have been a suicide, suddenly becomes a murder investigation on the death of renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), as more and more testimonies don’t line up, and private detective Blanc (Daniel Craig) and Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) suspect foul play. A classic murder mystery turns into a contemporary case of Cluedo that keeps the twists coming, even when it seems like the main secret has been revealed in the first act. When more skeletons seem hidden within Thrombey’s manor and his dysfunctional family, that’s when the fun really begins.

Johnson most recently directed the hated-by-a-huge-percentage-of-fanboys ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘ (which I personally adore!), but isn’t holding back on his writing skills. As a matter of fact, it seems like he’s even louder than ever and that truly pays off. His construction and build up of tension and suspense is astounding. Most of ‘Knives Out‘ takes place in the enormous mansion, which by the way has some of the craziest production design I’ve seen all year, yet Johnson takes the story far beyond the mansion on a few occasions to bump into the clues the main suspect has been trying to hide from everyone involved.

The cast is stupendously incredible. Rambling up such a mix of well known talents with exciting new faces, is a genius combo. Front and centre stands Cuban actress Ana de Armas (‘Blade Runner 2049‘), as Mr. Harlan Thrombey’s caretaker. Showcasing a range of emotions throughout the film, she’s certainly the strongest of the cast and an exciting talent that will most definitely have people talking. The caring and emotional Marta Cabrera, is a unique character I haven’t seen in a film of this calibre for a while. Her innocent persona evolves through all stages of grief, showing she has a heart while most of the late Mr. Thrombey’s family members are vultures with no shame. Johnson has proven many times before how to flesh out his characters, and has done it again.

Daniel Craig (‘Spectre‘) and Toni Collette (‘Hereditary‘) surprise as on screen comic relief. It’s refreshing to see Craig, who’s best known for James Bond, take a different route in his career to prove he’s not a one-trick pony. Collette, who at one point channels her Hereditary dinner rant, is a camp riot as daughter-in-law Joni. Everyone is great in their own part, just Jaeden Martell (‘It‘) felt more like a minor plot device and has no place in the whole of the story.

Knives Out‘ is a hoot of a film! Cuts right into the action and slices through two hours of giggles, shocks and spins. This might not be for everyone, Johnson has quite the outspoken opinion on racism, political standpoints and what’s right and wrong, and might challenge those who don’t agree with a more evolved point of view on humanity. The film is most of all engaging, and Johnson is just the right guy to make one the most entertaining films of the year.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review – ‘Knives Out’

Reviewed at Palace Central, Sydney, Nov. 20, 2019. Australian Classification: M. Running time: 130 min.

PRODUCTION: A STUDIOCANAL release of a Lionsgate presentation of a Media Rights Capital (MRC), T-Street production. Producers: Ram Bergman, Rian Johnson. Co-producers: Leopold Hughes, Nikos Karamigios. Executive producer: Tom Karnowski.

CREW: Director/Screenplay: Rian Johnson. Camera (color, widescreen): Steve Yedlin. Editor: Bob Ducsay. Music: Nathan Johnson.

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

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.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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.