The Hole in the Ground – Brand New Trailer!

We love a good horror and The Hole in the Ground looks absolutely terrifying.

The film, based on short Ghost Train by director Lee Cronin, revolves around Sarah who is trying to build her life in a rural town with her son Chris. When an accident happens in the woods, Sarah finds her son asking peculiarly as well as a large sink hole emerging to rip through the town.

This definitely looks to be tense. What do you think?

The Hole in the Ground is out March 1st 

High Flying Bird – Brand New Trailer!

Steven Soderbergh and his so-called retirement has been enjoying some pretty impressive films. Now he heads to Netflix with his latest venture, High Flying Bird. 

The film, shot enitrely on iPhone again, revolves around a sports agent who finds himself in the middle of a face-off between the league and the players.

With Andre Hollandd, Zazie Beats, and Melvin Grigg, this looks to be an intriguing drama. What do you think?

High Flying Bird is out on Netflix February 8th 

A Simple Favour – Review

Paul Feig has made a name for himself producing and directing mostly female led comedies. Acclaimed hits such as Spy and Bridesmaids made it clear that this was a quick-witted man who could craft hilarious movies for everyone to enjoy. Despite gaining so much heat from the severely underrated Ghostbusters movie, Feig is still an accomplished director with an eye on how female dynamics works.

Now he takes his mastermind to dark, mysterious thriller A Simple Favour.

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Based on a book by Jessica Sharzer, who also wrote the screenplay, stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as two mothers, Stephanie and Emily (respectively,) who form an unexpected bond when their children do. Stephanie is a hard-working affable single mother who runs a housewife themed blog whilst Emily is a mysterious PR agent who is blunt and direct. Despite their differences, the pair become friends. Only one day, Emily asks Stephanie for a simple favour to look after her son after school. But when Emily is never seen again, it is up to Stephanie to figure out what has happened to her best friend.

Kendrick and Lively are a superb pairing in this delicious thriller that bite. Kendrick is definitely the stronger player by a smidgen, though, and that’s because she takes the role with absolute gusto. Fast and fevered Stephanie is not just the bubbly mother we see at the beginning, As the darkness and sorrow within her unravels, Kendrick perfectly allows these elements to rise, portraying a woman barely holding on and quick to fall into the wide-open mouth of Lively’s Emily.

Lively is divine as Emily and that’s not just her wardrobe. She bounds into Stephanie’s life with a strange allure and her stand-offish nature combine with this attractive pull that sucks the audience into the world as she does Stephanie. Lively pulls off this character with bountiful secrets to hide and a smart off to deflect the attention.

The film slinks with a great style. Whether that be the French music accompaniment or simply every single one of Blake Lively’s outfits, there is a particular brand here. There’s also a great sense of erotica and as dark secrets resurface, the shallow slickness adds a bit of grit and depth to the proceedings. Twists unravel in a great way, and it’s a lot of fun to follow the plot. A Simple Favour is the peppier and more colourful version of thrillers such as Gone Girl or The Girl On A Train and whilst it deals with a lot of the same pulp, keeping it’s look as different as possible really helps here.

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It’s not an impeccable film and it certainly struggles finding it’s footing after the somewhat stilted Emily reveal. The story does save itself for a raucous entertaining finale but that stumble does not go unnoticed. And as much as he has been delighting audiences in Crazy Rich Asians, novice actor Henry Golding, as Emily’s Husband Sean, falters against the superb double act of Kendrick and Lively,

Still, A Simple Favour is juicy. That term may seem like a bizarre one to use, but it applies here. It is a sweet and sometimes bitter mystery romp that has a slick style and great humour. Like a perfect Martini, it pairs some impressive ingredients and has a wonderful kick to it too.

A Simple Favour is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

Crazy Rich Asians – Review

by Ren Zelen

Having spent twelve years of my life in Hong Kong and Singapore and having heard the buzz around Crazy Rich Asians, I was ready to see the film. If the reaction of the audience at the preview is anything to go by the film is a crowd pleaser. The predominantly Asian audience greeted the cast members present for an introduction and Q&A with hoots of joy and were clearly predisposed to enjoying a story about Asian cultural concerns, their enthusiasm whetted by the overwhelming success the film has enjoyed in the US.

I myself generally don’t frequent rom-coms, and it was reassuring to see that nothing much appears to have changed regarding that genre. The ‘Cinderella’ story of a handsome ‘Prince Charming’ who falls madly in love with an ‘everywoman’ and sweeps her off her feet to marry her into his wealthy, aristocratic family is…ahem…’a tale as old as time’, and in view of recent events, not entirely improbable (1.9 billion people tuned in to watch the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle).

The difference here is that the tale takes place entirely amongst the Chinese Asian community, none of whom actually live in what used to be called ‘Mainland China’ (not sure if Shanghai, being the most cosmopolitan Chinese city, has ever quite counted in that description either).
However, it’s really pretty clear that Crazy Rich Asians isn’t really meant to be a film about fantasy romance or Chinese culture as such, but about ‘bananas’ (‘yellow on the outside, white on the inside’ – their nick-name for the Chinese born and brought up in the West) clashing with the old values of ‘mother China’ that the more traditional Chinese families residing in Asia continue to hold dear.

Rather than a film which hopes to explode cultural preconceptions and stereotypes, Crazy Rich Asians exploits and satirizes them. It starts off having fun with the notion of the ‘old-school British’ being snobby and racist, and then switches to present day New York, where our heroine Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is an (impossibly young) Professor of Economics…of course she is…(not much of an ‘everywoman’ after all).
In contemporary Chinese culture, to be worthy of a favoured ‘prince’, she must have more than beauty and an auspiciously shaped nose – she has to be an academic high-achiever. We find that all the influential wives in Crazy Rich Asians have had an exceptional academic education – and Rachel has too, in spades (there’s a pun there if you’ve seen the film).

However, her expertise is impressive in in a particularly Chinese way – she uses her knowledge of economics and maths to elucidate on…game strategy! It’s the first indication that the film will be dealing with 3 great tenets of Chinese society – Family, money and gambling!

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Rachel’s long-time boyfriend is a historian named Nick Young (Henry Golding – half British and half Malaysian). Rachel accompanies Nick to Singapore for his best friend Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding, and it’s there that Rachel first finds out that Nick is actually the eldest son of the oldest, wealthiest and haughtiest family in Singapore, heir to a real-estate dynasty. He might as well be an actual ‘prince’.

Nick has kept his heritage a secret and has done nothing to prepare Rachel for life in the gaudy, gilded arena of Singaporean-Chinese high-society. She may be a seasoned New Yorker, but here she is a babe in the woods – and the socialite wolves can sniff out a hapless victim. Luckily, Rachel has an old college buddy, the nouveau-riche Singaporean, Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina), to advise her.

Despite her academic achievements, Rachel has been raised by an immigrant single-mother (Kheng Hua Tan) in New York, so these privileged, spoiled and ultra-rich socialites see her as a mere gold-digger who has somehow bagged their most eligible bachelor from under their noses. However, Rachel’s biggest hurdle is Nick’s glamourous, scrupulously well-mannered but coldly formidable mother, Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh).

Crazy Rich Asians is amusingly conscious of its fantasy elements. It offers a world filled with obscene spending sprees, outrageous ostentation, designer dresses, opulent banquets and baubles, where if you have to ask the price of anything, you shouldn’t even be there. It makes gentle fun of the over-the-top displays of wealth, but not too much, after all, its also inspirational.

This film is also a great travel advertisement for the city-state of Singapore. I admit to being biased, having lived there and having much affection for the place and the Singaporean people. However, it’s not quite the city that the film shows us – it’s certainly gorgeous, friendly and futuristic, but it’s also conservative, hardworking, straight-laced and regulatory, and there is barely a passing reference to any of the males in the film having done their compulsory national service! It is not ‘Vegas’ – it is a marvellous mix of Asian cultures and foods, history and science-fiction, and it is distinctly ‘family friendly’.

Singaporean travelogue aside, the most important thing about Crazy Rich Asians is its English-speaking Asian cast. I’ve seen many films about Asians in their native languages, but few about the Asian diaspora. It’s been 25 years since a Hollywood studio has funded a film set in the present-day which features an entirely Asian, Asian-American, Asian-British cast – the last example being The Joy Luck Club (1993). Last year, only four out of the hundred top-grossing films featured an Asian protagonist.

Hollywood is undoubtedly watching the success of the film in order to gauge whether it should green light more Asian-centric projects. The reception for Crazy Rich Asians in the US might indicate there is a huge audience out there, and the universal appeal of this gentle, romantic, silly, sometimes cynical, rags-to-riches fantasy, makes it likely to do well in the international market too.

Crazy Rich Asians is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

The Children Act – Review

There have been a lot of movies lately about religion and how religion can sway someone into doing the wrong thing. Similarly to recent drama Apostasy, The Children Act looks at Jehovah’s Witnesses and how their beliefs can nearly kill.

Directed by Richard Eyre and based on a book by Ian McEwan, The Children Act revolves around Judge Fiona Maye who has been swamped with loads of life altering cases. Her husband, miffed at her isolating behaviour, has decided to conduct an affair – telling her before he does it. After kicking him out, she is handed a case of a young Jehovah’s Witness boy refusing a blood transfusion because of his religion. With her marriage falling apart, Fiona becomes too invested in the case – but is there more going on than meets the eye?
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The Children Act is not the film you expect it to be and it is all the more better for it. The story starts in the usual dramatic way – everything you were given in the trailer – but shifts direction and at a fluid pace. It flows through this strange and unusual plot, twists in an unpredictable way. The plot thickens with many different emotions and elements. To underline the drama and enhance the poignancy, there is well-tuned humour within the film, especially in Emma Thompson’s frank delivery.

Why yes, the main focus is about this young boy and his somewhat manipulation into death, but it also turns into a movie about agency and life – how important it is to own who you are.

Speaking of Emma Thompson is a brilliant lead for this. She is a commanding force that drives the drama. She has this air of inhibiting a character; from the way she totters around without shoes whilst at home, a soft kick of a suitcase, or the fast and focused way she delivers verdict – it is very precise and amazing to watch. Thompson knows when to let Maye be calm and collect yet knows how to make her vulnerable – even in the moments where she has to keep regal and professional. It’s one of Thompson’s best performances (but, then again, when has she ever been bad?)

Stanley Tucci as Jack, the wayward husband, is the biggest complaint here. First of all, I understand that there is frustration and abandonment for him, but, also, he is portrayed as a petulant child. That’s may be how Tucci intends to play him but there is such a flagrant selfishness that keeps you at a disconnect with his side. He begins to feel completely unnecessary if only for a plot device to drive Fiona out of sync. Tucci is great but his character is not.

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Fionn Whitehead, star of Dunkirk, seems to fumble a little bit with a more wordy script. That being said, he has a lot of promise to be a proper lead actor but he needs to evolve better for an arch of this scope.

An unexpected drama that is sensitive with the issues it is trying to convey, The Children Act is less about religion verses medicine but about life verses death. It’s about looking at love and the world through youth and appreciating beauty whenever and wherever you can. The Children Act is a tough film to get your head around, but brilliant one to mull over.

On a final note: There are definitely seasonal movies. Summer blockbusters, spring animations, winter warmers. The Children Act is definitely an autumn film and is released at least a month too early.

The Children Act is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!