John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019) Directed By Chad Stahleski. With Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne.

Guns…lots of guns” suggests John Wick prior to the exhausting final gun-down of John Wick 3: Parabellum. This third movie outing for Keanu Reeves continues the self-deprecating tone of the previous offerings, albeit with a nagging sense of flagging repetition.

There is a feeling the movie is made by stuntmen for stuntmen, such is the mind-blunting onslaught of action set-pieces, during which Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry and her dogs shoot, punch, chop, stab and bite their way through levels of a video game. Indeed, it is akin to watching someone button-mash their way through an X-Box ‘beat-em-up’.

The only directive is to show you cool stuff, which works fine for 20-mins after which you begin to wonder how long is left. The dark, neon rain-lashed alt universe NYC adds a sense of surface style, but not nearly enough to break even over the long haul.

As has been the case in previous outings, Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne show up to spout bits of inane dialogue while Reeves lets his guns do the talking.

The fun of the first movie is only echoed and while you have to merit the staging and execution of the action, it is fundamentally a violent 2-hour dance routine (Strictly Come Shooting) with the occasional pause for plot explanation. Fun at first, but increasingly boring and ridiculous.


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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Directed by Steven Spielberg. With Harrison Ford, Karen Allen and Paul Freeman.

There are few films in the history of cinema that achieve the rhythm, artistry and dripped-in-inspiration execution of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones shares nearly all of his traits with his space cowboy, Han Solo…turns out you can’t have too much of a good thing. Ford’s laconic presence doesn’t demand attention, but given the spotlight his wry delivery and have-a-go hero pluck make him a potent, classic lead. Without aiming for it, he is quite possibly the greatest film star cinema has offered. Raiders is the best example of his qualities in free flow.

The rousing Raiders March is a conquering musical moment that describes a triumphant heroism. But the film’s composer doesn’t stop there. With the sweeping Marion’s Theme, John Williams evokes the mystery of love and adventure in the desert, while the Ark theme describes a timeless, ancient magic with spine-tingling strings.

The action is captured in-camera with astonishing invention. All of the sequences serve the larger story and are imbued with a combination of wit and spectacle that has rarely, if ever been equalled.

Karen Allen’s hard-drinking Marion Ravenwood cuts a strong figure of feisty determination as she trades punches and whiskey shots with the male characters. Her beauty shines through natural moments flowing from the free reign of her charisma and natural energy.

Spielberg’s eye is inspired to bring us the adventure of a lifetime. There are no wasted moments, no lag in the storytelling. Even the exposition is riveting. The combination of religious symbolism and the Nazi pursuit of ultimate power and control is a unique place to throw in your shrug-of-the-shoulders hero. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a forever film that has not been weathered by age. Instead, it stands as testament to how brilliantly magical film has the ability to be.


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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) Directed by Jake Kasdan. With Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillian.

There have been a lot of video games over the past 35-years. There have been a lot of rubbish films based on video games; Streetfighter, Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider, Wing Commander, Resident Evil, Assassins Creed, Super Mario Bros…the transition from console kings to celluloid heroes has mostly been a failed quest. But then, there have been good films based on the concept of video games. Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs the World was an inspired blend of gaming experiences. Disney’s Tron films, while not universally loved have earned sizeable cult appeal. You could argue The Matrix is front loaded with the idea of being in a game, which brings me neatly to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

An accessibly loose sequel to Jumanji, the 1995 Robin Williams hit, Jake Kasdan’s soft reboot takes the premise of setting the film around a mystical board game and updates it to a 90’s video game cartridge. Add the trio of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Jack Black and Kevin Hart and you get a bankable amount of charisma, energy and fun.

The film is at its best when indulging the comic talents of Black and Hart, particularly the body-swap humour that makes up the central comedic thread of the piece. Black has the best role and makes the most of it as he embraces the opportunity to get in touch with his inner 16-yr-old Insta-obsessed, pretty blonde white girl.

Aside from the comedy the film has pace and purpose. The action scenes are lively if not a little generic. The final act becomes an exercise is less interesting than the middle section, but when Guns N’ Roses pipe up at the end credits you’ll have mostly had a good time.


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Ghost Town (2008) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Ghost Town (2008). Directed by David Koepp. With Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear and Tea Leoni.

There is something distinctly Capra-esque about David Koepp’s Ghost Town, a film about a curmudgeonly Englishman in New York (Gervais) who gains the ability to (whisper it) “see dead people” after he briefly dies during a routine hospital procedure.

Gervais brings his damning sarcasm to what is a film that operates on the framework of the everyday US studio comedy. This works well all round, his fed-up-of-it-all demeanor is effective counter-programming against the tapestry of all things com and rom.

Ever since Woody Allen’s Manhattan, the best job in cinema has surely been shooting incidental shots of New York City. Ghost Town remembers this and begins by re-affirning the love affair as autumnal shots of NYC abound.

Tèa Leoni is the most likeable she’s been as the love interest, of sorts and Kristen Wiig elevates things (as she invariably does) in a small role.

Koepp is clearly inspired by some classic influences and manages to bottle some of them to good effect. The premise promises fun and for the most part delivers. By no means a classic but not without a few classic moments.


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Wild Rose (2018) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Wild Rose (2018) Directed by Tom Harper. With Jessie Buckley and Julie Walters.

There is no brighter diamond in more ragged rough than Jessie Buckley in ‘Wild Rose’, Tom Harper’s heart-on-sleeve drama about a troubled Glaswegian country singer (don’t say ‘& western’) with big dreams of Nashville. Buckley catapults every fiber of her being into her performance as she conjures real ‘x-factor’ stage dominance (and composure) in a demonstration of raw ability that will undoubtedly graduate her from the dual Olivia Colman schools of look-at-how-far-she’s-come and is-she-in-everything!?

While it lacks a certain conviction towards the end (you never get the feeling it won’t try to crowd-please), the meat & veg of the film possesses a grit to convey the struggle and turmoil with some success. Buckley is well supported by the ever-sturdy presence of Julie Walters as her long-suffering mother.

The film covers the complications of balancing dreams and responsibilities and the inherent selfishness required to be part of an industry that demands sacrifices. The sacrifices at the altar for a rock n’ roll life are Rose-Lynn’s two neglected young children. This represents an emotional tug-of-war that sits at the heart of the film.

On the poster, rocking out in a white leather jacket, Buckley looks like a flame-haired Axl Rose from the Guns N’ Roses ‘Paradise City’ music video. In the movie she is surgically attached to her white cowboy boots. They represent a significant part of her identity. In one revealing scene she likens her Scottish origins and love for the USA and its country music to a person with gender dysphoria.

While the corny moments feel like they belong in another movie, the strength of Jessie Buckley’s star turn is more than enough to see it through. She encapsulates the essence of raw talent with a sincerity that is frequently startling. The movie is one to watch and so is Buckley.


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First Man (2018) Film Review By Gareth Rhodes

First Man (2018) Directed By Damien Chazelle. With Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy.

Having enjoyed Damien Chazelle’s previous two films, Whiplash and La La Land, I looked forward to seeing what the exciting young director might do when tackling humankind’s greatest “where were you” moment to date…setting foot on the surface of the moon. As it turns out, First Man is more of a study on grief and loneliness than a procedural charting of the Apollo 11 mission that led the USA to plant its stars and stripes into the moon dust to seemingly claim eternal bragging rights over the rest of the world…Soviet Union at that particular time.

Ryan Gosling stars as Neil Armstrong, presenting a man haunted by the loss of his young daughter while struggling to attend to his young family as he throws himself headfirst into a death-defying reach for the stars. Claire Foy plays his loyal wife, Janet, who carries the triple burden of grief for her daughter, nurturing their other children and a painful anxiety for the safety of her husband. Gosling and Foy are excellent in their restraint. Shot up close and personal, Foy’s beautiful eyes are pools of love, pain and frustration as she suffers on the sidelines while Gosling is the stoic loner, shedding any remnants of leading man charisma to portray Armstrong as a methodical man of heroic inner strength, a strength that the movie seems to suggest is summoned by an emotional detachment following the loss of his child.

Combined with the personal intimacy achieved through performance, writing and photography, the use of sound is an almost overwhelming force in First Man. What Chazelle achieves in bounds is capturing the perilous nature of space exploration. A lot of that danger is realised through sound as we hear the ferociously violent forces of nature attempting to rip apart the tiny capsule protecting the astronauts. As their instruments spell danger with red-flashing warning lights and low fuel indicators, turbulence and space rolls couple with the hellish squeal of buckling metal pushed to the absolute brink of its resistance. Chazelle’s achievement here is not to be understated. That is to say we all know the mission was a success (sorry-not-sorry if that’s a spoiler) yet still the tension is borderline unbearable.

The wider competition of the space race is alluded to but not focused on. The global and political conditions seem to be mere satellites around Armstrong’s remarkable world. In press conferences he is to-the- point and without need for self-promotion. Counter that Buzz Aldrin, a more outspoken man, perhaps more in touch with who he is. By casting Corey Stoll, an actor with a history of playing bald-headed complex villains, the film is guilty of singling Aldrin out as a bit of a dick, which in itself could be seen as a dick move given that Aldrin is little more than a cameo act over the course of the film.

Though First Man would play neatly either side of an Apollo 13 double-bill, it is most definitely not the same triumphant force of mainstream movie-making. Though it has fine examples of modern film techniques (spot the CGI?), it is a somber piece with a muted emphasis on looking to the equally endless depths of inner space.


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Fighting with My Family (2019) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Fighting with My Family (2019). Directed by Stephen Merchant. With Florence Pugh, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Lena Headey and Dwayne Johnson.

If you think of Darren Aranofsky’s The Wrestler, subtract the gritty realism and swap it with a tested sense of movie convention and with that, you might arrive halfway toward Stephen Merchant’s wrestling-based drama Fighting With My Family, a film that ensures broad appeal but with arguably less resonance thanks to an underpinned desire to be mass consumable and easy to swallow.

There a good reasons why that isn’t always a bad thing. The film’s rags to riches central narrative is amiably carried forward by Florence Pugh playing the role of WWE Diva Saraya ‘Paige’ Knight and her young Simon Pegg-alike brother, Jack Lowden. Pugh is like a watered-down faux gothic version of Aarya Stark – a poster child for the cool uncool kids.

An appearance by the one and only Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson would be more potent were it not for a plethora of famous faces in prominent supporting roles. Yes Nick Frost and Lena Headey are fun and add star quality but you get the feeling the starry light would have been more emphasised had it been kept back. A little more of a lean to Ken Loach wouldn’t have gone amiss.

From a rest of the world perspective, the WWE is perhaps one of the few surviving examples of the USA of yesteryear. No other nation has anything like it. Amped-up sports theatre on an inflated scale with evolving storylines that span decades and intertwine with real life tales of glory and devastation. Through Vince Vaughn’s ‘coach’ the movie offers the occasional glimpse into the nuances of a world that is all-too-easy to dismiss as panto in spandex. Behind the curtain there is real pain and sacrifice.

A more grounded tone and some lesser-known faces would have made the protagonist’s leap from Nowheresville, Norwich to the WWE a more striking contrast. This is one of those aim-to-please-everyone films that is happy to have one-foot-in two camps and hopes most of us won’t notice. Temporary fun.


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Long Shot (2019) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Directed By Jonathan Levine. With Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen.

I like the gorgeous, intelligent sexy, funny, fit, stylish, powerful woman going for the overweight bearded stoner. Who doesn’t? Not having to try at life and having it all land in your lap is exactly what many of us want…even though most of us dare not admit it.

Seth Rogen seems to be on a one man mission to demonstrate how spliff-head slobs can charm incredible women into bed and beyond by being hilarious and immature. He applied the same trick to Kathryn Heigel in ‘Knocked Up’. He’s an inverted Julia Roberts in ‘Pretty Woman’. Coming from nowhere to score big romantically…but unlike Roberts he’s not smoking hot…he’s just smoking pot.

Like Pretty Woman, director Jonathan Levine’s film is a lottery winner’s fairytale fantasy. But it’s a stupid comedy too. The title ‘Long Shot’ implies to attempt a lucky punt. It’s an obvious title that doesn’t scream “WATCH ME!” but its like has furnished Rogen’s anti-leading man career persona since it was farted into existence.

The reality of a tub of lard like Fred Flarsky tweaking the romantic curiosity of Charlotte Field is about as likely as President Donald Trump admitting he was wrong about a subject, but we don’t watch this shit for a reality check. It’s comedic (isn’t it!?) to see schlubby Seth giving the impossibly attractive woman from the J’adore advert a jolly good seeing to…even though the movie doesn’t have the balls to give us this in all its borderline unfathomable glory (undrated edition anyone??)

I’ll admit to the occasional smile during Long Shot, though at over 2-hours (WAY too long for a stupid comedy) I did wonder if some of my time might have been better spent having a long shit.


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A Simple Favor (2018) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

A Simple Favor (2018). Directed by Paul Feig. With Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively.

A Simple Favor stars nerdy Anna Kendrick and snappy Blake Lively as unlikely ‘friends’ who after the school run, pack their sons off to play while they bond over martinis and juicy confessions in Lively’s designer home, which she shares with Sean, her one-hit wonder author partner. Before long, it becomes blatantly apparent that Kendrick is being used…to what end is the intrigue that fuels Paul Feig’s film adaptation of Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel.

Tonally, it’s like The Devil Wears Prada conversing at a crowded party, making small talk with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Gone Girl and Crazy, Stupid Love. It frequently over steps the mark, as two contrasting drives of chic drama-thriller and nerdy comedy appear to clash rather than meld, yet in these times of content overload, it is faintly refreshing to be served something determinedly uneven.

As Emily, Blake Lively’s attractiveness is weaponised. A movie character with instant chutzpah – a special ops authority in style who forces mere mortals to wither with inferiority. The enigma of Emily gives her the edge, however her desire to be invisible is contradicted by her desire to look incredible. Contrast her with Kendrick’s Stephanie, an internet vlogger who is desperate to be noticed amid the daily struggle of being a lonely single parent with a tragic past. They meet and become friends, or so Stephanie believes…

Told from Stephanie’s (Kendrick) perspective, director Paul Feig makes it feel like his lead character has been transplanted awkwardly into the world of glossy lifestyle magazine. She’s out of her depth, trying to wing it, yet she is a willing participant in Emily’s thinly-veiled manipulation for the sake of hanging out with someone intimidatingly cool. Watched as a ‘comedy’, it doesn’t work. The humour stifles the drama, lessening the overall worth of the experience leaving a film that had greater potential than fun throwaway rental fodder.

In the moments when it begins to fatigue, there are fun twists to keep it in favour and Blake Lively delivers an enjoyable shot of femme-fatale movie star mystique. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before and chances are you haven’t seen it put together in this way.


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Tully (2018) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Tully (2018) Directed by Jason Retiman. With Charlize Theron, Ron Livingston and Mackenzie Davis.

The writer-directing team of Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman return with Tully, a small indie release starring Charlize Theron as a 40-something mother on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

The film shares natural kinship with Reitman’s Young Adult, not just in Theron’s warts n’ all central performance (does anyone do diamond in the rough better?), but in the general DNA of telling a story from the viewpoint of a woman struggling to live everyday in the vast spin-cycle of modern American nowheresville.

There are days when feel like you lose, but where the film wins is in the way it depicts the losing as a victory. As a film, its heart is in the right place, stating to the audience that “your struggle is honorable”. Though you might feel like you’re fading away, your decision to plant your feet and do the best you can, given all the crap the world throws at you…well, bloody well-done on that! Of course, it’s a message that could easily come off cack-handed, but everything is layered with a firm eye on delivering the message with an informed sense of humour, coupled and a desire to reach out and put an arm around you.

Often it is an incidental shot that hits the hardest…and the funniest; Theron zombified and exhausted on the couch, stuffing snacks in her face while staring at semi-pornographic garbage on TV. It’s the kind of behaviour we’re all susceptible to – but one that’s accentuated simply and effectively to understand. It makes you think Reitman and Cody should always work together. Cody’s language achieves a chemistry with Rietman’s vision that allows the audience in.

Tully should play well to a wide audience – to anyone who’s brought up children or struggled to be human in the world. It depicts motherhood and marriage as a joyless slog and there’s something wholly refreshing about that. Theron is once again outstandingly gritty and as real as you might hope, which given her prominent association as a goddess of beauty for Christian Dior commercials is a feat in itself. Tully is a rare thing – a good film that’s asking you to take better care of yourself.


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