Thursday, November 7, 2019

"Last Christmas" (2019) film review



Year: 2019
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: Paul Feig
Writers: Emma Thompson (story and screenplay), Greg Wise (story) and Bryony Kimmings (screenplay)
Cast: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson, Michelle Yeoh, Lydia Leonard, Boris Isakovic, Peter Mygind

Last Christmas is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed by Universal Pictures.

Paul Feig's latest, inspired by George Michael's Christmas anthem, Last Christmas, may be as cluttered as an over-decorated Christmas tree. It is as predictable as a holiday movie can be, but is nevertheless a fun, uplifting, and heartwarming addition to the genre.With the exciting combination of Feig's direction and Emma Thompson's screenwriting, Last Christmas delivers everything a Christmas film promises with it's story, themes, music and visuals all in the holiday spirit.

Last Christmas is an interesting take on a Christmas film, as it attempts to blend the stereotypical features of such a film with social issues and themes that are not so typical. The film tries hard to do perhaps too much and is very busy as a result, though it is still admirable how much it gets done in it's 102 minute run time. Of course, the film ticks every box of a Christmas genre film and how comprehensively this task is completed will strike many as completely tiresome, though it will be a Christmas lovers delight.

Our down-on-her-luck heroine, Kate (Emilia Clarke) is living a destructive lifestyle while begrudgingly working in a London Christmas store as an elf. While attempting to chase after her dream of being a singer with no luck or great commitment, she meets a charismatic and mysterious stranger, Tom (Henry Golding) who helps her see the magic in life and inspires Kate to turn her life around. It's a story which we have seen many times before in countless rom-coms and Christmas films alike. Although the story itself isn't at all unpredictable or exhilarating, it is executed in such a way that it still manages to hit the mark and be uplifting, inspirational and moving.


At the Sydney Premiere of Last Christmas, Feig spoke of the unquestionable star power of Emilia Clarke and that is exactly what she exhibits in the film. Kate takes the leap from being an unlikable character to one that the audience completely falls and feels for, especially when it comes to her relationship with Golding's Tom. Yes, the screenplay plays you as it wants you to connect and relate to Kate, which can feel manipulative and irritating. However, in the holiday spirit it is forgiven and it is a credit to Clarke's performance that she is able to create a warmth to her character. Golding, who is the picture perfect love interest, lifts his performance to meet Clarke's and the two have great chemistry which adds to the audience's emotional investment in the film.

Despite the constant onslaught of fairy lights, colourful tinsel, disturbing Christmas tree decorations sold by Santa (Kate's boss hilariously played by Michelle Yeoh) and expected festive music, Last Christmas does try to be more than a holiday film that ticks all the boxes. The film is not only based on the 1986 Wham! classic that is played in every shopping outlet approximately 500 times during every holiday season, but it is a tribute to George Michael and his musical legacy. Last Christmas features not only the song it takes it's name after, but also many of his hit singles and a newly released song never heard before. There are also several Wham! and George Michael Easter eggs throughout the film, making this film a less obvious cinematic tribute to the man who passed three years ago this Christmas.

The film also touches on, but does not venture too far into, the effects of immigration, health problems and homelessness (an issue that was close to George Michael's heart) on families. With Kate's family moving from Yugoslavia when she was younger to escape the war, her family still struggles with adapting to a new life in the United Kingdom. Her father cannot find work in the profession he was trained in and her mother (played by Emma Thompson) struggles to let go of her old ways, both which are having a negative effect on their family. Emma Thompson convincingly plays the eastern European mother, taking quirks that many will recognise from their own mothers and turning them into comedy.


Last Christmas does unfortunately not get to the true heart of any of it's more serious themes. The reason behind this is that it really does try to do too much. The screenplay brings us to the brink of these more serious issues (especially the homeless epidemic), and then pulls us back so that we remember that this is first and foremost a Christmas film. This is the greatest downfall of Last Christmas. It really tries to be a Christmas movie to set it apart from other Christmas movies, but instead it just becomes a very, very busy Christmas movie that tries to say more than it does.

However, the bottom line is that Last Christmas really is an enjoyable and uplifting film for the holiday season that will be a staple for December viewing for many years to come. It is evident that Paul Feig and Emma Thompson have really tried to bring more to the table with this comforting reminder of how wonderful it is to be alive, but it is simply a case of trying to do too much and ending up with too much noise playing alongside the Christmas carols.

6.5/10

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) film review




Year: 2019
Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writers: Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Producer: Gavin Polone
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch, Avan Jogia
Zombieland: Double Tap is now in cinemas everywhere and is distributed by Sony Pictures.

Zombieland: Double Tap is exactly the type of movie needed if you, like so many others, need the right amount of silliness and apocalyptic zombie violence to get you through the annoyance of the world in the current state it is in. Never taking itself too seriously and having a clear sense of what it is, the sequel to 2009's Zombieland is a complete riot and brainless fun. Pun intended.

The horror sub-genre of zombie films has become overly saturated in recent years, and one would be forgiven for wondering why and if we really needed a sequel to Zombieland. The truth is that we never needed Double Tap and there is really no reason at all it had to be made as it doesn't offer anything new or different to either the genre or the first film. However, in the name of ridiculous and ludicrous fun, it is definitely not a crime against humanity that it exists. Zombieland: Double Tap offers up a form of violent and often random comedy with plenty of action-packed horror sequences that makes it entertaining and enjoyable.

Taking place a decade after we first met Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), the four are still surviving the zombie apocalypse and have arrived at the home to beat all homes, the White House. Their new place of residence is an amusing choice to have as in Zombieland's alternate universe (which would be our current reality), nothing happening in the White House is comical. So using this opportunity to lighten the tension felt towards American politics and turn it to laughter through this film is a blessing. The Double Tap screenplay really does not have much to offer that is different to the first film or unpredictable. It is another tale of survival in a world that has been taken over by the undead, while trying to maintain the need for regular human needs and wants and social interaction. As expected, the two often collide with each other. Breslin's Little Rock, in particular, struggles with still being the baby of the group, although she is now an adult and wants to have experiences typical to her age.


The film completely delivers on it's promise of action with various spectacular and gory forms of zombie death at the hands of Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, Little Rock and the fiery and heroic Nevada (Rosario Dawson). Double Tap also delivers on the promised laughs, but is still not immune to several attempted jokes falling flat, including the needless and ridiculous post-credits scene. Harrelson and Eisenberg deliver many of the laughs with their wit, as does Stone with her brand of sarcasm. While Breslin, unfortunately, struggles to keep up with the comedic ability of her co-stars with her character being completely bland and uninteresting.

Yet, it is Zoey Deutch as clueless Madison who steals the show in every scene she is in. Madison is stuck in the image of the late 2000's then Hollywood It girl, Paris Hilton, but is light years more hilarious than anything that was seen on "The Simple Life". The character is one that shouldn't work and would be painful and offensive if anyone else but Deutch had played her. Instead she adds to the hilarity and fun of the film, which is a credit to Deutch as a comedy actor.

It is true, Zombieland: Double Tap doesn't need to exist. However, a film that is as mindless as this with its thrilling action and comedy is a great thing to have exist in this world whether it is needed or not.

6.5/10

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) film review


Year: 2019
Running Time: 118 minutes
Director: Joachim Rønning
Writers: Linda Woolverton (story and screenplay), Micah Fitzerman-Blue (screenplay) and Noah Harpster (screenplay)
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Harris Dickinson, Robert Lindsay, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Ed Skrein
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil  will be released on October 17, 2019 and is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 

Following on from the 2014 film about one of the scariest, if not the scariest and most infamous Disney villain of all-time, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil continues the live action fairy-tale with a new story in the Sleeping Beauty universe that speaks to the world we live in. With it's spectacular visuals and seemingly simplistic story that will delight children and entertain adults, the film by Joachim Rønning is deeper than it would have you believe with it's themes of inclusion and gender equality, and obvious parallels to current world events.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil continues the tale of the misunderstood Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and her goddaughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning) by keeping the re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty a story that is gloriously drenched in feminism, something the Disney 1959 absolutely was not. While the original animated film had a large number of female characters and outnumbered male characters, the clear message of the film was that women are the weaker sex that are there to raise and nurture (as seen by the fairies), but are also to be feared (Maleficent) as they are easily tempted by evil (Aurora and the spinning wheel). In the end, it is the man who will save the woman from herself.

2014's Maleficent was Disney's opportunity to undo this injustice and they did not waste this. While Jolie's Maleficent took on maternal qualities, she was also the one to save Aurora while the men in the film took the role as the villain (Sharlto Copley's Stefan), the follower (Sam Riley as Diaval) and the prince who did not have the power to break the spell and save his princess (Brenton Thwaite's Prince Phillip). It was about realising that our true love is not always a romantic love, but rather the love of a family member or friend. The film also presented a more sympathetic side to Maleficent by providing her origin story and making her far more likable and the hero of the story.


Maleficent: Mistress of Evil continues with it's feministic retelling of the beloved, but flawed Disney classic with it's strong female characters who drive the story. Much to her godmother's dismay, Aurora finally says yes to marrying her Prince Philip (recast as Harris Dickinson) and two kingdoms are set to be united. However, it soon becomes evident that her new mother-in-law, Queen Ingrith's (Michelle Pfeiffer) intentions are not quite as honorable as her son's and she is not prepared to be at peace with Maleficent and the Moors.

It is true that these three lead characters are not quite as fleshed out as they could be, with Jolie's Maleficent being restricted by the screenplay and being not be able to truly showcase the thrilling and charismatic character she has made her own. Fanning's Aurora is also subdued and controlled, but also quietly unflinchingly strong. Pfeiffer is also a brilliant addition to the cast with another strong female character, but again wavers on the edge of giving her character true depth because of the whimsical nature of the screenplay. Her character of Queen Ingrith is not interested in the joining of the two kingdoms, but rather the destroying of a race which she believes is not equal to that of the humans. She exhibits qualities that are not unlike that of a dictator and in particular, that of Hitler and his attitude towards the Jews. Her views and actions in the film are similar to those of his and other current world leaders when it comes to those who are deemed different on the basis of race and religion. Along with gender equality, the message of inclusion and acceptance is a much talked about topic in society today and comes through in the film.

However, Maleficient, Aurora and Queen Ingrith are not only strong characters, but also strong leaders and the male characters merely take to shadowing these three. The fact that these three are leaders rather than the male characters (despite two of the main male characters holding royal titles) shows how gender equality has been worked into this extended Sleeping Beauty universe.


Maleficent: Mistress of Evil's screenplay, which is written by Linda Woolverton, Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, is deceptively flimsy and whimsical. While this is an inherent trait of the large majority of Disney fairy-tale films, it is commendable how it says so much while it appears to be simplistic and a typical family tale of good and evil. What the film also does so well is deliver incredible cinematography and breathtaking visuals, specifically those of the Moors and the Kingdom (especially in the later scenes). The costume design by Erin Mirojnick is absolutely exquisite with entrancing variations of Maleficient's costume and breathtaking gowns worn by Aurora and Queen Ingrith.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil may not pack the same punch that 2014's Maleficent did by way of it's lead character being as charismatic, but it continues with a story that is helping to bring to light issues that exist in the world today and promote the idea of inclusion as a way for us all to have a happy ever after.

7/10


Sunday, August 18, 2019

Critically acclaimed "Stuck" coming soon to DVD and VOD



Vision Films Inc. in association with MJW Films and Little Angel Productions are delighted to present the heartwarming original pop musical film, Stuck on VOD and DVD for the first time. Taking place over one fateful day on a New York City subway, a group of strangers from different walks of life are unexpectedly brought together in an uplifting celebration of life and kindness through music. Directed by Michael Berry and adapted for the screen by Berry and Riley Thomas, the film that Variety says “benefits from a lot of heart and not being like anything else out there” enjoyed a critically acclaimed theatrical run earlier this year.

Produced by Mike Witherill (John Wick and Drinking Buddies) and Joe Mundo (Sunset Strip and Cardboard Boxer), Stuck will be released across all major VOD platforms on August 27 and on DVD Sept. 17, 2019.

Based on the stage musical by Riley Thomas of the same name which opened in Chicago in 2008 and played off-Broadway with the New York Musical Festival in 2012, Stuck stars Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), Amy Madigan (Gone Baby Gone, Field of Dreams), Grammy award-winning artist Ashanti, Arden Cho (Teen Wolf, Chicago Med), Omar Chaparro (Pokemon Detective Pikachu, Show Dogs) and Gerard Canonico (Be More Chill, Not Fade Away) as the New York subway commuters with stories to sing.


A New York subway train stops in the tunnel beneath the city with six complete strangers stuck inside the rear car. The strangers are a cross-section of New Yorkers of different races, cultures and ages. The emotions of the trapped, frustrated strangers simultaneously explode as the subway car becomes a kind of magical, musical conduit cell — a place where strangers reveal through song more of themselves than any of them could ever have imagined.

At center stage is Lloyd (Giancarlo Esposito), a homeless man who seems to be a fixture on the subway car. Lloyd is a mystery — a combination observer, prophet, mediator, artist, friend and psychologist. Or perhaps he is just a lost soul who is possibly insane. He is joined at various stops by five other commuters. Eve (Ashanti), a brooding but strong, intelligent, career-orientated African-American woman dealing with a troubling personal situation. Ramon (Omar Chaparro), a hard-working Hispanic man working multiple jobs to make ends meet for his wife and girls. Alicia (Arden Cho) a guarded and reclusive Asian dancer with a devastating secret. Caleb (Gerard Canonico), the young comic book artist who has been loitering at the studio where Alicia dances. And Sue (Amy Madigan), a college music professor still dealing with the heavy loss of a loved one.

The music and songs in the film are all original, with musical styles specific to each character — a lyrical and musical extension of their culture, thoughts, story and experience with the elements of pop, rap, rock, classical and motown — set almost entirely on the New York City subway.

Stuck will be available on digital on August 27 for an SRP of $4.99-$9.99 from platforms including iTunes, Vudu, Playstation, Google Play, Xbox, and FandangoNow, as well as cable affiliates everywhere and to buy on DVD for $19.95 on Sept. 17, 2019.

Preorder STUCK
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/stuck/id1473874621?ls=1