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Mister Organ | Regional News

Mister Organ

(M)

96 mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

I have mixed feelings about David Farrier’s new documentary Mister Organ. On the one hand, it followed a reasonably interesting and twisted true story about a shady individual who I wanted to know more about, while on the other, my interest in the film peaked at about the halfway point as it lacked those defining moments all incredible documentaries are known for.

New Zealand journalist and filmmaker David Farrier (Tickled, Dark Tourist) is drawn into a game of cat and mouse with a mysterious individual who is clamping cars outside an antique store in Ponsonby, Auckland. Delving deeper, Farrier unearths a trail of court cases, inflated claims of royal bloodlines, ruined lives, and at least one stolen boat in this true story of psychological warfare.

One thing that’s for certain is that Farrier has found the ultimate sinister weirdo to ‘star’ in Mister Organ. That man’s name is Michael Organ. During the film, Farrier says, “You pay a soul tax for every minute you spend with him”, and believe me when I say this description is precisely on point. Farrier spent years listening to Organ’s puzzling ramblings while making his documentary and by the end, I felt as if I had done the same. As a director, he utilises long sequences from their one-sided interviews to help the audience fully understand just how whacko this guy is. He also did a great job finding victims and persuading them to share their experiences with Organ, providing a well-rounded view of Organ’s twisted past.

But the big question I asked myself while watching was: is this a story worth telling? There is no doubt that Michael Organ is probably one of the most dangerously annoying men in New Zealand, but if we made a documentary about every crazy person in the world, we would be here for a while! Farrier mentions in Mister Organ he is “trapped” with Organ because he must make a film about him. With no real climax or major developments after he starts filming, this isn’t really true. Rather, the documentary is more about Farrier and his own strange journey with Organ. Is that worth two hours of your time? Only you can decide…

Black Adam | Regional News

Black Adam

(PG-13 )

125 mins

(1 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

With superhero giants Marvel finally slowing down in terms of acclaim and box office success – only one Marvel film from the last four years is among the franchise’s top five highest grossing – and it seems rivals DC have finally been given a chance to take back the coveted onscreen superhero throne. In my humble opinion, they have once again blown this chance with their latest effort Black Adam.

In ancient Kahndaq, a young boy (Jalon Christian) is bestowed the almighty powers of the gods. Nearly 5000 years later and Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson) has gone from man to myth to legend. After he is freed from his tomb by a local woman (Sarah Shahi) seeking the lost champion, his unique form of justice, born out of rage, is challenged by modern-day heroes who form the Justice Society.

Blockbusters such as The Dark Knight Rises and the more recent Avengers: Endgame showed that superhero movies can combine thrilling action with compelling storytelling. Black Adam fails miserably in trying to do either. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of fights during the two-hour runtime, they just, well… suck. Known for his suspenseful thrillers such as The Shallows, director Jaume Collet-Serra throws his style out the window and instead settles for a barrage of slow-motion action sequences and CGI lightning bolts. There was no creativity behind many of the scenes, no thought. And while Johnson certainly looks the part as the film’s troubled champion, this is the least entertaining, least appealing role of his career.

The horrendous writing and poor performances by the cast only made things worse. Just because superheroes themselves are made up doesn’t mean superhero films need to avoid realism like the plague. No, instead let’s just teleport civilians to wherever it’s convenient for the plot, forget that humans take damage, and let a kid (Bodhi Sabongui) chat away cheerfully while mercenaries perish all around him.

In all honestly, I would have walked out the door halfway through Black Adam if it wasn’t my job to stay and watch. It’s an unpleasant barrage of symbols and sounds and adds up to little more than a two-hour montage of recycled action and comedy concepts. You’ve been warned.

Smile  | Regional News

Smile

(R16)

115 mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

The latest horror to terrorise screens around the globe, Smile has really got me thinking: should someone be able to review a film when they had their eyes covered for half of it? That question just about sums up how good – or in other words how freaking terrifying – this movie was.

Smile follows Dr Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) after she witnesses a bizarre, traumatic death involving a patient she just met (Caitlin Stasey). After this incident, she starts experiencing frightening occurrences that she can’t explain. When this overwhelming terror begins taking over her life, smiling at her as it does, Rose must confront her troubling past in order to survive and escape her horrifying new reality.

Smile is by no means a genre-defining idea. Plenty of horrors in the past have taken something that is usually associated with happiness – clowns for example – and twisted it into something quite the opposite. However, director Parker Finn and his team have taken this formula and executed it to perfection. From start to finish the story gleefully plays with audiences’ expectations to create some genuinely nasty moments, unpredictable jump scares, and tension-filled scenes. Each upside-down camera shot or suspenseful piece of music is calculated in its use while the seamless transitions mean you can hardly stop for a breath – much like the main character, who is brilliantly portrayed by Bacon. Unlike her friends and family in the film, you can genuinely feel her fear and emotion as you root for the tortured clinical psychologist to find a way to escape from what haunts her.

Smile also plays with some deeper themes, adding depth to the surface-level terror. It speaks to the impact of trauma and the effect this has on mental health. Although somewhat predictable, the action-packed conclusion had me on the edge of my seat. I was taken out of the moment somewhat due to some poor visual effects, but this was just a small blemish in what was a red-blooded crowd-pleaser throughout.

Having never smiled less in my life, Smile is not for the faint of heart. Horror fans however can delight in its jarring story that dances with the smiling face of evil.

Don’t Worry Darling  | Regional News

Don’t Worry Darling

(R-13 )

123 mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Olivia Wilde’s most anticipated film as a director yet, Don’t Worry Darling was a tale of two halves that had the potential to be a lot better. However, thanks to some outstanding performances, glamorous cinematography, and unique twists, I still found myself thinking about the film days after watching.

In the 1950s, Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) live in the idealised community of Victory, an experimental company town where the men work on a top-secret project daily. While the husbands toil away, the wives are free to enjoy the seemingly carefree paradise. But, when cracks in her idyllic life begin to appear, Alice can’t help but question exactly what she’s doing in the ‘perfect’ little town.

I didn’t enjoy the first hour of this film. The mid-century decor, candy-coloured cars, and picturesque homes make for pleasant viewing but the story itself was frustrating as Wilde and her writers tried way too hard. I felt like their only goal was to remind me that Don’t Worry Darling was a psychological thriller through a barrage of consecutive scenes intended to shock me. Instead, many of them fell flat and seemed unnecessary. Comparing this to a masterpiece of the genre such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out where the hair-raising revelations are subtly revealed in between scenes with substance, it simply felt amateur.

Just as I was about to write it off, Don’t Worry Darling suddenly had me on the edge of my seat. This turnaround was mainly thanks to the brilliance of Pugh – who supplies another characteristically strong and layered performance – and a gripping finale that ends with an outstanding final twist (don’t worry, I won’t spoil) that I would argue was well worth the wait. The longer, more dialogue-heavy scenes gave fellow star Chris Pine the chance to show he plays an equally good villain as he does a hero while Styles proved he has what it takes to shine on both the big screen and stage. The eerie score by John Powell continually added to the building pressure.

Although I’ve had more trouble deciding whether Don’t Worry Darling is good or bad than I would like, psychological thriller fans should definitely give it a chance.

See How They Run  | Regional News

See How They Run

(PG-13)

98 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

The latest whodunit to hit theatres is Tom George’s See How They Run. Following in the footsteps of the popular 2019 Knives Out, the film adds comedy to the mystery, making for a playful well-devised puzzle.

In 1950s London, plans for a movie version of Agatha Christie’s smash-hit play The Mousetrap come to an abrupt halt after the director is murdered. When a tired inspector (Sam Rockwell) and an eager rookie constable (Saoirse Ronan) take on the case, they find themselves thrown into a puzzling whodunit within the glamorous world of theatre, investigating the mysterious homicide at their own peril.

See How They Run’s opening sequence sets the scene perfectly. Led by the voice of Academy Award winner Adrien Brody, we get a taste of the postcard mid-20th century London setting and meet a range of suspicious characters before a sudden murder gets us armchair detectives in the mood to try and solve the mystery.

Rockwell and Ronan’s chemistry is brilliant. Their banter is both awkward and funny with plenty of running gags and Ronan in particular steals the show with her warm, upbeat performance. Although the narrative and final twist may have fallen flat for more demanding whodunit viewers, I thoroughly enjoyed the final reveal. Yes, this is partly because all of my many guesses during the film were wrong! However, looking back, George and writer Mark Chappell dropped enough subtle clues to make picking the killer possible.

The fictional story is tied in with some true elements. For those who don’t know, The Mousetrap is a real play, and the film even bases some characters on members from the original cast such as Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim. This was a unique element and only added to a plot that pokes fun at the classic works of the genre. See How They Run also combines fun flashbacks, engaging editing, a suspenseful score (Daniel Pemberton), and colourful aesthetics to provide the audience with enough whodunit constants to keep them involved in the mystery.

Told with fun energy by a fantastic cast, See How They Run may be slightly forgettable once the credits roll, but it is still an hour and a half well spent.  

Gloriavale | Regional News

Gloriavale

(M)

89 mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Gloriavale is a new observational documentary examining the widespread abuse inside the infamous West Coast Christian cult. It focuses on the experiences of two ex-members (John Ready and Virginia Courage) and their mother who still lives in Gloriavalle (Sharon Ready) as they all make serious allegations against the community. The film also examines the institutional failures that have allowed the physical, mental, and psychological abuse at the isolated society to continue.

As a fan of documentaries and someone who has been very intrigued by Gloriavale from a young age, I jumped at the chance to watch a documentary that exposed the religious cult’s darker side. The compelling opening scene set the tone for a film that achieved justice for its main subjects. John, Virginia, and Sharon were all given enough screen time to share their stories and these interviews painted a clear picture of what each of them went, and are still going, through. Directors Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth made great use of the West Coast’s beautiful landscape, with moody drone shots often setting the scene for what came next.

I found the pace of Gloriavale a little slow. Grady and Smyth ensured any interviews cut between relevant archival footage to add context, but I still felt some interviews could have been trimmed in half or left out completely as they repeated information. Something that I always find important when watching a documentary is that it includes two or three moments that (depending on the genre) give you goosebumps, make you say “wow”, or send chills down your spine. A heart-breaking scene towards the middle involving Sharon is the only time I experienced these heightened emotions.

Gloriavale succeeds in raising awareness that more needs to be done about the problematic community by the government and police. At times it was powerful and emotional as it revealed some of the true horrors that go on inside. But unlike many documentaries, I didn’t walk away feeling I needed to rush home to Google all those involved and what has happened since, and it lacked those significant moments that would have made it an incredible watch.

Nope | Regional News

Nope

(R13)

135 mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Before releasing just his third film, director Jordan Peele had already become universally known as one of Hollywood’s most exciting filmmakers. After seeing Nope, I can confidently say he is now three-for-three on creating movies that as soon as the credits start to roll, all you want to do is talk to somebody, anybody about it.

Two siblings (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) running a horse ranch in California discover something wonderful and sinister in the skies above. Things take a nasty and complicated turn when the owner of an adjacent theme park (Steven Yeun) tries to profit from the otherworldly phenomenon.

Peele does a brilliant job blending spectacle with underlying social commentary that addresses ideas often ignored by mainstream media and entertainment. You could watch Nope once and simply be amazed by the chilling sound design (Michael Abels) and suspenseful horror scenes. Or you could watch it 10 times and with each viewing notice something you didn’t before. Perhaps it’ll be physical, like the placement of a prop or a piece of dialogue. On the other hand it could be how a scene at the beginning suddenly connects with one later, creating new meanings that you could have never imagined during the first viewing.

Nope effortlessly mixes sci-fi, horror, and western elements into one unique package, sprinkling in perfectly timed moments of humour. Like Peele’s previous films Get Out and Us, you never know where the story is heading. You're constantly on the edge of your seat, both excited and scared for what’s next. It’s also brimming with engaging performances from the small and talented cast. Nope’s wild final act is the only element I can’t praise (don’t worry I won’t spoil it!). Peele shows throughout the film he isn’t afraid to use the weird and supernatural, however, I still believe weird needs to make sense. Just because you can create something on screen doesn’t mean you should. The film’s ending was trying to do too many things all at once on too big of a scale.

Nope is an ambitious, vibrant mix of genres with layers of topical themes. It remains a thrilling experience even when it doesn’t quite hit the mark and is one I will definitely be watching again.

The Phantom of the Open  | Regional News

The Phantom of the Open

(PG-13)

106 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

One of the best feel-good films in a long time, The Phantom of the Open is a cheerful crowd-pleaser for the whole family. A comedy/drama that strays a bit far from the true story it is based on, it remains a worthy watch thanks to some great performances and its emphasis on fortitude, family, love, and of course, golf.

The Phantom of the Open tells the true story of Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance), a dreamer and unrelenting optimist. Despite never playing a round of golf in his life, the 47-year-old crane operator from Barrow-in-Furness managed to gain entry to The British Open Golf Championship qualifying in 1976. He quickly became a folk hero and, more importantly, showed his family the importance of pursuing your dreams.

Rylance delivers a fabulous performance as our unlikely hero, using his Oscar-winning talents to provide an authentic representation of Flitcroft. From his amusing mannerisms through to his familiar stutter and phrases, the role seems tailor made for Rylance. Playing Flitcroft’s ever-sweet and supportive wife Jean Flitcroft, Sally Hawkins does a great job balancing the hilarious and sentimental moments. This balance is also a strength of the film itself. Flitcroft’s antics on the course leave you chuckling while his oldest son’s (Jake Davies) inability to believe in his father is frustrating. This all comes to a climax in an emotional and uplifting finale where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Was there anything new in The Phantom of the Open? No, not really. It follows a very similar arc to other uplifting feel goods such as Eddie the Eagle and it also could have investigated why exactly the crane operator had a sudden ambition to take up the sport a bit more. As well as this, some significant alterations have also been made to the story, making for a slightly looser adaptation of the Maurice Flitcroft tale than some would have hoped.

At its core, The Phantom of the Open is a touching film filled with solid laughs that encourage viewers to never give up on their dreams. It isn’t quite worth my standing ovation, but I definitely walked away with a smile on my face.

The Black Phone | Regional News

The Black Phone

(R16)

102 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

As someone who is definitely not the biggest fan of scary films, I thoroughly enjoyed The Black Phone. More thriller than sinister, it may not be as terrifying as a diehard horror fan would like (even though those people are crazy), but with a terrific villain, and a twisty story, it is a must-watch for those who enjoy suspenseful thrills.

Finney Shaw (Mason Thames) is a shy but clever 13-year-old boy who’s being held in a soundproof basement by a sadistic, masked killer nicknamed The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). When a disconnected black phone on the wall starts to ring, Finney soon discovers that he can hear the voices of the murderer’s previous victims who are set on making sure he survives.

It was really refreshing that director Scott Derrickson chose to refrain from the jump scare after jump scare model and instead used suspense and dialogue to juice up the spook. Don’t relax just yet, there are still a few jump scares thrown in there, all of which are freaky and disturbing. Hawke gives a great performance as the masked killer, using subtle changeups in his voice to great effect while Thames nails his role as a young kid often balancing fear and courage. Although somewhat predictable, the story is intriguing, as you are just as excited and anxious as Finney each time the phone on the wall rings.  

If you watch The Black Phone hoping to be unable to sleep for a week you will be disappointed. As mentioned, there are some disturbing moments, but overall, it lacks that killer punch that will leave you shaking in your boots. For example, The Grabber makes basement visits in his creepy mask, saying some spooky things, but often these encounters just end with two people talking in a basement. However, suspense is instead the hero thanks to scenes that use sound (or lack of), pace, and background activity to get your heart pumping.

There’s nothing unheard of in The Black Phone, but through great performances, some creepy moments, and a captivating plot, it is one of the few ‘scary’ films I would enjoy watching again.

Elvis | Regional News

Elvis

(PG-13)

159 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

After seeing the dramatic lives of Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and Aretha Franklin brought to life on the big screen, it’s only fitting that the king of rock ‘n’ roll has been given his turn to shine again in Elvis. The result is a bold and dramatic musical epic that gets some things very right and others a bit wrong.

From his rise to fame to his unprecedented superstardom, Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) maintains a complicated relationship with his enigmatic manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), for over two decades. Through love, loss, fame, fortune, and of course, music, the singer and some of his peers begin to question if he is truly in charge of his own destiny.

Butler’s performance steals the show. The 30-year-old stated that he felt a responsibility to Elvis and his family to live up to the icon through his portrayal. From speaking in his notable deep voice and performing his famous dance moves onstage to even singing like him, Butler nailed every single element. Hanks supported the young actor well in a rare role as the antagonist, while the casting and performances across the board were excellent.

Elvis has a unique style thanks to director Baz Luhrmann. It is told from the Colonel’s perspective even though he is clearly the villain, an element I enjoyed. However, at times it is an overload on the senses due to quick edits, comic book-style visuals, and odd mixtures of Elvis classics with modern-day pop hits. It is also a shame that not a single Elvis song is sung in full.

Even at almost three hours long, parts of Elvis’ iconic life are rushed through, but the film also never loses your attention. The ending is both sombre and powerful thanks to how Luhrmann and his writers chose to abruptly wrap up the story. It is a tragedy that the world lost Elvis at just 42, and this tragedy and the reasons are dramatically emphasised.

Elvis won’t really tell you anything new about the star, but overall, it is a captivating, exciting, and haunting feature that showcases much of Elvis’ trailblazing journey.

Jurassic World Dominion  | Regional News

Jurassic World Dominion

(PG-13)

127 mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

I really wanted to like Jurassic World Dominion. Growing up, Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic Jurassic Park was one of my favourite films, and although the franchise has never really been able to capture the magic of the original, I had high hopes for an instalment set to close off this prehistoric universe. Instead, I was underwhelmed and to put it frankly, bored!

The future of mankind hangs in the balance as humans and dinosaurs coexist following the destruction of Isla Nublar. This fragile balance will be tested when the CEO of genetics company Biosyn, Dr Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) attempts to use the power of these primitive creatures for his own gain. Will human beings remain the apex predators on a planet they now share with history’s most fearsome creatures?

Dominion is extremely lazy. It’s almost impossible to produce a film with no inconsistencies but when you create a chase scene where a velociraptor is unable to catch up to Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) but then keeps up with Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) on a motorbike only a few moments later, that is just lazy. The film is riddled with these sorts of inconsistencies, as director Colin Trevorrow decided it would be easier than coming up with intelligent explanations for why his characters travelled great distances in mere minutes and why security cameras never seemed to be working.

The original was so good because Spielberg built suspense so well. Did you know that in Jurassic Park dinos are only on the screen 11 percent of the time? Dominion is the complete opposite. Why would audiences fear these monsters when every two minutes they see Pratt and co escape from one? The dinosaurs may look amazing but the mystery and fear that used to surround them has been lost. There was no sense of wonder, nothing was new or suspenseful. The return of Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) added some well-timed nostalgia, but even they couldn’t save Dominion’s weak script and predictable plot.

As sad as it may be, as Grant suggested all those years ago, it really is time to close the park down and move on.

Top Gun Maverick  | Regional News

Top Gun Maverick

(PG-13)

137 mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

We have done it everyone. After some harsh (but honest) reviews over the last few issues, I have given my first five-star rating. And I can comfortably say that Tom Cruise’s latest venture Top Gun Maverick deserves all the praise it is about to get. An eye-popping blockbuster from start to finish, I would even make the case it tops its 1986 predecessor.

After serving for three decades as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Cruise) is called up as a last resort by his superiors to train a detachment of top graduates for a special assignment. While leading the group, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it.

This film is thrilling. From the very first scene, audiences are treated to sensational sounds and visuals that are some of the most realistic I’ve ever seen and heard on the big screen. It’s realistic because it is real. In a special touch, Cruise himself welcomes visitors to the film, explaining that almost everything you witness is the real deal. In a time where seemingly everything is made with CGI, this approach was so refreshing. And best of all, I actually felt like I was in the cockpit myself during the blood-pumping action sequences, low-altitude flights, and airborne dogfights.

Top Gun Maverick uses nostalgia when necessary, but it also doesn’t overdo it. We can clearly see that Maverick has lived a life during the 30-year gap, while the film connects with his past enough to take us back. Through great writing, we feel that the emotional and dramatic stakes continue to rise as the story moves, but this is balanced out thanks to perfectly timed moments of humour. Cruise delivers another fantastic and witty Cruise-like performance and other cast members such as Miles Teller and Glen Powell support the star well.

A modern-day blockbuster that actually lives up to the hype, Top Gun Maverick is an adrenaline-filled joy ride that expertly touches on ideas around family, bravado, heroism, and sacrifice. In simple terms, it will take your breath away.

Tigre Gente | Regional News

Tigre Gente

(PG-13)

93 mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Part of Doc Edge Festival’s virtual screenings, Tigre Gente is a powerful documentary that is brilliantly told by director Elizabeth Unger. Using the contrast of two completely different worlds, it provides viewers with a jarring look into the destruction caused by the jaguar trafficking industry and those willing to risk their lives to stop it.

The director of the Madidi National Park in Bolivia (Marcos Uzquiano) is determined to investigate and put a stop to a new, deadly jaguar trade that is sweeping through his park and South America. On the other side of the world, a young journalist from Hong Kong (Laurel Chor) goes undercover as she investigates the selling of jaguar teeth in China and Myanmar – connecting the dots between the trade in China and the influence of Chinese business in South America.

The strongest element of Tigre Gente is the parallel perspectives it uses to tell the story. While Uzquiano and his team tirelessly chase illegal hunters through the Amazon’s vast bush and rivers, audiences are left shocked as Chor witnesses the horrible effects of wildlife trading on the streets of Hong Kong and the attitudes that surround it. The film cuts between the two stories and as each new secret is releveled in Bolivia, its influence immediately becomes clear in China. The film showcases visually stunning cinematography. Unger captures the mystic beauty of Madidi National Park as well as the activity on the streets, markets, and cultural hubs of China.

Tigre Gente is extremely educational. In South America, the emotional connections with the jaguar are explored while it also investigates Chinese culture and misconceptions about those on the other side of the trade. It builds suspense when necessary – this element is most prominent when Uzquiano and his rangers are almost shot by a group of hunters they are pursuing. Told in Spanish, Chinese, and English, the documentary’s yellow subtitles were sometimes hard to read but this was just a small mishap in what was a compelling watch.

A unique look into the global jaguar trafficking trade, Tigre Gente is a fantastic take on a modern nature documentary that uses raw storytelling and breathtaking cinematography to touch on several important issues.  

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness  | Regional News

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

(PG-13)

126 mins

(1 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Marvel’s latest film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has again proven why the franchise should have started fresh after Avengers Endgame in what was a fantastic, emotional, and natural end. However, the unfortunate reality in the movie world is that money talks, meaning that Marvel will continue to pump out mediocre movies that hide behind a popular overarching storyline for as long as… well possibly forever. 

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is swept up in a journey across the multiverse as he looks to protect his newest powered companion America Chaves (Xochitl Gomez) from fellow superhero Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Witnessing the power of the multiverse, Wanda has embraced her evil identity as Scarlet Witch, taking extreme measures in her pursuit of America’s power.

My problem with Multiverse of Madness is that it is not a good movie. Now that may sound like an unimaginative statement but hear me out. Marvel is such a beloved franchise that they don’t seem to need to make, or care about making, a good movie anymore. Instead of pushing the boundaries as they did for the original Iron Man, Black Panther, and Endgame, recent films like Morbius, Eternals, and Multiverse of Madness are cursed with uninspired effects, disappointing performances, and nonsensical stories. Sadly, the simple act of inserting a superhero from days gone by is enough to get crowds clapping and cheering for more.

Director Sam Raimi couldn’t even decide what genre Multiverse of Madness is – horror, action, family? We have also reached the point where CGI is not just overused, but it doesn’t even look great. Another issue is that you need an overwhelming knowledge of the Marvel universe to even understand what is going on. Gone are the days when you could enjoy most Marvel films as standalones, no, you now need to watch five films and a couple of TV shows to have a chance.

Half a star for some entertaining fight scenes and the odd funny joke but overall, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had the chance to step away from the mediocre, run-of-the-mill films Marvel has been pumping out – it didn’t.

Everything Everywhere All at Once  | Regional News

Everything Everywhere All at Once

(R13)

140 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Anyone heading to see Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s new sci-fi comedy adventure Everything Everywhere All at Once should be prepared to walk away with their head spinning, their eyes sore, and their mind questioning everything they just witnessed. In other words, this film is utter madness! However, although I often found myself lost down its endless rabbit hole Everything Everywhere All at Once is also extremely original, funny, well acted, and a fun ride from start to finish.

Feeling as if she didn’t accomplish any of her dreams, an ageing Chinese immigrant (Michelle Yeoh) is trying to pay her mountain of taxes when she is suddenly swept into an insane adventure by her husband from another universe (Ke Huy Quan). She alone can save the world by exploring other universes, fighting bizarre dangers, and connecting with the lives she could have led.

Led by Yeoh’s outstanding performance, the acting throughout was a highlight. You truly feel that her character, Evelyn Wang, is just as confused as you when the adventure begins. This is supported by some fantastic interplay with the other cast members, great editing, and a well-written script. It is also hilarious, and although I don’t want to spoil the fun, you won’t ever look at a hotdog or bagel the same. This original movie is also touching, with overarching themes that many of us can really relate to.

Everything Everywhere All at Once loses points for its drawn-out ending and sometimes hard-to-follow storyline. Running for almost two and a half hours, it feels as if the film is coming to a close for the last hour and I often didn’t really get what was happening, who was bad, or even who it was following. However, in a film like this I think it’s best just to roll with it.

Like nothing I have ever seen before, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a bit like a roller-coaster. Make sure you’re hydrated and well feed, strap in, and prepare for an insane ride where by the end you’re not quite sure if you want to hop straight back on, or if you never want to see a roller-coaster again.

The Lost City  | Regional News

The Lost City

(PG-13)

112 mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

The Lost City isn’t a perfect film, but by sticking to its genre and utilising the on-screen chemistry of its cast, I never found myself bored during this star-studded action-comedy. In fact, it was a heck of a lot of fun!  

Reclusive author Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) uses her knowledge and passion for anthropology to write about exotic places in her popular adventure novels that feature a handsome cover model named Alan (Channing Tatum). While on tour promoting her new book, Loretta gets kidnapped by an eccentric billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe) who hopes she can lead him to an ancient city's lost treasure. Determined to prove he can be a hero in real life and not just in her books, Alan sets off to rescue her in what turns out to be an adventure the pair will never forget.

You never really know if an action-comedy is going to be funny, but in the case of The Lost City, it definitely nailed the comedic side of things. Although Bullock and Tatum have their moments, it was surprisingly the film’s minor characters who I found the most amusing. Whether it was Brad Pitt’s brilliant 10-minute cameo, the exploits of Loretta’s tour manager (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), or a slightly inappropriate pilot (Oscar Nuñez) and his goat (yes there’s a goat), the supporting cast all played their roles to perfection. 

Bullock and Tatum’s on-screen chemistry was also a highlight. The two bounced off each other throughout the film while playing to their strengths. The film didn’t overdo it – there was action when it needed action, and a little bit of emotion when it needed a little bit of emotion. A small let-down was Radcliffe and his evil billionaire character Abigail Fairfax. The villain lacked any real depth – it would have been nice to learn about something other than his endless hatred for a younger brother we never meet.

Visually stunning throughout, The Lost City does a fantastic job of recreating the magnificent world Loretta describes in her books. The film never tries too hard, and the holes in the pretty-predictable plot are quickly filled with the many humorous moments, all of which are portrayed terrifically by a fantastic cast. The perfect word to describe The Lost City? Fun!

Death on the Nile | Regional News

Death on the Nile

(M)

127 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Whether or not you’ve seen its prequel Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh’s newest rendition of the famous Agatha Christie murder-mystery Death on the Nile is well worth a watch. With a star-studded cast the likes of Annette Bening, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, and Kenneth Branagh himself as the inimitable detective Hercule Poirot, this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Poirot is happily enjoying his holiday in Egypt when he is interrupted by his friend Bouc’s (Tom Bateman) invitation to join the wedding party of Linnet and Simon Doyle (Gadot and Hammer) down the Nile River. However the honeymoon takes a turn for the worse when death makes a not-so-surprise appearance aboard the cruise.

Utterly glamorous, Branagh’s rendition fully embraces the vintage aesthetic this period piece permits. From costumes to props, and even setting, the film itself is so indisputably beautiful that it comes as a shock to find it was filmed entirely in a London Studio and not along the sultry shores of the Nile herself.

The score is beautifully crafted, featuring jazz music that would have been at the height of fashion in 1937. Unique however is that the score is seamlessly woven into the story itself through the character of Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo), a famous jazz singer of the novel’s era who happens to be invited along on the cruise.

The editing style wholly embraces the murder-mystery genre of the film. With wide slow exposition shots interspersed with quick cuts in moments of tension, the editing leaves you on edge and desperate to uncover the killer. Similarly, the cinematography guides the viewer’s eye exactly where it needs to be, hiding clues in plain sight and revealing just enough to formulate conjectures and accusations. Interrogation scenes characterised by chiaroscuro lighting denote a sense of paranoia, whereas sweeping circular shots of Poirot pacing around his suspects create unease and restlessness, making even the viewer feel a little guilty.

Glamorous, classic, and undoubtedly fun, Death on the Nile delivers precisely as promised.

The Batman | Regional News

The Batman

(PG-13)

176 mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

It’s interesting but when it comes to The Batman the story is probably my least favourite element (apart from Robert Pattinson’s Batman voice, but more on that later). That’s not to say I didn’t like the story but when other elements such as the sound engineering, lighting, fight scenes, and score are so good, those are the things that make me come back for more. 

Bruce Wayne, known by some as Batman (Pattinson), ventures into Gotham City’s underworld after a sadistic killer who calls himself the Riddler (Paul Dano) leaves behind a trail of cryptic clues and high-profile murders. As the evidence begins to lead closer to Wayne’s family, the scale of the killer’s plans become even more devastating. Batman must forge new and unlikely relationships as he attempts to unmask the culprit and bring justice to the corruption that plagues the city. What he uncovers will have him questioning everything he ever believed. 

The beginning of the film was brilliant. I won’t spoil all the fun, but the new-look Riddler’s entrance sets the tone for what is going to be a grim, dark, and gritty three hours. I think Pattinson did a great job as Batman considering the pressure that comes with any such role. He delivered audiences a refreshing take on the hero, one who is clearly scarred from the nightmares of his past. His ‘regular dude’ Batman voice was a let-down, but overall Pattison was a worthy successor of the role thanks to his sombre, methodical, and engaging approach. 

Movies don’t need to be three hours to be good and that is the same for The Batman. If director Matt Reeves had shaved off 30 minutes, the story would have felt tighter as some unnecessary scenes could have been cut. It was also awesome to see Batman wasn’t perfect, often taking his fair share of punches in a fight. Everything sounded amazing, and the weaving in of Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria throughout the film was both brilliant and sinister. 

Although The Dark Knight still stands atop of the podium, The Batman has begun a new era for the famous franchise. It is a dark, haunting, and intense tale told with brilliant elements and fresh characters.  

Drive My Car | Regional News

Drive My Car

(M)

179 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Drive My Car has not only won 37 awards, but it has also been nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture. However, there is always one big question that surrounds any film nominated for that quintessential award – is the film actually good, or is it just kind of boring? When it comes to Drive My Car, my answer is it’s a bit of both. 

Drive My Car is a 2021 Japanese drama about a renowned stage actor and director, Yūsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), who after his wife’s (Reika Kirishima) unexpected death, receives an offer to direct a production in Hiroshima. There he meets Misaki (Tôko Miura), an introverted young woman appointed to drive his car. In between rides, secrets from the past and heartfelt confessions will be unveiled and despite their initial misgivings, a very special relationship develops between the unlikely pair.

The film is a piece of art. Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi has defiantly stepped away from the modern pressure of creating a film that needs to be fast-paced, funny, or full of action. If the film’s three-hour run time wasn’t already bold enough, the opening credits don’t even appear onscreen until about the 40-minute mark. The pace gave me time to reflect on the sombre events that occur during the film, however, some variety would have been refreshing, as I did also find myself wondering when something a bit more exciting was going to ‘happen’.  

The cinematography in Drive My Car is amazing. Cinematographer Hidetoshi Shinomiya uses majestic symbols to convey meaning throughout the film. There are plenty of beautifully framed shots of the actors and landscapes but perhaps what is most engaging, is the way in which deep topics and meaningful relationships were developed. This was both powerful and emotional and the outstanding performances from the cast also helped convey these deep meanings.

I wouldn’t call Drive My Car the Mona Lisa of the movie world, but it is a work of art that I enjoyed. A film that won’t be for everyone, it could have been thirty minutes shorter, however, it is still a hauntingly beautiful feature and a refreshing take on the drama genre.

The Adam Project  | Regional News

The Adam Project

(PG13)

106 mins, available on Netflix

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

I am a big believer in judging a film for what it is. For example, if I watch Dodgeball, a comedy about grown men throwing dodgeballs at each other, I’ll be completely satisfied if I walk away having laughed a bunch of times – I’m not looking for a masterpiece. The Adam Project does its job. Director Shawn Levy has created a fun adventure that families can enjoy for a few hours before likely forgetting about the film a few weeks later. 

In a dystopian 2050, fighter pilot Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) steals his time jet and escapes through time on a rescue mission to 2018. However, he accidentally crash-lands in 2022 instead where he meets his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell). The duo team up on a mission to save future Adam’s wife (Zoe Saldaña) but in doing so the pair must come to terms with their past while saving the future.

The story was decent but what really impressed me was Scobell's performance. Anyone who has seen any Reynolds movie in the last five years knows exactly what they are going to get from the star who seemingly plays the same character in all his latest films. However, Scobell, who also had the added pressure of it being his first big role, did an awesome job. He nailed 12-year-old Adam by being cheeky, funny, and emotional when needed. And even though Reynolds again stuck to what he knows, I can’t say he didn’t do a good job. 

The film had me laughing out loud at times and I did feel a little something when things got a bit more serious and emotional towards the end. Some of the CGI was average, especially the de-ageing ‘deep-fake’ used on Catherine Keener who plays villain Maya Sorian – it looked terrible. And I still have no idea how time travel works despite Adam’s father (Mark Ruffalo) explaining it a bunch of times. The Adam Project did what it needed to do. Will I watch it again? Probably not, but it was still an entertaining ride that I think most people will enjoy. 

Dog | Regional News

Dog

(PG-13)

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Channing Tatum and a dog. Two of the best things in the world. Safe to say I was fizzing to watch Dog and it did not disappoint – although I would have scored it at least half a star more if Magic Mike had dropped in to say hey.

Written by Reid Carolin and Brett Rodriguez, and directed by Carolin and Tatum in his directorial debut, Dog is an instant family classic. Calling it a family flick might be a stretch as there are some lewd elements, hence the PG-13 rating, but ultimately it’s a buddy comedy with some deeper underlying currents that elevate it from good to doggone good. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

The movie follows Army Ranger Briggs (Tatum), who must escort the dog of the fallen Sergeant Rodriguez to his funeral. Trouble is, the sweet-faced Belgian Malinois is anything but. Both man and dog are suffering PTSD, and while Briggs does his best to represses his, Lulu’s approach is a little more – er, rip-your-face-off-and-eat-it, I believe is the technical term.

If Briggs can drive Lulu to the funeral from Oregon to Arizona without incident, he’ll be reinstated into service – something he wants desperately but would be the most destructive thing for him. Sadly, speaking of destruction, Lulu is set to be put down after her dad’s funeral, raising the stakes of the film and making the audience love her even more.

Lulu is played by three different Belgian Malinoises and is absolutely the star of the show here. Her ridiculous antics, like headbutting Briggs in the throat, nearly leading him to his death on a pot farm, and annihilating a teddy bear, are pure joy. But it’s in her bond with Briggs, a more vulnerable Tatum, that the true strength of the film lies. The rest of it is fluff: Dog is about two broken soldiers healing each other.

Army Ranger Noah (Ethan Suplee) sums it up best when he talks about his dog Nuke, who served alongside Lulu in Afghanistan.

“I’ve been working him every day for six months. When he stopped struggling, that’s when I realised maybe I could stop struggling too.”

Uncharted | Regional News

Uncharted

(PG-13)

116 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

I am a fan of the Uncharted games. No better yet, I am a massive fan of the Uncharted games. So, although part of me may have already cast this film aside when I saw Tom Holland (who bears almost no resemblance to Nathan Drake) cast as the film’s hero, I feel it is only fair that I judge Uncharted in terms of how well it represented the games, because those fans are who the film should have been made for.

Uncharted follows Nathan Drake (Holland) in his mid-twenties after he is recruited by treasure hunter Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg). The two are searching for the 500-year-old lost fortune of Ferdinand Magellan. What begins as a quick heist soon becomes a furious globe-trotting race to reach the prize before the ruthless Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) can get his hands on it. 

This movie failed from the start. Columbia and Sony Pictures took a big risk when they decided not to adapt one of Naughty Dog’s successful game storylines and instead tell an original prequel. Original stories are fine but to change the fundamental elements of the Uncharted games such as how Sully and Drake meet? That doesn’t sit well with me.

Wahlberg’s take on Sully is perhaps where this film lost any chance of writing its wrongs. Instead of the faithful and trusty mentor from the games, viewers are thrust a Sully who doesn’t seem to care about Drake at all. The pair’s renowned connection is completely lost, and this leads to the story feeling hollow. Although some of Uncharted’s action scenes are downright epic, this is no longer enough due to the regularity of films with impressive computer-generated imagery. Holland does an okay job capturing the personality of Drake, but this fails to make up for his lack of resemblance to the Drake of the games.

Director Ruben Fleischer had a rare chance to inherit a story and characters that were already engaging and build on these elements. Instead, audiences have been provided with another film that hides behind an all-star cast, mediocre humour, and big explosions rather than one that focuses on a thoughtful story that people care about, like those in the Uncharted games.  

Red Rocket | Regional News

Red Rocket

(R16)

130 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Like his previous films, particularly the acclaimed The Florida Project, Sean Baker zeroes in on outcasts and misfits in Red Rocket. A slice-of-life picture that candidly centres on an amoral character, its liberating attitude towards sex and bad behaviour makes it exhilarating beyond belief.

Following a 17-year stint in Los Angeles, washed-up porn star Mikey (Simon Rex) returns to his hometown in Texas to shelter with his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss). Unable to find work due to his previous career, he spends his time moving weed for an old acquaintance and frequenting the local donut shop, where he meets 17-year-old Strawberry (Suzanna Son).

For all intents and purposes, Mikey is a scumbag. He uses his deceptive charm and relentless fun-loving energy to manipulate those around him: convincing the ex he abandoned to let him crash, befriending his star-struck neighbour to score free rides, hitting on a highschooler with the objective of finding a way back into the porn industry. It’s been too long since a mainstream flick dared to set its sights on a dude this pathetic, and thankfully, Baker doesn’t waste time spelling it out. He simply lets Mikey’s decisions unfold while we play judge, jury, and executioner – a telltale sign of a filmmaker who trusts the intelligence of his audience.

Baker again showcases an uncanny ability to make a community feel existent – the people, locations, and experiences in Red Rocket appear lived-in, an achievement aided by the gorgeously grainy 16-millimetre photography. His films are the screen equivalents of lo-fi Soundcloud mixtapes, those ones that go on to be rereleased by major labels and heralded as classics. This tangibility also flows through the writing (Baker and Chris Bergoch) and performances. Rex delights in playing a man this downtrodden and gives his all to the role. It’s safe to say I won’t soon forget the image of him running down the street butt naked to NSYNC’s Bye Bye Bye.

While a touch bloated at 130 minutes, Red Rocket is a cinematic experience unlike any other you’re likely to have in 2022.

The Worst Person in the World | Regional News

The Worst Person in the World

(R16)

128 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Modern day romance is anatomised without faux sentimentality in The Worst Person in the World, a dark rom-com that shows how a person can discover themselves by falling into each and every pitfall the dating game opens up. Renate Reinsve delivers one of the most impactful performances in recent memory, and Joachim Trier adds just enough directorial flourishes to make it all feel both tangible and cinematic.

Julie (Reinsve) is a promising medical student in Oslo, Norway who decides to drop it all to pursue psychology, then photography. She’s endlessly indecisive, which feeds into her love life. We watch on as she, over the course of several years, explores serious (and not so serious) relationships, struggles to find a fitting career path, and tries to forge an identity.

I am thrilled that The Worst Person in the World broke out of the International Feature category at the 94th Academy Awards and received a nomination for Original Screenplay. Trier and Eskil Vogt’s script conflates an entire youth’s worth of romance into two hours, mapping a finely tuned character arc that never feels crammed. It covers the realities of dating someone older who may be ready to settle down sooner than you, the envy that comes with having a partner who grows more successful than you, the temptation to cheat, and on and on. While I prefaced this as a rom-com, it almost feels too authentic for that label.

As its title implies, Julie, on paper at least, should not be remotely likable. This is a red herring, as she must be for the viewer to care about her journey; even if they do not agree with her decisions, they must understand them and root for her to figure it all out. Much of this falls on Reinsve’s shoulders, and she tackles it with all her might. Through heartbreak and trepidation, hunger and happiness, she makes Julie feel real, like an old friend we just haven’t caught up with in a while.

The Worst Person in the World will break your heart and feed it in one foul swoop.

Memoria | Regional News

Memoria

(PG)

136 Mins

(1 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Semblances of intrigue occasionally rear their head in Memoria, but it refuses to grab the bull by the horns. I wanted to love it, I really did, but this was a slog. A void of emptiness that while sometimes pretty, is too static, flat, and fruitless to take anything from.

Jessica (Tilda Swinton), a Scottish expat living in Colombia, is awoken one night by a large, mysterious boom. It recurs, but she is seemingly the only person who hears it. Where on Earth is this noise coming from?

Many films place experience above plot or character, leaving the audience to piece together a story as they perceive and interpret what’s in front of them. David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick mastered this effect with films like Mulholland Drive and Eyes Wide Shut. Robert Eggers is a more recent example that comes to mind with The Witch and The Lighthouse. These films demand your attention. They grip your eyeballs and sear images into your mind causing deep-rooted emotional responses, even if it takes two or three viewings for you to understand exactly where it’s brewing from. Memoria sits at the opposite end of this spectrum.

Written and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, it meanders along at a snail’s pace, with tension that never rises or falls. Silent, motionless shots remain fixed for minutes on end, characters take an eternity to respond to another’s line of dialogue. No one communicates this way, and Weerasethakul doesn’t do enough to establish a world where we believe they might. He is clearly trying to examine existential concepts – dreams, memories, and what have you – but he is doing it in a way so uninteresting, so uninspiring that I don’t even care to address them.

Swinton is by no means a boring performer, quite the opposite. But until Memoria’s final moments, she gives very little, or perhaps, little was brought out of her. An actor of her calibre was not necessary for this part, though I praise her for attempting to inject passion and solemnity where she could.

Licorice Pizza | Regional News

Licorice Pizza

(M)

134 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson once again proves his versatility with Licorice Pizza, a heartfelt and outrageously funny tale that follows a pair of loveable misfits through the throes of adolescence.

Set in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles in the early 1970s, 15-year-old child actor and wannabe business tycoon Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) spies Alana Kane (Alana Haim) at his school’s photo day and quickly declares, “I met the girl I’m gonna marry one day”. Though an unlikely pairing, the two can’t help but develop a deep friendship, despite the oddball world surrounding them.

Though world’s apart stylistically, I can’t help but compare Anderson to Stanley Kubrick for his ability to comfortably shift gears from film to film. His last was the contemplative, regal Phantom Thread (2017). Before that, the bonkers neo-noir Inherent Vice (2014). Yet here we have a coming-of-age comedy that simultaneously captures a sense of nostalgia and outright bizarreness; beautifully photographed, ingeniously written, and oh so fresh.

This film, perhaps more than any of Anderson’s previous efforts, feeds directly from its central characters, with Gary and Alana driving the narrative rather that it driving them. Thankfully, these are endlessly watchable people, portrayed with genuine warmth, affection, and passion. Alana may be one of the best characters I’ve seen put to screen in some time; driven and lost, angry and sweet. They are both fish out of water, weirdos in their own right, yet somehow make sense to each other in a world that often doesn’t.

Thematically, Licorice Pizza feels akin to a film like Harold and Maude (1971) more so than any of Anderson’s previous work. However, one link is the casting of Cooper Hoffman, the son of late-great actor and frequent collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman – a truly gracious tribute.

I could have hung out in the world of Licorice Pizza all day. Sure, it could have been squeezed into a tighter runtime, and sure, it doesn’t carry the weight of its director’s heavier films, but this one feels intentionally light by comparison. Anderson simply allows you time to play around in the sandpit, laughing all the way.

The Power of the Dog | Regional News

The Power of the Dog

(R13)

126 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Jane Campion returns to feature filmmaking after a 12-year wait and proves she can still paint a portrait like no one else. With a pitch-perfect performance from Benedict Cumberbatch as its foundation, The Power of the Dog drips menace from every frame, challenging audiences to read between the lines to find the nuance within.

Based on the novel by Thomas Savage, The Power of the Dog stars Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons as brothers Phil and George Burbank, well-to-do ranchers in 1925 Montana. George quickly falls for widow and inn owner Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), forcing the brothers to take her effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) on board, all of which causes the vindictive Phil to spiral.

Campion has a truly superior understanding of filmic language. Where a lesser director might throw in an unremarkable establishing shot, she will instead let the textures of an environment guide the mood, whether she’s creating unease with the rustle of tussock grasses or letting the sudden striking of a match briefly reveal a sinister smirk. Campion’s script is as elegant as her direction. There is so much to discover in every line, and just as much in every pause between.

Phil rules through a thick veil, and only we, the audience, are privy to what’s beneath. Subtly manifesting shifting power dynamics, a crisis of masculinity, and psychosexual tension, Cumberbatch spits more venom than a poison-tip dart. Rose and Peter represent existential threats, forcing him to acknowledge buried confessions that keep him awake at night – and so, they must be destroyed. Smit-McPhee is another standout as Phil’s one true intellectual rival.

While a brasher climax could easily have taken from the film’s masterfully constructed slow burn, I wanted to feel more bruised as it faded to black. Still, The Power of the Dog soars as an examination of unfulfilled desire and tactful manipulation. A flawlessly crafted work with a unique story to tell.

Last Night in Soho | Regional News

Last Night in Soho

(R16)

117 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Much like Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), we too enter a neon-lit fever dream watching Last Night in Soho, a film that turns our nostalgia for the past into an inescapable nightmare. Edgar Wright’s directorial touch shines more than ever as he modernises and romanticises the classic thriller with assured awareness, propelling an intriguing mystery that has us waiting with bated breath for answers.

Eloise Turner is a young fashion student who lives for the Swinging Sixties. Though she’s excited to trade her rural surrounds for London, she quickly feels alienated by the big city and seeks refuge in a shabby Soho apartment, which she rents from one Mrs Collins (Dame Diana Rigg). Her new home comes with history, and when she falls asleep, Eloise is whisked away to the 60s she’s always dreamed of, where she is tethered to aspiring club singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy).

With films like Hot Fuzz (2007) and Baby Driver (2017) under his belt, Wright’s meticulous direction is well established, but never has he been more inventive than in Last Night in Soho. Like a kid in a candy store, he constantly finds fun ways to meld Eloise’s present with Sandy’s past; an early dance sequence that combines clever camera movement and precise choreography stands out as a moment of pure cinematic delight. From the costumes and the production design to the noirish lighting, soundtrack, and underbelly atmosphere, the 60s burst to life under Wright’s tutelage.

Wellington actress McKenzie fits beautifully into the world Wright creates and delivers a star-making performance. Tortured, mystified, and alone, she is the square peg trying to fit into the round hole, beautifully offset by the film’s well-cast ensemble. Taylor-Joy is a perfect counterpoint, but this is, without a doubt, McKenzie’s movie. In her final performance before her death last year, Rigg is as poised as ever, and Last Night in Soho serves as a worthy swan song for this screen legend.

Last Night in Soho harkens back to the type of dread felt in psychological thrillers like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960). I implore you to go in cold and experience Last Night in Soho spoiler-free; discovering its secrets is just too damn fun.

Juniper | Regional News

Juniper

(M)

94 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Despite Charlotte Rampling’s mesmerising performance, Juniper often feels like a self-aggrandising hodgepodge, so in awe of its star that it loses sight of what the story is trying to achieve. Though it touches on suicide, isolation, mortality, and familial disconnect, the film’s primary message seems to be, ‘can you believe it? We got Charlotte Rampling!’

Juniper introduces George Ferrier as Sam, a self-destructive 17-year-old who begrudgingly returns home from boarding school for the weekend with his dad Robert (Márton Csókás), with whom he barely speaks. There he meets his wheelchair-bound grandmother Ruth (Rampling), a viciously demanding former war photographer with a love for the bottle who has returned to New Zealand from England, and a battle of wills begins.

From that brief synopsis, you might assume Sam is our lead, and I think he is, but the filmmakers don’t. While the opening sequences paint a vivid (if not slightly ham-fisted) portrait of teen angst, the second Ruth is introduced, all that falls by the wayside. To utilise Rampling’s talents sparingly would have been a brave and effective creative decision, but writer-director Matthew Saville loses his nerve early, and Juniper quickly becomes a novelty vehicle for Rampling that follows a trajectory we’ve explored on screen time and time again.

The temptation to give Rampling as much screen time as possible is understandable; she is undeniably magnetic. Poised and charming despite the vile nature of her character, it’s hard to imagine the film would have sustained my gaze had it not been for her ability to add pathos to every line. Ruth, however – like much of the ensemble – is severely underwritten, particularly apparent when the script attempts to break silence with humour; in other words, she says “f**k” a lot, which as we all know, is a very naughty word for an old woman to use.

Sarcasm aside, many people will still find ways to connect with Juniper. Its characters, though somewhat synthetic, are inherently relatable and its story tried and true. In a year of red-hot Kiwi releases, Juniper just isn’t the standout it should be.

No Time to Die | Regional News

No Time to Die

(M)

164 Mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

While a fitting farewell to Daniel Craig’s James Bond, much of No Time to Die feels like a wash, rinse, repeat exercise. A committed and likeable ensemble cast and vicious action sequences keep it from growing stale, but on a scale of Craig’s Bond films, it winds up somewhere in the middle: not great, not bad, just okay.

A direct sequel to 2015’s Spectre, No Time to Die is the 25th entry in the James Bond franchise and the fifth to star Craig as the illusive MI6 agent. Bond has settled down with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and ditched the secret agent life, until his old friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), shows up with a new mission: to rescue a kidnapped scientist and prevent the mysterious Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) from unleashing a deadly nanoscopic weapon on the world. Meanwhile, Bond must play nice with Nomi (Lashana Lynch), the new 007. 

Unlike the previous actors who have taken up the mantle, Craig’s Bond films are interconnected. It would seem the stage has been set for a grand finale, but instead, No Time to Die feels like a check list, a movie attempting to wrap up 15 years of story arcs and present an entertaining one-off adventure. Even with its 164-minute runtime, it’s too much to contain.

Given the wealth of characters crammed into this tale, it’s no surprise that some fall flat while others soar. Craig delivers a performance on par with his others, though he doesn’t quite tap into the raw energy and emotional gravitas found in Casino Royale and Skyfall. Of the new additions, Ana de Armas shines brightest as Paloma, a fresh-faced CIA agent with a whole lot of ambition and very little training, though I wish her screentime extended past a single sequence. Sadly, Malek’s Safin feels like every Bond villain mashed into one, and while Nomi’s presence creates an interesting dilemma for Bond, she isn’t given the space to develop as an individual.

No Time to Die feels plot-heavy where it should have felt emotionally driven. As the cherry on top of Craig’s run, it plays well. On its own, it doesn’t stand toe to toe with the best of the series.

Annette | Regional News

Annette

(R16)

140 Mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Annette is, in equal measure, one of the most original, baffling, and alienating films I’ll see this year. A surreal experience that reflects the sensibilities of its creators, it builds frustration without relief, yet I can never quite bring myself to look away.

The English-language debut of French filmmaker Leos Carax, Annette is an almost dialogue-free sung-through musical with story and songs by Avant-Garde art-pop duo Sparks. Adam Driver stars as comedian Henry McHenry, who falls madly in love with Ann Defrasnoux, an opera singer portrayed by Marion Cotillard. The birth of their daughter Annette reveals cracks in their star-powered romance, and the plot thickens further when it is discovered that Annette is a prodigy vocalist herself.

Carax is not remotely interested in the real, which we are told from the opening number, a meta tune in which Sparks themselves join a chorus and our lead actors in asking, “so may we start?” This teases a bubblegum musical that never arrives, as once we truly enter, things only fall deeper and deeper into the abyss.

It’s certainly brave to leave us with a lead character this vain, repugnant, and egotistical. Henry’s comedy act relies on shocking his audience, and it seems his presence in Annette is designed to have the same effect on us. This could have been effective had he been portrayed by a lesser-known actor, but here we have Driver – the dude from Star Wars – and it confuses the portrait Carax is trying to paint. 

Carax’s audacious visual inventiveness constantly tests the audience; sometimes they suck me in, other times they push me away. Henry and Ann’s waltz atop their yacht, backed by a rear-projected storm, is mesmerising, while the cartoonish ‘Showbizz News’ segments boast greenscreen effects so intentionally terrible they would be better suited to a Saturday Night Live sketch.

Every frame and story beat of Annette demands dissection, and it is destined to become the subject of cult fascination. It will always feel somewhat empty and muddled, but never will it lose its sense of wonder and weirdness.

Pig | Regional News

Pig

(M)

91 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

An unusually restrained Nicholas Cage, dark secrets of a notorious past, and a pig drive this melancholic and often aloof tale. Writer-director Michael Sarnoski strives to find depth in sparsity, meandering through an increasingly disenchanting story led by a promising character we observe but, sadly, never absorb.

Rob (Cage) is a recluse living in a cabin deep in the Oregon forest. His only companion is his pig, his only income the truffles she helps him find, which he trades with high-end restaurant supplier Amir (Alex Wolff). One night, Rob is attacked and his prized pig is stolen, forcing him back to the city to find the people responsible.

I know what you’re thinking, John Wick 4 has arrived early. Well, not exactly. This isn’t a revenge picture, and far more closely resembles a Leave No Trace than a Taken. What we have with Pig, on the surface at least, is a film about isolation, but beyond that I can’t decipher what it’s trying to say. Rob appears to be an interesting man, complete with a shady past, an apocalyptic worldview, and the ability to cook Michelin star-worthy meals in the middle of the woods. And yet, as we are drip-fed answers to the riddles he invites, I’m left more and more unsatisfied.

That said, it’s never for lack of trying. Patrick Scola’s photography is undeniably rich; the aromas of damp moss and bark permeate the screen when we hunt for truffles alongside Rob and his pig, while the bright lights of high-society Portland blur into a trippy kaleidoscope of artificiality. Our leads, Cage and Wolff, are each as compelling as the other, Sarnoski simply hasn’t given them enough meat to chew on. When he tries to toss in a left-field idea – an underground fight club for wealthy restaurateurs, for example – it comes off disingenuous in a film that otherwise lacks urgency.

Stylistically, Pig is an intriguing debut for Sarnoski, and with the right story he could surely soar in the future. This just wasn’t it.

Coming Home in the Dark | Regional News

Coming Home in the Dark

(R16)

93 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Words like ‘suspenseful’ and ‘nail-biter’ are often thrown around casually, but when was the last time a thriller truly sent a tidal wave of terror washing over you? Coming Home in the Dark is an ever-building symphony of dread informed by strong characters, a gripping story, and an intimate camera.

High school teacher Alan ‘Hoaggie’ Hoaganraad (Erik Thomson) and his wife Jill (Miriama McDowell) are enjoying a picnic with their two boys when they are interrupted by a pair of drifters, Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) and Tubs (Matthias Luafutu). Soon their idyllic day turns into a nightmare road trip, and what Hoaggie at first believes to be a random encounter may actually be rooted in the sins of his long-buried past.

In his feature debut, director and co-writer James Ashcroft shows he is perfectly willing to test an audience’s limits. At times he and co-writer Eli Kent play the game as you’d expect, but other moments will send unexpected shockwaves through the crowd, including a particularly ballsy beat that sets a brutal tone early on. With hints of stylistic prowess from the book of De Palma and sensibilities reminiscent of the Coens’ darker entries, this is as confident a debut as any director has made in recent memory and an invigorating addition to Aotearoa’s feature filmmaking roster.

Much of the movie takes place inside a car, but thanks to Ashcroft’s gift for visual suspense and committed performances all-round, it never stalls. Thomson screams everyman, and his grounded portrayal of the frightened, guilt-stricken family man contrasts magnificently with Gillies’ sinister turn. He makes the villainous Mandrake a ghostly figure, one who seems to move with the wind and commit excruciatingly unpredictable acts, much in the vein of Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men). Despite this, we can’t help but admire his intelligence, wit, and charm.

Coming Home in the Dark is filled with risks, which makes it stand out as an assuredly fresh thriller. Who is right and who is wrong is up for debate, but what isn’t is the hold this film will undoubtedly have on those who see it.

The Justice of Bunny King | Regional News

The Justice of Bunny King

(M)

101 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The Justice of Bunny King is not always mesmerising, but its characters certainly are. Though its story loses steam, saved by a left-field surprise of a third act, its messages ring true, and I wager most will leave the theatre with a slightly altered perspective. 

Bunny King (Essie Davis) is a squeegee bandit with a goal: to save enough money to regain custody and house her two kids. After promising her youngest a birthday party during a visit, Bunny will do anything to keep her word, despite having no job, no home, and no help from social services. Things are only complicated further when her niece Tonyah (Thomasin McKenzie) reaches out for help.

The film rides or dies on the shoulders of Bunny, an undoubtedly demanding role. She must at once be warm and compassionate, frustrated and cool, but Davis refuses to let her become superficial. Bunny is imperfect, with shades of light and dark. She makes mistakes, often lashing out at those who wrong her in immature ways. But these elements boil down to a supremely human character, one who we’ve all encountered and maybe now feel we can relate to a little more.

Front to back, the cast make the story feel visceral. Even minor characters, such as Government Family Services caseworker Trish (Tanea Heke), make an impact. This is largely aided by Gaysorn Thavat’s focused direction and Sophie Henderson’s concise screenplay.

It’s clear that the collaborators felt a kinship towards Bunny, but at times the story she is in runs out of gas. The film takes an unexpected turn in the final act, which will work for some and alienate others. For me, it worked, bringing scope, suspense, and surprise to a tale I thought had tapped out.

Bunny and Tonyah struggle to be heard, supported, and empathised with, feelings we’ve all had. The film’s anti-patriarchy message is one many will raise a fist to, but I foresee The Justice of Bunny King being a love-it-or-hate-it experience for most.

In the Heights | Regional News

In the Heights

(PG)

143 Mins

(1 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

While it’s invigorating to see Latino culture embraced in a big-budget movie musical, this is about the only aspect of In the Heights that feels fresh. Predictable from frame one, musically and emotionally repetitive, and visually sporadic, this one should have stayed on the stage.

Based on the Tony Award-winning musical by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), In the Heights introduces us to Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos), a bodega owner in Washington Heights, New York, who dreams of reconnecting with his people in the Dominican Republic. With the help of his abuela (Olga Merediz), friends, and Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), the apple of his eye, Usnavi may find he’s been home all along.

It’s hard to believe that a film with hundreds of extras, Latin and hip-hop inspired songs, and people dancing on the sides of buildings could be dull, but here we are. While I can see how this would’ve felt like a ray of sunshine when it first graced the Broadway stage in 2008, in 2021, it’s already outdated. Most characters are stuck, waiting for that big break to come along so they can show the world their potential. Familiar terrain, sure, but many other movie musicals, even recent ones, have managed to make this feel exciting and original. In the Heights feels worn out, tired.

Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) seems addicted to excess, and it culminates in a whole lot of flourish and a lack of result. The film is vibrant without pause, to the point where I simply needed something – the look, the music, the characters – to change. It’s as if Chu’s storyboards simply read ‘more… more… MORE… roll credits’.

Some catharsis comes courtesy of support players, many of whom manage to bring gravitas to their characters beyond what’s on the page, specifically Corey Hawkins, Jimmy Smits, and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Choreographer Christopher Scott also brings his A game, providing lively dances that I only wish had been captured more effectively. Even with these moments of elation, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief when the credits finally rolled.

Poppy | Regional News

Poppy

(PG)

98 Mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Reviewed by Sam Hollis

While we never get to experience the tension of believing things won’t be neatly tied up with a ribbon, Poppy channels its well-worn story through a vibrant and captivating title character. Though the script leaves nuance to be desired, a strong lead performance from newcomer Libby Hunsdale lays the foundation for a film that manages to delight in all the right places.

Poppy (Hunsdale), a young Kāpiti woman with Down syndrome, wants the same things as the rest of us – love, a career, a life – but finds that others don’t have the same faith in her. As she puts in the grind to earn a mechanics apprenticeship at her family’s garage and navigate her first relationship, her overprotective brother Dave (Ari Boyland) refuses to take his foot off the brake.

It cannot be overstated how comfortably Hunsdale inhabits the frame. Her energy oozes out of the screen, never feeling one-note. Poppy often says exactly what she’s thinking, yet Hunsdale is at her most compelling in quieter moments; the slight sense of ease that washes over her when she is able to make an independent, unobstructed decision. Boyland is also terrific. With his character battling alcoholism, loneliness, guilt, and bankruptcy, there’s a lot to reckon with, but he nails down a tone early and carries it through. However, the rest of the cast, along with the story, is not as consistent.

The script by writer-director Linda Niccol asks a lot of questions and winds up in a rush to answer them. Some subplots, particularly Poppy’s romance with Luke (Seb Hunter), surge in order to make room for others, which leads to some particularly on-the-nose and cringe-worthy moments – a tip fellas, “you’re a bit cheeky, aren’t you?” is not flirting at its finest. Niccol does deserve praise for her direction, which mirrors Poppy’s urgency and, thanks in part to cinematographer Mathew Knight, captures Kāpiti in all its splendour and feels effortlessly cinematic.

While Poppy’s victory feels appropriately triumphant, for the other characters things just work out a bit too perfectly a bit too quickly. With more focus and breathing room, Poppy may have elevated from fun to fantastic.

MLK/FBI | Regional News

MLK/FBI

(PG)

104 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

MLK/FBI is an enlightening, inspiring, and infuriating film from this year’s Doc Edge programme. While many documentaries have recounted Martin Luther King Jr’s rise and untimely demise, director Sam Pollard chooses to focus on his tension with the FBI, enclosing arcs about media influence, racial paranoia, and corruption.

Believing King to be a threat to the “American way of life”, the FBI, as directed by J Edgar Hoover, undertook widespread surveillance of his private activities in the 1960s. By tapping his phones and bugging his home and hotel rooms, they hoped to expose secrets of the minister’s sex life and communist ties. With the release of newly declassified documents, we can dissect the agency’s conduct for the first time.

MLK/FBI forces us to leave the context of the 21st century behind and observe how King’s plight was received by the American public of the day, as well as the image of the FBI that was proliferated throughout the country. By intercutting clips from various cop shows and advertisements, we are shown how Hoover carefully constructed a portrait of his organisation and its agents: heroic, clean-cut, and white.

Pollard is aware that many stories have been told about King, and thus he doesn’t swerve from his chosen subject, giving the film a concise, lean structure. It is narrated by the likes of King confidants Andrew Young and Clarence Jones, Hoover chronicler Beverly Gage, and former FBI director James Comey, whose appearance forges a connection between Hoover’s investigation of King and his of Donald Trump.

In order to criticise the FBI’s eavesdropping, we must first accept that we too should not be privy to this information. The film creates a fascinating oxymoron; in a contemporary world, where King’s legacy remains influential, we have a responsibility to understand him as a person, but if we so disagree with this behaviour, why are we here? When the tapes are released in 2027, the public will have access to recordings of King’s private affairs, the impact of which remains to be seen.

Anecdotes from MLK/FBI will likely sicken you, as they should, but it stands as a timely, superbly constructed document that all should embrace.

First Cow | Regional News

First Cow

(PG)

121 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Director Kelly Reichardt shows that simplicity is not to be feared. First Cow gets to the root of human behaviour, all the while reaffirming our innate connection with nature. It refuses to get lost in plot, choosing instead to send us into a daze by letting the sounds and colours of the environment wash over us.

In the present day, a woman and her dog stumble upon two skeletons buried in a forest in Oregon. We return in the early 19th century, where Otis ‘Cookie’ Figowitz (John Magaro) meets Chinese immigrant King-Lu (Orion Lee) and aids him back to health. They soon reunite at a nearby village, where its richest resident, Chief Factor (Toby Jones), has just acquired the territory’s first cow. When Lu discovers that Otis can bake incredible cakes, he sees an opportunity for prosperity. All they need is some milk.

First Cow is unafraid of silence, or rather, it embraces the symphony of nature. Reichardt’s focus is connecting us with these characters, while in a way, the characters and their tale merely connect us with the Earth; Otis’ wardrobe, for example, seamlessly blends with his woodland surroundings. Decisions to shoot in a 4:3 aspect ratio and to allow branches or shrubbery to intrude in the frame show the director’s confidence and give the film its trance-like feel.

The story is meditative in a way few films this past year were, with the possible exception of Best Picture-winner Nomadland. The camera takes time to appreciate time-consuming tasks, until the home stretch when a sense of dread inevitably seeps in.

While part of me wishes the script allowed Magaro and Lee to grit their teeth a little more, the actors mine gold from the quiet bond between their characters. Jones delivers a standout performance as the wickedly snobbish Chief Factor. Watching our heroes screw him over time and time again never gets old.

First Cow is clear in its intentions, and whether you connect with them will be down to your own movie-going preferences. While it may seem light at first, it will weave its way into your mind and stick around for days.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday | Regional News

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

(R16)

131 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The United States vs. Billie Holiday is a movie full of moments. While it makes powerful use of Billie Holiday’s signature tunes and Andra Day delivers a Herculean performance in the titular role, jarring visual inconsistencies and a supreme lack of structure make the troubles of one of the most important figures in American music feel superficial.

Billie Holiday, one of the world’s most highly regarded jazz singers, spends her life battling the trauma of abuse and drug addiction. Her refusal to let racial inequality go unaddressed leaves her stalked by the FBI, who would rather put her behind bars than ever hear another performance of Strange Fruit, the heart-wrenching and provocative ballad that has since cemented her legacy.

The use of a sit-down interview with an eccentrically ignorant reporter as a framing device leaves me trepid just minutes into the film. Strangely, this is drawn back to so infrequently it seems utterly pointless, a mere excuse for the story to jump around without aim. While Day’s Holiday is transfixing from the word go, the world and characters around her feel skin deep, the blame for which falls squarely on director Lee Daniels.

If there was ever an artist full of complexities it was surely Billie Holiday. Daniel’s direction makes her problems seem trivial. Narratively, the film doesn’t so much shift gear from scene to scene as crash land in a new environment and atmosphere and burst into flames at a moment’s notice. Visually, we might go from watching a fluid and cinematic performance to an overly stylised documentary-like scene transition, for seemingly no justifiable reason. This cheapens the experience and makes the stories of supporting characters feel disconnected.

The film builds towards a performance of Strange Fruit, which is truly magical. It’s about the only scene in the film that strives for any kind of subtlety. The United States vs. Billie Holiday suffers from a director’s desire to cram everything in, but what is the focus here? Sadly, I never find out.

Nobody | Regional News

Nobody

(R16)

92 Mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Those looking for a ground-breaking adventure won’t find it in Nobody. What they will get is an absurd, unapologetically violent action romp led by the ever-watchable Bob Odenkirk. Though it teases an emotional arc that quickly goes walkabout, the adrenaline surging through the film’s final act leaves me smiling in the name of sheer excitement.

Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk) defines the word ordinary: he’s married with two kids, works nine to five at a steel company, and otherwise largely keeps to himself. Following a home invasion where little is stolen (besides his daughter’s precious kitty cat bracelet), a long-dormant side of Hutch is awoken – the side that was once an assassin for intelligence agencies.

It was proudly splashed across the promo material for the film that Nobody comes from the same mind as the John Wick series (writer Derek Kolstad). This forces us to compare the two, a tough mountain for any action flick to climb, and sadly, Nobody doesn’t quite reach the summit. However, this doesn’t mean it has nothing going for it. First and foremost, it has Bob Odenkirk.

Odenkirk is a ludicrously likeable guy on screen. Even in his famous turn as greasy attorney Saul Goodman (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), we love to root for him. Director Ilya Naishuller sets the actor a challenge in going this savage, and he carries it off effortlessly while never losing his relatability.

The hand-to-hand combat is shown in its full force. There’s no hiding behind rapid editing or the careful placement of the back of a stunt double’s head. We follow every punch and understand how one leads to the next.

Nobody is not for everyone, though there are some out there who will be all about it. The brutality on display, and the noirish way it is captured, will make this movie a standout for many. The family drama that is incorporated only goes surface deep, and the squeamish among us may spend much of the runtime facing the back of the theatre. Decide which camp you’re part of and enter at your own risk.

Raya and the Last Dragon | Regional News

Raya and the Last Dragon

(PG)

107 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Raya and the Last Dragon is a satisfying Disney romp with a fun cast of characters, but it suffers from a severe lack of originality. While kids will rightfully be engulfed by its tangible world and delightfully strange characters, older Disney fans will sense déjà vu.

Long ago, humans and dragons lived together harmoniously in the land of Kumandra. When monsters attacked, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Centuries later, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), a warrior princess charged with protecting the last remaining fragment of dragon life, looks to unite her people by returning the creatures to existence, a quest that truly begins when she finds Sisu (Awkwafina), the last remaining dragon.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the animation is stunning. While Raya and the Last Dragon doesn’t take risks with its aesthetic in the way some recent films have – notably, last year’s Soul – the atmosphere of Kumandra is firmly set. From the dusty desserts of Tail to the neon-lit nightlife of Talon and the snow-drenched forests of Spine, each land looks at once distinct from, and uniform with, the world we are being guided through.

While the main crux of the story is fun, it takes too long for the wheels to start turning. By the time we catch up with Raya in the present day, we have blazed past two stories that would probably make for a gripping watch in their own right. Raya is a standard badass warrior, complete with an emotional shortcoming: an inability to trust people. Sadly, all the other characters we are introduced too are more captivating than our lead, particularly Sisu. Yes, she’s no Genie (Aladdin), but Awkwafina is well cast and my eyes open a little wider every time this colourful dragon flies into frame.

The film’s best moments come when we can forget the plot for a second and simply enjoy watching Sisu muck around. She is a surprising character in a film that otherwise lacks surprises, and a great addition to the Disney canon.

Judas and the Black Messiah | Regional News

Judas and the Black Messiah

(R13)

126 Mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Biopics are my least favourite genre. Their plots tend to read like a list of bullet points that I would lazily skim through on Wikipedia on a dusty Sunday morning, so focused on being educational that they forget to be entertaining. Judas and the Black Messiah, however, not only manages to teach, it inspires and, above all else, oozes entertainment from every frame.

In late-1960s Chicago, Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) is arrested after impersonating an FBI agent to hijack a car. Instead of throwing him behind bars, special agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) makes him a deal – infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and deliver information about its revolutionary chairman, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), in exchange for a clean slate.

Right from the electric opening long take capturing Bill’s crime, we learn this will not be a simple sit-down history lesson. We are then thrown into the deep end when he is hired as an informant, firmly setting a tone that rests somewhere between Malcolm X (1992) and The Departed (2006). Director, writer, and producer Shaka King’s words are raw and real, and the actors are committed to delivering them authentically.

For Stanfield, this means sputtering dialogue through an ever-present veil of paranoia. As Bill gets closer to the chairman, even he cannot deny the power of this man and his unifying message, and thus his guilt grows like a stretched rubber band waiting to snap. Kaluuya pays respect to the Black revolutionary he portrays, his performance measured, sincere, and touching.  

The Black Panthers have long been falsely portrayed as terrorists in American media. King balances a gripping story of coercion and betrayal with one about a political revolution, making sure to emphasise Hampton’s efforts to feed the starving children of Chicago and end infighting by forming a multicultural Rainbow Coalition. Judas and the Black Messiah makes a persuasive argument that Hampton’s name should be known worldwide alongside the likes of John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr.

The film’s potency boils down to a willingness to take creative risks. It’s a type of bravery that I believe will inspire other filmmakers for years to come.

Cousins | Regional News

Cousins

(PG)

83 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Like many great films, the quietest moments in Cousins often ring the loudest. A story entrenched in Māori heritage, a few forced lines and predictable plot points barely detract from the near-spiritual realm it takes us to, or the significance of its creation.

Cousins was adapted from Patricia Grace’s novel of the same name, following three separated cousins throughout their youth, adulthood, and later years. Mata, who now wanders Cuba Street seemingly aimless, was adopted by a European family when her mother died and made to feel ashamed of her Māori roots. She reminisces over the short time she spent with her true whānau while cousins Missy and Makareta long for her return.

Directors Briar Grace-Smith and Ainsley Gardiner keep a firm hand on the source material and bask in the story’s inherent power. For a film that doesn’t even reach the hour-and-a-half mark to define three characters at three different points in their lives is an achievement in itself. Defining the world they inhabit in visceral detail adds the necessary colour and mystique, and director of photography Raymond Edwards deserves praise for creating an atmosphere that makes the character’s whenua (family land) appear like a rural fantasy.

The co-directors wisely centralise Mata, doing well to familiarise us with the cousins considering they are each played by three different actors in a non-linear tale. Although, with some mixed results. Sharp changes in behaviour sometimes make me lose sight of the progression of these women, though Tanea Heke (Older Mata), Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne (Adult Makareta), and Rachel House (Older Missy) deliver standout performances, plus Ana Scotney is absolutely transfixing as Adult Mata. Somehow, editor Alex Boyd manages to weave their stories with ease, they just contain too few surprises.   

Grace-Smith and Gardiner linger on poignant moments, capturing traditional cultural practices like the hongi and tā moko in intimate ways. As a Kiwi, these small moments resonate, even if the dialogue around them feels unnatural at times. Cousins will transcend you to another world, albeit a familiar one. 

Another Round | Regional News

Another Round

(M)

117 Mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Much like a drunken night on the town, Another Round has ups and downs, highs and lows, and twists and turns. Under the thumb of a captivating lead performance by Mads Mikkelsen, there is only one word that truly sums up the ride our audience was taken on: intoxicating.

Four Danish high school teachers have hit a wall. Of the four, Martin (Mikkelsen) is in the greatest funk; bored with his work, his marriage, his life. Psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) introduces his friends to a theory that humans are born with a blood alcohol content 0.05 percent too low, arguing that maintaining a level of drunkenness makes you more creative, energetic, and relaxed.

The story does not crucify these men for their actions, which would have been a simple and much less interesting direction to take it. Instead, we root for them. We see how severely unhappy they are, and how this experiment – at least at first – lights a spark in each of their lives. The actors portray this earnestly. Each character reacts to alcohol differently, and it is clearly defined how each functions with a 0.05 percent BAC versus a 1.5 percent BAC.

Another Round serves as a reminder of why the collective cinematic experience is one we cannot sacrifice. Thomas Vinterberg’s film forces you to react, be it with a laugh, a wince, or a tear. While it is fun watching these men stumble their way through the working day, it’s the realistic portrayal of alcoholism that makes the film funny and heart-wrenching in equal measure. For each member of the audience, individually, there was a moment when the laughter stopped.

It’s a shame that Another Round will likely be denigrated to foreign-language categories come awards season, as it clearly deserves to be up there with the big boys (namely, American films). At the very least, Mikkelsen deserves a best actor nod. He is one of those rare stars that does a lot with a little, captivating me with every piercing look or smirk. What a beautiful, beautiful ride indeed.

Dawn Raid | Regional News

Dawn Raid

(M)

98 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Oscar Kightley’s inspiring hip-hop documentary proves Kiwis can hustle with the best of them. With a firm grasp on the history of Dawn Raid Entertainment, the director prioritises narrative and character to give the film rhythm, tempo, and volume.

Formed in South Auckland in the late 1990s by classmates Tanielu Leaosavai’i (aka Brotha D) and Andy Murnane, Dawn Raid Entertainment is responsible for New Zealand’s first legitimate hip-hop movement. What the amateur businessmen lacked in finesse they made up for in determination, and subsequently, artists like Savage, Aaradhna, Deceptikonz, and Adeaze would dramatically change the landscape of Kiwi music. However, a hasty rise to the top would soon be followed by a devastating fall.

While Dawn Raid clearly comes from the mind of a born storyteller, Kightley hit the jackpot when it came to these key players. Brotha D and Andy are fascinating individuals who will make you laugh loudly and listen intently. We see this dynamic duo at their most opportunistic and their most naive. We watch in anticipation as these boys grow wise throughout the years, eventually making enough mistakes to become the men we see today.

The streets of South Auckland come alive in this doc. Kightley incorporates signature hip-hop imagery of the era to forever entangle the artistry with the environment that surrounds it, including in some hilarious animated sequences. This connection is also the source of Dawn Raid’s most poignant moments, when low expectations are surpassed against all odds. We feel the highs and lows that these pioneers journey through – when Savage scores an Akon feature just as he blows up, or when Wu Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck decides to rewrite a verse because he is blown away by Mareko’s abilities.

Dawn Raid is dense in its brevity, although it substitutes interesting parts of the label’s story in favour of entertaining ones. An equal focus on the creative processes of these artists, on top of the business-savvy minds behind the rise of Dawn Raid, would have rounded the film off like a well-placed rhyme.

Mank | Regional News

Mank

(M)

131 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Right from the word go, when tilted opening titles loft over a black-and-white California sky – almost ironically reading “Netflix International Pictures Presents” – Mank feels as though it was pulled from the rubble of a time capsule planted in the 1930s, grime and gashes intact.

Herman J. Mankiewicz, or Mank (Gary Oldman), is an alcoholic screenwriter with a wit renowned by the top brass of 30s Hollywood, including press tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). Following a car crash, a bedridden Mank is asked to pen a script for the debut film of a “young genius from New York”, Orson Welles (Tom Burke).

Of course, the film in question is Citizen Kane, still regarded by many to be the greatest and most influential film ever made. Cited as an early example of auteurism, Welles is often considered the sole mind behind its creation. Mank tells a different story.

Though its narrative doesn’t reach the heights of suspense achieved in other David Fincher films, Mank feels like the cinematic gift we deserve this Christmas. Between the imposing sets, regal costumes, and boisterous personalities on display, it captures the dingy atmosphere of an early noir classic. It shines in black-and-white, photographed by Erik Messerschmidt with plenty of canted callbacks to Citizen Kane.

Mank is about the conflict behind creativity; the contentious debate for authorship between Mank and Welles, Hearst’s fear of public humiliation when it becomes clear that Mank’s script about power, greed, and corruption is based on him. It may not sound fun per se, but Jack Fincher’s endlessly witty script makes the story sing. Mank is a talker, and Oldman places each word perfectly – some slurred beyond comprehension, others overtly articulated to offend that rich prick at the other end of the dining table.

Mank is a lesson in craft and polish. While its narrative is catnip to any movie fan, I can’t help but wonder if casual viewers will find it as fascinating. Its physical beauty is bound to make anyone suspect there is more beneath the surface, and those intrigued by its plot will find new details every time they put it on.

Babyteeth | Regional News

Babyteeth

(M)

117 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Though movies sometimes desensitise us to pain, when strong characters we connect with suffer, so too do we. Babyteeth expresses pain in its most brutal forms while still reaching to be entertaining, ethereal, and even silly. And when it all collides, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.

Terminally ill high school student Milla (Eliza Scanlen) breaks out of her shell when she falls madly in love. Moses (Toby Wallace) is 23 and a small-time drug dealer. Needless to say, Milla’s parents, who are already grappling with the inevitability of their daughter’s illness, do not approve.

In many ways, this one broke me. Not only does director Shannon Murphy zero in on Milla’s struggles with disarming vulnerability, but she gives the same attention to all those connected to her. Moses is cut off from his family, homeless and desperate. Milla’s mum Anna (Essie Davis) is abusing prescription drugs to cope, while her dad Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) struggles to feel at all. Watching them barely keep it together, clawing at each other left and right, is crushing.

None of this works if we don’t believe Milla – thankfully, Scanlen puts it all on the line. From moment to moment, whether engulfed by love, pain, laughter, or the urge to dance, the actress paints a complete picture of who this person is. Her story moves quickly, but Murphy refuses to relinquish quiet, meditative moments that colour in the lines, like when Anna and Milla perform music for a transfixed table of guests.

Right from the opening scene, the romance of Milla and Moses is beautifully portrayed. The film avoids taking it to troublesome places, instead slowly establishing an intense companionship. The anger their bond sparks in others, and the heartache they each experience navigating the ups and downs of a first love, lead to a climactic blow that leaves a hole in my chest.

Babyteeth is visually gripping, darkly funny, and incredibly well acted, but above all else emotionally raw. While certain stylistic choices feel unnecessary, they are nothing but speedbumps on an otherwise flawless journey.

Baby Done | Regional News

Baby Done

(M)

91 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Baby Done doesn’t take many big swings, instead favouring charm and relatability. With two charismatic lead performances, a fast script, and dynamic supporting players, the latest Kiwi comedy defines a nice time at the movies.

When arborist and wannabe tree climbing champ Zoe (Rose Matafeo) falls pregnant with her long-term partner Tim (Matthew Lewis), she fears becoming a boring mum. While Tim adjusts and looks forward to becoming a father, Zoe seeks to realise her dreams while denying the inevitable.

The combination of Curtis Vowell’s direction and Sophie Henderson’s script leaves no room for Baby Done to run stale. Within a tight-packed 90 minutes, we visit gorgeous parts of New Zealand and meet eccentric characters. Whether they appear for multiple scenes or 30 seconds, each one makes an impact, particularly Zoe’s parents played by Loren Taylor and Fasitua Amosa, her wild friend Molly played by Emily Barclay, and Preggophile Tim played by Nic Sampson… you heard me, Preggophile Tim.

The smartest decision the director-writer duo makes is to give Matafeo and Lewis breathing room. The actors share incredible chemistry and both land jokes, but the film’s greatest asset is that they feel like real people dealing with real problems. We see through Zoe’s attempts to deny motherhood and understand her anxieties. We sympathise with Tim when Zoe’s actions force him to question their future. Ultimately, their arc is emotional and resonant, and Matafeo proves she has dramatic prowess on top of her well-established comedic chops.

I wish Baby Done had taken more risks with its story and humour. While there’s never a dull moment, it pretty much goes where you expect it to and often plays it safe. For this reason, the film is fun but light. Leaning into the more peculiar aspects of the plot may have excelled it further. But when all is said and done, Baby Done has laughs, tears, and personality, and I doubt many will leave the cinema feeling as though they wasted their time.  

On the Rocks | Regional News

On the Rocks

(M)

96 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In the words of the late great Roger Ebert, “it’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it”. On the Rocks doesn’t break new ground, nor does it try to. Instead writer-director Sofia Coppola presents an elegant take on an old story, elevated by the ever-captivating Bill Murray.

Laura (Rashida Jones) has settled in New York with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans), who’s career is taking off rapidly while she, a budding writer, struggles to put pen to paper. When Dean’s behaviour leads her to suspect foul play, her loving father Felix (Murray) makes it his mission to help get to the bottom of it.

On the Rocks presents Coppola at her most subdued, but at times her most poised. In lesser hands, this may not have been a story worth telling, or rather retelling. We’ve heard it all before, and with that, our focus quickly shifts from story to style; thankfully, this film has that in spades. The jokes, both visual and verbal, consistently land. A sparse sax-heavy score and lingering shots of the New York cityscape add the required dose of class, and with this framework the cast has all the necessary tools to flourish.

Enter Bill Murray. There is perhaps no comedic actor more capable of stealing a show, and unsurprisingly, he does it again. Aided by an intelligent, stall-free script, Murray’s Felix is charming, flirtatious, at times apathetic, and always funny. Have you ever talked your way out of a speeding ticket? Did you manage to get the cops laughing while giving your lemon a push start and wishing you well on your way? Didn’t think so. Jones thrives in her role as the film’s emotional anchor and enjoys warm chemistry with Murray. Wayans is the only detraction. While he delivers a fine performance, he simply feels miscast.

The final moments of On the Rocks are sadly predictable and much less emotionally driven than the preceding 75 minutes led me to expect. Still, the film adds yet another, lighter feather to Coppola’s hat.

It Must Be Heaven | Regional News

It Must Be Heaven

(PG)

101 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

What some find meandering and temperate others may find touching and poignant. Audiences of It Must Be Heaven are asked to be patient and observant, and those who are will leave the theatre charmed. As it guides us through a world full of quirks, this Palme d’Or-nominated film finds humour in celebrating just how weird we humans are.

It Must Be Heaven takes a meta look at the life of its writer, director, lead actor, co-producer, and narrator, Elia Suleiman. We experience several days in his shoes as he travels from his Palestinian home to Western cities attempting to sell a script for a movie about the Palestinian conflict.

While this plot might not sound like a laugh riot, it’s worth noting that this story thread is somewhat secondary. For Suleiman – both the character and the man behind the camera – this film is about observation. Strange happenings seem to weave their way into every day of our near-mute hero’s life, and he is happy simply watching on. These happenings could include two armed police officers trading sunglasses in a car while a woman is bound and blindfolded in the back, or a trip to a supermarket in New York where everyone is casually toting an assault rifle over their shoulder.

It’s these zany, dark moments that make It Must Be Heaven a memorable watch. For foreign film fans, its pacing and visual comedy may scratch an itch left by Jacques Tati, although Suleiman certainly brings a modern flair. The camera (Sofian El Fani) balances a consistent but not stagnant symmetry and captures purposeful palettes of colour.

The film manages to embed striking and smart moments in the absence of words, for example, the rejection statements Suleiman sits through and what they say about the Western understanding of Palestine. But for some, these moments will be too subtle, as will the jokes. It Must Be Heaven is one for those looking to delve outside of their comfort zone.

 

Savage | Regional News

Savage

(R16)

99 Mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

To generate empathy for a character who some would label an inhuman brute is no easy feat, but director and screenwriter Sam Kelly does just that with grace and sensitivity. Savage pulls together some of the most fleshed-out characters in New Zealand cinema. Audiences will connect with their story as well as the sorrow hiding behind their eyes.

Inspired by the true stories of New Zealand’s street gangs, the film follows Danny (Jake Ryan) – later known as Damage – across 30 years of his life, from his time in a state-run boys’ home in the 60s to his emergence as sergeant at arms of his own gang, the Savages. Raised and abandoned by his impoverished family and abusive father, Danny longs for connection in an adulthood defined by aggression.

Never before has a New Zealand film taken such an unrestrained look at our society. Kelly pulls no punches, proving himself as a confident and uncompromising filmmaker; the fact that Savage is his feature-length debut is astonishing. His script packs the growth, colour, and definition of a trilogy into 100 minutes, and this is only accentuated by a cast and crew willing to commit as hard as he does.

Jake Ryan transforms as Damage, and no, it’s not just the mullet and tattoos. I find myself transfixed by his gaze and presence. Every motion is calculated, masking a man who feels isolated, unwanted, and pressured. His friend and Savage co-founder Moses is just as integral, played with warmth in childhood by Lotima Pome’e, cool in his teenage years by Haanz Fa’avae Jackson, and intimidating physicality in later life by John Tui.

Savage is as shocking and ferocious as it should be while never becoming gratuitous. Often abuse is implied rather than shown, which ultimately has a powerful impact as the characters would also rather ignore it. This is not one for the faint of heart, but it is essential viewing for Kiwis. You will leave with a little more empathy and a lot to talk about having seen one of the best films of the year.

Tenet | Regional News

Tenet

(M)

150 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

With Tenet, Christopher Nolan leans into his most frustrating tendencies as a filmmaker. A convoluted plot that requires non-stop explanation leaves its cast nothing to play with and action that, although visually dazzling at times, feels empty.

The Protagonist (John David Washington), along with his right-hand man Neil (Robert Pattinson), journeys through a world of espionage to prevent forces from the future destroying our world.

At its core, Tenet is a heist film. Introducing time-inverting technology doesn’t make this more interesting, just challenging. While Inception, another heist plot that incorporates fantasy technology, was driven by drama and emotional motivation, here the story feels crammed in. Nolan chews time explaining the mechanics of time reversal. Those with a doctorate in physics may enjoy picking this apart, although the film itself seems to admit it doesn’t stack up when Barbara, a scientist played by Clémence Poésy, instructs our lead, “Don’t even try to understand it”.

The pairing of Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography and Jennifer Lame’s precise editing is the film’s greatest asset. Their craftsmanship is on full display from the opening action sequence, which serves as an intense mood setter. Unfortunately, the concept doesn’t lead to outstanding visuals throughout. After a while, watching people run in reverse is not that engaging. Even if you are listening intently, the sound mix is muddy and loud, leaving chunks of dialogue inaudible – a recurring problem in Nolan’s recent films.

In two-and-a-half hours, we learn surprisingly little. By the time the credits roll we know next to nothing about our unnamed protagonist, his motivation, or the threat he faces. An effort to make us care about the villainous Andrei Sator’s (Kenneth Branagh) estranged wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) feels frivolous when World War III is at stake. Although, this faceless threat never carries weight, especially since it comes at the hands of Andrei, a hilariously stereotypical Russian bad guy who I just can’t take seriously.

Tenet sacrifices storytelling in favour of complexity. If I don’t care about the characters in the story, I’m unlikely to invest in the story itself. In the end, I was simply bored.

Lowdown Dirty Criminals | Regional News

Lowdown Dirty Criminals

(R13)

86 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

A crime-comedy through and through, Lowdown Dirty Criminals revels in its over-the-top plot, violence, and Kiwi humour. At 86 minutes, it lacks the breathing room needed to properly acquaint us with its likable characters, instead choosing to deliver a brief, adrenaline-fueled romp.

When Freddy (James Rolleston) loses his pizza delivery job, his best mate Marvin (Samuel Austin) sets up a meeting with a ruthless crook, Spiggs (Scott Wills). When they muck up their first job, Spiggs demands they make amends by killing a gangster, an effort that lands the duo in hot water with an even more terrifying foe, The Upholsterer (Rebecca Gibney).

Writer David Brechin-Smith plays to genre, filling his script with delicious archetypes that give the cast infinite opportunities to go big. While Freddy is our guide, Lowdown Dirty Criminals is an ensemble effort at heart. Each actor brings colour to their role, from Rolleston’s hilariously naïve Freddy and Wills’ jacked-up, egocentric Spiggs to Gibney’s deliciously evil Upholsterer. Each member of the cast is given spots of action and comedy, which they almost unanimously nail.

The film has its foot on the gas at all times. While this pace works for its exaggerated style, it relents character development in the name of fun. Don’t get me wrong, it is very, very funny. But further investment in the relationships would have dramatically turned up the intensity. We buy Freddy and Marvin as mates, but that’s where it ends. We buy The Upholsterer as a scary gangster, but that’s where it ends. Life-threatening situations feel trivial, and with an additional 20 minutes or so, we could have become more engrossed in these people and the things that happen to them.

This movie is not one for the squeamish, but perhaps in these times some crazy fun is exactly what we need. Director Paul Murphy has crafted a uniquely Kiwi take on a well-worn genre. As a result, Lowdown Dirty Criminals stands out amongst our film library.

This Town | Regional News

This Town

(M)

91 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

This Town excels in world-building and dialogue. A supporting cast of some of Aotearoa’s best balance laughs and drama, but a repetitive frame and an overreliance on its chosen storytelling devices eventually burns out its narrative.

Small-town bloke Sean (David White) is ready to move on with his life and re-enter the dating game five years after being acquitted of the murder of his family. A romance ensues with Casey (Alice May Connolly), while the bitter ex-cop who tried to put Sean away, Pam (Robyn Malcolm), continues her crusade for justice.

The film’s writer, director, and star, White, carries a heavy load. As for his pen, the story, characters, and setting of This Town are appealing and uniquely Kiwi. The fictional town of Thiston is a treasure trove of close-to-home satirical opportunities; some pulled off with gusto, some falling flat.

The sounds and scenes of Hawke’s Bay make for a glorious backdrop, but the camera is too often stagnant for the film to leave a visual impact. By the end, I’m simply bored of watching characters sit centre-frame to address the camera. This device introduces them well, but becomes a means to quickly pass by critical moments; to have a character sitting on a couch telling us all is resolved after screaming over the edge of a cliff five minutes prior deflates tension rather than building it to a bang.

Malcolm is This Town’s secret weapon. Her performance solidifies her as one of New Zealand’s most versatile talents. She plays moments of obsession, conflict, comedy, and sadness with ease, often within a single take. May Connolly brings endearing qualities to Casey, and Rima Te Wiata wrings laughs from every line as local reporter Janice McManis.

White brings a fresh style to his narrative-feature debut, but it is clearly just that, a debut. With a more refined approach, it will be interesting to see what he brings to New Zealand cinema in the future.

The King of Staten Island | Regional News

The King of Staten Island

(R16)

137 Mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The King of Staten Island directly addresses today’s youth. Structurally, it sticks to a familiar formula, and like many Judd Apatow films, it outstays its welcome. But its fresh subject matter and seasoned supporting cast keep the laughs coming, even if its star sometimes seems disinterested in doing so.

24-year-old Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) lives with single mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) and sister Claire (Maude Apatow) on Staten Island, New York City. Scott’s father was a firefighter who died in the line of duty, and he has long suffered from depression. He is pessimistic but ambitious, dreaming of one day opening a tattoo restaurant and practising on his friend’s bodies in the meantime. When Margie starts dating Ray (Bill Burr), another fireman, Scott must face his past head-on.

People who are familiar with Apatow’s comedies will not encounter many surprises; a man-child stuck in his immature ways is forced to grow up. However, the characters driving us towards these beats are defined and fleshed out. Tomei stand outs as Scott’s down-to-earth, empathetic mother, as does Burr, who plays to his strengths and delivers more laughs than anyone. He appears as a natural enemy of Scott’s, and the chemistry between the two actors makes it all the more fun. Smaller players Bel Powley, Pamela Adlon, and Steve Buscemi utilise their minor moments to portray rounded characters.

Scott is much less interesting. His story is a recreation of Davidson’s life in most aspects and as a result, the actor meanders through scenes. What I can appreciate is the willingness to embrace a character battling mental illness. Apatow doesn’t treat it as taboo, simply addressing how this individual is dealing with it and allowing him to poke fun at himself. After a while though, this isn’t enough to sustain my interest. Parts of the plot – such as a scene where Scott joins his friends in robbing a pharmacy – are entirely unnecessary and will force many to check their watch, especially astute viewers who will be able to predict what’s coming.

The Burnt Orange Heresy | Regional News

The Burnt Orange Heresy

(R13)

99 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The Burnt Orange Heresy has something to say but no way of saying it. What begins as a compelling critique of the contemporary art scene ends as a flamboyant neo-noir romp. Sadly, the two intentions never effectively coalesce, and the film is forced to rely on a captivating cast to keep us engaged.

Charismatic art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) and his new fling Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki) visit the luxurious estate of a powerful art dealer, Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger). The true purpose of the alluring invitation is soon revealed; to convince James to steal a painting from Cassidy’s neighbour Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), a world-renowned but enigmatic artist whose work has not been seen for decades.

The film’s saving grace is its cast, particularly Sutherland and Bang. Both portray masked men; one who will admit it, and one who won’t. James uses charm and confidence to hide insecurity and rage. We meet him as he teaches a class that Berenice attends. He analyses a worthless painting at length and suddenly, the entire class wants a print, exemplifying the power of the critic. We know we cannot trust James, but we understand why others do. As the weathered artist, Sutherland brings sensitivity to a role that risks appearing pretentious.

Director Giuseppe Capotondi refuses to lean into a single idea, and this lack of clarity often leaves the frame dull and the narrative stagnant. For a film that barely crosses the hour-and-a-half mark, The Burnt Orange Heresy feels painfully slow at times and rushed at others. The story, based on the book of the same name by Charles Willeford, naturally lends itself to a seductive, stylistic noir, but Capotondi sacrifices this opportunity in favour of something he deems more meaningful – an exploration of artistic authenticity. This doesn’t land, and in turn, the film becomes forgettable.

The Burnt Orange Heresy represents a missed opportunity. A talented cast and a bewitching plot let down by a lack of focus.

Wendy | Regional News

Wendy

(M)

112 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Watching Wendy is like diving excitedly into a colourful ball pit only to discover it’s been laced with needles. While director and co-writer Benh Zeitlin’s Peter Pan-inspired tale doesn’t lack originality or flair, its jarring inconsistencies leaves me wondering who it is intended to entertain.

Wendy (Devin France) spends most of her time hanging around her family’s Louisiana diner. She spots a boy leaping between railcars on a passing train and compels her twin brothers Douglas and James to hop aboard. They meet the rambunctious Peter (Yashua Mack), who whisks them off to a magical island and promises they’ll never grow old.

Wendy never lulls, and it thrives in moments where its fantastical world is on full display. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen grounds the film’s visual style to make the high-concept elements feel otherworldly. This offers a fresh visual take on a story that has been told time and time again, and it works, for the most part. It’s hard to get an audience on board with a giant magical glowing fish, but the combination of Grøvlen’s striking camera work and Dan Romer’s anthemic orchestral score makes it possible.

No matter how pretty the sights and sounds, eventually, I become disconnected with the story. Incomplete characters, unearned tonal shifts, and clumsy dialogue leaves the film too kiddie for adults and too dense for children. In the end, it’s unclear who we should trust or even like – certainly not Peter. Most of the character arcs are undefined; their behaviours change wildly according to what a given scene dictates. In the end, so many ideas are expressed that its final note feels ham-fisted and the story is left at odds with itself.

The imagination and technical prowess on display in Wendy delivers doses of fun, but it trips over too many hurdles to be compelling or satisfying. The emotional beats that are impactful tend to be ripped away moments later. Those entrenched in the adventures of Neverland may appreciate the take, others may forget it overnight.

Kubrick by Kubrick | Regional News

Kubrick by Kubrick

(16)

73 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Every word that could be said about Stanley Kubrick has already been written. Kubrick by Kubrick turns the final stone, presenting the words of the man himself. This eye-opening documentary focuses on the misconceptions surrounding the illusive filmmaker, humanising a man who, for some, has become mythical. It offers us a seat at Kubrick’s table as he gazes inward, analysing his career humbly and philosophically.

Stanley Kubrick crafted some of the most influential films in cinematic history across a storied five-decade career, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining. He rarely granted interviews and was labelled a reclusive genius by many upon his death in 1999. In 1968, Kubrick was so impressed by an article penned by French film critic Michael Ciment that he agreed to be interviewed. The recordings heard in Kubrick by Kubrick track 20 years of their conversations.

Director Gregory Monro assumes the audience is familiar with Kubrick’s cannon, which allows him to avoid fodder. Monro is interested in the misconceptions about his practices and the intelligence behind his choices, as are many Kubrick fans. In a stroke of structural brilliance, editor Philippe Baillon fluidly maps fragments of Ciment’s sit-downs to break down Kubrick’s filmmaking philosophy step by step, speaking to one movie at a time. Discussions venture into the nature of satire, his relationship with source material, and his distrust in the goodness of man.

Where some ‘in conversation’ documentaries feel grossly self-serving, Kubrick by Kubrick feels necessary. Just hearing Kubrick’s voice is a treat, but hearing him comfortably discuss his work in an utterly unpretentious way is extraordinarily special. It shows a method to the madness; why shoot hundreds of takes? Why research like a detective looking for clues? Because “directing a movie, if you do it properly, is not always fun”.

At an hour and 13 minutes, it saddens me that there were surely pearls of wisdom that were left on the cutting room floor. Still, Kubrick by Kubrick paints an important portrait that film fans cannot miss.

Rosie | Regional News

Rosie

(PG)

86 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Thanks to a strong cast of subtle performers and restrained writing, Rosie balances moments of warmth and distress. Rosie (Sarah Greene) shows cracks but never breaks, painting the role of parenthood in an authentic and, in the end, immensely effective way.

Rosie Davis, her husband John Paul (Moe Dunford), and their four children are thrust into homelessness when their landlord decides to sell their north Dublin rental. For several days and nights, Rosie desperately searches for a roof while John Paul works in a restaurant kitchen.

The intrigue of Rosie lies in its unique approach to homelessness. The family’s woes are not the result of any archetypical mistake or laziness, but of pure happenstance. Screenwriter Roddy Doyle finds power in the day-to-day – the cycle of a mother simply trying. It’s a take grounded in authenticity. As Rosie sits in her car, calling hotels and social services until the well runs dry, she also worries about keeping up appearances and getting the kids to school on time.

Greene stands as the film’s biggest asset. It relies on her to maintain the realism intended in the script, and she never falters through its brief runtime. Her performance takes a story that may appear bleak at face value and injects it with heart. We see the mechanics of her mind at work, equally concerned with the strenuous task of finding a room and picking up Peachy, her young daughter’s beloved toy rabbit. We see Greene cage Rosie’s heartache for the benefit of her kids, a sentiment many parents will connect to.

Doyle’s resonant script plays well with Paddy Breathnach’s direction, which is never stagnant but never manic. The imagery is fittingly dreary, hinting to the wider economic problems in Ireland that led this ordinary family to homelessness. It leaves room for the family dynamic to shine, and although brief, the film’s runtime tells a complete story with breathing room. Moments of laughter, tears, and fear ring true, reminding us of the true value of family.

Smog Town | Regional News

Smog Town

88 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Smog Town successfully humanises environmental destruction at ground level. The documentary makes the overwhelming effects of pollution tangible by closely examining an individual example. We see the physical, emotional, and economical scars it leaves behind, serving as a powerful warning for the rest of us.

Langfang, a city in the Hebei Province of China, consistently ranks amongst the country’s most polluted regions. It is cloaked in smog, and the government has reached a point of no return where drastic measures must be taken “for the defence of the blue sky”. We follow author and deputy director of Langfang’s Environment Protection Bureau Li Chunyuan as he inspects homes and businesses using damaging fuels and materials, seeking to lower the city’s air pollution ranking.

Director Meng Han separates Smog Town from other environmental documentaries by including diverse perspectives without picking sides or shaming any party. On a bureaucratic level, Li is emotionally attached to the issue and aware that his job is on the line should he fail. He is the perfect figure to lead us: empathetic, strong willed, and effortlessly inspiring. Li understands that while he must make harsh decisions to better the environment, those decisions have the potential to wreck the lives of people who are already struggling. After he is forced to shut down a spray painter’s business, we follow the man closely as he vies for a licence to continue his work, quickly realising his efforts will be frivolous.

Meng uses the camera to observe, not interrupt, which gives the film a true sense of authenticity. Images of cars suddenly appearing from the smog on an invisible road say more than any narration could. However, scenes providing historical context would have pushed the impact of these moments further.

Smog Town ends on an appropriately sombre note, leaving the audience with a rounded understanding of the hefty topic it delves into. As many great documentaries do, it refuses to judge or provide answers, instead presenting the raw truth in its purest form.

Elementa | Regional News

Elementa

43 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Elementa, the third entry in Richard Sidney’s Speechless trilogy, is the filmmaker’s most refined effort yet. It is a short but wholly organic cinematic experience, which will sear images deep into your subconscious.

The film is a collaborative effort between Sidney and musician Boreal Taiga. It uses black and white cinematography within a triptych frame to take viewers to the most remote parts of Earth and interact with its creatures, including a mysterious black bear with white fur found deep in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. In the absence of dialogue, Sidney’s camera guides us through the extremes of each primary element, revelling in their sublimity.

Elementa is ferocious and meditative in a way that no environmental documentary I’ve seen quite achieves. The choice to focus exclusively on the power of visual language is a bold one. Within minutes it becomes clear that to present his findings in black and white in a triptych split screen is to meld these vastly differing scenes into one. Suddenly my eyes zero in on how the sharp lines of a fiery volcano contrast with those of a snowy mountain, how the silhouette of a turtle interacts with the texture of a crystal-clear seashore. Here Sidney manages to capture the serenity of nature in a powerfully nuanced way, without any need for a spoken explanation.

While organic sounds soar, Taiga’s score often feels monotonous, failing to add emphasis to moments that demand it. Still, from a technical standpoint, Elementa serves as a masterclass in how to use the camera. We simultaneously see a colony of fish swimming, a bear plucking one of them from the current, and a bird perched in the distance watching on. Each is filmed under a different circumstance that invites individual difficulties and yet, side by side, Sidney’s selected style puts all of nature on an even playing field. We may not know where we are on the map, but we know it’s out there somewhere, which adds to the mystique surrounding Elementa.

That Click | Regional News

That Click

90 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In this decade-spanning documentary, director Luca Severi replicates the infectious energy and eccentric glamour of Hollywood through the lens of one of its most iconic photographers, Douglas Kirkland. As the title suggests, the film focuses on the passion one can develop for their craft, and the respect they can earn through precision and dedication.

If you don’t recognise the name, you’d certainly recognise the images. From a seductive linen-encased Marilyn Monroe to a red-leathered Michael Jackson leaving that movie theatre, Douglas Kirkland has eternalised show-business iconography across a storied 60-year career. That Click offers glimpses into the personality, taste, and motivation of a genius, as told by past clients – Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams, Baz Luhrmann – and the man himself.

Upon introduction, Kirkland appears to be an unsung hero of Hollywood. Severi quickly clarifies that his praises are sung loudly, with great after great utterly beguiled by his skill, work ethic, and morals. Severi’s choice to accentuate these sides of Kirkland goes a long way to restoring any lost faith in the wonder of Hollywood. In a time when photoshoot horror stories with seedy photographers are finally coming to light, Kirkland’s practice proves the value of safety and consideration for one’s subjects; this is a man who turned down Marilyn Monroe, instructing her to seduce the camera rather than the photographer behind it.

“I wanted to get the snaps,” Kirkland says, “because that’s who Douglas Kirkland is.”

The quick-cut editing and upbeat soundtrack perfectly accompany Kirkland’s larger-than-life aura. His eccentricity could rival that of Austin Powers, although he is totally trustworthy. He is simply excited by the opportunity to make someone look their best.

That Click has focus, but it fails to weave its timespan together into a complete or well-paced narrative, instead feeling like a snapshot of an amazing life with entertaining anecdotes to carry us along. Still, the second the credits rolled I was compelled to pick up a book of Kirkland’s photography, which perhaps says more about the film than anything I could write here.

Silicon Valley, Baby. | Regional News

Silicon Valley, Baby.

58 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Just because you journey to the place where it all happens, doesn’t mean it will happen for you. Silicon Valley, Baby. details the highs and lows of attempting to get a start-up off the ground in the global centre of technological innovation – Silicon Valley.

Finnish couple Erika Haavisto (director) and Kalle Freese relocate from their homeland to San Francisco to forage for investors for the latter’s new line of instant coffee “that you’ll actually want to drink”, Sudden Coffee. Kalle’s mission and sole purpose is to change the lives of billions for the better with his invention, but cracks soon form in his master plan.

Silicon Valley, Baby. is an intimate experience. Unpolished in structure and execution, it presents nothing but the truth. Kalle is an interesting person, and even though the film is directed by his devoted partner, Erika has no qualms in portraying him honestly, warts and all. Driven to a fault, Kalle considers himself the future Zuckerberg of instant coffee. He is undeterred by this self-imposed pressure, which allows the audience to spot red flags before he does.

This is a tale as old as time. Kalle’s obsession is attention-grabbing from a voyeuristic perspective, but we’ve heard this story before, and it’s been told in better and smarter ways. Erika features heavily; she is enamoured with Kalle, much more than her audience will be. She fails to find appropriate time to focus on the most intriguing element of the film – herself. Her existential responses to Kalle’s choices, including questioning his humanity and whether she, by comparison, is a “totally boring person”, make for the documentary’s most compelling and unique moments. Sadly, they pass by in a flash, as do major bombshells in the narrative.

Rise and fall stories are inherently absorbing. The best of them reveal the darkest and brightest sides of us. When all is said and done, Silicon Valley, Baby. peters somewhere in the middle.

Sweet Magnolias | Regional News

Sweet Magnolias

(13+)

Season one. Available on Netflix

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I can’t help but immediately compare Sweet Magnolias to Virgin River. Both are romantic Netflix dramas set in small-town America and star a very attractive red head who loses her husband but finds solace in other relationships. Both also feature a rather dishy male love interest, which might explain why I binged them in a few days. Where Sweet Magnolias doesn’t beat Virgin River is in its exploration of grief. Where it does better is in its celebration and elevation of female friendships.

Maddie Townsend (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) divorces Bill (Chris Klein) after he gets nurse Noreen (Jamie Lynn Spears) pregnant. With three kids between them, Maddie’s world is turned upside down – especially when Bill announces he’s marrying Noreen. For me, Swisher’s wooden performance is what lets Sweet Magnolias down. Her limited emotional range means I don’t believe her character’s response to this trauma. Maddie’s arc is more like a flat line; she even looks a little bored during a steamy sex scene with Coach Cal (Justin Bruening).

Luckily, Swisher is supported by two fantastic actors, Heather Headley as lawyer Helen Decatur and Brooke Elliott as chef Dana Sue Sullivan. Headley carries the emotional weight of the season with a gut-wrenching portrayal of a woman scorned, while Elliott’s giggly flirt fest with a hot guy who’s got a nice car practically steals the show. The chemistry between the three leads is real and palpable; while I didn’t always buy into Swisher’s solo performance, I believed and cherished the heartfelt connection between these characters. The love between them is accentuated by pretty cinematography (Brian Johnson) and soft lighting, almost as if they glow when they’re together.

Sweet Magnolias is the kind of programme you can pop on in the background while baking brownies. You won’t be glued to the screen, but you’ll find its sweetness sneaking up on you until suddenly, you’re hooked. Though unexpected for an otherwise slow-building show, the cliff-hanger ending surely means a second season is in store. I for one will be tuning in.

Knives Out | Regional News

Knives Out

(M)

130 Mins. Available on home video.

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Knives Out is a good-old-fashioned whodunit, complete with the bloody murder of a family patriarch, an endless list of motivated suspects, a smooth detective, and more twists than one cares to count. It is mystery in its purest and most entertaining form.

While police rule the dramatic death of well-known crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) a suicide, private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) receives an anonymous payment that urges him to think otherwise. As Blanc investigates, conflicts within the Thrombey family are brought to light, and everyone becomes a suspect.

After his experience making Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it’s clear writer and director Rian Johnson wanted to make a subversive follow up. The whodunit genre is inherently captivating, but risky – a switched-on audience will see right through any plot holes and call BS on any sudden deus ex machina.

Thankfully, Johnson did his homework. His screenplay and direction are tightly linked to deliver the right information at just the right time; a trail of breadcrumbs designed to ensure maximum impact to the audience. Editor Bob Ducsay is also crucial in this success. As we are tossed around time to achieve the aforementioned impact, Ducsay’s cuts keep the pace and maintain the plot’s intelligence.

If Johnson and Ducsay carry the film’s structure, the cast is certainly responsible for injecting an unabashed sense of fun. Craig chews scenery with glee. Ana de Armas, playing Harlan’s private nurse and confidant Marta Cabrera, brings necessary heart and warmth to the screen amongst a sea of cold, manipulative players. Standouts in the supporting cast include Jamie Lee Curtis as Harlan’s resilient, no-nonsense daughter Linda and Chris Evans as his spoilt grandson.

While the story and characters endow Knives Out with joy, the film doesn’t consistently seize opportunities to innovate visually beyond some well-timed blocking and the odd dolly zoom. However, Johnson’s direction is poised. Not a second of screen time is wasted, constantly building towards what is a satisfying conclusion to a truly grand mystery.

The Lighthouse | Regional News

The Lighthouse

(R16)

110 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

A week on from seeing Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, I’m still struggling to gather my thoughts on it. Was it mesmerising? Yes. Devastatingly beautiful? Yes. Upsetting? Hell yes. But some may leave the cinema wondering what the film was trying to say.

The Lighthouse stars Robert Pattinson as Ephraim Winslow, a lighthouse ‘wickie’ on a barren island in the late 19th century. His mentor Thomas Wake, played by Willem Dafoe, is a veteran of the trade. The men slowly slip towards insanity when Winslow’s stay is extended by a vicious storm that leaves him stranded.

Eggers has created a film that could not be defined under any one genre. Its imagery is simultaneously random and purposeful, which adds to the sense of confusion that is felt by the characters and shared by the audience. As the characters sink into alcoholic tendencies, hallucinations of mermaids and sea monsters leave us uncertain and untrusting.

The film is shot in black and white at an almost-square aspect ratio; making it any other way would feel inappropriate. Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke manage to visualise a time period without either character having to utter a word of exposition.

The fact that Dafoe did not receive major awards recognition is a crime. The chemistry he and Pattinson share ventures down strange paths, from anger and frustration to close friendship and sexual tension. And yet, it never feels unnatural, even as the actors adjust to deliver poetic dialogue in old-timey pirate voices. Moments between them will make you laugh, empathise, and wince in horror.

Many will leave The Lighthouse unsatisfied. While it clearly tackles masculinity and isolation in an utterly unique way, it asks more questions than it answers. But madness is often intangible, and Eggers dies by the laws of show-don’t-tell cinema. Don’t expect to be told a story here, expect to be sucked into one and spat back out a little more unhinged.

Uncut Gems | Regional News

Uncut Gems

(R16)

135 Mins. Available on Netflix

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Writers and directors Josh and Benny Safdie catapult us into a slick, shady world with Uncut Gems. The film’s energy is kinetic, unpredictable, and utterly relentless, and with it the brothers secure their place as two of the most exciting young filmmakers to hit Hollywood in recent years.

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a jeweller in New York’s Diamond District. Addicted to gambling and winning at all costs, Howard is in deep and running out of time to pay his debts. When a rare gem peaks the intrigue of NBA star Kevin Garnett, Howard is convinced his problems are solved.

The Safdie Brothers have a knack for bringing the best out of everyone they choose to collaborate with. Sandler delivers a career-defining performance, stepping far beyond what I thought he was capable of. Howard is a hubristic cheat. You never quite know whether this guy is a genius or an outright fool, if he is going to win or lose, right up to the film’s final moments. That thread of uncertainty will keep audiences clutching the edges of their seats as he makes one erratic decision after another – a truly frustrating experience.

Many in the cast are not professional actors, yet no one feels out of place or distracting. Who knew Kevin Garnett and The Weeknd could act? And really act, at that.

Much like Good Time, the Safdie’s previous effort, Uncut Gems refuses to let up. Sandler’s manic energy is perfectly complemented by Darius Khondji’s grubby cinematography and Ronald Bronstein and Benny’s fast-paced editing. Daniel Lopatin’s score is synthetic and assaulting to great effect.

Uncut Gems questions the meaning of winning; what are we willing to lose in order to win? We inhabit Howard’s life, and though he is abhorrent, we understand why he makes the crazy decisions he does. This is cinema in its most chaotic and visceral form.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood | Regional News

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

(PG)

109 Mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Despite some tedious moments, director Marielle Heller injects A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with sincere warmth and mostly captures the spirit of its hero, Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks).

Journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is sent on an assignment to profile beloved children’s entertainer Fred Rogers. The cynical Vogel refuses to believe Rogers is truly as kind and compassionate as he appears on his puppet-laden TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

The film is anchored by a rock-solid script full of humour and poignant moments. By freeing Heller from the confines of a traditional life story biopic, screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster allow her to focus on the connection between Vogel and Rogers without the portrait of this important figure feeling incomplete.

Rhys steals the show onscreen. His arc of self-discovery is beautifully constructed. It is the story of a broken man incapable of trust slowly coming back to the light by learning the value of kindness. The quiet, contemplative scenes between Rhys and Hanks are the most affecting and honest aspect of the film. The turbulent relationship Vogel has with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper) is sometimes pushed into overly dramatic territory, but the actors are capable of carrying their weight.

Hanks delivers a well-balanced performance, although his interpretation of Rogers feels slightly indulgent and disingenuous at times, which drags the film’s momentum. While he successfully embodies the man’s spirit, he delights so much in his quirks the performance sometimes forays into parody. Still, Hanks knows how to deliver an emotional punch when the time comes.

American audiences who grew up with Mister Rogers will undoubtedly find more to connect to in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood than those who didn’t. My introduction came in the form of the excellent 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? While I would recommend that film over this one any day, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood feels so warm and fuzzy you’re guaranteed to leave the cinema with a smile.

The Irishman | Regional News

The Irishman

(R13)

209 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Four virtuosos of the gangster genre regroup to deliver a tale of cold-hearted greed in an unconventionally human way. Director Martin Scorsese gives these characters time to meditate, painting a cruel and gloomy portrait of life in the mob.

The film is narrated by an elderly Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro). He recounts his life as a hitman for the mafia, working under the wing of Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). Ultimately, Sheeran offers his perspective on the disappearance of his friend and famed Teamster, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).

The release of any new Scorsese film is an event within itself. Add his first reunion with De Niro and Pesci since Casino (1995), his first time working with Pacino, and the stipulation of the mob, and The Irishman becomes something intrinsically special.

Surprise, surprise, The Irishman is another great film from Scorsese. Really great, actually. Where Goodfellas (1990) and Casino feel like cinematic adrenaline, this film is stoic and pointed, indulging in the mundane, chilling side of the gangster. De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino prove their worth as screen legends, giving younger actors a lesson in minimalism and subtlety. We hang on every word Pesci says; they feel precise where his past performances feel frantic. Hoffa is greedy, self-interested, somewhat delusional, and hilarious, and Pacino hits every beat seamlessly.

Much of the film is fast paced, jumping between time periods and plot details rapidly. Scorsese’s long-time collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker is, for my money, the most skilled editor alive. The Irishman is nearly three and a half hours in length, yet it feels no longer than two. Still, Scorsese knows how to slow things down, and the result is a collection of the most suspenseful scenes you’ll see on screen this year.

I haven’t even touched on the brilliant supporting performances, the de-aging effects (which work, for the most part), the crackling script by Steven Zaillian, or the ending, which sobered me. But it’s all there, and in the end, The Irishman is the treat it should be.

Ford v. Ferrari | Regional News

Ford v. Ferrari

(M)

152 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Director James Mangold takes a story reserved for car enthusiasts and makes its messages universal and its action tense, though a brighter light could have been shined on the multiple personalities that fuelled Ford’s historic battle with Ferrari.

In the 1960s, the Ford Motor Company is looking for a new audience and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) has his eyes on the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Infuriated when Ferrari (who had won the previous six races) refuses to cut a deal with the American manufacturer, Ford throws money at Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to build a car that will defeat the Italians. However, Shelby must fight for his preferred driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to be behind the wheel.

Ford v. Ferrari excels where it should: the racing. The climactic 1966 Le Mans race is a true nail-biter that manages to capture the speed on the track and intensity of Miles behind the wheel. Well-paced and never visually confusing, Mangold, the man responsible for Logan (2017), solidifies himself as a formidable action director.

While Damon and Bale perform to their usual high standards, other characters are somewhat sidelined, which is a shame as many of them have a similarly crucial stake in the final race. The most developed of them is Henry Ford II, with Letts delivering the standout supporting performance. Miles’ wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe), Ford executive Lee lacocca (Jon Bernthal), and Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) are characters that fall victim to this, even within a two-and-a-half-hour runtime.

Still, it was fascinating to explore the difficulty of engineering a car that could survive and win Le Mans, and the mindset of a determined racer. The film also cleared up a puzzling piece of history: how another Ford driver, our own Bruce McLaren, was declared the victor when he crossed the line at the same time as Miles.

While it doesn’t use its entire runtime wisely, Ford v. Ferrari is a thrilling film that a surprisingly wide audience will enjoy.

Joker | Regional News

Joker

(R16)

121 Mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Just as I thought we’d reached the peak of what a cinematic Joker could be, Joaquin Phoenix and writer-director Todd Phillips delve into an entirely new interpretation with a supremely focused character study that effectively disturbs and distresses.

Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is scraping by in the bowels of Gotham City’s underworld, struggling to care for his mother while suffering from mental illness and a condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably in times of discomfort. Arthur becomes further unhinged as his world continues to alienate him, and he begins to embrace the comedy he sees amongst the violent madness.

The Joker is a wonderfully adaptable character. He can function as a clown, a murderous psychopath, or a combination of the two. He is rarely portrayed realistically, and the mystery that clouds the character’s origin has enthralled fans for almost 80 years. Phoenix transforms over the course of the movie and we feel the danger intensify from frame to frame. Fleck begins as an outcast, misunderstood and abused. Once liberated, we see his body language and vocal cadence change organically as Phillips’ direction allows us to empathise with this disillusioned man.

Joker finds strength in its disconnection from the books that inspire it, which I say as a huge fan of comics. This is not a Batman story, and this Joker more closely resembles Travis Bickle than any previous iteration. Phillips unashamedly taps into influence from Taxi Driver and the style of Martin Scorsese, rediscovering a tone that mainstream theatres have been missing.

While the influence is there it isn’t a crutch, as the writing, direction, editing, and breathtaking cinematography (we can almost feel the grime on Gotham’s streets) support the weight of Phoenix’s masterful performance. A special mention must go to Robert De Niro as talk-show host Murray Franklin; his timing and prowess shine more in the short time he spends on-screen here than in any of his recent performances.

My eyes have not been glued to a screen like this in quite some time. I’m already itching to experience it again.

Jojo Rabbit | Regional News

Jojo Rabbit

(M)

108 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In his most light-hearted film to date, Taika Waititi reminds us that it’s okay to laugh to overcome hate. Jojo Rabbit is a comedy, through and through, and those looking for a gloomy tale about World War II should look elsewhere. Alternatively, this is a heart-warming, gut-busting tale about learning to think for yourself; overcoming the influence of a world full of hate to decide what is truly right.

At 10 years old, Jojo Betzler’s (Roman Griffin Davis) views on the war are naïve and childish. He’s a self-confessed “Hitler fanatic” who treats the leader like his favourite celebrity. He soon discovers his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is harbouring Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a young Jewish girl, in the attic. Jojo must confront his blind nationalism in the form of his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi).

Due to his age, Jojo is largely shielded from the true horrors of WWII. It is not until he is confronted by grief resulting directly from it that he begins to see the full picture. This film is not gratuitous. It doesn’t have to be, nor does it promise to be. But Jojo does not escape the Nazi regime without experiencing his share of trauma.

Taika’s screenplay gives comic talents moments to shine without detracting from the characters who really matter. Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant, and Taika himself never outstay their welcome, but eat up every second they have in this vibrant world. The relationships Davis portrays are visceral, particularly with McKenzie and Johansson, and this is what the film is concerned with. Each actor conveys their character’s position, and sense of humour, with pure sincerity. Who should Jojo trust: His country? His mother? Elsa? By the end, certainly not his ridiculous unicorn-eating fantasy of Adolf Hitler.

Jojo Rabbit is not about a boy learning by witnessing horrific acts, it’s about a boy talking to other human beings and concluding that they are all equal. This message just happens to be delivered through the funniest script of the year.

Maiden | Regional News

Maiden

(M)

93 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Maiden is an action-packed documentary that viscerally captures an important human achievement. Detailed footage from the 1980s is edited with precision to recreate an entire race across the world, although a deeper dive into its subject’s past would have painted a more complete picture.

A young British sailor named Tracy Edwards had a dream of sailing around the world. When she realised that the male-dominated industry wouldn’t allow her to do more than cook on a Whitbread Round the World Race yacht, she decided to take matters into her own hands. In 1989, she skippered Maiden, the first all-female crewed boat entered into the race, and ultimately won two legs in Division D.

Director Alex Holmes has crafted a vivid snapshot of Tracy’s environment at this particular time. We feel the scrutiny that surrounded her, which helps us empathise with her admitted “horrendous flaws”.

We see a sincere lack of fear in the entire Maiden crew, but the film shines in moments that show Tracy’s sheer drive, even when she was not popular. She was under enormous pressure and prone to anger as a result. She was forced to take the reigns as skipper on top of her duties as navigator when she fired the crew’s original skipper, the highly experienced Marie-Claude Heys, for threatening her leadership. The media wrote Maiden off as a “tin full of tarts” who wouldn’t even finish the first leg of the race. All of this caused the sworn non-feminist to reconsider her viewpoint, and the overall importance of the crew’s success. By including self-reflective interviews with Tracy, her fellow crew members, other sailors, and journalists from the time, Holmes balances this narrative beautifully.

While the film evocatively portrays Maiden’s time at sea, it doesn’t dig as deeply into aspects of Tracy’s past that undoubtedly affect her, such as the sudden death of her father when she was young. Dedicating more time to the root cause of Tracy’s positive and negative traits would have provided interesting context to her inspirational success.

The Farewell | Regional News

The Farewell

(PG)

98 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The Farewell places us at the centre of an inter-generational, inter-cultural family drama. Its characters connect with each other and with those in the cinema through smart direction, good humour, and intense (but never sentimental) emotional differences.

Billi (Awkwafina), an aspiring writer, immigrated to New York with her parents when she was very young. She is still close with her relatives in China, particularly her Nai Nai/grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen). When Nai Nai is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, the family must fly back to see her. The only hiccup is Billi’s somewhat forgotten homeland traditions, which deem that Nai Nai must not know she is sick. And so, a faux wedding is arranged to deceive her.

Writer and director Lulu Wang creates a consistent tone that allows for moments of happiness, heated disagreement, longing sadness, and love. There is no clash between conversations in Mandarin and conversations in English, it all flows seamlessly. Her efforts are entangled with those of cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano, who uses close mid shots and distant longs to pull us into this family dynamic, at times uncomfortably so. She heavily utilises the lower third of the frame, which puts us level with the characters emotionally.

Each family member is unique in portrayal and perspective. We see how the characters feel about the situation, and how they’re struggling to accept their lies. Particularly Billi’s parents, who are in the most interesting position as Chinese people with recent Western influence. Wang revels in the fascinating cultural comparisons.

Finally, the true stars, Billi and Nai Nai. Awkwafina and Shuzhen each give breath-taking performances. The intimate moments we spend with these two are sweet, entrancing, and funny. Billi sees how overjoyed Nai Nai is when the family returns and struggles between the moral obligation to tell her the truth and the guilt of stripping her happiness away. Nai Nai’s grace infects her and she must learn to be less selfish.

The Farewell is a universally relatable story, but it could – in the wrong hands – be a boring one. With this director and this cast, boy was that not the case.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood | Regional News

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

(R16)

161 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Quentin Tarantino’s Hollywood-hangout film pulls the audience into the town’s golden age by utilising two of modern-day’s most charismatic performers at peak fitness, though it doesn’t attack the senses in the same way as his revenge-led pictures.

In Once Upon a Time we join fading 1960’s western TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton’s cowboy shoot-em-ups are going out of fashion, which means he and Booth could be out of work. Luckily, Dalton might have an in through his neighbours… Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha).

This movie is Hollywood. Seeing DiCaprio and Pitt together on screen took me back to a time when the movie star reigned supreme. Their characters are different, but they need each other, something they embrace as the film progresses. DiCaprio plays an unconsciously lonely man whose small moments of achievement are fun to celebrate. Pitt delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Booth. He does not overact, instead embracing the nonchalance inherent in the script – primarily communicating through badassery. Supporting characters are well placed and well cast, particularly Margaret Qualley as Pussycat and the various other Manson Family members, and 10-year-old Julia Butters, who is maybe the only actor to steal shine from the leads.

The lack of thrills will be an adjustment for some. There’s a lot of driving, a lot of talking, and payoff usually comes in the form of catharsis or comedy. Cinematographer Robert Richardson beautifully captures a half real, half fantasy 1969. The script just isn’t as tight, and the concepts not as clearly executed as we have come to expect. However, the ending was worth it. It was a wonderful ‘WTF’ moment. Tate serves as an important symbol of this time in Hollywood. Robbie plays her well but is short on standout sequences.

Films like this, with actors of this calibre rarely get made anymore. Just don’t go in expecting the regular Tarantino gut-punch. His other films are crazy, this one is cool.

Booksmart | Regional News

Booksmart

(R16)

105 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

While occasionally falling into coming-of-age traps, Booksmart feels genuine in a way that not many films like it do and allows a talented cast to shine in one of the year’s funniest comedies.

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as high school friends Molly and Amy, who cut loose on graduation night after realising their work-hard play-never mantra may have been for nothing.

Booksmart separates itself from recent coming-of-age flicks like Lady Bird and Eighth Grade through pedal-to-the-metal comedy. At an hour 45 minutes there is no room for filler, and there isn’t any; jokes hit so rapidly it’s hard to see them coming, which is rare.

The friendship between Molly and Amy feels lived in. While both have individual misgivings, they are not simply movie-friends. If these people existed, they really would be hanging out, which is a credit to actresses Feldstein and Dever. To spoil any jokes would be a crime, but just wait until these two need a Lyft – our audience was laughing so hard we missed a few lines.

Often a high school comedy rides or dies with its supporting characters. We have the principal, the teacher, the gay kids, the rich kids, and so on. Doomed to be caricatures, Wilde somehow gives each character enough time to breathe and develop. Saturday Night Live greats Will Forte (Amy’s dad Doug), Mike O’Brien (Pat the pizza guy), and Jason Sudeikis (Principal Brown) eat up their few minutes of screen time, and lesser-known actors Billie Lourd (Gigi), Skyler Gisondo (Jared), and Noah Galvin (George) play unique, hilarious students.

While the jokes are consistently unpredictable, the story beats sometimes are. Our leads fight, make up, and learn their life lessons right on cue. However, Wilde seems aware of this formula and brings a directorial flair to these moments through some surprising editing and sound choices that serve the story’s sincerity.

Booksmart is a good coming-of-age film wrapped in one of the funniest, most authentic comedies I’ve seen in a long time.

The Lion King (2019) | Regional News

The Lion King (2019)

(PG)

118 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

While The Lion King (2019), a direct remake of the 1994 film, boasts visual effects that wouldn’t seem out of place in the latest David Attenborough wildlife documentary, it comes across as an exercise in CGI, and does not justify its existence.

The visual effects team at The Moving Picture Company more than earn their keep. The animals and locations are rendered beautifully, and this treatment is not just reserved for lead characters; the Pride Lands look and feel like a natural African habitat. The combination of photo-realism with unnatural behaviours is seamless and not distracting.

However, the voice cast struggles to push real emotion through – yes, realistic – neutral-faced animals. When 1994-Simba cries for Mufasa, we all cried with him. When 2019-Simba (JD McCrary) cries, it looks very similar to how 2019-Simba smiles. There are standouts amongst the supporting cast, particularly Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, and Eric Andre and Keegan-Michael Key as Scar’s hyena henchmen Azizi and Kamari. These pairings manage to inject immediate comedic chemistry into what otherwise feels like a lazy regurgitation. Other cast members, such as Beyoncé as Nala and Donald Glover as adult-Simba, offer nothing interesting vocally and appear as stunt casting.

Another let down was the simplification of some of the finest musical moments in movie history. Scar’s scary and sassy Be Prepared is dampened and completely forgettable. Can You Feel the Love Tonight is an excuse for Beyoncé and Glover to appear on a track together, but the mix is sloppy and does no favours for either star – one friend even called it “grating”.

It seems Disney thought they had a good movie that people wouldn’t mind seeing again. The problem is that this isn’t a good movie, this is The Lion King, for many, the finest film of Disney’s renaissance. This retelling’s astounding effects and moments of comedy do not offer enough to return to this version.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix | Regional News

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

(M)

113 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Cal Roberts

After absorbing a typically fatal dose of cosmic energy, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) transforms into the murderous titular outlaw Phoenix: a mutant consumed by rage and impulse. It’s up to her X-Men family to bring her home or bring her down.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s probably because this story has been told before, as the 2006 critical dud X-Men 3: The Last Stand. The only difference is this time around, alien imposter Vuk (Jessica Chastain) wants to exploit the mutant’s new power as a weapon.

This final outing for the X-Men under 20th Century Fox is directed by long-time franchise producer and writer Simon Kinberg. His attempts to put a satisfying bow on nearly 20 years of continuity (a term used very lightly here) fall just short of the mark, however.

At the risk of having nothing to strive for throughout, Dark Phoenix stretches its premise as far as superhumanly possible. The story remains faithful to some of the series’ mainstay character arcs, but Dark Phoenix is undoubtedly guilty of stealing the spotlight from Jean to address the failings of one Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). True to form, the film reveals he spent years repressing an immensely powerful orphan’s trauma instead of working through it – to disastrous and bloody results. Good one, Professor.

After mounting their first mission into space during the first act, the climactic battle is mundanely terrestrial, taking place on a train. Speaking of mundane, Vuk’s villainous peers, the D’bari, have been hiding on earth for who knows how long – or why. They ultimately serve as fodder tasked with standing awkwardly still and occasionally charging the X-Men in waves of two or three.

Go see this movie if you’re a diehard X-Men fan, prefer character-driven superhero stories, and don’t care about who holds a series’ franchise rights. Otherwise, hold out for the same story to get a third pass when the X-Men are inevitably revamped, recast, and rebooted, in line with the one true Marvel Cinematic Universe somewhere down the line.

Assholes: A Theory | Regional News

Assholes: A Theory

81 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Presented by: the Doc Edge Film Festival

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Has there always been so many assholes around, or is the proliferation of entitled, rude people a 21st century phenomenon? Assholes: A Theory explores this question and many more, examining why and how the asshole develops, as well as where they thrive.

This documentary (directed by Canadian filmmaker John Walker) was inspired by the bestselling book of the same name by Aaron James, a professor of philosophy. James appears in interviews throughout the film, but especially the first third, where he and others define the term asshole in quite academic terms. For example, assholes are usually (but not always) male, white, and affluent. You can’t be an asshole until you’re old enough to know better. Finally, assholery points to a feeling of superiority and dismissal of other people’s emotions (rather than a complete lack of empathy, as in narcissistic personalities).

With a burbling, jazzy soundtrack and plenty of funny anecdotes from the likes of comedian John Cleese, Assholes: A Theory is clearly aiming to be light-hearted. However, as the second half of the film swings into matters like assholes in power, it becomes harder for the director to veil the seriously negative impact these people have on the world.

Apparently, assholes thrive in competitive environments like the financial and tech industries; think Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Interviewees dance around arguably the most prominent asshole on the planet right now, President Donald Trump, before delving into the careers of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and ex-prime minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi. Italian LGBTQIA+ activist Vladimir Luxuria, a direct opponent of Berlusconi’s, provides fascinating insights here.

Vox pops from ordinary people slow the pace somewhat, especially as I’m not sure who these talking heads are – at least some of them describe themselves as assholes.

Despite its provocative premise, Assholes: A Theory ambles along, entertainingly musing on the people we love to hate. If you’ve ever wondered how and why people are so dang rude these days, it’s well worth a watch.

Call Me Intern | Regional News

Call Me Intern

70 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Presented by: the Doc Edge Film Festival

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

In 2016, 22-year-old New Zealander David Hyde made headlines around the world when it was revealed that as an unpaid intern for the United Nations, he was living in a tent on the side of a lake in Geneva. Little did the press – or the UN, for that matter – know that Hyde had only taken on the position (and the unfortunate sleeping arrangements) as part of a film project.

Call Me Intern is the end result of Hyde’s UN stunt, a compelling documentary about the exploitative nature of unpaid internships. Cleverly, he and co-director Nathalie Berger springboard off Hyde’s experiences at the UN to concentrate on the stories of young Black Americans Marisa and Kyle. Marisa was ousted from her unpaid role at the Obama For America campaign after she reported her sexual assault, while Kyle worked at Fortune 500 company Warner Music from a homeless shelter.

The interviews were obviously done with great skill and care, as Kyle and Marisa both reveal intimate details of their backgrounds, motivation to pursue unpaid work, and devastation when they realised their internships were a dead end. Their stories brilliantly illustrate how unpaid internships also work to restrict diversity in white-collar professions and at top companies. Only rich kids can afford to work for nothing, and statistically speaking, rich kids are more likely to be white.

The movie side-steps any accusations of millennial whingeing with extensive interviews from academics. They put these stories in a greater context, where unpaid internships account for up to half of all internships offered in America, in a workforce where entry-level jobs are all but disappearing.

I’ve never heard of an unpaid internship in Aotearoa, but the stories in Call Me Intern still resonated with me. It’s extremely hard to find meaningful work as a young person, even with a university degree. While to some degree Call Me Intern was preaching to a millennial choir, I hope that older generations can recognise the injustice the film delves into so well.

Avengers: Endgame | Regional News

Avengers: Endgame

(M)

181 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

For a certain sector of movie fans and comic lovers, Avengers: Endgame is nothing short of a cultural moment. It’s the fourth and final episode in the Avengers series, and is also the latest entry in the Marvel film canon, which now numbers a whopping 22 movies. At the time of writing, the blockbuster is set to break records across the globe. With so many people flocking to see Endgame in theatres, I’m going to assume you’ve seen it. Beware – spoilers ahead.

Endgame starts directly where Infinity War left off, in the aftermath of the evil Thanos wiping out half of Earth’s population with a click of his fingers. The Avengers assemble, swiftly organise Thanos’ demise, and then mire themselves in their profound loss. That is, until Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) zaps his way from the quantum realm, but also the past, or something. With the mathematical genius of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), the Avengers enact a new plan: to travel back in time, steal back the infinity stones, and right Thanos’ wrong.

While I wouldn’t call myself an Avengers fan per se, I’ve always loved Iron Man, and Endgame is a wonderful vehicle for Downey Jr’s talents. The wisecracks are still there, yes, but the narrative also allows him to play a doting father, grief-stricken comrade, and finally, the true hero we always knew him to be. His last moments onscreen were captured in dramatic, sincere close-up – it was powerful stuff, especially for the small child openly sobbing in the seat next to me.

The rest of the movie is a perfectly fitting send-off, if a little convoluted at times. I have a few minor gripes (can we stop with the fat jokes in every Thor scene?), but overall, Endgame made great use of its stellar cast and hundreds of millions of dollars in digital effects. It’s a fabulous, funny, clever conclusion to one of the 21st century’s most iconic superhero sagas.

Us | Regional News

Us

(R16)

116 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Jordan Peele’s 2017 debut Get Out scored him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, cementing him – and the horror genre, now definitely enjoying a renaissance – as Hollywood forces to watch. Us, his sophomore effort, isn’t quite as narratively disciplined, but is nevertheless a riotously fun genre exercise that walks the line between laughs and scares with glee.

After a cryptic opening sequence, we meet the Wilsons: a middle-class Black family holidaying on the Californian coast. There’s Gabe (Winston Duke, dripping with dad-joke energy) and mum Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), as well as their two kids: Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Alex Evan). Us establishes a light, funny home life that swiftly turns dark when the Wilsons’ doppelgängers (played by the same actors) turn up on their driveway, dressed in blood-red jumpsuits and wielding golden scissors.

The Wilsons’ holiday home soon becomes a murderous funhouse that Peele’s camera manoeuvres around with fluid ease. Doors conceal frantic bodies, bare feet slap on wooden floors somewhere down the hall… But each shot is taut, purposeful, in sharp contrast and focus. Despite the old-school feel of its slasher gore, Us’ cinematography is so contemporary; the moving shot of a bloodied (and brilliant) Elisabeth Moss is my highlight.

Nyong’o is superb in her twin role of Adelaide and Red, her homicidal double. As Adelaide, she’s fierce, enigmatic, maternal. Red, on the other hand, is deeply chilling, expressed through a raspy voice interspersed with loud gulps. She moves as if guided by a metronome, her posture ramrod straight and her walking staccato.

The Easter eggs in this movie – referring to pop culture, religion, and other horror films – are delightful. The Shining is the most obvious influence, as Peele nicks both the creepy twins and the extended birds-eye shots of the landscape. But in the third act, when the horrors begin to unfurl, Peele’s ideas pile up too quickly. While Get Out felt elegant, Us feels overstuffed. Diving into its late plot developments does the movie no favours; it’s best enjoyed on a visceral level, behind a cushion if necessary.

Daffodils | Regional News

Daffodils

(M)

93 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

I really wanted to like Daffodils. But when the random friendly stranger next to me asked my opinion as the credits rolled, I started with “can I be honest?”

Even at 93 minutes, Daffodils dragged. Its flat characters, jarring use of a much-hyped Kiwiana soundtrack, and soapy writing made for one of the most disappointing New Zealand movies I’ve seen in years.

Based on the stage show of the same name, Daffodils is the love story of Eric (George Mason) and Rose (Rose McIver), who meet by chance on a drunken, stormy night in the Hamilton Domain. To the ire of Rose’s well-to-do parents, the pair fall madly for each other, get married, and eventually have two daughters. One of their girls, Maisy (Kimbra), narrates their (spoiler: doomed) tale through voiceover and song.

I’ll start with the good stuff: Mason and McIver work admirably with the material they’ve been given, and the set dressing is pitch-perfect (shout out to the tomato-shaped ketchup bottle in every kitchen scene).

But there are so many things that don’t work. The covers of New Zealand classics by the band Lips are at best, not bad. And in not quite the same way as a musical, where everyone in the movie participates in the song-and-dance number, Daffodils’ characters mime songs that the others can’t hear. It slows down the pace, and worse, it sticks us in emotional spaces that often don’t quite line up with the scene. The most mismatched for me is an early moment when Rose becomes fiercely jealous that her not-yet-boyfriend Eric is greeted by another girl. She has a slow-motion musical moment in the corner of the dancehall that feels completely unearned.

Moreover, the swirl of assumptions at the centre of their relationship breakdown is sitcom-level stupid, and could be solved with a five-minute conversation. What could have been a sensitive and insightful chance to look at Pākehā stoicism is given a simplistic, hugely frustrating treatment.

Yeah nah, you can probably give Daffodils a miss, eh.

If Beale Street Could Talk | Regional News

If Beale Street Could Talk

(M)

117 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Director Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning film Moonlight was one of the best films of 2016. Based on the James Baldwin novel of the same name, his follow-up If Beale Street Could Talk is softer and less art house, but is no less insightful on love, community, family, and racial hatred.

19-year-old Tish (KiKi Layne) and 21-year-old sculptor Fonny (Stephan James) are hopelessly in love. Dreaming of a modest life together, their biggest problem is that they can’t secure a New York City apartment from racist landlords – until Fonny is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. A rape victim was coerced into picking him out of a line-up, so he’s chucked in the slammer with little hope of release. At the same time, Tish discovers she is pregnant.

The movie opens with a quote from Baldwin, explaining the origins of the novel’s title. Beale Street is a historically significant street in Memphis, and according to the author, is the symbolic birthplace of all Black Americans. Thanks to Jenkins’ gorgeous use of colour, slow motion sequences, and Nicholas Britell’s swelling score, the idea of legacy is evoked again and again. At times, If Beale Street Could Talk is more like a visual poem than a movie. But I’m not complaining; it’s beautiful.

And besides, there’s plenty of compelling action to drive the narrative. In a superbly shot scene starring Brian Tyree Henry as Fonny’s old friend Daniel, Henry delivers a stomach-roiling, eerie monologue on the horrors of incarceration. A climactic scene where Tish informs Fonny’s horrible “holy roller” mother (Aunjanue Ellis) that she’s expecting provoked gasps from the audience. And Regina King (Tish’s mother) more than earns her Best Supporting Actress Oscar in a sequence where she talks to Fonny’s alleged victim, begging her to recount her testimony.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a brilliantly gentle, bittersweet movie that handles big ideas of humanity and prejudice with grace. It might have received fewer accolades than Moonlight, but it’s a worthy addition to Jenkins’ oeuvre.

On the Basis of Sex | Regional News

On the Basis of Sex

(M)

120 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of the most famous civil servants in the world. She sits on the US Supreme Court at the age of 85, and is best-known for her work demolishing legislation that discriminates on gender. Her story was always going to be incredible, but in the hands of director Mimi Leder, it becomes even more compelling. On the Basis of Sex at first seems straightforward, even glossy, but excels when it delves into the trickier stuff.

The biopic follows Ruth (Felicity Jones) from her time at Harvard Law School as one of its first-ever female students through to the case that changed everything for her – and America’s women. Along the way, we nestle into her spectacularly functional, progressive marriage with Marty (Armie Hammer), and see first-hand the kind of discrimination that Ruth and her kin were up against.

Despite its long runtime, On the Basis of Sex held me in its thrall. Sure, it was funny when the young Ruth humiliates the sexist, condescending Dean of Harvard Law (Sam Waterston), but the film is its most cutting and fresh when it skewers so-called ‘allies’ of the feminist movement. After graduating, top student Ruth can’t get a job anywhere in New York. One interview seems promising; the interviewing partner seems sympathetic to her plight – but he can’t hire her! What would the wives say? Smarmy ACLU lawyer Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) is for equal treatment for all people under the law, apparently. But he refuses to treat Ruth as his intellectual equal, and after one particular dressing-down even the audience doubts she can win.

These thematic through-lines work so well because they stem from complex social and cultural issues that women and non-binary people are still wading through today. It effectively conveys to the viewer that while ‘the Notorious RBG’ did a lot of important work for gender equality, we’ve still got a way to go. On the Basis of Sex is inspiring, but it never loses sight of the fact that social change is a lot of hard work.

Green Book | Regional News

Green Book

(M)

130 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Green Book is heart-warming, straightforward, and optimistic. It’s basically everything that real-life racism isn’t.

The Golden Globe-winning film is essentially a buddy comedy, based on real events. The classically trained jazz pianist Dr Don Shirley (Ali) is embarking on a tour of the South in the Jim Crow era. As a Black man, he knows the trip could be perilous, and so he hires Italian-American Tony ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Mortensen) to be both his driver and bodyguard. While ‘the Doc’ is highly educated and a bit uptight, Tony Lip is a boarish chatterbox who eats whole pizzas folded over like a sandwich. Over the course of their eight-week sojourn, the two very different men learn to like each other.

Directed by Peter Farelly (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber), Green Book is best when it’s funny. Ali and Mortensen play off each other wonderfully when stretching the outer limits off their characters – the scene where Lip convinces the grease-averse Doc to try fried chicken for the first time, for example. Mortensen is also to be applauded for his incredible commitment to the role (he must have packed on 20kg in his belly alone), and for breathing a rich inner life into Lip.

However, the film’s view of racism is pretty rosy; it’s posited as a past tense problem rather than something that continues to oppress millions of Black Americans. The Green Book that the title refers to is a publication detailing which motels, shops, and roadside diners would welcome ‘coloreds’, and which it would be best to avoid. It’s a relic of an overtly racist past – it almost seems ridiculous now, alongside smoking inside and segregated restaurants. Green Book points to those things as evidence that we’ve changed.

But have we? Thanks to the current President, the pain felt in America’s minority communities in 2019 is hot and angry and urgent. This kind of filmmaking, in these times, feels insultingly reductive. Green Book wants to make you laugh, cry, and forget about America’s racism problem for a couple hours. And that’s okay. But I think it’s high time for the more difficult conversations.

A Star is Born | Regional News

A Star is Born

(M)

136 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

I love that Bradley Cooper chose A Star is Born for his first outing as a director. The Hollywood warhorse first appeared in theatres in 1937, and has since been remade four times. In this defiantly fresh 21st-century take, Cooper sings a love song to the movies without compromising on his methodical artistic integrity.

You know the story. Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a country-rock superstar overly reliant on booze and pills. One night, he drags those cowboy boots and twinkling blue eyes to a cabaret, where he meets waitress and singer-songwriter Ally (Stefani Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga). Jack convinces her to join him on tour, and as quickly as the pair fall madly in love, Ally’s star begins to rise.

The first half of A Star is Born is seamless. The moment Ally takes the mic with Jack for Shallow is perfect – despite, or even because of, the fact that we’ve seen that scene a thousand times before. It works principally because of the beautiful chemistry between Cooper and Lady Gaga, which aches not only with sexual tension, but with kindness and care. Both leads are astounding, but it’s Lady Gaga that takes you by surprise. Her performance, unlike her famous musical persona, is completely without artifice. Her Ally (very different to Judy Garland’s or Barbara Streisand’s) is no naïve ingenue, but a modern woman with both street smarts and a heart given to dreaming.

It’s only in the second act that the plot hits a few flat notes. The attention to detail given to musical sequences is less often applied to dialogue, so that some developments feel rushed. You could attribute this to the world of showbusiness these characters inhabit, but it is just as often the dated source material poking through. The final and most devastating development doesn’t quite hit as hard as it deserves to, mostly because the preceding scene had me questioning its verisimilitude.

Despite its faults, A Star is Born is Hollywood done right. It’s nothing short of a modern classic.