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All reviews - Movies (1547) - TV Shows (38) - DVDs (2)

An undeniable classic of Australian cinema

Posted : 4 years, 6 months ago on 29 August 2019 06:08 (A review of Storm Boy (1976))

A seminal, award-winning Australian film which remains a classroom staple across the country, 1976's Storm Boy is an adaptation of Colin Thiele's beloved children's book of the same name, telling a sincere coming-of-age tale steeped in Australian culture. Scripted by Sonia Borg (Blue Fin, Dark Age) and Sidney Stebel, this was the first theatrical feature for Paris-born filmmaker Henri Safran, who cut his directorial teeth on TV shows and telemovies. This is a rare type of children's film with the potential to appeal to both kids and adults, as the simple story is free of pandering touches (cute side characters, obvious humour) that might turn off mature viewers. Storm Boy is an enchanting human drama, permeated with subtle themes relating to ecology, Indigenous relations, family, and the importance of education, and it still holds up for the most part in 2019.




Ten-year-old Mike Kingsley (Greg Rowe) lives with his dad Tom (Peter Cummins) in a derelict shed on the Younghusband Peninsula in Coorong, South Australia, isolated from civilisation. Tom is a fisherman, able to make a modest living selling his catch in the local town of Goolwa. Mike does not attend school, as his father denies him the opportunity for an education, much to the chagrin of Goolwa Primary School teacher Miss Walker (Judy Dick) as well as the local park ranger (Tony Allison). A free spirit, Mike spends his time exploring the coastline, where he encounters Aboriginal recluse Fingerbone Bill (David Gulpilil) who is estranged from his tribe. Mike quickly takes to Fingerbone, who dubs him "Storm Boy" because he runs with the speed of an Indigenous person. When a pair of shooters kill several pelicans, Mike chooses to care for three orphaned pelican babies, affectionately naming them Mr Percival, Mr Ponder, and Mr Proud. Although Tom resents interference from the outside world, Mike begins to grow curious about what he's missing, which threatens the pair's reclusive existence.

Whereas the material is rife for Disney-esque manipulation and overzealous melodrama, Storm Boy plays out in an authentic, matter-of-fact cinematic style free of overbearing schmaltz, a decision which separates it from Hollywood pictures of a similar vintage and genre. Produced for a reported budget of just $260,000, Storm Boy inevitably appears dated to a certain extent, particularly in terms of the technical contributions, though that is not to entirely impugn the lush cinematography, the evocative location work, or the competent production design. Guided by Safran's careful, sure-handed direction, the film feels agreeably organic and lived-in, while the piano-rich original score by Michael Carlos subtly accentuates the material's sweetness and emotion throughout. It's just that, in 2019, moviegoers accustomed to polished contemporary cinema might have trouble getting into this Aussie classic. Admittedly, Storm Boy is not always engaging, and budget limitations are occasionally evident, but this is a minor knock against an otherwise fine movie.




A small cast inhabits Storm Boy, but the actors all make positive impressions. In his film debut, Rowe fully commits to the titular role; he is thoroughly convincing, and - miraculously - never annoying. Veteran Aboriginal actor Gulpilil is likewise engaging, while Cummins is believable as Mike's stern father. Upon its release in 1976, Storm Boy demonstrated the viability of Australian cinema to the rest of the world; it was sold to over 100 international territories, which was a tremendous achievement at the time. Over forty years later, time has done little to diminish Storm Boy's power, charm and magic. The film was eventually remade in 2019.

7.1/10


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A sincere and mostly effective romantic drama

Posted : 4 years, 6 months ago on 28 August 2019 07:10 (A review of Five Feet Apart)

Romantic dramas involving terminal illness were popularised again with the 2014 box office hit The Fault in Our Stars, an adaptation of the popular young adult novel of the same name. 2019's Five Feet Apart ditches cancer in favour of cystic fibrosis, with screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis using the opportunity to educate mainstream film-goers about the intense difficulties of this debilitating, life-threatening disorder. The feature-length directorial debut for veteran TV actor Justin Baldoni, Five Feet Apart actually works for the most part despite the story's been-there-done-that disposition; it is easy to become invested in this vividly drawn world, and care about the central relationship. Unfortunately, the movie is handicapped by a third act which devolves into exasperating melodrama, though the ultimate dénouement is effective despite its forced, manipulative nature.


Teenager Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) is afflicted with cystic fibrosis, attempting to live a normal life as she keenly uses social media to communicate her daily routine to the world. Returning to the hospital with renewed health issues, Stella meets former CF patient Will (Cole Sprouse), who's undergoing a special clinical drug trial but cannot bring himself to maintain a consistent treatment program. Although Stella is initially resentful of Will and hesitant to speak to him, the two eventually make a deal which allows Will to draw Stella, and Stella to organise Will's treatment program that he must follow to the letter. The pair build a relationship, but continue to respect the rule of maintaining a distance of at least six feet from one another, at the risk of dying from cross-infection. Will's devil-may-care attitude begins to rub off on Stella, who chooses to rebel against the rules and remain only five feet away from fellow CFers.

In many respects, Five Feet Apart plays out like a flavour-of-the-month YA novel, to the extent that one could be forgiven for assuming this is a YA adaptation. However, the material actually began as a screenplay before being adapted into a book while the movie was in post-production. There's a slight When Harry Met Sally vibe to the central characters' relationship, with Stella's clinical OCD tendencies and Will's rebellious streak rendering them virtually incompatible as a couple. Chief to the film's success is the sense of authenticity, with Baldoni recruiting real CF sufferer Claire Wineland as a consultant on the project. This is certainly a fascinating conceit for a romantic drama, and the film will likely aid CF awareness as a result. Five Feet Apart works best when focusing on gentle character interaction, with the second act soaring as Stella and Will experience the ups and downs of their budding relationship. This delicate emotionality is thrown to the wind, however, with a desperate last act that goes unnecessarily big. Character action lacks proper motivation, and the characters' rampant stupidity might make you question whether this story is still worth your investment.


Whereas comparable motion pictures are usually pedestrian from a filmmaking standpoint, Five Feet Apart is visually inviting and sumptuous, photographed to perfection by cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco (All Is Lost, Margin Call). Shot in a recently built hospital in New Orleans, the production design is eye-catching, transforming the sterile hospital rooms into believable, personalised, lived-in spaces, underscoring the reality of how CF patients live. Baldoni happily avoids the temptation to turn the hospital into a prison, depicting the clinical staff as strict but wholly human, with the sometimes frustratingly by-the-book Barb (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) simply concerned with patient safety. It's a refreshing perspective, eschewing any superfluous forced antagonists beyond CF itself. Baldoni's filmmaking style is recognisable for this genre, often resorting to montages accompanied by cutesy pop music, while the score by Brian Tyler and Breton Vivian shamelessly pulls on the heartstrings.

Perpetually keeping the material afloat, even throughout its rougher patches, are the lead actors. As Stella, Richardson is so natural and down-to-earth, handling the diverse requirements of the script like a consummate professional. She is able to convey joy, sadness, frustration and love with seemingly little effort, and she's charming to boot. Meanwhile, recognisable former child actor Sprouse (whom you may remember from Big Daddy and Friends) makes an equally good impression as the brooding love interest, giving the role real gravitas and believability. Five Feet Apart is unmistakably cheesy at times, but it does work more often than not thanks to the level of sincerity on display, and its heart is in the right place. It's just less successful when the movie resorts to unfortunate YA clichés, a creative choice that is especially disheartening since the story's conceit is otherwise unconventional. Nevertheless, Five Feet Apart will almost certainly work for its target market, and you could do a lot worse in this subgenre.

6.6/10


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A poignant and deeply resonant remake

Posted : 4 years, 8 months ago on 4 July 2019 03:47 (A review of A Star Is Born)

2018's A Star Is Born is the fourth filmic iteration of this time-honoured melodrama about fame and addiction, following previous versions in 1937 (starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March), 1954 (featuring Judy Garland and James Mason), and 1976 (with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). Although each remake retains the same narrative structure and ending, they also reflect the culture of the time in which they were produced, which justifies every new retelling. The directorial debut for star Bradley Cooper, this 2018 update of A Star Is Born is arguably the best one yet, confidently demonstrating that, in the right hands, remakes can invigorate familiar stories, achieving more than simply rehashing the same familiar story beats. Relevant, authentic and teeming with passion, A Star Is Born is one of the best and most essential motion pictures of 2018.




Country rocker Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) remains at the peak of his musical career, still filling arenas and selling thousands of records, but he privately battles alcoholism and addiction while also dealing with gradual hearing loss. After playing a gig in California, Jackson visits a drag bar where he watches Ally (Lady Gaga) performing on stage, and becomes instantly smitten with the small-time singer-songwriter. Rendezvousing after the show, Jackson and Ally spend the night together just talking to one another, forming a special bond. Believing in Ally's talent, Jackson lures the young performer away from her monotonous day job and coaxes her into singing with him on stage in front of enormous crowds. Gaining a manager in Rez (Rafi Gavron), Ally soars to worldwide fame, becoming a highly in-demand recording artist and tying the knot with Jackson. However, Jackson's substance abuse intensifies, which leaves Ally needing to choose between the man she loves and the career she has always dreamed about.

Scripted by Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters, A Star Is Born allows the relationship between Jackson and Ally to develop organically through unforced, extended scenes of dialogue as they bond and get to know one another. Consequently, both characters are fully rounded and three-dimensional; they feel like real people. In addition, the movie is brutally honest and compelling in its depiction of substance abuse, showing its effects on a relationship we care about. Jackson also has a tumultuous relationship with his brother Bobby (an exceptional, Oscar-nominated Sam Elliott), which is likewise strained by the singer's desperate alcohol and drug problems. Furthermore, A Star Is Born noticeably idolises Jackson's singer-songwriter style while denouncing mass-produced pop, a bold yet relevant statement about the current state of the music industry. Rez insists that Ally change her hair colour and incorporate backup dancers to become a "manufactured" pop star bereft of her unique musical identity. Ally's abrupt rise to fame bothers Jackson; he's unable to hide his jealousy for her overnight success, or his disdain for the pop personality she has become, further threatening to tear them apart.




Cooper keeps A Star Is Born relatively basic from a directorial and visual standpoint, but subtle complexities in the cinematic style and mise-en-scène shine through, while cinematography by Matthew Libatique gives the picture a spellbinding sense of immediacy. Libatique's decades of working with Darren Aronofsky (from Pi to Mother!) shows in the often handheld photography here, which creates an exhilarating sense of energy during the live music performances. Said live music sequences are evocative and exciting, backed by a sensational sound design, while the songs themselves represent a tremendous asset. Cooper and Gaga collaborated with several artists to create the various original songs, and the resulting soundtrack consistently dazzles. It is virtually impossible to hear the final song, "I'll Never Love Again," without getting a tear in one's eye. Editing by Jay Cassidy (Silver Linings Playbook) is noticeably leisurely by design, and pacing is not always spot-on as a result, but A Star Is Born is welcomely old-fashioned in its structure and execution, with the 130-minute runtime giving the story ample breathing room. The movie feels full as opposed to truncated, though there is also an extended edition featuring over ten minutes of additional material.

In his Oscar-nominated role as Jackson, Cooper sheds all movie-star predilections to genuinely become this character, espousing a lower voice and unrecognisable mannerisms. Cooper bares his soul in this transformative performance, affectingly portraying Jackson's internal pain and struggles, while also retaining a disarming aura of charisma despite his destructive behaviour. Equally sublime is the Oscar-nominated Gaga, who finally gets to truly spread her wings as an actor after years of minor roles in various films (including Machete Kills and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) as well as a memorable turn in American Horror Story: Hotel. Despite limited thespian experience, Gaga sincerely delivers with this heartfelt and convincing performance, while the chemistry between the two leads is sensational. The supporting cast represents another enormous asset, with Elliott consistently stealing the show while Andrew Dice Clay is a downright revelation as Ally's father Lorenzo. Even Dave Chappelle brings his 'A' game in a small but necessary part as Jackson's best friend George. Several drag queens are also present to add further flavour and humour to the production.




Despite its remake status, A Star Is Born is profound, refreshing and deeply poignant, thanks in large part to Cooper's focused direction and a selection of chameleonic performances. The themes underpinning this decades-old story remain as relevant as ever, with the film delving into the harsh realities of the voracious music industry with bracing honesty. The soundtrack is outstanding, and fortunately, the songs are used in the service of an effective, resonant narrative.


8.9/10



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A watchable horror movie, despite its flaws

Posted : 4 years, 9 months ago on 4 June 2019 07:47 (A review of The Nun)

The latest addition to the vastly profitable Conjuring-Verse, 2018's The Nun represents another spinoff that further exploits an evil entity originally introduced in one of the franchise's main movies. Putting away the Annabelle doll for a change, The Nun flashes back to the early 1950s to reveal more about the demonic nun figure from 2016's The Conjuring 2, with long-time series screenwriter Gary Dauberman (Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation) endeavouring to write an entire feature film based on this anaemic concept. It's not the worst Conjuring spinoff to date (that dubious honour belongs to 2014's hastily assembled Annabelle), but The Nun underwhelms despite a generous budget and ample talent behind the camera. Although the film is occasionally effective, a threadbare story and an over-reliance on loud bangs handicaps it, though that is just scratching the surface of the problems therein.




In 1952 Romania, villager Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) discovers the decomposing corpse of a nun hanging outside a remote abbey, the news of which promptly spreads to the Vatican. Concerned about the incident, and determined to learn why a pure soul committed the ultimate sin, Vatican officials send Father Burke (Demián Bichir) to Romania, pairing him with Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) who is preparing to take her vows and pledge a life of service to the church. Burke and Irene enlist Frenchie as their chaperone, travelling across remote terrain to the abbey in order to investigate the suicide, but the situation immediately appears even more ominous than originally assumed. Looking into the abbey's tragic history, Burke identifies a sinister threat in demonic entity Valak (Bonnie Aarons), who seeks to unleash pure evil on the outside world.

Whether the result of reshoots, rewrites or simply Dauberman's original script, The Nun lacks a proper, discernible, soundly conceived narrative, as there is not enough plot to guide the picture through a traditional three-act structure. Indeed, once the main characters arrive at the abbey at the 20-minute mark, the remainder of this spinoff amounts to a meandering collection of scenes involving characters wandering around dark, shadowy locations waiting for an inevitable jump scare. The Nun admittedly works to a certain extent during its first half, but the set-pieces grow repetitive and monotonous, with the limitations of this regrettably slim plot becoming more and more apparent. Although ostensibly an origin story, The Nun barely touches upon Valak's origins beyond an arbitrarily short (one-minute) tale told by one of the characters, though it leaves room for any sequels to bridge the gap between this story's conclusion and Valak's appearance in The Conjuring 2. Furthermore, dialogue is not a strong suit, as lines are often clichéd or obvious, from characters calling after apparitions in the dark ("Hello! Who's there?") to the announcement of "You will find the answers you seek."




Overseeing his second feature film, director Corin Hardy (2015's The Hallows) rarely delivers the type of horror capable of getting under your skin; for the most part, The Nun amounts to repetitive loud noises and jump scares, none of which will stay with you after the end credits expire. Worse, moments of obvious CGI sneak into the picture, which spoils its otherwise old-fashioned aesthetic bolstered by gorgeous Romanian locations and gothic production design. However, Hardy does deliver a few effective set-pieces, such as Frenchie encountering the evil in a darkened forest at night, or another extended night-time sequence involving a cemetery. Unfortunately, these bright spots exclusively occur in the movie's first half, after which the film grows more laboured and lazy. The Nun needed more subtlety and nuance, as opposed to things simply jumping out of the darkness.

In terms of casting, Bloquet's presence as Frenchie unquestionably cheapens the material, preventing The Nun from becoming a truly dark and sinister horror flick. Visibly written to appeal to the younger demographic, his antics are neither witty nor funny - he even has a groan-worthy catchphrase. On a more positive note, Taissa Farmiga (younger sister of The Conjuring star Vera) is credible and sympathetic as Sister Irene, while Bichir makes for a convincing Father Burke. Additionally, The Nun further benefits from Maxime Alexandre's exquisite, measured cinematography - composition and lighting is consistently eye-catching throughout, building a rich sense of atmosphere, while Abel Korzeniowski's original music is suitably intense. It's slick and nicely made, as to be expected from the reported $22 million budget, but there is little else to care about or latch onto aside from the impressive technical specs.




Frustratingly, The Nun actually hints at, and glosses over more interesting narratives. There is surely a worthwhile story to be told about the nuns who inhabited the abbey when Valak took over, while the tale about the abbey's medieval history would likewise be fertile ground for an entire feature. But with such a feeble and underdeveloped narrative in place, The Nun simply cannot sustain itself over its 90-minute runtime, though it does have its moments and it's not a complete bust. As a surface-level contemporary horror movie, it's still watchable for the most part, though your mileage will inevitably vary based on expectations (and viewing conditions, probably).

6.3/10


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A total masterpiece, and a new manly classic

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 31 March 2019 04:47 (A review of Dragged Across Concrete)

"We have the skills and the right to acquire proper compensation."


The third feature film from writer-director S. Craig Zahler, 2018's Dragged Across Concrete is a new manly classic for the ages, further verifying the filmmaker's immense talents behind the camera. Zahler happily preserves the distinct filmmaking idiosyncrasies glimpsed in both Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, with Dragged Across Concrete another mesmerising exercise in engrossing character interaction and drama, punctuated by moments of extreme, wince-inducing ultraviolence. It's a slow-burn, but it never feels cumbersome or unnecessarily overextended, as Zahler keeps the movie on a tight leash, delivering superb submersion into this neo-noir world brimming with hard-boiled dialogue. Dragged Across Concrete is a tough sell for more sensitive viewers due to its decidedly un-PC dialogue, the graphic violence, the prolonged 158-minute runtime, and the lack of any prototypical good guys. It's not for everyone, but those who enjoy this type of masculine entertainment will consider Dragged Across Concrete an absolute godsend.




A veteran street cop, Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) has grown bitter with the world, with a poor salary forcing him to live in a bad neighbourhood with his MS-stricken wife Melanie (Laurie Holden) who's unable to work, as well as his teenage daughter Sara (Jordyn Ashley Olson) who is often assaulted whilst walking home from school. Brett's younger partner Anthony (Vince Vaughn) also dreams of a more stable financial future, planning to propose to girlfriend Denise (Tattiawna Jones). When Brett and Anthony are caught on camera roughing up a Mexican drug dealer during a bust, Lt. Calvert (Don Johnson) places the two men on suspension for six weeks without pay, a tough break that neither of them can afford. Seeking to sort out his financial situation for good, Brett enlists Anthony's help to track the movements of career criminal Lorentz Vogelman (Thomas Kretschmann), who is planning a heist to steal gold bullion. Vogelman's team includes a wheelman in Henry (Tory Kittles), who returns to criminal activities after his release from prison to provide for both his destitute mother and disabled brother.


There is much to unpack in terms of narrative, with Dragged Across Concrete switching focus between the parallel storylines throughout, but Brett and Anthony receive the lion's share of screen-time, with their suspension the impetus which leads to the story's final destination. As demonstrated in his previous efforts as writer and director, Zahler's dialogue is uniquely poetic and exhibits unending wit, whilst simultaneously feeling organic and unforced. In particular, the bantering between Brett and Anthony is a perpetual source of joy and amusement, sparkling like an early Quentin Tarantino screenplay. A bulk of Dragged Across Concrete's second act involves Brett and Anthony performing surveillance in cars, replete with idiosyncratic banter. The runtime also allows the movie to spend time with Kelly (Jennifer Carpenter), a new mother on extended maternity leave who is reluctant to return to work at a local bank. Although the side plot may seem superfluous at first glance, it generates almost unbearable tension during the subsequent robbery, adding humanity to a brutally violent showdown.




Zahler keeps Dragged Across Concrete welcomely free of political grandstanding and virtue signalling, though the movie does have things on its mind regarding the state of the world in 2019. Brett and Anthony get results, but their methods are considered too barbaric in the 21st century, with the omnipresent threat of digital eyes putting them under unwelcome scrutiny. Brett is expressly bitter about the modern world, refusing to adhere to increasingly strict standards of political correctness, which is why he is still a street cop after three decades on the force. Nevertheless, this material merely serves as subtext to colour the story and the characters; Dragged Across Concrete is an apolitical movie featuring humans who realistically interact and have opinions, with Zahler choosing not to dilute sometimes harsh reality for mass consumption. Furthermore, much like Brawl in Cell Block 99, the main characters here are anti-heroes for all intents and purposes, but they also have a moral compass, and themes of morality do permeate the movie.


Shot by Zahler's loyal director of photography Benji Bakshi, who favours sturdy tripod shots as opposed to incomprehensible handheld cinematography, Dragged Across Concrete unfolds at a deliberate yet enthralling pace, with editor Greg D'Auria (another regular Zahler collaborator) permitting the action to unfold in prolonged full shots. Indeed, there is no shaky-cam or rapid-fire editing here, nor is there any overt computer-generated imagery to mar the sense of realism or authenticity, with the director achieving a practical aesthetic. Relying on old-school blood squibs and practical special effects, Zahler aims for the old-fashioned cinematic sensibilities of '70s exploitation cinema, on top of evoking the period's mean, unrelenting mood (think Martin Scorsese). Although set-pieces are scarce, the action beats are outstanding when Zahler cuts loose. Additionally, the soundtrack was one of the most notable aspects of Brawl in Cell Block 99, and thankfully Dragged Across Concrete similarly delivers, with a killer selection of catchy songs and a memorably moody original score. Zahler makes the most of the modest $15 million budget, polishing the film to perfection, making the end result look as if it was made for a considerably higher amount.




Dragged Across Concrete boasts Zahler's most impressive ensemble cast to date, featuring a number of familiar faces. In addition to Gibson and Vaughn, the supporting cast boasts the likes of Michael Jai White, Laurie Holden, Thomas Kretschmann, Jennifer Carpenter, and more. Brawl in Cell Block 99 alumni (and excellent actors in their own right) Don Johnson and Udo Kier also appear in a single scene each, adding to the production's colour and flavour. The pairing of Gibson and Vaughn is superb, and the thespians submit some of their finest work to date here - Gibson nails the grizzled, tough-as-nails veteran cop, while Vaughn again shows off his fine dramatic chops, reminiscent of his equally top-notch work in Hacksaw Ridge. Kittles, meanwhile, has bounced around the sidelines of films and TV shows for years, featuring in the likes of True Detective, Olympus Has Fallen, The Sapphires and Sons of Anarchy. Although not as well-known or as recognisable as his co-stars, Kittles exudes enough gravitas and talent to convincingly play Henry, who has an unexpectedly large role to play in the proceedings. Suffice it to say, the rest of the performers are equally sublime, with White most notable playing Henry's childhood friend Biscuit.


Let's not mince words here: Dragged Across Concrete is a full-blown masterpiece. It's a mean, stylish, enthralling and often hilarious crime-thriller, brought to life by the most talented new directorial wunderkind currently working in the industry, and performed by a superb cast. Zahler is a rare type of filmmaker who hopes that his movies are enjoyed, but refuses to sell out by making creative choices to broaden audience appeal. Additionally, Zahler displays no sentimentality towards any of his characters, meaning that no matter how familiar the actor, they can be killed off at any time. As a result, it is genuinely difficult to take your eyes off the screen, and Dragged Across Concrete is relentlessly heart-stopping and gripping despite its intimidating running time. Added to this, it confidently stands up to repeat viewings.


10/10



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A wholly compelling and affecting sequel

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 16 March 2019 02:52 (A review of Creed II)

"In the ring, you got rules. Outside, you got nothing. Life hits you with all these cheap shots. People like me, we live in the past. You got people that need you now. You got everything to lose, this guy has got nothing to lose."

An ostensibly shaky proposition, 2015's Creed eclipsed expectations to earn significant acclaim and solid box office, propelling director Ryan Coogler into the spotlight. Creed II sees Coogler assuming a diminished executive producer role, with newcomer Steven Caple Jr. (2016's The Land) stepping in to helm this inevitable follow-up, working from a script by Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor (his first screenplay credit). Essentially functioning as a sequel to 1985's Rocky IV, Creed II's narrative admittedly amounts to a "greatest hits" compilation, but the execution is miraculous - this is an outstanding, highly involving boxing drama peppered with top-notch fight sequences. Moreover, Creed II is all about fathers and sons, with connections to Rocky IV serving a legitimate thematic purpose when the story could have been a surface-level cartoon. Indeed, the film's most significant achievement is accomplishing something wholly compelling despite building upon the unabashed lunacy and cartoonishness of Rocky IV.




Son of the late Apollo Creed, Adonis/Donnie (Michael B. Jordan) enjoys a string of victories as he rises to the top, ultimately winning a bout against Danny "Stuntman" Wheeler (Andre Ward) to earn the title of World Heavyweight Champion. With former champ Rocky Balboa (Stallone) still in his corner as both a coach and a close friend, Donnie marries Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and receives news that a child is on the way. As Donnie adapts to the changes in his life, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) travels to the United States with boxer son Viktor (Florian Munteanu), who was single-mindedly bred to earn glory in the ring and regain respect for the family name. With Viktor challenging Donnie to a boxing match, and sordid promoter Buddy (Russell Hornsby) emphasising the revenge angle due to Apollo's death at the hands of Ivan, Rocky fears history will repeat itself, and questions the champ's motivations for fighting as he becomes determined to face such a powerful opponent.

Eschewing the ostensible temptation to simply rehash Rocky II, this Creed sequel plots its own path, borrowing from Rocky II (Donnie and Bianca starting a family), Rocky III (learning from an initial defeat), and Rocky IV (returning to training basics before fighting in front of a hostile Russian crowd) while carving out a touching dramatic story carrying weighty themes. Incorporating the Dragos here feeds directly into Donnie's overarching arc, exemplifying the narrative's central fathers and sons theme. Creed II is about Donnie's relationship with the father he never met, as well as his relationship with Rocky, who represents a surrogate father figure. Rocky reminds Donnie to never lose sight of his reasons for stepping into the ring, initially refusing to train the world champion to take on Viktor since he immediately recognises that the fight is more about unfinished business and revenge. Donnie's daddy issues are evident, with the champ moving to an apartment in Los Angeles and marrying Bianca as he tries to become his own man. Meanwhile, Rocky has his own issues, remaining in Philadelphia estranged from his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia), unable to muster up the courage to even call him, as he wrestles with shame and self-doubt.




Whereas the first Creed was keenly focused on Donnie, Creed II facilitates narrative asides to explore the personal lives of Rocky as well as the Dragos, though Donnie remains the primary protagonist. It is a tough balance to strike, but Caple manages to pull it off, supported by smart, well-judged editing. Inevitable fan service does sneak in, but Creed II astutely avoids revelling in the ridiculous possibilities of Ivan's return, with Caple striving for legitimacy as opposed to absurdity. Here, Ivan yearns to restore glory and respect to his family name through Viktor after his humiliating loss on his own home turf, which is what also prompted Ivan's wife Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen) to abandon the men. Against all odds, the movie works to transform the Dragos into proper three-dimensional characters instead of cartoonish villains, using them to serve the picture's themes rather than indulging in pure formula. Themes run deep, involving legacy and redemption, making for an incredibly poignant follow-up that perfectly justifies its existence.

The relatively inexperienced Caple exhibits the confidence of a seasoned veteran overseeing his first major motion picture, coaxing outstanding performances out of a talented cast, and staging several thrilling, edge-of-your-seat boxing matches. Caple adeptly recreates the meditative, dramatic tone of the Coogler-directed original, with fighting pushed to the movie's peripheries throughout the second act to concentrate on Donnie's newfound fatherhood as he starts a family with Bianca. Although pacing is occasionally hit-and-miss as the movie loses sight of narrative momentum, things soon pick back up, leading into a magnificent third act. Furthermore, cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau (Fahrenheit 451, Terminator Genisys) imbues the material with honest-to-goodness immediacy and sincerity. The photography is primarily handheld throughout, but Morgenthau never falls victim to gratuitous shaky-cam. Accompanying the visuals is a first-rate score by returning composer Ludwig Göransson (who earned an Oscar for 2018's Black Panther), which underlines the story's drama and accentuates the sheer excitement during the fights. Göransson does sample Bill Conti's iconic Rocky theme at a certain point in the climax, which is sure to elicit goosebumps.




Stallone and Jordan remain an excellent pairing, with their chemistry and camaraderie shining through in every frame. The bantering between the two is a never-ending source of pure joy and amusement, demonstrating a mutual respect and fondness for one another. Although the script does not permit Stallone anything as heart-wrenching as some of the material in the first Creed, he's still eminently likeable, slipping back into his iconic role with ease. Meanwhile, Thompson - a fiercely talented actress - eschews the "long-suffering love interest" designation, presenting something welcomely original and measured. She has a substantive part to play in Creed II, and her performance is flawless. But the perpetually underappreciated Dolph Lundgren is easily the most interesting thing in the film, purely by virtue of unpredictability. After all, his Ivan Drago was a one-dimensional cartoon villain in Rocky IV, but here he's legitimately compelling, given unexpected additional layers and an honest-to-goodness, effective arc. It's constantly surprising to see where Creed II takes Ivan, and Lundgren assuredly executes the dramatic material. As Ivan's son, Munteanu is a smart pick; he's an intimidating physical presence, and believable as an unbeatable fighting machine. This is Munteanu's first feature film credit, yet he also exudes impressive on-screen confidence. Meanwhile, Phylicia Rashad is one of the movie's secret weapons as Mary Anne Creed. She is utterly believable playing the role of a loving mother, emanating warmth and strength, and her interactions with both Jordan and Thompson are incredibly naturalistic.

Creed II has clichés to spare, but it all coalesces into a hugely effective and affecting drama that is worthy of both the first Creed, and the Rocky franchise. This sequel works from start to end, delivering boxing spectacle as well as touching human drama, and it's one of the best movies of 2018. According to Stallone, Creed II represents the end of the line for Rocky Balboa after forty-two years, and it's one hell of an ending. Long-time Rocky fans will struggle to hold back tears as the movie reaches its touching dénouement, with the iconic character's story finally concluding on a fitting, optimistic note. With Rocky departing the spotlight, the Creed series is now free to create its own legacy, though the prospect of future sequels is not entirely inviting. Indeed, the formula for these types of movies is not exactly fresh, and a third Creed should only materialise if there is an original, worthwhile story to tell.

9.1/10


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A mediocre threequel, though not without merit

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 9 March 2019 04:04 (A review of Beyond Re-Animator)

Arriving thirteen years after its immediate predecessor, and eighteen years after the original Re-Animator, 2003's Beyond Re-Animator is the product of a completely different time. Instead of an old-fashioned B-movie permeated with campy '80s goodness, this third instalment in the Re-Animator franchise is a straight-to-video cheapie, lacking the legitimacy and wit of the earlier pictures. The inimitable Jeffrey Combs reprises his role of Dr. Herbert West, while Bride of Re-Animator helmer Brian Yuzna likewise returns to direct, but it doesn't quite feel the same, with cheap production values and no Bruce Abbott as Dan Cain. Nevertheless, this sequel has its charms despite some major shortcomings - it's an absurd, over-the-top, darkly comic and occasionally fun B-movie when it manages to settle into an agreeable groove.


 


After a reanimated zombie runs amok and slaughters a teenage girl, Dr. West is finally sent to prison for his dangerous experiments. Incarcerated for thirteen years, West attempts to continue his work behind bars, though he lacks the resources to concoct another batch of his reanimation agent to conduct further tests. However, Dr. Howard Phillips (Jason Barry) takes the job as the prison's new doctor and specifically requests West to be his medical assistant. Unbeknownst to the tyrannical Warden Brando (Simón Andreu), Phillips intends to continue West's reanimation experiments after witnessing his sister's death at the hands of one of West's creations when he was a young boy. Phillips becomes distracted, however, when he meets journalist Laura Olney (Elsa Pataky), who's doing a story on the penitentiary.

Whereas the first two
Re-Animator movies were loosely adapted from H.P. Lovecraft's serialised Herbert West stories, Beyond Re-Animator is entirely original, with Lovecraft no longer mentioned in the credits. The twist to this third Re-Animator is that West discovers a potential way to bring people back to life properly, restoring the souls of the dead, as opposed to simply turning them into mindless zombies prone to degeneration. It's the next logical step in the series, and it is refreshing that the screenplay credited to José Manuel Gómez (from a story by The Lion King and Revenge of the Nerds scribe Miguel Tejada-Flores) exhibits some sense of invention. Nevertheless, perhaps unsurprisingly, the narrative's broad strokes remain similar to the previous Re-Animator flicks, and Beyond Re-Animator will not exactly win awards for dialogue. Additionally, although West prominently features in the first two pictures, he was never the protagonist; he was more of a scenery-chewing side character. Beyond Re-Animator, on the other hand, graduates West to protagonist, and that's an issue since he never grows or develops over the course of the film. Phillips represents Cain's replacement, but he's simply not substantial enough as a potential protagonist, with the material only permitting him a trite romantic subplot with Laura.


Beyond Re-Animator was produced for a meagre $3 million, with costs minimised by filming in Spain, hiring a Spanish crew, and setting the feature primarily within the confines of the prison. To Yuzna's credit, many of the set-pieces are enjoyable enough, with gory highlights transpiring every 15-20 minutes, culminating with a customary prison riot that showcases one outrageous sight after another. Grotesque delights include a reanimated rat playing with an amputated penis (there's more of that during the end credits), a ripped-in-half inmate swinging through the penitentiary, creative use of the electric chair, a prisoner's stomach exploding spectacularly, and many other instances of spilled guts and severed limbs. Yuzna has fun with the patently absurd material, maintaining an effective comedic tone and never taking things too seriously. Nevertheless, the film does struggle to maintain momentum, with some lackadaisical editing which makes this feel like a rough workprint at times. Also, a few obvious instances of computer-generated imagery betray the practical effects work which defines this film franchise. Alas, Beyond Re-Animator needed a bit more polishing, and snappier editing. Additionally, although composer Xavier Capellas recreates some of the franchise's familiar musical motifs effectively enough, the original score is chintzy and cheap for the most part, and not in a charming '80s fashion. As a result, the production feels all the more generic and low-rent.

Unsurprisingly, Combs is the movie's secret weapon. Despite the production's other shortcomings, Combs gives it his all as Dr. West, playing things totally straight and delivering his dialogue with utmost conviction. For the third time here, Combs turns what is essentially a mad scientist caricature into a believable and endearing character. As West's protégée for this go-round, Barry (who played Tommy Ryan in
Titanic) is fine - he's believable enough and brings requisite intensity to the finale. While Combs is American and Barry is Irish, the rest of the actors are Spanish. However, it's not always obvious, as the characters speak English with convincing accents. Admittedly, some of the performers are visibly dubbed, but the likes of Pataky and Andreu are noticeably permitted their own voices, and they're perfectly adequate as their respective characters.


Combs' Dr. Herbert West remains an outstanding character in both conception and execution, and he should have the same genre notoriety as the likes of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger. However, the Re-Animator sequels fail to adequately serve him - he deserves more. Beyond Re-Animator was not actually intended to be the last instalment in this series. A fourth movie, entitled House of Re-Animator, entered active development in 2006, with Combs and Abbott on-board to reprise their respective roles, and original Re-Animator helmer Stuart Gordon returning to direct, but unfortunately, it never materialised due to funding difficulties. Beyond Re-Animator is not a downright unwatchable ending for this franchise, as it still has its charms, but it's not a patch on the classic 1985 movie that started it all.

5.4/10


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A fun enough sequel let down by slapdash writing

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 9 March 2019 03:33 (A review of Bride of Re-Animator)

The sequel to 1985's cult horror classic Re-Animator, Bride of Re-Animator represents a loose adaptation of two of H.P. Lovecraft's Herbert West stories from the 1920s, bringing the prose to life with colourful visuals, hammy acting, and many, many litres of fake blood. With Brian Yuzna (producer of the first movie) helming this follow-up in the absence of original director Stuart Gordon, Bride of Re-Animator is an organic-feeling extension of its well-regarded predecessor, though a slapdash screenplay handicaps the production to a certain extent. Despite its flaws, this second instalment in the Re-Animator trilogy should appeal to viewers who enjoy horror from the pre-CGI era, when extensive make-up and prosthetics were the order of the day, and filmmakers were not shy about lathering on the (practically achieved) gore.

Eight months after the events of the original Re-Animator, Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) and his associate, Dr. Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), relocate to Peru, where they work as medics in the midst of a fierce civil war while furthering their experiments to reanimate deceased bodies. However, when enemy troops breach their medical tent in an attack, West and Cain return home to Massachusetts, where they resume their old jobs at the Miskatonic University Hospital. Although Cain is reluctant to continue the diabolical reanimation experiments, West tempts his friend by offering to build a woman using the preserved heart of Cain's dead girlfriend Meg, in essence bringing her back to life. While working on the project, Cain develops a relationship with the kindly Francesca Danelli (Fabiana Udenio), whom he met in the jungles of Peru. Additionally, the pair's nemesis Dr. Hill (David Gale) returns to life as a reanimated head, and Lieutenant Leslie Chapham (Claude Earl Jones) begins investigating West and Cain, suspicious about their involvement in the Miskatonic Massacre.

Originally planned as just another H.P. Lovecraft horror movie (after the same team completed 1986's From Beyond), Bride of Re-Animator works as both a standalone story and as a true Re-Animator sequel that references the events of the first movie. Nevertheless, it is noticeable that none of the original Re-Animator screenwriters returned for this follow-up, with the script this time credited to Yuzna as well as Society scribes Rick Fry and Woody Keith. Alas, Bride of Re-Animator's screenplay is not as airtight or as cohesive as its predecessor, with questionable character motivations and noticeable lapses in logic - most glaringly, West and Cain apparently avoided all police scrutiny after the Miskatonic Massacre, and Cain becomes involved with Francesca while trying to resurrect Meg, the supposed love of his life. Furthermore, the change in directors is equally obvious, with Gordon's deft directorial hand sorely missed. Directing his second feature film here (after 1989's Society), Yuzna's work is occasionally somewhat stilted, while the pacing is not consistently strong across the film’s 96-minute duration.




Whatever its shortcomings from a screenplay and directorial perspective, Bride of Re-Animator positively soars in terms of special effects, make-up, and sheer gory imagination, delivering the type of goods that fans of the original movie crave. Produced at a time before CGI became such a prevalent filmmaking tool, the film is old-fashioned in its execution, with optical effects shots as well as impressive make-up and prosthetics. Bride of Re-Animator is not exactly scary, with the gory imagery never outright terrifying, but this is more of a campy B-movie as opposed to a serious horror film. Indeed, the picture is a fun ride due to its sense of humour and goofy tone - Gale even reprises his role of Dr. Hill as a floating head with bat wings. Admittedly, some (not all) of the special effects work looks dated in 2019, with visible matte lines and some obvious frame-by-frame animation, but Bride of Re-Animator is a product of its time, and the technical imperfections add to the nostalgic charm. Moreover, the zombies - particularly the titular bride - still look outstanding, and several special effects shots do stand up to contemporary scrutiny. The film culminates with a large-scale set-piece involving the titular Bride's awakening, as well as reanimated zombies descending upon West's house.

Re-Animator composer Richard Band makes his return here, composing a flavoursome original score, though some of the prominent musical cues do sound strikingly similar to Bernard Herrmann's work on Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. The winning pairing of Combs and Abbott is just as great here, with Combs again turning his role of Dr. Herbert West into a memorable, credible and likeable character, while Abbott is a charismatic straight man to all the madness. Combs fully commits to the material, and he's a pleasure to watch. Although Barbara Crampton was offered a cameo appearance reprising her role of Meg in the film's opening sequence, she declined.


All things considered, Bride of Re-Animator doesn't hold a candle (or a glowing green syringe) to the original Re-Animator, as the law of diminishing returns is in effect here. Nevertheless, those who enjoyed the first movie should find this to be an adequately entertaining watch, as it is nice to see West and Cain back in action, and the gory special effects almost compensate for the movie's other shortcomings. While not on the same level as horror greats like The Exorcist or Psycho, Bride of Re-Animator is a fun nostalgic horror offering that does not take itself too seriously. Moreover, the picture possesses a kitsch feel unique to this specific filmmaking era, leaving you eager to watch more forgotten horror gems from the '80s and '90s.

6.3/10


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Not essential viewing, but not without its charms

Posted : 5 years ago on 1 March 2019 09:57 (A review of Suburbicon)

At face value, 2017's Suburbicon is an encouraging prospect, boasting a screenplay co-written by the Coen Brothers, an outstanding cast, a competent director in George Clooney, handsome production values, and slick visuals. Unfortunately, however, even though the resulting picture has its charms, it fails to come together cohesively or substantively, biting off more content than it can adequately chew. Thus, Clooney's sixth directorial undertaking amounts to a muddled, disjointed mix of dark comedy, social commentary and a crime-gone-wrong plot, yet Suburbicon is surprisingly entertaining despite major narrative issues, and it's more watchable than its harsh critical reception implies. Even though the Fargo-esque story is overly standard-order, Suburbicon manages to keep its head just above water, though it is not essential viewing and it's Clooney's weakest movie as a director to date.

Set in the late 1950s, the titular Suburbicon is a flourishing, idyllic suburban community that embodies all the clichéd traits of '50s suburbia: perfectly manicured lawns, shiny cars, white picket fences, and even the overly smiley mailman who knows everybody. However, the arrival of a black family, the Mayers, leaves the enclave's entirely white population in an uproar, leading to harassment and protests. Amid this, nondescript office worker Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) resides in Suburbicon with his paraplegic wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and son Nicky (Noah Jupe), but a home invasion by two brutes (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) leaves Rose dead and the family shaken up. Gardner's sister-in-law Margaret (also Moore) soon moves in to help Nicky adjust to losing his mother, while Nicky's Uncle Mitch (Gary Basaraba) is on hand to offer support when required. However, insurance claims investigator Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaac) harbours suspicions about Rose's death, while Gardner is pursued by criminals to whom he owes money.

Despite the Coen Brothers receiving writing credits, Suburbicon is more the creation of Clooney and frequent collaborator Grant Heslov, merging an unproduced Coen Brothers script from the 1980s with an unrelated story based on the true events involving an African-American family moving into an all-white neighbourhood in the 1950s. Including the racism tangent is an opportunity for Clooney to deliver an obvious societal commentary about using minorities and immigrants as scapegoats for our problems, in the process satirising the hypocrisies of this period's cultural values. It might make sense thematically and theoretically, but the execution is slipshod at best; consequently, Suburbicon is disjointed and out of tune. Ultimately, the two separate storylines lack an intrinsic link to cohesively tie everything together. Nicky does play baseball with the Mayers' son, Andy (Tony Espinosa), but the angle is not substantial enough - perhaps the link would be stronger (and the commentary would be amplified) if black criminals carried out the Lodge home invasion, or if the Mayers were blamed for the crime.




From a technical perspective, Suburbicon is a big winner, with eye-catching set design and high-quality production values convincingly bringing this 1950s neighbourhood to life. Additionally, the film opens strong, with a lively advertisement for Suburbicon that nails the intended satiric tone. Meanwhile, the cinematography by Oscar-winning veteran Robert Elswit (Inherent Vice, Nightcrawler) is downright stunning; slick and aesthetically pleasing, with smooth framing and gorgeously saturated colours. In keeping with the intended tone and style, Alexandre Desplat's accompanying original score is deliberately overdramatic, which is effective and suits the material. Furthermore, Clooney successfully apes the Coens' directorial style, at times achieving an admirable sense of authenticity throughout the adeptly-crafted set-pieces, which is understandable given his prior movies with the pair. Clooney also builds an eccentric, uncanny feeling throughout the neighbourhood, though Suburbicon is not as amusing or as quirky as it might have been if the Coens directed this picture themselves.


An array of noticeably Coen-esque characters inhabit Suburbicon, played to perfection by an able cast. Isaac is arguably the biggest scene stealer as a switched-on insurance investigator, but then again Isaac is great in anything. Basaraba also acquits himself admirably as the burly, outspoken Uncle Mitch, while Fleshler and Hassell are well-suited to the quirky mobster caricatures they portray. Interestingly, though Damon receives top billing, Nicky emerges as Suburbicon's true protagonist, as the story is more or less told through his eyes, and young Jupe is thankfully up to the task. Additionally, Moore convincingly pulls off the double duty as both Rose and Margaret, while Damon successfully commits to his role, playing an inversion of the benevolent working-class father figure. There is not much depth at play here, as the actors simply play types as opposed to fully fleshed-out characters, but that seems wholly deliberate. Josh Brolin was originally cast as a baseball coach, but his scenes were cut in post-production despite Clooney believing them to be among the funniest scenes in the movie.



Perhaps if Clooney simply used the Coen Brothers' Suburbicon script in its original form, without adding the disjointed side story, this might have been a successful genre exercise about the vicious downward spiral for various characters after they participate in what seems like the perfect crime. As completed and released, though, Suburbicon is a true cinematic oddity that stumbles in its execution but is not entirely without merit. Indeed, it's not especially funny and the social commentary is ham-fisted, but it's also a strangely compelling Coen Brothers tribute which sometimes feels like the real thing.

6.1/10



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A pensive, enjoyable, humorous character study

Posted : 5 years ago on 3 February 2019 07:13 (A review of The Mule)

2018's The Mule is the latest motion picture undertaking for Clint Eastwood as both director and actor, denoting his first big screen appearance since Trouble with the Curve back in 2012. Eastwood is surely one of the oldest filmmakers to pull off the double duty, yet he still has what it takes on both sides of the camera. With a screenplay by Gran Torino scribe Nick Schenk, The Mule is not the white-knuckle thriller implied by the marketing, but instead a pensive, often humorous character study that's not for all tastes. Admittedly, the narrative does consist of spare parts, incorporating clichéd story beats as well as familiar themes involving family and redemption, treading similar thematic ground as Gran Torino. Nevertheless, The Mule works in spite of the clichés, thanks in large part to Eastwood's astute, resolutely old-fashioned handling of the material.




A horticulturist in his late eighties, Earl Stone (Eastwood) was once hugely popular in his local community with a thriving plant business, but internet competition forces him to close up shop. Destitute and with nowhere to go, Earl tries to attend the engagement party of granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga), but his ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and estranged daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood) are unable to overlook the years of neglect, with Earl perpetually prioritising work over family. An opportunity presents itself, however, when Earl is approached by somebody connected to a Mexican cartel - he can earn many thousands of dollars working as a drug mule, with his spotless criminal record and cautious driving deflecting suspicion. Even though Earl only intends to complete a single run, he's constantly drawn back, with his success earning him the respect of cartel boss Laton (Andy Garcia). As the shipment amounts increase, Earl makes a fortune for himself, using the money to save his home, help local businesses and spoil Ginny, working to turn his life around. However, hotshot DEA Agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) is desperate to make a bust, working with partner Trevino (Michael Peña) to stifle the cartel's drug deliveries by intercepting their primary mule.

Playing out like a fable, The Mule is loosely based on the true story of Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran who became a cartel drug mule in his eighties. There is a reason Sharp's name is not retained, as this is not a biopic and the narrative is largely fictitious, giving Eastwood and Schenk free rein to both have fun with the story, and introduce drama to make the picture more compelling and dramatically satisfying. As per usual for an Eastwood movie, The Mule is deliberately leisurely in terms of pacing, but it's nevertheless compelling thanks to well-judged editing by Eastwood regular Joel Cox. Perhaps another editor could have taken the movie down to a tauter runtime, but many of The Mule's charms derive from its unhurried nature, lingering on details and moments that other filmmakers would exclude. Not everything works, however. With Eastwood known for shooting first drafts and sticking closely to the script, The Mule does at times feel like a first draft in need of a polish, or a workprint waiting for some minor reshoots and trimming. Some dialogue is noticeably on-the-nose, including Ginny chastising Earl late in the picture, while scene transitions feel slightly skewiff at times, and the cartel is abruptly forgotten about at the end, with Schenk seemingly unsure about how to provide any closure on that front. Nevertheless, these are minor complaints.




Like Gran Torino, The Mule is unexpectedly humorous, earning more laughs than virtually any comedy released throughout 2018. However, the comedy is character-based, with Earl casually wielding offensive terms or simply saying unexpected things, though there is no malice behind what he says. Indeed, Earl is not exactly racist; he just has no filter and never adjudged to today's sensitive, politically correct world. Hell, Earl makes friends with several Mexican cartel members, and chooses to help an African-American couple with a flat tyre. Additionally, Earl encourages cartel members to actually enjoy life as he comprehends his shortcomings as a husband and father, realising the importance of family and even warning Bates not to make the same mistakes as him. Although familiar, this material does add dramatic heft to the movie, preventing it from feeling soulless or hollow. In different creative hands, The Mule could have been a PG-13 affair, but Eastwood uses the R rating to accommodate salty dialogue and infrequent bursts of brutal violence, bestowing the movie with flavour and credibility. Furthermore, this is Eastwood's first collaboration with cinematographer Yves Bélanger (replacing Tom Stern, who shot every Eastwood project since 2002's Blood Work), who gifts The Mule with terrific visual vitality, while one could be forgiven for assuming that Arturo Sandoval's effectively low-key original score was composed by Eastwood himself.

Unsurprisingly for a Clint Eastwood production, The Mule features a stellar cast of recognisable performers, all of whom are effective in their respective roles. Earl Stone represents another idiosyncratic character for the 88-year-old actor, who unleashes his trademark growl and badass disposition once again. Eastwood actually plays the role rather gently throughout the movie's early stages, relying more upon his softer voice, but as Earl finds himself drawn deeper into dangerous territory, there's a subtle shift in the performance as the character displays more grit. Chief among the joys of watching The Mule are scenes in which Earl sings along to classic tunes as he drives along the motorway, often forgetting the lyrics and singing off-time. In the supporting cast, Cooper is expectedly charismatic and captivating as Bates, while Peña makes a positive impression despite not having a great deal to do, and Laurence Fishburne is reliably solid as a DEA Special Agent. Also worth mentioning is Taissa Farmiga (The Nun), who's wholly believable in a small but important role. Beyond that, Eastwood's own daughter Alison is on hand to play Earl's daughter which gives the movie some authenticity, while two-time Academy Award winner Dianne Wiest is predictably strong as Earl's ex-wife. It's a treat watching the interplay between Wiest and Eastwood, and their late scenes together are genuinely touching.




In Eastwood's hands, The Mule is not needlessly dour or boring - on the contrary, the movie is seriously enjoyable and even rewatchable, making it a must-watch for fans of the director/actor. The easily offended will likely take issue with some of the dialogue, or with Earl's relentless womanising, but The Mule is a breath of fresh air precisely because it is not watered down for mass consumption. Gran Torino represented a thematically perfect end for Eastwood's acting career in 2008, and it is somewhat of a shame that it did not remain his final screen appearance. Nevertheless, The Mule is a more fitting end than the nothing-special Trouble with the Curve, and it's always a pleasure to see Clint on the big screen. It is also encouraging that Clint did not finish his directorial career with The 15:17 to Paris.

8.1/10



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