Cargo (2018)

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In the dusty outback of Australia, ‘Sherlock’ star Martin Freeman tries desperately to survive, in what could only be described as bleak conditions. Adapted from a short film idea by the same creators, ‘Cargo’ does feel like it a little weighed down by a full length run-time but it doesn’t stop it being a gritty portrayal of fighting against the odds.

A virus has swept over the world and anyone infected has just 48 hours of human life left, before they turn into flesh seeking zombies. Andy (Martin Freeman) treks the countryside Down Under carrying his baby girl Rosie, trying to find a hospital to combat the effects he carries with him.

What stands out strongest within this post apocalyptic plot, is the character studying. Yolande Ramke writes a powerfully subtle zombie flick by focusing on the behaviours of its characters, also directing with Ben Howling they ensure the movie doesn’t fill us with easy-to-do blood splattered gore or adrenaline pumped tension. They work nicely together in really making you feel for Andy and understand not just him but the people he interacts with from start to finish. Good zombie films are always showing us the true monsters are found in us when people do the nastiest things to stay alive and this feature is no exception.

I must admit that there are times when a little shot more of tension would have been welcome. The 1 hour 40ish length does have a few points where it feels stretched out and having a couple of scenes whittled down would have kept the dramatic punch alive; as if mirroring the narrow time frame Andy has to survive. Also, aside from the clever and well written/acted character work, this isn’t exactly a film that demolishes the genre, if you’ve seen one or two then you’ve seen this one as well.

Aboriginal life gets a spotlight and there’s a good moment when a trapped Aborigine comments on the sickness but relays it back to how their people, their way of living is all but destroyed by white people, Australia has indeed left this tribe of rich culture to struggle in the background. It’s important that this film highlights them and moments including an Aborigine girl are soft, mystical ones that give the film an original spark.

‘Cargo’ may be a film that would be more tense as a thirty minute outing but there’s no denying that Freeman, newcomer Simone Landers and the writing/directing masters have provided Netflix and us a bold social commentary laced with the gnash of zombie thrills.

7/10

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The Breadwinner (2018)

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From the studios that gifted us the stunning fantasy feature ‘Song of the Sea’, comes this equally stunning film. There’s a smart combination of visual wonder and coming of age material, but it’s also a story not scared to tackle the troubling setting of a Taliban controlled city.

On the streets of Kabul, a young girl called Parvana (Saara Chaudry) helps her father sell wares to passersby. A heated argument causes a furious Taliban member to arrest him and he’s taken to prison. Parvana has a mother, sister and little brother back at home, who are running out of food and because women aren’t allowed to roam free by themselves, she decides to change her identity in the hope of helping her family and finding her dad again.

This story based off a book by Deborah Ellis is such an honest, textured look on a world far away from the luxuries of Western living. Ellis and Anita Doron have mastered a screenplay that wonderfully juggles the main narrative with a magical story within a story. What works so flawlessly for this film, is the way they aren’t afraid to show how brutal the place can be and how chained women are; by the words of men and society in general. When the film illustrates these times of powerful masculinity beating down on innocents, it’s a significant weight that bears down on you watching and really makes you think.

The animation is gorgeous and there’s two styles on show. The prominent one is a standard but immersive, grounded and dusty drawing of Afghanistan’s capital, one that’s filled with squared off imagery, browns, whites and muted yellows with the odd pop of candy colour. Then there’s the tale narrated within the story, this like ‘Song of the Sea’, is mystical and bursting with a vivid fantasy set-up. The characters that walk this world look like paper puppetry and the flat visuals roll sideways like a bewitching sideshow act.

There might be some that think a character stepping stone reflects a Disney heroine, but Parvana cutting off her hair is where the ‘Mulan’ similarities start and end. Women are deemed fine to walk the city only if they’re covered up and led by a man, otherwise they best be inside. This stifling way of things leads the well-read and smart young girl to bravely make a change and step out into a place dominated by men. A developing friendship with a fellow child on the streets of Kabul is great to watch and important too, it’s her escape, they can share an innocence and much needed play-about antics, but what’s so well presented is their maturity. Where they’ve grown up has made them wise beyond their years, so they know how to try and avoid the dangerous environment that is presented throughout the film.

‘The Breadwinner’ is a film I won’t forget anytime soon, women live in a world of rules, no breathing room and incoming Western threats which aren’t shied away from. I am devastated to see that on a $10 million budget, the film hasn’t even broken $500’000, because this is a film that deserves to be seen and applauded for it’s beautiful story of culture, humour, war, loss, oppression and transformation.

9/10

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

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It wasn’t a long time ago, on a cinema screen not that far away, that we had a Star Wars adventure to revel in. Moving on from the hugely divisive ‘The Last Jedi’, we get this spin-off story which centres on Han Solo and his life before turning into Harrison Ford.

On a less than glamorous planet, lives Han (Alden Ehrenreich) who aspires to be a pilot and see the stars with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). As they attempt an escape, Han ends up by himself and over subsequent years he clings onto any person or team he can, in the hope to make some money, get a ship and find Qi’ra again.

I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m not the biggest Star Wars fanboy. I know enough of the originals to get by and find the recent offerings to be entertaining but hearing that Han was to get a feature, wasn’t something I had any feeling about whatsoever and it still vaguely feels that way after watching the film. It’s enjoyable enough and deepens Han and his world but it never blew me away or felt like something I’d choose to watch more than the one time.

This movie has numerous flaws and a big one lays within the comedic elements the script strains to lean towards at times. The writing of these lighter lines sound forced and maybe boil down to the aftermath of the troubled production; what with previous comedy duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being kicked out and replaced by Ron Howard. The latter director finds his stride away from the comedy moments and he provides some strong directing in the building of the titular character and adding treachery.

There are also a good number of places where I felt this film was lagging and dare I say, lame. It took a while to feel like the cool science fiction western it’s trying to be and earlier scenes setting up everything didn’t exactly do their best in inviting me in like they should. In my opinion the plot does get better as it goes on and nearer the end, as the mission almost wraps, is where I felt the progressing character paths became so much more engaging and interesting. A neat level of are they/aren’t they back and forth is also played with well.

I had fun whilst watching two major sequences; one being an earlier train heist and the other actually showing us the quotable Kessel Run moment. Both these big blockbuster scenarios are gripping and very well made. They each share elements of fun, personal stakes and visual skill which heightens the drama. Luckily these sequences did just about enough to make me forgive the many uses of extremely on the nose dialogue throughout the movie and moments that caused an eye roll – how Han got his name being a major example.

Ehrenreich is a great youthful Solo, he carries a swag and boyish yet capable know-how which works, with just the right level of roguish charm that I’m sure Ford would admire. Clarke is a captivating character helped by the fact she’s a captivating actor. She definitely does well in playing cards close to her chest, being smart, kick-ass and someone you just can’t quite work out. Donald Glover pretty much steals the galaxy, as do his eye-catching capes. It looks like he’s having a ball playing Lando Calrissian; someone else who can be unreadable and whip smart. Phoebe Waller-Bridge may be a good performer but I found the droid character of L3-37 to be an annoying robot sidekick that never grew on me. Paul Bettany is slightly underused but is a believable villain in a world that’s set up as untrustworthy. Anyone could have an agenda against good hearted motives, anyone that is but Han, whether he’d admit it or not.

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ possesses some moments that make you feel as if you’re in the Millennium Falcon; a cinematic theme park ride to enjoy. Then there’s other moments where both the action and story lulls and you wonder why we need to see this story. There’s fun to be had but it’s not a well-oiled machine.

6.5/10

 

 

 

Revenge (2018)

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Women are not to be messed with and ‘Revenge’ surely shows this, in an exploitation thriller bursting with female power.

Richard (Kevin Janssens) is a married man but has a young and attractive mistress called Jen (Matilda Lutz), who are both enjoying some time in Richard’s secret desert home. That is until two of his hunting buddies show up and drool over Jen, one thing to leads to another and then she’s out for revenge.

This is director Coralie Fargeat’s debut full length feature and if this anything to go by, then she’s someone I look forward to directing again. It easily could have been a schlock fest and gory sexplotation for the sake of it but the film rises above that simple route and provides an action thriller, led by a woman that messes with the genre and takes you on a sprint, almost making me need to catch my breath once the film was over.

There’s a brilliantly directed sequence where Jen suffers hallucinogenic nightmares which rivals ‘Dumbo’ for weirdness and it’s so perfectly edited that it becomes a frightening moment that worms into your very own head and plays tricks on you. It isn’t just that scene that’s scary, the blokes are obviously nasty too. The majority of the movie chooses to have close-ups which do a great job in adding engaging tension but also showing what disgusting creatures men can be; proved further by shots of a lizard cut after a shot of one of the men. Plus an extreme close up of a man eating a chocolate snack is a case in point of the ugly side of masculinity, that enhances the movie’s feminist spirit.

Colours pop with sharpness throughout this movie, but the saturation is truly turned up to the max in the house bound opening, with pinks, blues, reds and yellows searing the screen with vivid intensity. That bold play with colour comes back with attack come the latter stages of the film, with rivers of crimson red enhancing the revenge experience.

I was thinking, perhaps twice during the run-time, that it could have been a little punchier. It doesn’t ever feel long but it doesn’t zip along in the same vein as the zany ‘Mom and Dad’ did. I feel it could have been more energetic if ten or so minutes had been shaved off. There’s also a great example of needing to suspend disbelief at a crucial part in the story, that’s very far-fetched and I couldn’t shake it, but it doesn’t ruin what is a tense and explosive visceral flick that makes you squirm with imaginable pain at many points.

Lutz certainly goes through the ringer and has a tougher time of it than Alison Lohman in ‘Drag Me to Hell’, which is randomly what came to mind when I watched this Italian actress fight for her survival. She’s an incredible presence and does a mighty job in being believable, bad ass, vulnerable, motivated and someone to root for.

‘Revenge’ is a rip-roaring outing that’s soaked with so much blood, that the opening elevator doors in ‘The Shining’ look like a mere leaky tap.

8.5/10

 

Entebbe (2018)

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Inspired by a true moment in history, this biographical thriller from Jose Padilha has some nicely executed tension in places and a bold choice of book-ended dancing but isn’t as thrilling as you’d expect it to be.

Set over one week in 1976, we see the planning and execution of Palestine ‘freedom fighters’ hijacking a plane and keeping the passengers hostage at an airport terminal in Entebbe, Uganda. Hoping to lead and show they’re not radicals or dangerous is Wilfried Bose (Daniel Bruhl) who doesn’t reckon on the Israeli government strategising a combat response to their demands.

Considering the events being shown to us are based on real life ones, the film never really lifts off and becomes as deeply tense as it would have been in that scenario for the captives. There are some brief elevations of tension that help keep some interest alive, but these are at the beginning and end of the film, which leaves a hefty middle portion to sit almost stale-like.

For a film that’s tackling events previously shown in other TV films, this one bravely includes a sequence to differentiate itself and stand apart. This is the opening dance number that then returns nearing the end and becomes a unique bookend for the movie, that I did find to work well. It mirrors the alarming nature of what is happening in Uganda and is exceptionally edited, giving the film a much needed sheen of atmospheric style.

More than anything, this is a movie that doesn’t just slow burn like great thrillers do, but just feels slow. Come day four and five, ‘Entebbe’ begins to lull and dare I say ache with boredom but does pick up its pace and as day six and seven roll around, the film had me more attuned and awake. There wasn’t much emotional attachment within the film and that’s maybe why the film feels slow, they try showing us a dancer and her soldier boyfriend but it comes to late to capture any connection to them and generally, there’s no one really to root for.

Bruhl is interesting in his role as someone wanting to fight against the powers of Israel and free his people, it also lets him briefly shine as he desperately hopes to step away from the expectations of society viewing the fact he’s German and taking prisoners, as the unfortunate parallels it has to WW2 Nazism, but it’s not his best performance by any stretch. Rosamund Pike is great in this, she has such expressive eyes which are full of guilt, sadness and ultimately, a realisation of the situation she’s ended up in. A scene with Pike at a payphone rings with softly powerful words and a simple yet effective static shot over this scene really hits home the problem Brigitte Kulhmann has gotten into.

The issue of the film is that there are no sides to take and the complexity of the still ongoing Palestine and Israel conflict; sees this film mired with frustrating emptiness, only briefly saved by some snippets of style and tension.

5.5/10

 

Fishbowl California (2018)

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A film showing people stuck in their own bubble and almost like a goldfish, they merrily swim around their own filth, not noticing or caring about the people and world around them, until of course that could change.

Rodney (Steve Olson) is an unmotivated individual who ends up losing his girlfriend Tess (Katrina Bowden). After this he winds up meeting June (Katherine Cortez), who enjoys alcohol and pushing others away, but these two crude figures find some weird connection and help each other out.

This is the first full length film from Michael A. MacRae and he definitely captures the sun-soaked portrait of California and gives it a semi vulgar filter in showing the rut people can get into, so much so that they lose everything. In the writing there are soft touches of comedy to be had, little moments like leaving a laptop in a coffee shop or a car trunk not closing, all add up to the pathetic character building of Rodney.

‘Fishbowl California’ definitely works better nearing the end as the dramatic side of June and her condition begins to escalate…it gets higher….it doesn’t deescalate! A moment seen after a passage of time where a character stumbles into a certain scenario is unexpected and quite cleverly done I must say. It’s a predictable narrative of souls randomly finding each other and fixing their flaws but it’s watchable.

The film never ever drags which is obviously a blessing and the interest is sustained mostly down to some assured directing and the performances of June, her daughter and a whip smart kid punctuating scenes with knowledge beyond his years. The biggest issue I had with the film was Rodney as a character, he’s just impossible to root for. Some could call it bad luck but I view it as his own making. He complains about everything going wrong but it’s fault that it did and he doesn’t even change come the end. By taking a peek at the money in his wallet instead of perhaps enjoying watching June cycle away shows no journey at all. The tagline states to be a better person but Rodney still feels like a man-child who would drift into laziness like before.

Olson; then is great at portraying this slob who never seems to learn. There’s a convincing idiocy added to his performance which works. Katrina Bowden is ideal as the all too perfect Tess making you wonder what she sees in Rodney before the film nicely reveals her flaws. Richard Riehle has a small but entertaining scene that plumbs to comedic waters in showcasing the funny pipes of plumbing and further illustrating Rodney’s ineptitude. Cortez is fantastic, in a fishbowl of her own drinking and being rude to neighbourhood neighbourinos. She gets the biggest change and Cortez acts this arc magnificently, plus she has some nice scenes with her hard working daughter played by Jenna Willis.

It might not be an outstanding movie but it retains an odd charm and 100% shows that if you have a film-making dream then go for it. Everyone has a story and studios aren’t always necessary to get your vision out there. As MacRae importantly states – “Get some friends, get a script, and make a movie.”

6/10

Tully (2018)

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Parenting has never looked so awfully stressful and yet this is a film that does shine a light on not missing out on those important family steps. This movie is the fourth team up between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody and could well be their most brutally honest outing yet.

Mum of 2 and heavily pregnant with child number 3; is Marlo (Charlize Theron), who gets little in the way of support from husband Drew (Ron Livingston). The daily routine of making food, school runs etc is clearly piling up to boiling point, therefore Marlo’s brother suggests she uses a night nanny to help with the new baby, so she can some get much needed sleep. Tully (Mackenzie Davis) appears like a perfect granted wish to let Marlo get her life back on track.

First of all, the writing from scribe of ‘Juno’ Diablo Cody is sharp and almost overflowing with neat moments of humour. This is very carefully balanced with necessary elements of dramatic weight we feel towards to the weight Marlo clearly carries day in and day out. What I think works so well within this story, is the genuinely raw emotions and toil of a family set up, in which the script has a brilliant laser focus on the motherhood aspect.

Jason Reitman directs without shying away from the gross moments of raising children, the sweet touches of bonding with a new-born and the believable character building conversations between Tully and Marlo. There are a lot of scenes that see the camera up and close to the characters which really makes us feel the crazed routines Marlo goes through. On top of this, a sequence after the baby arrives, snips fast and precise like a montage as we see her doing a lot of things over and over again. If this film doesn’t at least as some point make you question having children because they’re a nightmare then I don’t know what will.

On the other hand, this film and the dialogue heavy moments shared with Marlo and Tully do a grand job in highlighting just how great being a parent can be, setting up a safe and well practised environment may be boring but it’s secure and it’s home. There are some touching and sometimes some odd dynamics to be had watching the developing relationship between Marlo and the newcomer nanny and the film definitely heads into an unexpected place but one filled with heart and it works well.

Charlize Theron is a joy to behold in this. She loaded on the pounds to play this part and is unshakably perfect as the downtrodden mother, hoping to feel some brief relief of escape. I honestly hope that people aren’t fickle thanks to time and she’s remembered come Oscar season because her performance is incredible. Mackenzie Davis is also great, in a different kind of way but one that mirrors the hopeful desire of Theron. There are some profound snippets of knowledge she provides and her youthful freedom is well realised in a performance that feels slightly weird but in a good way, a way that works for this character.

The pains and yet pleasure of being a mother truly come across in a grim, stressful but also beautifully emotive manner.

7.5/10