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Mary Magdalene review : boasts a lot of stillness, dignity and beauty

Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix star in Garth Davis film Mary Magdalene. Check out Drew’s review!

Drew Turney

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Director:

Garth Davis

Cast:

Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tahar Rahim

Run time:

120 mins

Rating:

A couple of reviews called this movie dusty, stuffy and even boring – too genteel to really throw any philosophical cats amongst the pigeons of how history views “Mary Magdalene”.

You can see where the criticisms were coming but they’re a little unfair. You might find yourself responding more to it like you would a painting. It has a real fabric to it – the sand and rough, scratchy surfaces the clothes were made from quite tactile – and a lot of stillness, dignity and beauty. I think it might say more about today’s movie audiences weaned on the teat of comic book movies, video games and switching between apps at the first sign of disengagement than any real fault in the movie itself.

Or maybe movies have just trained us to expect what Pauline Kael once described with the phrase ‘kiss kiss, bang bang’ – movement, high passion and ferocity. “Mary Magdalene” has none of that, just thoughtful introspection and a kind of drifting lilt. Just the kind of thing people seemed to hate about Terrence Malick’s last few movies, in fact, but “Mary Magdalene” director Garth Davis doesn’t sacrifice plot for all that stuff to the extent Malick has lately.

The story is about the young Mary (Rooney Mara) going about her life in the fields and fishing grounds, railing so gently against the strictures of first century Judaean society to get married it barely elicits more than a raised eyebrow.

She’s aware of the prophet that’s emerged in the area claiming to be the embodiment of God on Earth and when she meets him and hears him speak, sets about becoming one of his followers to help share his message of peace and acceptance.

And that’s really it. Her fellow disciples receive her into their ranks to varying degrees of acceptance, making the film the feminist tract Mara promised while promoting it. In doing so it also tries to address what director Garth Davis and writers Helen Edmundson and Phillippa Goslet consider a historical inaccuracy, that the other disciples’ rejection of Mary because of her gender was conflated throughout history so much some Middle Ages Pope simply decided she was a prostitute.

But as this movie rightly points out (according to the New Testament history), she was the only witness among Jesus’ disciples to witness his crucifixion, burial and resurrection, so she seemed to have a special place among them.

And Jesus himself (Joaquin Phoenix, in one of the roles he seemed born to play) seems similarly aware of how special Mary is, affording her extra privilege to his ideas and sharing seemingly more of a personal bond than with the other disciples. Phoenix plays the role like Mara plays Mary and the film itself unfurls – with a mood many will see as ineffectual, impenetrable and obscured but which is actually gentle, loving and peaceful.

Where Mel Gibson wanted to show the blood and brutality of this story and era in “The Passion of the Christ”, Davis is more interested in the soft-focus, muted sense of grace and contemplation. Go into it with that spirit and there’s a lot to like.

Film Reviews

Child’s Play review : Surprise! It’s good!

“Child’s Play” is running on higher-powered batteries than most will expect!

Caffeinated Clint

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An idea that proved itself so preposterously superfluous (considering the original franchise continues… and thrives!), spurs surprise with an update that’s not redundant or forgettable but fresh, impressive and worthwhile. Now all you’ve gotta to do is get past that niggly feeling that you’re cheating on the ‘other’ Chucky– hard, I know, he’s been so good to have us over the past 30 years.

Seth Grahame-Smith and David Katzenberg, producers of “Stephen King’s IT” redo, follow the same rule book here : add to the story we know, while throwing in some adroit new twists, and douse it all in a beautifully-shot, flair-doused look.

Furthermore, and like their successful update of “IT”, ‘KatzSmith’ have hired a filmmaker – in Lars Klevberg – that’s ostensibly out to make a theme park attraction – a fast moving, nerve-destroying thrill ride. You might also throw-up on occasion too (there’s gore… oh yes, there’s gore!).

Appropriately described as a ‘reimagining’, “Child’s Play” essentially tells the same yarn as the original – young single mother (Aubrey Plaza) gifts her son (Gabriel Bateman) a doll, albeit one that ends up killing people – but flips the switch on the core characters.

Firstly, Chucky, the deadly dolly, is now ‘evil’ only because he’s been fed a modified A.I chip. He’s the way he is because of humanoid boo-boo.

Young Andy is much older here – on the cusp of going through puberty – and so he’s at a much different place, with much different interests, to his ‘80s counterpart. He’s also got a band of young friends, all fixated on Chucky and using his ‘skills’ to their gain and delight, that he kicks around with.

Gabriel Bateman as ‘Andy’ in “Child’s Play”

Mike (Brian Tyree Henry), the kindly cop who helps take Chucky down, now only gets caught up in the situation because his mother lives down the hall from the two leads. Chucky’s victims – and would-be victims – are also different this time around, with everyone from a kindly old woman to the mother’s scumbag boyfriend on the doll’s sh*t list.

So yes, while the bones of Tyler Burton Smith’s script derives from Don Mancini’s original “Child’s Play” (1988) template, it’s also determined to carve from its own utensil drawer — not only updating the story to reflect today’s real-world fears but by changing many elements of the story so that it plays fresh and unpredictable.

The result is a film that plays not so much the morose killer doll flick from 1988, but a fun, bloody expose on the danger of technology (particularly apple’s all-linked smart technology) interlaced with the fun of “Short Circuit”, the spiffy-looking horror of the abovesaid “IT” and the macabre goofiness of Wes Craven’s “Deadly Friend” (1986).

Chucky, too, is a completely different beast than he is in Tom Holland’s film (and the countless sequels). And it’s not just his origin story and look that’s different, but his motivation (to protect his ‘best friend’ as opposed to thieving his soul) and personality – here, he’s more screw loose ‘Johnny 5’, a doll that knows no better, than killer-ingrained. “Star Wars” fave Mark Hamill is a perfect fit for the doll too, providing a voice that exemplifies the cutesy naivety of the character while also turning ‘devil’ mode up to 11 when the mayhem sets in.

Where the film loses steam is in it’s casting. With Catherine Hicks’ Karen Barclay (in the original) such a delightful, inspiring easy-to-root-for heroine, it’s slightly disappointing that Plaza’s version comes across only as a slightly irresponsible, white trash mother who is more interested in savouring an unhealthy relationship, than being there for her distressed son. Considering the third-act is built largely around Andy having to come to his mother’s rescue, it would’ve worked better had the latter been written and consequently played more affectionately. In this take, you won’t much have her back.

Aubrey Plaza and Gabriel Bateman in “Child’s Play”

Some of the other supporting parts – in particular Henry’s underwritten officer Mike – are also not as well-written or fleshed out as they needed to be. When there’s no ‘care factor’ for the characters we’re supposed to barrack for, the film becomes less of a story we’re involved in and more of an impressive effects showreel.

What “Child’s Play” 2019 – “It”, Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”, David Cronenberg’s “The Fly”, Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” and very, very few other horror updates – prove is that two incarnations of the same property can successfully exist, entertain and appeal in the same world so long as they’re both ladled from different ingredients and sprinkled with disparate trimmings.

In this case, the original ’88 flick is still superior – because it was so ground-breaking for it’s time, also genuinely frightening, but also it was easier to invest it’s characters – but you’ll be surprised how onboard with “Child’s Play” (2019) you will be.

Heck, maybe Chucky 1.0 and Chucky 2.0 can meet on screen sometime in the future?

The horror surprise of the year, “Child’s Play” is running on higher-powered batteries than most will expect.

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Film Reviews

Toy Story 4 review : unique and fun adventure

How does the 4th entry into the franchise stack up?

K.T Simpson

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It’s not often that a 4th film in a franchise will add any value to the preceding films, but here we have the exception. In what is a surprising entry to the franchise, “Toy Story 4” is a unique and fun adventure that all audiences can enjoy, and take something from.

Returning to the big screen are our old favourites Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and Jessie (Joan Cusack) – among many other familiar faces. “Toy Story 4” introduces a couple of key new characters to the franchise, notably the spare-no-expense Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), both being particular stand-outs in the story. Forky is created by Bonnie at kindergarten, using literal items of trash from the bin in her classroom. Consequently, Forky considers himself garbage and continually tries to escape the toys and back into the bin. Unfortunately for him, Bonnie has developed quite an attachment to the spork, and so Woody takes it upon himself to protect Forky and ensure he knows his worth as a toy – and more than just trash. It’s kind of a cute little moral really, but the “Toy Story” franchise is full of life lessons that hit home for adults as well as the kiddies that watch.

Setting upon a roadtrip with her toys in tow, Bonnie keeps Forky close to her chest but during the night he escapes out the window, so Woody jumps out after him to bring him back to the RV. Thus begins the great adventure of the duo trying to reach Bonnie and the crew before they are lost forever. Among the bright lights of a local carnival, an antique store that is sure to give a few kids nightmares and an RV van with many a nook and cranny, the big wide world proves to be a challenging navigation for the toys, as they attempt to get their pals back safe and sound.

“Toy Story 4” is more than just a story of lost toys – while it will appeal to the kids on a level of imagining a world where their toys have a life outside of being just a toy, it also will hit the feels on the level of friendships, chasing lost connections and being accepting of everyone despite their differences. You can always rely on a “Toy Story” film to hit you straight in the feels, so take some tissues if you’re prone to shedding a tear over the ironic amount of heart these toys all have.

The voice cast of “Toy Story 4” are, as always, incredible, and if you had any doubts on the validity of a toy made from a plastic spork – think again, as Forky is a worthy addition to the cast. The familiar tunes of Randy Newman’s music are welcomed with open arms, as what’s a “Toy Story” film without him? The best part of a kids’ film is the nods they give to the adult audiences, and you’ll get that in a cameo from Mel Brooks, Betty White, Carol Burnett and Carl Reiner, voicing abandoned toys.

“Toy Story 4” is a true gem of a family film, providing true heart-warming tales and a hefty dose of humour and entertainment. I’d even go as far as saying this is my favourite film in the franchise – in short, don’t miss it!

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Film Reviews

Men in Black : International review : MIB meets MIB 3

Caffeinated Clint checks out the “Men in Black” reboot, opening this week

Caffeinated Clint

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Bush-era sci-fi comedy series “Men in Black” – as equally well known for its groundbreaking special effects as it is that song (The good guys dress in black, remember that, just in case we ever face to face and make contact. The title held by me, MIB) – gets the unyielding trendy reboot treatment courtesy the same shingle that thought it a solid idea to refresh “Ghostbusters”, “The Karate Kid” and “RoboCop” (and next, “Charlie’s Angels” – out in November).

Don’t fret. Fortunately, most audience members who found some of those redos wretchedly painful to sit through won’t ask to be neutralized here.

While Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’ beautifully timed, and completely charming shades-adorned duo are nowhere to be seen in ”Men in Black : International”, that same drive to focus largely on the witty banter and palpable, enjoyable bond between our heroes makes a welcome return.

As Agents H and M, respectively, Chris Hemsworth (ever so good at comedy, as evident in “Thor Ragnarok” and this year’s “Avengers Endgame”, with his work in 2016’s “Ghostbusters” also that film’s only few funny moments) and Tessa Thompson (a versatile up-and-comer who previously costarred with Hemsworth in the aforesaid superhero jaunts), have a Fonz and Richie chemistry that works so effortlessly well due to both the resourceful acting capabilities of the twosome, as well as Matt Holloway & Art Marchum‘s clever, amusing dialogue.

Seems the MIB have now agencies around the world – and new recruit M (Tessa Thompson, always ‘Jackie’ from “Veronica Mars” to me) is about to discover just how fast she can get to her newly assigned post at the UK branch.

There, she’s teamed with celebrated Agent H (Hemsworth) and the pair set out to trek a new alien threat – that can take the form of anyone (hint hint) – that has them dashing about London, Paris, and Morocco.

Their beginning moments beautifully mapped out, and their early scenes together both giggle and awe-worthy, Hemsworth and Thompson unquestionably pass muster as the new leads of the billion-dollar franchise.

Coupled with some very ingenious early twists and some wonderfully-visualized action sequences, it’s fun getting to know agents H and M.

Just as soon as one is ready to count down the days to the sequel, the crumbs start to pour off the loaf.

Suggesting an abundance of studio notes and the inability to come up with an ending as fun as its beginning, the film’s pacey, fresh and very enjoyable first half slowly transitions into a rather ho-hum, forced (especially true where a cute pint-sized alien creature named ‘Pawny’ comes into play) and unexciting second hour. If you will, what begins as the super successful “Men in Black” becomes the messy “Men in Black 3”.

To look at it another way, the film nails the pilot episode – the introductions, that first meeting, that first case – but when it’s first episode rolls out, it’s clear someone’s forget to turn their iPhone alarm off silent the morning of the brainstorming sesh for the third act.

While Hemsworth and Thompson manage to salvage most of the movie, their better known co-stars aren’t much help.

Sure, it’s great to see the always-dependable Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson, here playing the heads of the organization on respective sides of the pond, but director F.Gary Gray (no match for Barry Sonnenfeld, director of the original trilogy) and his wordsmiths have lean, unremarkable portions for them here. Neeson, especially, is introduced as one of the more intriguing characters in the newly rejigged universe but ultimately is reduced to little more than a hot prop.

Rebecca Ferguson, too, is under utilized in a quick part as one of Agent H’s former flames and a villain.

And don’t even get me started on the twins that played the ostensible rogues of the movie. Were they as confused by their motivation in the movie as the audience?

Still, even when the chips are down, there’s still enough lively, fun-looking stuff going on on the floor to spur punters from getting up out of their seat.

In short : There’s fun here, mostly thanks to the film’s cheery, dynamic duo, and some admirable effects gags, but even that level of firepower isn’t a match for the dreaded studio bean counter with the inane ideas.

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