Tag: Film review

Film review: Blacklight

By Sebastian Purcell

Blacklight, written and directed by Mark Williams and stars Liam Neeson as off the books FBI agent Travis Block. If you’re a fan of the Taken film franchise then this will be familiar ground as it draws on a familiar trope: the desire for grandparents to protect grandchildren at all costs.

Travis Block (Neeson) is tasked with pulling undercover agents out of dangerous situations. His latest task is complicated by the emergence of a dangerous conspiracy within the FBI that puts himself, his colleagues, and his family in danger unless he can work with reporter Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman) to uncover the truth.

Equality activist Sofia Florez (Melanie Jarnsen) opens the film hosting a rally in front of the Washington Monument in Washing DC. But these themes do not carry through the film as writer/director Williams oddly puts these issues aside, opting for the broader appeal of high powered action instead. Although Aidan Quin plays shady FBI Director Bill Robinson who hides behind questionable agents to do his dirty work. I didn’t find his motivations to be well explored and the storyline and performance is not convincing or menacing enough to be really impactful.

Blacklight creates elaborate shoot-outs with FBI agents who are comically worse shots than storm troopers; Neeson, who perhaps looks a little beyond his action hero prime, holds them off with relative ease. Cinematographer Shelly Johnson produces slick visuals with car chases with the use of an innovative re-enforced garbage truck as Block tries to track down Agent Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith) who is at risk of exposing his latest deep undercover mission.

There were a few things that I struggled with while watching the film. Audiences in Melbourne might share my amusement and also struggle to suspend their disbelief as notable landmarks, such as the Melbourne Convention Centre and Victorian Premier’s Office are rebranded as the Modern History Museum and the FBI headquarters respectively. I was disappointed that the film seemed to confuse OCD and paranoia, considering them as interchangeable. Block’s outward ticks are presented in doing things in threes, as a way of calming his thoughts and ever-present paranoia from years cleaning up for the FBI. His paranoid activities include gifting his granddaughter a taser for her birthday and installing cameras outside his daughter’s home without her permission. However, interesting visuals-cues of Block cleaning dust off photo frames and leaves from a bonsai tree are used to remind us of how ingrained Block’s training as FBI clean-up guy is, and this perhaps redeems some aspect of this part of the storyline.

Regrettably I found Blacklight to be predictable in its familiar formulaic approach to an action film. While it provides some action sequences and shoot-outs, including blowing up caravans and black SUVs, and despite the lengthy expositions from Neeson, there is little substance. This unfortunately makes the pacing of the film seem much longer than the now-modest 108-minute run time. I think Blacklight is unlikely to offend or excite anyone, but is perfect weekend viewing for those wanting to see Melbourne on the big screen and for anyone who is a fan of Neeson’s work.

Blacklight is in cinemas February 11.

Film review: Wrath of Man

Liver, lung, spleen, heart 

By Sebastian Purcell

Wrath of Man, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Jason Statham (both the Fast and Furious and the Transporter franchises), is a pulsating thriller that oozes influences of James Bond, the Joker’s bank heist (The Dark Knight) and Sherlock Holmes.

‘H’ a quiet and mysterious new security guard for Fortico, a private armoured cash truck company, shocks co-workers as he saves his crew during a heist. With a score to settle and a personal hunt for those who took the most valuable thing from him, revenge and greed promise to lead to irreconcilable and devastating outcomes.  

Wrath of Man is a remake of the French film Le Convoyeur (Cash Truck). Ritchie directs with film noir references, dark, low lit scenes, often composed through doorways, offering partial views to the audience, obscuring the totality of the scene playing out, adding to the sense of anticipation. The score composed by Christopher Benstead compliments this, heavy and largely unrelenting, moving between resemblances of a beating heart or punctuated throughout like the heavy gun fire unloaded throughout the film.

The film certainly commands attention, and is split into four acts, each titled and while not necessarily in order, the film is cohesive and coherent, and is well paced as edited by James Herbert. The narrative is logical, but neither emotional nor unique, trading on the Oceans 11 / Sherlock Holmes style; describe a mission in the planning phase as it’s being carried out, which ultimately does the work for its audience rather than being clever or innovative. 

While the action scenes, of which consume almost the entire runtime, are captivating and the performances of a relatively large ensemble cast are serviceable, they are almost entirely lifeless. Statham is stoic, inhuman like in the face of grief and gives an action man performance making it a rather two-dimensional performance. The most tragic of events are given little more than an afterthought. They serve as a plot point and motivation for Statham rather than anchoring the narrative or performances in any emotional strength. Additionally there’s no light and shade, the minimal attempt at humour is confined to locker room banter. 

Man of Wrath is a polished Hollywood, action-packed thriller, with twists and turns aplenty. It’s suitable for mature audiences (MA15+), especially those who are fond of Ritchie’s cinematic style.

In cinemas from April 29, 2021. 

Film Review: Then Came You

A delightful piece of escapism

By Narelle Wood

Then Came You, written by Kathy Lee Gifford and directed by Adriana Trigiani, is a slow-burn romance, set amongst the spectacular scenery of Scotland.

Howard (Craig Ferguson) is the owner of a Scottish Inn that has been in his family for generations. Annabelle (Kathy Lee Gifford) is a bereaved American, embarking on a world tour in the wake of her husband’s passing. From the moment they meet the chemistry and the inevitable clash of cultures, tastes and dreams are all evident. Howard is determined to keep the Inn working and part of his family, while Annabelle is ready to find new dreams, lamenting those dreams she once had and abandoned in pursuit of a different kind of life. Gavin (Ford Kiernan), Howard’s best friend, cuts a clownish figure but plays the wise truth telling confidant to both Howard and Annabelle, especially when it starts to become clear that Howard’s and Annabelle’s bickering is symptomatic of an increasing affection for each other.

Gifford’s take on a later in life romance is refreshing. It’s understated, and while the banter is full of double entendre and miscommunication, there is a maturity and wisdom that is seldom seen in films of this genre. Even with the inclusion of Clare (Elizabeth Hurley) there are clear points of conflict and the two women are very different, but Gifford does not trot out the tired trope of two women fighting over of a man, and finds another resolution. The direction by Trigiani matches the pace of the storyline beautifully, except for one moment about three quarters the way through the film. I’m sure this moment was supposed to be a homage to a past era or film, but it was one that was lost on me and I found that it only managed to disrupt what until that point felt like a gentle walk through the Scottish countryside with a couple of friends who happen to be falling in love.

While there is a lot understated about Then Came You, the scenery is certainly not; the green sweeping mountains, the Scottish Lochs, and the small Scottish roads lined with the sheep make this film worth watching even if you’re not a fan of love stories. It’s a delightful piece of escapism, that’s heart-warming and calming without being too overly sentimental.

In cinemas now.

Film Review: Cosmic Sin

A sci-fi film with a social conscience

By Nicola Sum

We are living in a time of protest. A level of activism, essential to our sense of community, continues to play out around the world. What of colonization? What of intention? Too much drama? Welcome to the grand scale of Cosmic Sin; a sci-fi meets social conscience film, filmed in 2020 against the backdrop of the global pandemic.

Director, Edward Drake, explores ideas of civilizations, cultures and erasures through a human versus aliens scenario. In 2524, mining companies claim planets, a global alliance looks for first contact (FC incidents) and back on earth we still drive SUVs on motorways. Sorry!

An FC incident on a faraway planet leads General Ryle (Frank Grillo) to gather his specialist team, headed by Ford (Bruce Willis), Goss (Perrey Reeves) and Tieve (Costas Mandylor). As the team engage the FC survivors, it becomes apparent that the aliens have plans for an invasion. Goss quotes her own thesis, “To kill a culture is to kill the very idea of creation. It is a sin against the cosmos”. Ergo- operation Cosmic Sin is launched, or as Ford puts it “Better them than us”.

The storyline is a mix of some poetic scripting, some intimate chatter across the main characters, and many scientific references to all things quantum – displacement, bomb, leap and so forth. Much kitting out later (courtesy of Hex Morris for his Icarus suits), and with some cool special effects (supervised by Ian Duncan), the rogue team go to war on the remote planet. The rest is for watching with a warning from the parasitic aliens about erasure of our species.

Ford leads with the confidence of his past experience, while Braxton, played by Brandon Thomas Lee, is the counter-balance of the promising young soldier. There are moments of mood shifting humour in the character of Dash (Corey Large, who also co-wrote this with Drake) and much serious-faced decision-making from Ryle.

Watch this for sci-fi entertainment. Watch it for the drama of war. Watch it because it is aiming to hold a mirror to our discourses of kingdoms, colonies and liberties. Not necessarily all in that order or that heavy a fashion, but the film is trying to say something, and it’s worth a listen.

In cinemas now.

Film review: Wrong Turn

Hipsters embroiled in hiking horror for not heeding warning

By Margaret Wieringa

Wrong Turn, directed by Mike P. Nelson, follows the adventures of a group of city-dwelling hipsters, heading out to hike the Appalachian Trail. As they embark on their adventure they are warned by the unfriendly small-townsfolk to stick to the marked path. Yet seemingly immediately, they deviate to visit a Civil War site and the horrors start. When you leave the road, you end up in the territory of The Foundation, a strange community who live far removed from modern society. And when you meet The Foundation, you don’t leave; alive or dead.

The Foundation members dress in camouflage – not the army pattern type, but covered head to toe in greenery topped with animal skulls. This is their home, and the audience is challenged about whether the barbaric snares and traps set up to protect their land from strangers are justified. Certainly, the interloping hikers are set up to be annoying and privileged, the opposite of the earthy, hard-living Foundation folks. It’s hard to be sympathetic to the plight of rich kids searching for an “authentic” experience, though it’s also hard to fall on the side of a group who have unwritten, unspoken rules and barriers and an inflexible method for justice. I struggled to side with either, which made me, at times, less invested in the outcome than perhaps I should have been.

I’m not a great horror film watcher; I’m really far too much of scaredy-cat. Right from the start, the soundtrack had an intermittent, disturbing drone which had me on edge. As the sequences became choppier, the discordant music and speedy camera movements nearly did me in. Add to that the intense, wide-eyed fearful stares of Charlotte Vega and Adain Bradley (playing Jen’s boyfriend, Darius), and the sudden, sharp and extremely graphic action sequences, and I was left with a horror film which I actually thoroughly enjoyed.

My recommendation is that you don’t watch Wrong Turn immediately before going camping. That was probably not my smartest decision. I can only hope I make it through without discovering a strange, cult-like group of folks living on the outskirts of Melbourne, though the film has given me some handy hints on how I might survive.

Wrong Turn is currently screening in cinemas across Australia.