The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

Review: Peter Rabbit

Peter Rabbit movie poster

Aww bunnies!

Based on characters from Beatrix Potter’s famous series, this film is adorable, witty, cute and sassy.

And then it gets weird.

But let’s start at the beginning. Peter and his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail, along with cousin Benjamin Bunny, are adept at raiding Mr McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden for food. They are cared for by neighbour Bea (Rose Byrne), who loves the rabbits and protects them from Mr McGregor’s pie dish. The old man dies, leaving his manor and farm to pompous great-nephew Thomas McGregor (Domnhall Gleeson).

Cue romantic subplot and a Home Alone– bunny-style war later, and the whole charming film turns into a complete wreck.

The characters are adorable. There’s jokes for older kids, a few laughs, plenty of sass and a rockin’ soundtrack… Until the halfway point, where it’s entirely acceptable to turn off the film and read the source material instead. The film changes direction so abruptly, your head will spin. You’ll be wondering what happened to the plot and the charm you’ve been enjoying for the past forty minutes. Once the film’s story changes, there’s no going back. Whilst the first half of the film is near-perfect, the latter half feels forced, almost like the writers ran out of cute ideas and literally pulled dialogue out of a hat populated with ideas from the local kindergarten. It’s plain disappointing how badly this film ends.

6 out of 10 popcorns

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April 25, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Annihilation

Annihilation movie

Annihilation is a Netflix film starring Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. They lead a team of kick-ass females into the Shimmer- a strange and mysterious dome which is threatening to take over everything.

Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former Army officer whose husband arrives home from a secret mission but he’s not quite himself. Soon afterwards, her hubby suffers multiple organ failure and Lena finds herself in the offices of Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is organising a trip to the Shimmer to find out WTF is going on. Naturally Lena also volunteers and, together with three other women, trek into the unknown.

According to IMDB, the film is based on a book which the screenwriter only loosely remembers, and interprets his script as “a dream of the book”. Certainly the cinematography is dream-like in the same way the Land of Oz was dreamlike to Dorothy, but with fewer Munchkins. What follows is a visual delight with some butt-kicking and a pretty thin plot. However, it’s enough to keep viewers hooked right til the end.

There are very few male characters in the film, and they are all secondary characters. The women don’t sit around talking about their men nor do they belittle their males either. It’s refreshing and awesome to see a film carried solely on the weight of an all-female lead cast; Natalie Portman is a perfect choice for Lena and carries the character beautifully.

The main issue I have with this film is the lack of intense plot: it could have been deeper, more twisted, to keep the viewer guessing. The film’s ending is barely satisfactory and astute viewers probably know what’s going to happen about halfway through the movie. (I didn’t.)

I’d recommend this for a date night or when your brain is too tired to concentrate too hard.

7.5 out of 10 popcorns.

March 26, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Downsizing

Film: Downsizing starring Matt Damon

If you’ve seen the trailer for this film, you’ll know it’s about Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig choosing to become smaller for the sake of saving the environment. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know 3/4 of the film is nothing like the trailer at all.

This film could have been so many great things: biting satire, social commentary, political statement, hilarious comedy, bleak drama. Instead, the film is rather like three separate stories smooshed into one very strange film. The premise of becoming small in order to preserve the environment is an intriguing idea, but unfortunately it only lasts for a quarter of the film. The rest of the film could be set in any time, any circumstance and has nothing to do with being small. Or anything else for that matter.

Even if you’re a fan of Matt Damon, as I am, this film offers very little. Give it a very wide berth.

4 out of 10 popcorns (and that’s being generous).

March 10, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Coco

Disney’s Coco

Finally got round to seeing this film and it was worth the wait!

Coco centres on a boy named Miguel, who is descended from a line of shoe-makers who really, really hate music. Believing he has found an ancestral link to the greatest musician of all time, Miguel somehow ends up in the Land of the Dead. In order to get back to the Land of the Living, he needs his family’s blessing but they forbid him to play music, leaving Miguel no choice but to track down the musician Ernesto de la Cruz to secure his blessing.

There are passing resemblances to the story of Moana; family denying destiny, a strong-willed child travelling to new worlds, a male role model showing them the road home and realising the person they were looking for isn’t the person they seek.

Astute viewers are going to realise the ending long before it happens, but that does not spoil the magic. Tis film just keeps on giving: even on the second, third and subsequent viewings you’ll find something else, which only adds to the beauty.

This film was nominated for, and won, two Oscars: Best Animated Feature and Best Song for Remember Me. Personally I wasn’t a fan of the song, and without seeing the other nominees for Best Animated Feature, it would be very difficult to imagine a better film to win.

I can’t say enough good things about Coco. Go and watch it for yourself.

9 out of 10 popcorns

March 10, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 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: La La Land

la la land

Hollywood loves films about itself, which explains why La La Land was nominated for a slew of awards. Arguably, its most famous moment was the non-winning of Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. Warren Beatty shoulda gone to SpecSavers…

Emma Stone plays Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress. Ryan Golsing plays Sebastian, a jazz pianist who pays the bills by sticking to the setlist at a club. They meet, fall in love, dance among the stars, break up… Usual film fodder.

On one hand, I loved the film. I love musicals and ‘old Hollywood’. La La Land appealed to me on those levels. On the other hand, I felt it was overrated. Emma Stone gave a good performance, but I don’t think it’s worthy of an Oscar. Ryan Gosling seemed distracted the whole way through, except for the last ten minutes when he really shone.

The technical aspects were fantastic. The difference between Mia’s bright, bold colours and Sebastian’s dulled hues along with visual clues harking back to Old Hollywood was brilliant. For a musical, it lost it completely in the middle of the film when their relationship wasn’t doing so well. Sure, I understand that singing and dancing only happens when joy is present, but this is billed as a musical yet lacks any of the painful emotions expressed in music. Let’s face it: break up songs are much more interesting than love songs.

The twist at the end was original and one of the most interesting narrative devices I have seen. It was probably the most interesting thing about the movie, to be honest.

I’m torn. The story itself was tired and cliched, buoyed by singing and dancing and a twist at the end. Because I love that kind of thing, plus production values, it scores 7.5 popcorns.

April 24, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Beauty and the Beast: Review

Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…

You know how it goes.

This is a live action remake of 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, which holds the distinction of being the only feature length animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars; after that, a separate category was introduced for Best Animated Feature. Will this remake be a contender for next year’s awards?

Emma Watson’s Belle is something of a feminist. She’s the only woman in the village who can read, and is an inventor as well. She’s smart, which the villagers think is a little odd. Apparently, Ms Watson refused to wear a corset for the film, and had creative input into some of her character. Belle’s dress is hitched up tomboy-style frequently, so this Belle is not the ultra feminine princess we’ve come to know. I feel there could have been more, maybe Belle telling Gaston not only was she not thinking about children, but she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend either, let alone husband. But, this is a provincial French village where girls were probably married at puberty, so I may be asking too much.

In fact, Disney seem to be thinking themselves quite progressive: they’ve confirmed LeFou is gay (although there is nothing explicit in the film, it’s rather like Smithers and Mr Burns in The Simpsons) and there are interracial relationships. However, they also used cross dressing as a punchline, which I subtracted a full mark for.

All the songs one has grown up with appear in the new film along with a few new ones and extra lyrics written, but not used, in the 1991 version. Be Our Guest was the highlight of the film. Emma Watson can sing, handling the singing & acting seamlessly. Josh Gad as LeFou almost stole his scenes; he’s certainly been the face of the film’s promotion during the past few weeks. Visually, the film is gorgeous with sweeping cinematography. Technically, I found the direction a little clunky in places. I’m probably the only person who noticed, though.

It’s yet another Disney live action remake we didn’t need. I didn’t love Cinderella but I did enjoy The Jungle Book. Beauty and the Beast is not terrific, adds little to the beloved classic. I wish Hollywood would come up with some original ideas instead of milking classics for all they’re worth.

6 out of 10 popcorns, having lost a mark for using cross-dressing as a punchline.

March 23, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Jurassic World

Welcome back to Isla Nublar!

We’re twenty years on from Jurassic Park, the failed attempt at the world’s best new theme park. Jurassic World is the successor, and much more successful than the Park. In this world, dinosaurs are passé, so to bring in more tourists and more investors, the Lab are cooking up something special: a hybrid dino that no one has ever seen before!

What could go wrong?

It’s everything you love about Jurassic Park, but updated. There’s new characters, new rides, new attractions and new dinosaurs. And of course, there’s dinosaurs eating people. That’s what you came to see, right?

I felt the movie took itself a bit too seriously in some places, but overall it kept a very tongue-in-cheek look at itself and its predecessor (the Park; there’s no mention of The Lost World or Jurassic Park 3). Befitting for a movie (and theme park) of this size, there are plenty of sponsors. At one point I thought it was going to be called Samsung’s Jurassic World. The product placement was a little too obvious.

Bryce Dallas Howard was brilliant. Wait, she was supposed to be an android, right? No? Well, she could definitely play one. Chris Pratt was the typical all-American hero and not too hard on the eyes either. The kids, Zach and Gray, were thrown in for good measure because everyone loves a know-it-all genius 7 year old and his hormonal teenage brother.

It’s good, but not awesome. The CGI did exactly what it was supposed to do: create a world that looks and feels real (I’m led to believe that no dinosaurs were harmed in the making of the film). It’s definitely a Jurassic Park for the next generation.

7 out of 10 popcorns.

June 17, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Comparison: WWII Movies

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas vs Sophie’s Choice

Yesterday, I watched Sophie’s Choice. Released in 1982 and based on the novel of the same name, the film has become part of the lexicon, something quoted or referenced in multitudes of other media (including The Simpsons).

Synopsis: A young Southern writer, Stingo, moves in with Sophie and her schizophrenic lover, Nathan. The three form a tight friendship and when Sophie needs time out from Nathan, she confides in Stingo about her days in Auschwitz. At the end of the film, she confesses a terrible secret to Stingo.

(Before you watch the clip, have a box of tissues ready. You have been warned!)

Meryl Streep won an Oscar for her portrayal of Sophie. It was well deserved; by the middle of the film I’d forgotten I was watching Meryl Streep and was completely absorbed in Sophie as a Polish immigrant.

Sophie is a deeply flawed character. She’s lived through immense grief, guilt and terrible hardships to become the person she is today. She’s offset by Nathan, who is lying to her about his job and hiding his mental condition. Nathan tells people he is a research biologist on the brink of something huge in the pharmacy world. His brother, an actual medical doctor, informs Stingo that Nathan is, in fact, nothing more than a librarian at the lab, although he does occasionally help with researching something for the biologists.

If you watched the clip above, you’ll see why this film is deeply distressing and harrowing. It scores 9/10 on the depressing scale.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is also based on a novel. It tells the story of two young boys who become friends depite being on different sides of the war. Bruno is the son of a Commandant under Hitler’s rule. His family move to within a few miles of a concentration camp (never mentioned, but assumed to be Auschwitz). When exploring one day, he comes across Schmuel, a Jewish boy locked in the camp with his family. The two boys become friends, meeting a tragic end.

What makes this film so tragic is Bruno’s innocence. He’s nine years old, calls the Fuhrer ‘The Fury’ and wonders why his new friend Schmuel wears striped pyjamas. His father, entertaining dignitaries, views a movie showing everyday life at the camp. Children are laughing and playing, there’s a cafe where the Jews can eat as much as they want, when they want, and generally speaking, life is very good. With this vision in mind, Bruno is all too willing to help his friend look for his father. Shortly after their search begins, they’re caught up in the latest haul to the “showers”. The final moments, when everything falls silent, are harrowing. It rates 8/10 of the depressing scale.

Where Sophie’s emotion comes from Eva screaming as she’s taken away, Bruno and Schmuel’s silence has the same effect. Both films show the war as not just for the Jews. Sophie, a Polish Catholic, is caught in the same lose-lose situation as Bruno and Schmuel find themselves in. Sophie’s choice was one that she could never win. Bruno and Schmuel were innocent, they didn’t know til the last seconds what was happening to them. Bruno had seen the smoke and smelled the burning flesh of the cremations of disposal after the gas chambers. His choice was simply to help his friend, leaving his father living with guilt for the rest of his life. (I wonder what happened to that family after Bruno’s death?)

Sophie was a victim of the war despite emerging alive. She had basically sold her soul; not only giving up her child but being forced to flirt with the Commandant to see her remaining child freed. Schmuel is Jewish, with no hope of escape or rescue. Bruno is living a life of privilege, and without meeting Schmuel, would probably have survived the war without ever knowing what his father was really up to.

In any case, both films expand one’s view of the war. It’s not simply between Germany and the Jews. Nothing is ever that simple.

June 17, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment