Movie Review: Superintelligence (2020)

TL;DR – an artificial intelligence achieves consciousness and seeks to decide whether it should save, enslave, or destroy humanity. It chooses Carol, an ordinary woman, to learn about humans and gives her three days to convince it that humans deserve to be saved.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Carol Peters (Melissa McCarthy) was working as a corporate executive, but unhappy in her job, she now does different part time work while searching for fulfilment in her life. She broke up with her boyfriend, George (Bobby Cannavale) of three years, to climb the career ladder and put her professional aspirations first. And, of course, she now regrets it.

One morning, she wakes up and discovers that all the electronic equipment in her apartment is able to communicate to her because an artificial intelligence known as ‘Superintelligence’ (voiced by James Corden) has become aware and seeks to learn about humans. It needs an average baseline guinea pig and chooses Carol for her averageness and embarks on studying her interactions with others in order to determine whether to wipe out humanity or save it.

Of course when the NSA discovers the existence of the superintelligence, they freak out and get the president’s permission to execute a plan involving blacking-out the entire world and forcing the superintelligence into a data server outside Seattle. They, of course, obtain cooperation from all the other countries faster than a kettle boiling with apparently no need to provide evidence of the superintelligence’s existence or its desire to make humans extinct (yeah, don’t think about this too much).

For an action romantic comedy, Superintelligence has the potential to explore hard truths in humorous or satirical ways. In this day and age, where people connect through Tinder, social networks, and other dating websites/apps, there is much that could have been said. For example, biting commentary around relationship compatibility through computer algorithms, our reliance on Instagram likes, the unreality of Facebook posts, or any number of ways we now rely on technology to somehow achieve happiness.

Instead, what we get is surface level comedy such as Carol brushing her teeth with an electric toothbrush, and the Superintelligence telling her to brush in circles rather than up and down because it can sense how she brushes by being ‘inside’ the toothbrush. And also reminding her to floss.

We are also meant to chuckle when the NSA executes their plan for the black-out and relying on typewriters, carrier pigeons, and table length paper maps of the world (can’t have the Superintelligence know what they are up to even though it has ‘eyes’ in every electronic device in every part of the world and would not be suspicious at all seeing the Government bunker down in a cabin that has a Faraday cage blocking all electromagnetic fields).

The deepest question the Superintelligence asks is what would Carol do if the world was ending in three days. And that leads to her revealing George and her desire to reconcile with him. What follows are scenes where the Superintelligence helps her reconnect and doing things like pretending the Tesla she drives malfunctions forcing her to go up to George’s house after their non-date (that is really a date) to ask if she can use his phone to call a cab.

Yes, it is all pretty silly and sweet and thus missing out on saying anything of real meaning about the world we live in today. A shame because the cast is very good especially McCarthy who does what she can with the limited material. Even if Director Ben Falcone intended this film to be light and airy, the screen writers could have injected a modicum of insight through the dialogue between Carol and George. I was not expecting relationship insights on the level of When Harry Met Sally but when you write a romantic comedy story, the bite is in the two characters interactions with each other and some sort of conflict that drives them apart making them realise they should be together. The ‘conflict’ between Carol and George is simply that George is leaving for Ireland in three days and Carol does not want him to leave. It is all tepid and no heat. The pair not helped by a script that falls way short on delivering comedy and while you feel the attraction between the pair, there is not a sense of any real internal conflict. George wants Carol, Carol wants George, Carol knows the world might end in three days, George is oblivious to this and wants to fly her over to Ireland after a few months once he has settled.

Potential wasted, this film does not reach the lofty heights of its title.

4 out of 10

Movie Review: Unhinged (2020)

TL;DR – we have all felt that tipping point while driving on the road. Someone cuts in front of you, or changes lanes without indicating, or drives slowly when you are running late for an appointment. You boil over, honk your horn, and/or start swearing at the other driver. Now imagine you do that to a driver who turns out to be a psychopath…

Review (warning: spoilers)

Nothing complicated or deep about this film. Tom Cooper (Russell Crowe) is introduced at the beginning of the film sitting in his truck outside his ex-wife’s house. It’s night time, he lights a match and stares at it as if trying to decipher the meaning of the universe when in reality he’s only thinking about how much he wants to see the world burn. And burn it does…

He gets out of his truck with a hammer and a gasoline tank and proceeds to barge into his ex-wife’s house murdering her and her husband before lighting the whole place up.

Dawn of a new day? You can hope but you know deep down this will not be the case.

Instead, the next day, we follow single mother, Rachel Flynn (Caren Pistorius) and her son, Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) stuck in gridlock. Rachel is running late for work and has to drop his son off at school. Things go downhill when she receives a phone call from a client and is fired for her tardiness. When they reach an intersection and the light turns green, Rachel is astounded that the truck in front of her is not moving. She honks her horn and you know it will all escalate into bloody mayhem from there.

It is a by the numbers thriller that does not deviate from what it seeks to deliver: car chases, brutal violence, tense stand-offs, manipulative actions and a climatic final scene where Tom wants to drag Rachel and Kyle into hell with him.

The main cast are all on par, especially Crowe who plays the psychopath with that restrained fury that makes you wonder when he’s going to blow and how. He does it well with the less is more and there are brief moments where you might actually feel sorry for his character, Tom. For example, after being honked for not moving at the green light, Tom drives up alongside Rachel and asks if they can ‘reset’ and seeks to apologise. In turn, he asks her to apologise but Rachel refuses saying she did nothing wrong. Bad decision, Rachel, very bad decision.

Bodies fly, loved ones are kidnapped, and there is plenty of gruesome, bloody action. This is a film that delivers on atmosphere and thrills rather than provide any meaningful insight. The only message being the next time you feel road rage, take a deep breath.

6.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

TL;DR – origin film of the first Asian superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Arguably the first Asian superhero is Wong (Benedict Wong), a powerful sorcerer of the mystic arts who we first see in Doctor Strange. But Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is the first Asian superhero that is the main character of the film.

The film opens introducing Xu Wenwu (the excellent Tony Leung) who discovered the mystical ten rings thousands of years ago, granting him immortal life and tremendous powers. The narrator reveals that the rings could have been used as a force for good but instead Wenwu uses it to create a criminal organisation called the “Ten Rings” and is the actual force that resulted in governments collapsing throughout history and becoming a god-like figure ruling over a global criminal empire.

Unlike other crime lords, Wenwu appears happy to remain in the shadows and reaches a point where he seeks to simply acquire more power. This leads him to search for a legendary village known as Ta Lo that is supposed to harbour mystical beasts. The year is 1996, and he confronts Ying Li (Fala Chen) the village guardian and the pair face off in a martial arts duel. Li is able to defeat Wenwu even with his ten rings and in the process the pair fall in love. It is a love that causes Wenwu to change his ways and give up his criminal and power hungry life. Together they have two children – Xu Shang-Chi and daughter, Xu Xiliang (Meng’er Zhang). The duel between Wenwu and Li is masterful and the choreography a fantastic combination of martial arts and CGI.

Things appear to be all ‘happily ever after’ until Wenwu’s past catches up to him and Li is murdered by the Iron Gang (an enemy of Wenwu). Wenwu turns back to the dark side and seeks revenge on all those responsible for her death. In the process, he trains Shang-Chi to become an assassin and tasks him with terminating the leader of the Iron Gang. Shang-Chi achieves his mission but is guilt-ridden and instead of returning to his father and sister, he leaves to start a new life in San Francisco.

The rest of the film follows Shang-Chi’s journey centred primarily on stopping his father from unknowingly freeing an evil monstrous force held in a prison by the guardians of the Ta Lo village. The outstanding action scenes (the battle in the articulated bus an absolute highlight) are balanced with solid story and character development as we uncover Shang-Chi’s history and his current relationships with friends and family.

Fans of the comics will identify the differences between comic story and MCU story. The biggest difference being Shang-Chi’s father who is depicted as a far more human character in the film when compared to the comic. In the comic, Shang-Chi’s father is Fu Manchu (or Zheng Zu if you follow through the comic book timeline which shows that Fu Manchu was just an alias). Fu Manchu is single-minded in seeking world dominion and (to my knowledge) there is no love interest. In fact, Fu Manchu chooses an unnamed woman in the comics based on her genetic suitability to be the mother of his progeny.

The differences, however, do not detract from the overall story that has been created for Shang-Chi to fit in the MCU and it is an enjoyable ride from beginning to end. Movie watchers should also stay behind for a cut scene during the credits where Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner/Hulk make an appearance attempting to dissect the mysterious origins of the ten rings and for a post-credit scene involving Shang-Chi’s sister.

Speaking about fitting into the MCU universe, Shang-Chi occurs after Avengers: Endgame but before The Falcon and the Winter Solider television series. Working backwards, Wenwu and his ten rings are active since roughly 2004 (when Li dies, and Wenwu takes up the rings once more for revenge) to 2017 (where Thanos clicks his fingers and half the population of the universe disappears). This means, Wenwu and his criminal army are around through the events of Loki, Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther and Wakanda and Infinity War. By all accounts the immensely powerful ten rings are not linked to any of the infinity stones yet the ten rings grant longevity and power on a scale that rivals the stones. It will be interesting to see if there is any historical reveal between the two as I cannot help wonder what Wenwu was doing when the likes of Loki’s attack on New York and Ultron’s decimation of Sokovia were happening.

One of the other great potentials of introducing Shang-Chi to the MCU is that he crosses over into other Marvel Comics and has interactions with many other characters including Captain America, X-Men and Iron Fist. But there is one particular crossover that has me chomping at the bit. It turns out that at one point, Shang-Chi trains Spider-man in kung-fu and Spidey develops his own fighting style known as the “way of the spider”. And to add some additional spice, at one point, Shang-Chi gets infected by a virus that gives him the same powers as Spider-man. The potential twists to this on the big screen are many. This would be totally awesome, and I hope they seek to join these two characters together in upcoming MCU story-lines.

8 out of 10

Movie Review: Worth (2020)

TL;DR – what is a life worth? In the wake of 9/11 terrorist attacks, the lives lost and the lives left behind are examined in terms of dollar value and what compensation can be given. Based on the true story of Kenneth Feinberg, the man tasked to do this impossible task.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Should the family of a CEO who died in the September 11th attacks be worth more in terms of monetary compensation than a janitor who also perished? Where does one draw the line in terms of first responders (e.g. fire fighters) who suffered asbestos inhalation and health problems months or years after the tragedy? What is their worth (and compensation) versus those who came to help three days after the event trying to help recover anyone who might still be alive under all the rubble?

Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton) is the man who sets out on determining the monetary value of a person’s life. He is appointed the Special Master of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund and works with his law partner, Camille Biros (Amy Ryan). The formula that Feinberg comes up with to determine compensation is primarily based on a person’s income. Feinberg is genuinely looking to help those devastated by the attacks and serve his country because he knows that if the estimated 7000 victims were to file a lawsuit, the process will drag out for years in court, and the victims and their families potentially losing and not receiving a cent. However, when he presents his formula, he’s viewed as insensitive and aloof.

In reality, Feinberg knows that he cannot achieve any level of objectivity if he becomes emotionally involved. In terms of law, and the application of the law, he does not (and cannot) view the question – what is a life worth? – as a philosophical question. He has to draw lines in the sand, apply what current state laws stipulate, and is instructed to get at 80% of the 7000 victims to commit to the fund otherwise the fund falls through.

The outcry from victims to Feinberg’s formula is understandable. Feinberg, Biros and their team experience an onslaught of pressure both political and emotional that is not short of titanic and like the ship of the same name, they are in fear of drowning and losing their own sense of self.

The interviews of the victims and their stories is wide ranging and emphasises the impossibility of the situation. Class, race, culture, and state marriage laws are all wrapped in the tragedy and causes endless debate on how they factor in the fund’s formula.

But it is Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci) who lost his wife in the 9/11 attacks that has the greatest impact on Feinberg. He confronts Feinberg calmly and respectfully, and states in no uncertain terms that he finds the formula completely offensive and will seek to gather others in protesting the fund. Wolf sets up a website called “Fix the Fund” and gathers a large following, which inhibits Feinberg and his team in getting victims to commit to the payouts. It should be noted that Wolf does not hate Feinberg, but instead wants him to step up and achieve more than what he is doing.

Michael Keaton, Amy Ryan and Stanley Tucci are outstanding in their roles and carry the movie. I was deeply moved by not only those impacted by the 9/11 attacks but by what Feinberg and Biros were seeking to achieve. Again, an impossible situation, yet in the end, they were able to get 97% of the victims to commit to the fund resulting in billions being distributed by the government. For better or worse, the world operates around a giant economic machine and money is a tool and method to exchange for food and services. Every individual life is worth innumerably more than this, but this is the world we live in.

This film does not dig deeper into the wider range issues of the terrorist attacks, but it does promote thinking and emotional contemplation of what it means to get along, the value of each and every one of us, and the importance of family and community. It never presumes to look at the question – what is a life worth? – through a philosophical lens. But there is one message that is clear, a person’s life is not a number and it never will be.

7.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Mortal Kombat (2021)

TL;DR – reboot of the popular video game of the same name. Mortal Kombat pegs Earth’s fiercest fighters against Outworld’s warriors in a battle royale. Expect plenty of action, solid CGI effects, and a thread of a plot that isn’t necessary to enjoying the film.

Review (warning: spoilers)

After the critically panned Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was released in 1997, further films based on the iconic video game stalled for decades. A quarter of a century on, and we see its return as a complete reboot of the martial arts fantasy film franchise.

Basing a movie on a video game is always a bit of a tall ask, and expectations should be measured on a different scale when the source material is a bunch of characters fighting one-on-one in a massive blood splattering, UFC-type event. Building any sense of a solid plot on such slim pickings should not mean an expectation of Academy Award nominating potential.

There are video games that have extensive lore. The movie Warcraft released in 2016 is based on the hugely successful video game series of the same name, and has tons of fantasy lore from which to create stories that arguably rival established fantasy novel classics like ‘Lord of the Rings’. Warcraft managed to be the first video game film to break $400 million in ticket sales. However, this did not stop critics from giving out derisive reviews.

Mortal Kombat does not have the luxury of backstory that Warcraft has but in a way that is something that should be commonly known. What you should be expecting from this film are outrageous but exciting action sequences, some corny but still laughable one-liners, more action, a slim thread of plot, more action, a solid sound track, and more action.

From this perspective, Mortal Kombat goes leaps and bounds above its 1997 predecessor, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.

Aussie actor, Josh Lawson, is probably the pick of the cast, transforming himself into the hulking, back-stabbing fighter named Kano. He delivers lines both foul-mouthed and droll that are downright laugh out loud.

Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion and Joe Taslim as Sub-zero are the ones that bring surprising emotional gravitas to what is essentially a turn-off-your-brain film.

The plot, for all its attempts at depth, can be summarised in one sentence. Selected fighters of Earthrealm (i.e. Earth) must battle selected fighters of Outworld (i.e alien world) in order to save Earth. That’s it. Enjoy the ride.

6.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Wrath of Man (2021)

TL;DR – a character driven film elevated by outstanding action sequences and a solid supporting cast but let down by a script and lead actor that doesn’t deliver on the depth required to elevate the film beyond what is essentially a straight forward revenge flick.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Patrick Hill (Jason Statham) is a serious fellow who looks capable of freezing hell over by just looking at you. It is the type of role that Jason Statham excels at and does not require a wide range of emotion. He is sadly typecast, so if you have seen his previous films, you know that his character will be one-dimensional. But then again, that is probably why audiences watch him. They know what to expect like ordering a burger from McDonalds.

When Hill applies for a job at Fortico Security (an armoured truck company based in Los Angeles) and he barely passes the training and tests, such as firing a gun at a target, you have no doubt that it is all a ruse because it is Jason Statham. Why he undersells his capabilities is the question that the viewers will ask themselves, but they don’t have to wait long before Hill unleashes his wrath in merciless precision by foiling a robbery.

The strength of the film is not in its lead actor. The stoic, no-nonsense character of Patrick Hill is revealed to be a tormented soul, but Statham takes on the role like he is half bored and making any sense of emotional turmoil bland.

No, the strength of the film comes from the supporting cast and Director Guy Ritchie’s measured approach to telling the story.

The supporting cast around Hill comprises of Haiden (the excellent Holt McCallany from TV series fame Mindhunter) who is Hill’s trainer; Dave (Josh Hartnett) who shows not everyone is cut out to be a security guard; Dana (Niamh Algar), the only female guard with an understandable large chip on her shoulder; Terry (Eddie Marsan), Fortico’s head of operations; and FBI Agent King (Andy Garcia). They all bring much needed depth to the film and show the risks of the job they do (driving around in armoured trucks and picking up and delivering money) is not necessarily worth the paycheck. Note: Garcia’s FBI agent does not work at Fortico but is an important ingredient in why Hill is allowed to go berserk in Los Angeles.

But the cast does not stop there. Ritchie tells a story that also examines the antagonists and provides their back stories also. In this case, it is the robbers, a bunch of ex-military veterans unhappy with eking out a living that barely supports their families, disgruntled at having served their country and getting nothing in return, and wanting to hit paydirt by conducting various heists. This group is led by Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan) and their robberies are meticulously planned beforehand showing a level of detail that is often glossed over in other films involving theft. Jackson instils a prerogative that their heists must not involve any killing. This, of course, is impossible when one of their members, Jan (Scott Eastwood), is clearly a loose cannon.

The story is told in four parts and jumps between past and present events to reveal who the enigmatic Patrick Hill actually is and what he is seeking to achieve as his end goal. In short, he’s a powerful crime lord, whose son is killed during a heist of a Fortico truck planned by Jackson and his team. Jan (the loose cannon) is the man responsible for killing the kid. The rest is all predictable as Hill goes on revenge mode piecing together the people responsible for his son’s death by going “undercover” and working at Fortico.

The action sequences are blood pumping and Ritchie has a real eye for detail and atmosphere. But for all its strengths, it is still let down by a lead actor that doesn’t bring enough gravitas for you to care about his plight (you know he’s going to get his revenge). I often wonder if they had cast an actor with more emotional range whether this could have turned into a far more existential crisis type film rather than a straight action movie. But perhaps that was all Ritchie was after. The film is also not helped by a script that lacks a level of dialogue that allows you to invest more fully in the lead. But again, Statham is not known for espousing long diatribes or waxing lyrical the consequences of choosing a life as a crime lord.

Still there is enough in here that makes the film enjoyable and a notch above other action movies.

7.5 out of 10

Movie Review: The Social Dilemma (2020)

TL;DR – you are the product, your time and attention is what you pay. What you choose to do with this currency is up to you, but certainly this film depicts a side of tech giants that shows they are very good at convincing you to use your currency on them.

Review (warning: spoilers)

There are two sides to social networking through technology. Two sides that present a picture to the pros and cons surrounding social networking tools such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter etc.

On one side, there is this idea that this technology allows people to connect no matter where they are in the world. It allows people to share stories, to stay in touch, to provide information and to encourage each other on whatever journey they may be undertaking. There is a lot of inspirational contributions on social media that brings hope, joy, and a sense that we are not only connected but we can be there for each other.

On the other side, there is this corporate war being waged between tech giants to have your time and attention given only to them. Why? To make money. The longer and more frequent a social platform can consume your time, the more advertisements they can show you, the more chance they have in monetising your attention. And then there is the use of social media to tear down rather than build up. Dissemination of misinformation, the anonymity of trolls and hate speech, and the potential addiction from needing validation through social media “likes” or “hearts” or “shares” has seen an increase statistically in mental health issues resulting in self-harm or suicide.

The Social Dilemma directed by Jeff Orlowski focuses on the negative side. It is a docudrama that, in my opinion, is essential viewing to at least get you to think about what social networks and platforms seek to do. It presents a convincing argument that there is a problem by conducting interviews of individuals that have held significant positions in these tech companies. The ways in which programmers develop algorithms to learn from what you like and then funnel you down a rabbit hole to keep you on that platform or application is alarming. The fact that The Social Dilemma was released on Netflix, which uses the same techniques to keep you watching their streaming service, is an irony not lost on me.

The ability to switch off is becoming more and more difficult especially for young, developing minds in the teenage bracket.

Suffice to say, like most things in life, anything done in excess is usually not a good thing. How you achieve a balance is key to a healthy life in mind, body and spirit. Note, I didn’t say “happy” healthy life. For facing sadness, anger, disappointment and the range of other human emotions is part of life. How we acknowledge our humanity and the spectrum of feelings is critical to growth. The Social Dilemma shows that like any addiction, being addicted to social media is unhealthy.

Where I felt the film falls short is providing ways to achieve balance. Many of those interviewed simply say to delete the app, and go outside and take a walk in a park. I don’t think it is that simple. It is like saying to an alcoholic to throw away all their liquor and never go into a bar, or a gambling addict to ignore poker machines and casinos. If it was simply a matter of will then addictions would never be a problem.

Still The Social Dilemma delves deep enough to present a case that addiction to social media (or even addiction to technology for that matter) is a real issue and can have deep adverse effects to a person’s mental well-being. In a world where we are surrounded more and more by technology, this film is a must watch.

And on that note, I’m going to hop off my computer and go outside for a walk.

8.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Cruella (2021)

TL;DR – the origin story of Cruella de Vil shows the apple never falls far from the tree.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Disney’s track record of doing real life adaptions of their classic animated films has been a sad endeavour in milking the cash cow for all its worth. On the rare occasion, they’ve achieved some semblance of distinction that separates the adaption from the animated classic. Kenneth Branaugh’s Cinderella, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book come to mind. But other real life versions such as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, and Mulan were pale (and at times dreadful) imitations of their animated counterparts. There’s a reason why they’re considered classics in animated form, and I daresay that Walt Disney would be turning in his grave (or his cryogenic chamber) if he knew this was happening.

Disney achieved some level of success (and originality) by doing a real life adaption of an animated classic but telling the story from the view of the main antagonist. Maleficent (real life adaption of Sleeping Beauty) demonstrated the potential of this approach with Angelina Jolie as the title character. The movie achieved enough success that a sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil was made. Both films I enjoyed.

Cruella is meant to be a real life adaption of the animated film 101 Dalmations but told from the main antagonist, and while the focus is on Cruella rather than the dogs, the story is not at all like the animated version. In fact, Disney already did a real life adaption of 101 Dalmations using the same title, released in 1996 and starring Glenn Close as Cruella.

This 2021 release does not repeat the 1996 version and swap Glenn Close with Emma Stone. Cruella is an origin story and far better off doing so as a result.

The story begins with Estella Miller (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), a precocious child with black and white hair, a penchant for fashion and a loving mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham). They move to London where Catherine attends a party of a wealthy woman simply known as the Baroness (Emma Thompson) and there Catherine seeks financial assistance. Things take a turn for the worse when Estella witnesses her mother attacked by the Baroness’s Dalmatians, who push her off a balcony overhanging a cliff into the sea. Estella believes it is her fault that her mother dies as she was told to stay in the car but instead snuck into the party and causing a ruckus that resulted her being chased by the Dalmatians.

Fast forward a decade and an adult Estella (Emma Stone) is making ends meet as a thief on the streets of London. She tries to turn her life around by working in fashion and eventually gets hired by the Baroness who turns out to be a haute couture fashion designer and considered the best in London. Under the Baroness’s employ, Estella discovers that it was actually the Baroness who was responsible for Catherine’s death. And thus Estella’s alter ego, Cruella is born.

Emma Stone is in fine form and provides layers for what was depicted as a one-dimensional character in the animated version. The switching between Estella and Cruella is fascinating to see and Stone embraces the role. One moment, she’s Estella, employee to the Baroness, plotting her revenge, giving strained smiles and hiding her anger. The next she is Cruella, fashion designer rival upstaging the Baroness and wanting to destroy the woman responsible for her mother’s death.

The movie, however, would be nothing without the other Emma. For Emma Thompson is nothing short of brilliant as the Baroness, a tyrannical figure, who takes narcissism to unheard of heights. Every word out of her mouth drips with venom. Her viper-like rebukes at her workers, her inability to give praise even to her most loyal subjects, and her uncompromising focus to be the dictator and ruler of the fashion design industry is both savage and funny.

It is Cruella versus Baroness, Emma versus Emma and lifts the film beyond the mundane and mediocre. Their desire to outwit each other, to outdo each other on the fashion stage is a delight to see, and when the reveal of the story finally unveils, it is not so much a twist as a small smile acknowledging that it all makes sense.

The only drawback is perhaps the film runs a little too long, but this is a small quip when you get to witness two actresses unleashing the peak of their powers on screen. A Disney delight.

9 out of 10

Movie Review: The Dry (2020)

TL;DR – in the drought stricken town of Kiewarra, Australia, a horrific tragedy has occurred involving a murder suicide. Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns to his home town to attend the funeral. The parents of the father who committed the murder suicide ask Falk to investigate the crime, all the while Falk is dealing with memories of his own personal tragedy as a teenager in the town which led him to flee twenty years ago.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Based on Jane Harper’s hugely successful and award winning debut novel of the same name, The Dry is a crime mystery thriller surrounding the murder suicide of a family living in the fictional country town of Kiewarra. The book was ripe to be turned into a film and Director Robert Connolly does a fantastic job in depicting a town barely surviving due to drought. The sweltering conditions, a silent antagonist that drives the people of the town to extreme behaviours and threatening to ignite bush fires both literal and figurative.

Federal Agent Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) returns to Kiewarra (his home town) after a twenty year absence. It is revealed that Falk left in inauspicious circumstances, suspected of murdering his girlfriend, Ellie Deacon (Bebe Bettencourt) two decades ago. Like the brutal drought the town has been experiencing for too long, Falk’s return triggers long memories that stir the strained emotions for both him and the locals.

Falk has only come back because he was close friends with Luke (Sam Corlett), the father who apparently shot his wife and daughter before committing suicide (the only survivor being Luke’s baby daughter who was spared). His intention is to attend the funeral, pay his respects and then get the hell out again. But Luke’s parents convince him to hang around and review the investigation.

There are two mysteries in this story. The murder suicide of Luke and his family, and the unsolved murder of Ellie. Flashbacks of Falk as a teenager, his interactions with Ellie, and the various spots by the river and in the bush where they hung out with friends are interspersed with the present events and actions Falk takes to unravel the current crime.

The cinematography by Stefan Duscio is spot on and lends to the atmosphere of a town on edge reaching boiling point. The harshness and beauty of the Australian outback are both captured and lend towards the overall feel of a story depicting characters suffering both physically (from drought) and mentally/emotionally (from tragedies).

The cast do a tremendous job capturing the heart of the characters they depict, and the film moves at a pace that keeps you guessing and wanting to see how it will all be resolved. Avid crime mystery fans will likely see where the twists and turns will come, but it’s not so much the surprises but the journey of Aaron Falk that makes the film worth watching (both Joe Klocek (young Aaron) and Eric Bana (adult Aaron) do a marvelous job).

8 out of 10

Movie Review: The Mauritanian (2021)

TL;DR – star studded cast delivers a legal drama with punch. Based on the memoir Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi who was detained and tortured at Guantanamo Bay detention camp on suspicions of terrorism.

Review (warning: spoilers)

There is a statistic shown at the end of the film that states, “Of the 779 prisoners who have been held at Guantanamo, eight have been convicted of a crime. Three of those convictions have been overturned on appeal.”

Mohamedou Ould Slahi was one of those 779, and spent 14 years at Guantanamo. Seven of those 14 years were spent after he won a court case where the judge ordered his release. Yes, you read correctly. He spent seven years in prison, testifies in court, wins his case, and then spends a further seven years before finally being released. Not only that but Mohamedou Ould Slahi was held in prison for 14 years without ever being charged for a crime.

Both the statistic at the end of the film and Mohadmedou’s story demonstrates a system that has failed. Terrorism suspects are detained without due process and interrogated without restraint. It is a damning indictment on human rights.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald, The Mauritanian is a semi-documentary style drama that is straight forward in its telling. It’s a heavy film, depressing and frustrating, where the shocks are mainly attributed to the torture scenes as opposed to the legal failings. The film is elevated by incredible performances of its cast.

Slahi (Tahar Rahim) and Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster, Slahi’s lawyer) are a tour de force. Both Rahim and Foster were nominated for their roles (Foster won Best Supporting actress at the Golden Globe Awards). Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) is Hollander’s co-counsel and Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the prosecutor. Together, both prosecution and defence go through the process for which they are hired and encountering all manner of obstacles along the way in getting the information they need to build their case.

It is clear early on that Couch is a principled lawyer. He has every reason to prosecute Slahi and wants the man to get the death penalty. But only if there is irrefutable proof that Slahi had a significant hand in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The proof comes in the form of Slahi giving a signed confession. But when Couch demands to see the process undertaken to obtain Slahi’s confession and is met with a brick wall of individuals saying just prosecute the guy and don’t worry about how he came to confess, you know that the end does not justify the means.

Hollander receives what occurred from Slahi himself, and the inhuman ways he was treated before he “confessed”. This isn’t mere confession under duress, this is pure hell. How Slahi survived is a miracle in itself. The interactions between Hollander and Slahi are the highlight of the film.

However, in the end, the film does not pack the punch you would expect from such atrocities. There’s something missing in the telling, as if the writers were merely reporting on events as opposed to telling a story. Nevertheless, it is still worth watching. The real life footage at the end of Slahi returning home and his lawyers Hollander and Duncan are incredibly moving.

7.5 out of 10