The World According to Renee

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Review: Dumbo (2019)

Dumbo 2019

I had high hopes and low expectations for the new version of Dumbo. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of remakes/reimagining/reboots and I can take or leave Tim Burton.

The trailer looked dark, with a haunting rendition of Baby Mine, which is one of the most iconic scenes in the 1941 animated version. So, I wasn’t really expecting too much from the “live action” film. And by “live action”, I mean mostly CGI. (What?!? They didn’t train a baby elephant to fly???).

We begin our story with Mrs Jumbo in a dilapidated circus. There are definite throwbacks to the animated film, many symbolic of the story’s original telling. For example, in the 1942 classic, a stork brings baby Dumbo to Mrs Jumbo. In 2019, the audience is smart enough to know that babies don’t come from storks so a stork symbolically lands on the elephant carriage and bingo, baby Dumbo is discovered the next morning. The biggest omission from the animated film is Timothy Q. Mouse, Dumbo’s friend and mentor. Timothy’s role is mostly taken by two human children, Milly and Joe. Let me digress for a moment: Milly is a girl interested in science and wants to use science to not only make the world better, but show everyone else what science can do. It’s girl power at its very finest.

Around a third of the way through the film, we change direction. If you recall, the original Dumbo ran for just over an hour. Something is needed to update the story and stretch it out to double that time. Enter Michael Keaton as a villain. He wants to buy Dumbo and the circus troupe and take them all to his mega theme park as his new star attraction. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money, however (naturally) everything goes wrong. As far as villains go, V. A. Vandermere is pretty soft. But that’s OK, we’re not here to see villainy. Give us the flying elephant!

There are several key scenes in 1941’s Dumbo that would not translate well to a modern audience. In the very beginning of the film, African American slaves are hoisting the circus tent and the song they sing is rather racist. The black crows at the end of the film are also considered racist, so to add them into a 2019 film is just plain unacceptable. Nineteen forty one Dumbo may be a reflection of the time, but it is most certainly not now. Another questionable scene is Dumbo getting drunk and visualising the pink elephants on parade. Now, this colourful scene is one of my favourites, but obviously you can’t go around glorifying drunkenness. Tim Burton gets around this by having dancers create the pink elephant shapes with (CGI) bubbles. It’s beautiful, if not as memorable as the original scene.

Ultimately, this story focuses on human characters rather than Dumbo’s story as seen through the eyes of Timothy Mouse. Personally, I think this makes the film lacking in emotional punch as Dumbo takes his first flight and ultimately realises he doesn’t need the feather to fly. The interspersed story with his mother kind of lacks the feel-good ending of the original; in this one we know the two elephants end up reunited whereas in the original, it was a lovely surprise to see them at the end of the circus train together.

There are the usual Disney tropes of parental separation; the children’s mother died in the flu epidemic of 1918, their father has just returned from war, and obviously Dumbo and Mrs Jumbo being separated. Does any of this add to the story? Dumbo and Mrs Jumbo: absolutely. Without them, there is no story. The Farrier family? I’m gonna say no, although it is a cute parallel to Dumbo’s experience and helps the kids realise he needs his mother just as they need theirs. Aww.

7 out of 10 popcorns.


April 2, 2019 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Hello, my name is Renee and I am a fan of the Harry Potter universe.

I am not a fan of milking franchises just for the hell of it, nor am I a fan of films taking an exceedingly long time to get to the point. Both of these things are rife in this new instalment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, a prequel series to Harry Potter.

This film picks up about six months after the events of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Grindelwald escapes from the US Ministry of Magic, and after that, things get a bit muddled.

There’s a large cast of characters, from young Dumbledore to Nicholas Flamel to the returning four main characters from the previous film to a human form of Nagini… and a few others whom I had no idea who they were or why they were there.

The beauty of the Harry Potter books and films was that each one was a story in itself as well as part of a bigger arc. In contrast, the Fantastic Beasts films are stupidly long forays into a much bigger arc that will hopefully be revealed somewhere in movie 457 which will be released in about 20 years.

This particular film takes over two hours of visually stunning filmmaking to tell very little plot. The whole point of the movie is revealed literally in the last 10 seconds. Everything else is just dull filler. It’s akin to listening to a whole album to hear the magnificent hidden track right at the end.

JK Rowling is a fantastic storyteller. She’s captured millions of fans with good narrative. This is not going to win any new fans and, judging by the reviews on IMDB, might lose unite a few fans. She has stated the prequel series will span around 20 years, ending with the epic battle between Grindelwald and Dumbledore. But, as this point, I honestly couldn’t care less. There’s obviously bad blood between them, but I can’t believe (at this point) that Dumbledore is capable of killing someone. (That’s not a spoiler; if you’ve read the original Harry Potter books, you already know exactly what happened.)

I walked out of the cinema disappointed and angry at wasting time and money watching this over-long, pathetic yet very pretty, attempt at raking in more money for the sake of it. The film adds nothing to the narrative save for the last 10 seconds, and even then you’re likely to walk out wondering what the hell is going on.

Give this film a miss and read a summary on Wikipedia.

3 out of 10 popcorns.

November 19, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: A Star is Born (2018)

A star is born movie poster

Did we need another A Star is Born?

Bradley Cooper directs and stars in this third adaptation of the story featuring a young ingenue who becomes a star after being discovered by a fading rockstar. Lady Gaga stars as Ally, the young waitress who is discovered by Cooper’s Jackson Maine, whilst performing in a drag bar.

Cue a cliched story with terrible dialogue and an awful screenplay. It’s like a first year screen student read The Big Book Of Movie Cliches and thought, “hey, this is full of great ideas!” The direction is only slightly better. There are scenes which don’t go anywhere, characters that appear and disappear with no reason, and cuts to scenes which have no point being in the film. And did I mention the dialogue is atrocious?

The only redeeming features of this film are Lady Gaga and the songs. Surprisingly, Ms Gaga can actually act and while the viewer knows she is already a superstar, her character Ally shows a vulnerability and shyness that Lady Gaga quite convincingly pulls off. Gaga also wrote several songs for the film and performs them beautifully. Bradley Cooper does his best but it is clearly Gaga’s film. Bradley Cooper seems miscast as the fading rocker, and lacks chemistry with Gaga.

If you’re a fan of Lady Gaga, definitely see this film. If not, just listen to the soundtrack on Spotify.

5 out of 10 popcorns.

November 12, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: I, Tonya

Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya

There are two sides to every story.

Everyone knows the scandal: Tonya Harding served a life ban in figure skating for knowledge of an attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan. If, like me, you only know of the scandal and not the nitty gritty, you’ll view most of this film as an eye-rolling attempt at making Tonya look like the victim.

And this film absolutely portrays Tonya Harding as a victim. A rough childhood, raised by a single mother, suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her first husband, unfair scores from skating judges because she’s not “America’s Sweetheart” material… Tonya came through it all.

Then comes The Incident. Tonya’s ex-husband Jeff and self-appointed bodyguard Shawn cook up a plan to send threatening letters to Nancy Kerrigan as psychological warfare in the lead up to the Nationals, on the path to the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. Someone somewhere doesn’t get the memo and Nancy is struck on her knee. Tonya is implicated as knowing about the plot to disable Nancy. Whether or not it really happened this way is anyone’s guess; the director has deliberately left it up to the viewer to judge.

But enough of that. Let’s get to the film. Alison Janney steals her scenes as overbearing mother LoVana. Janney rightfully won the Oscar for Actress in a Supporting Role. Margot Robbie is brilliant as Tonya; nailing that redneck attitude and accent. No one would ever guess she’s an Aussie. Robbie was also nominated for an Oscar. Personally I think Robbie’s wigs deserve nominations of their own. That crunchy perm look is perfect.

The film itself doesn’t follow a traditional narrative. It is based on several interviews with Jeff and Tonya, which often contradict. Characters regularly break the fourth wall to let the viewer know this or that may not have happened.

There are times when the audience does feel for Tonya despite knowing all along that she’s allegedly behind the attack. After a spate of disappointing scores, Tonya confronts a judge as he’s getting into his car. She’s at the peak of her skating career yet still receiving disappointing scores. The judge replies that he will deny this, but Tonya just isn’t the wholesome, family-oriented girly girl they expect. As an aside, I viewed this film on International Womens’ Day. This particular scene really struck a chord with me about how a female’s narrative is supposed to happen and what is expected of us. The second scene is Tonya applying makeup before a competition. As she’s smearing on the stage makeup (which is heavier than regular makeup), she’s trying very hard to smile though she’s obviously crying. Anyone who has ever smiled through tears will feel this scene.

Overall, the film is well-made. It is one-sided: Nancy’s story would be vastly different. However, this is firmly Tonya’s story and should be viewed as such. There’s no denying Tonya has had a rough life, but the film present Tonya as an innocent party to knowledge and execution of the attack.

8 out of 10 popcorns

March 8, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Party

Janet has been elected Shadow Minister, with hopes to one day become England’s Prime Minister. To celebrate, she throws a dinner party with her nearest and dearest. Of course, everything goes wrong.

Despite the cliched premise of secrets spilled during a dinner party, this is a very good film. The story is tight and very well acted by a stellar cast; very unusually for a film, the entire cast is made up of just seven people. No extras, no narrator, no one lead character. Ensemble casts are quite uncommon in feature films so it’s a credit to the screenwriter/director and the cast to pull off the feat.

Writer/director Sally Potter also chose another unusual quality for this film: it is shot in black and white. As a film student, I am able to appreciate the lighting to reflect the narrative, highlighting whichever cast member is spilling a secret at that moment. Very well done.

If you’re a fan of dark comedies or any of these actors, this film is definitely worth a viewing.

8 out of 10 popcorns.

January 28, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Kite Runner (film)

Please note that this post contains spoilers.

I think I’ve finally worked out why novels don’t translate to the screen (with few exceptions). When you have a novel that is so entrenched with internal dialogue, it’s impossible to carry that to a film. Not only do you have time constraints, you also have limited characters to move it along (unless you want a narrator, which makes the film very wordy). This is, I believe, the main reason this film doesn’t work. The novel was harrowing, following Amir’s internal anguish over events which the film doesn’t accurately portray. There’s no connection to the story, no ability to follow how one things leads to the next.

The film is disjointed, as is the novel. However, if you’ve not read the novel I think you lose the hows and whys of this linear disconnection. The other main issue I have with the film is that there’s no feeling there; it’s as if the actors turned up, said their lines and disappeared for the day. There’s no connection between the actors or the characters. They are lost in a jumble of Farsi. I liked that the film was mostly in Farsi, with English subtitles as it added to the authenticity of the setting. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends for me. Amir seems trapped in a predestined script (well, obviously he is… but in the novel his journey was much more organic and flowing). All the important scenes and dialogue are there but towards the end, there are some major bits omitted so the ending feels rushed. If you haven’t read the novel, you’ll probably get to the end and wonder what the hell just happened. Even if you have read the novel, you’ll probably get to the end and wonder what the hell just happened.

None of the beauty of the novel is preserved. The film doesn’t have time to stop and smell these roses that create the Afghan world. Obviously filming in Afghanistan is nigh impossible and the imagery created in my mind is not going to be translated to the screen, but I still felt Amir’s world was inaccurately portrayed.

Forget the film, read the book.

5 out of 10 popcorns.

February 15, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Tomorrow When the War Began

This was a much loved book when I was in high school, and ever since 1996, they’ve been planning a movie. Now, finally, it’s here!

Seven teenagers take a trip into Hell, a little-known camping place amongst rough terrain. It’s a week away together before school starts, a chance to unwind before the seriousness of their final year begins. Have a few laughs, some silly summer romances, all the two minute noodles you can eat. One night, they are woken by jets flying overhead and when they come back to their houses, no one is home. The dogs are dead, the phones and electricity have been cut. Soon they find all their houses the same. A war has begun, their country has been invaded.

During the first twenty minutes, I thought it was one of the worst movies I’d ever seen. It was cliched, juvenile and silly. The characters weren’t as I imagined and a lot was left out. Then, the war began and it quickly turned into a very good movie. Even though I’ve read all the books and know what eventuates with each character, I was still biting my nails waiting to see what happened next. Wisely, the romance was largely omitted in favour of more explosions, which kept the movie’s momentum from falling into its own version of Hell. The cast really have nothing to offer although Deniz Akdeniz is a standout and will definitely go a long way.

Unfortunately, this brings me to the reasons I didn’t particularly love this film. For some reason, everyone sounded like they have the clipped accent of the English, not the rural Australia they live in. They are completely unbelievable as country dwellers and the first scenes of Ellie (Caitlin Stasey) doing every day farm activities was laughable. It was as if young Sydneysiders were appearing in an episode of The Simple Life. The explosions, although plentiful, were clearly enhanced by pyrotechnics and CGI. This in itself isn’t a huge issue but added to the unbelievable atmosphere plaguing the film.

The cinematography was outstanding, but then again, I am a little biased considering the scenes in and round Hell were shot in my hometown of the Blue Mountains. In fact, Hell itself is in bushland near my mum’s house and I have been there many times on my bushwalks. Still, it was exciting to see it used. The bay and bridge integral to the plot were, alas, computer generated and at times isn’t as seamless as it should be. Even though I know there is no water visible from the area, there is still moments when the characters aren’t blending with the background- a sure sign of green screen CGI. The transition between innocent teenagers to guerillas is as bumpy as it should be considering the circumstances they find themselves in. Yet the cast managed this with some humour, which was refreshing and never out of place.

All in all, if you loved the books, you’ll enjoy the film adaptation. It’s not perfect and incorporates modern speech and technology not available 17 years ago when the novel was written, so perhaps the purists will not love it so much…

3/5 popcorns

September 5, 2010 Posted by | Reviews | , | Leave a comment