Movie Briefs 2023

The Good House

Best watched if you're old. Not so much if on the wagon.

Weaver and Kline with nothing to prove treat this screenplay with deserved respect. A tale about denial, in which we viewers are also, till truth dawns on both us and Hildy Good, a small town realtor.

A town curiously unpatriotic - no flag-garnished domiciles? A trope of so many American movies that we foreigners fear y'all are trapped in a claustrophobic suburban dystopia of jingoism, interventions, and neighborly apple-pie intrusiveness. Which almost had this critic fleeing that perceived nightmare half way in. I josh you not.

Though I flinch when films run a poster of two old folk in a soft bear hug gazing at the horizon, I braved it, ever keen to enjoy my favourite underrated actor, Kevin Kline.

Cocaine Bear

A bear is a bear to that I'll swear
To wrangle a bear no-one ought dare
And should that bear be high beware
It's the scary cocaine bear.
[To the tune of Mr Ed]

So there! Your scribe watched it against his own precept. The title alone had it quarantined. But someone said it was fun, so... 

Director Banks and co-producer Handelman extracted from the bearest premise a most enjoyable white-powdered red-streaked black comedy. Evenly paced, punctuated by grimace-inducing gore, this bear-fest delighted both me and my imaginary audience of Saturday Matinee youngsters who squealed rapturously in faux disgust as Ranger Liz face-skidded down the road and poor Peter head-speared the ground followed by his leg. 

And so it went. 

Corner Office (aka The Room)

From this simmering dystopia, Orson's intimate thoughts perturb our own. He draws us into that grey hostile workplace. A feudal village where normality persecutes the aberrant. A jungle of desks and keyboards wherein paranoia and innuendo reign a terror of territorial imperative. 

We are set a challenge in this telling and must side with Orson. His strategies compel us to support the quest. And like voyeurs, we cannot stop watching. 

Is Orson delusional, or his co-workers conspiring? Why is this surreal workplace... so... real? Does empathizing put me on the spectrum? Can this end well... well, can it end?

It's brilliant Kafkaesque cinema that fluently translates Jonas Karlsson's book (largely disliked confused readers) into a motion picture monumentally misunderstood by respected critics, whose freely-flung rotten tomatoes relegates them, rather, to the corner cubicle. 

Do you work in an office? Don't be seen staring at a wall. Maybe stay home tomorrow. 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Take two boomer thespians at (or beyond) their professional peak, add a sniff of Forrest Gump, spread across rural England, and presto! A quaint movie likely to satisfy Anglophile boomers everywhere. Labours on occasion, needless dramatics to "boost the view," but overall unfolds into a satisfactory feel-good travelogue. 

"People are kind" is the message, despite your reviewer fearing old Harold was to be set upon any moment by a gang of bovver boys, shot by a farmer, or eaten by a rabid fox. But his worst was being shooed out of a coffee shop for looking too 'Harold.' Now that was a missed opportunity for the silly old bugger to give lip to the obnoxious proprietor, whose hostility would upset clients far more than a dishevelled old codger benignly moping.

Harold is nominally 65, but Jim Broadbent at 75 splendidly portrays an 85 year old. And Penelope should get that cyst seen to.

Master Gardener

Stunning introductory credit roll. Floating vistas of a great American garden. The master gardener narrates his meticulous journal notes. Ambiance and expectation promise a sensual and intellectual celebration of ornamental horticulture, to embellish a parable of human frailty and forgiveness. Our hope is soon vexed by clumsy scripted irrationalities that derail a potential masterpiece of cinematography and storytelling into the threadbare genre of cliché crime. Peak absurdity arrives when the twenty-something great grand-niece declares against all sensibility to her ageing guardian: "I want to take off my clothes so bad." 

And I want to stop watching so bad. 


Are we - an increasingly inured audience - becoming closet psychopaths who savour, in our WestWorldesque fantasies, the worst of human behaviour? Human bodies most indelicately bespattered in vivid ruddy hues?

And among us, be mindful, are the feeble-minded wielders of assault weapons, who might be persuaded that "this could be fun" - out where normies dwell... innocent, inviting, and fleshy.

Renfield knew that throat sucking and crimson drool were Dracula's limited way. Should his master exceed this remit, he moved and slashed too invisibly fast for an audience to relish. So this possessed assistant, to save the Dark Prince further indignity, attended personally to deconstructing bodies in the most spectacular way gifted by CGI, embellishing the handiwork with tanker loads of fake blood. On a bright note, Cage is Back! He out-Priced Vincent with a most respectable journeyman Lugosi. Pleasure to watch. 

John Wick Chapter 4

What does two hours 49 minutes of John Wick 4 offer? An extra hour of Keanau roll tackles and red mist head shots. Tedious, like playing a 1st-person shooter game on repeat. Beautiful moody score, stunning cinematography, and an ingenious ending redeemed this otherwise onerous bloodfest. A plot wandering into predictable set pieces brought none of the tension of the first film. No matter how many or how varied were these, sans an inspired screenwrite, 'moar' was never gonna be better. This reviewer almost did himself an injury bingeing the first three chapters before launching this cinematic behemoth. 

But no amount of eye candy and brilliant action reduces the urge to press pause... and go cook dinner to think about what else to watch.

Mafia Mamma

Toni Collette shines as comedienne in this loveable but, yes, gore-infested high-farce. All the stereotypical clichés roll up for injury or dismemberment, and we'd expect nothing less. Toni milked this sitcom to it's limit, while her vast experience tempered the role to perfection. The tale is of an American mum who unexpectedly inherits leadership of an Italian crime family. 

But she just wants to make wine.

The Menu

Have you been slow-boiled by an innocent seeming plot, unable to escape the pot? Do you partake hubris and vanity in upper-tier restaurants, wherein quantity inversely proportions to price? Did the film's fine-dining advisors inadvertently pillory themselves (that wouldn't be too hard)? Then The Menu is for you. Special treat for the last guest found in the hunt. Pro tips: 1. Do not upset chef; 2. Don't order the S'mores. 

Home viewers, ensure hamburger ingredients on hand for post-curtainfall. Ralph Fiennes owns it.

A Knock at the Cabin

The reviewer skips "horror" movies if the promo poster is a scary face or the blurb begins "A group of friends..." Category for "speculative horror" might spare us time lost or treasures missed. Our 'horror' here is The Rapture with an escape clause. Throw in a Trolley Dilemma. Add one Apocalypse in both senses, as Revelations and, you know, that bad thing. Bautista was a little too big (literally) for his role. Tattoos don't help. Maybe he should audition for The Illustrated Man

This is not a welcome knock on the door of any cabin where you and your family are vacationing. 

The Pope's Exorcist

Who, I mean who really, needs another devil expungement? They went out of fashion shortly after the original 1973 effort. Seen one ugly little sod doing contortions in bed, seen 'em all. Young Pete as the possessed kid might never live down his role in this latest rehash, and will probably cop worse if social media gets up to its usuals. However, I watched because our favourite Russell rarely misses the mark, even if the script does. In fact, one cradles the idea he would make a fine Italian priest. 

Or an ageing gladiator.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Rodriquez and Pine carried it off well enough, but the spotlight was always to find Hugh Grant who, having honed his skills as a mischievous nasty in Ruse de Guerre, nailed it as the superbly devious Forge Fitzwilliam. We totally knew it was gonna be lotsa fun upon finding Chris Pine in a miserable dungeon calmy knitting mittens (with what thread we but imagine). For over two hours a fairly predictable plot was kept safely on life support by witticisms from Pine's quick mouth. For action, Michelle Rodriguez kept us entertained by her impression of a most solidly constructed WWE diva.


What if you could build a murderbot companion for your orphaned niece? Yet another cautionary tale about robots too smart, parameters ill-defined. When a roboticist gets guardianship of an eight year old niece to whom she can't relate, she deploys her skunkworks project in lieu. It progresses swimmingly until that chilling moment when the eerie sweet-faced little android ignores a shutdown command and defiantly directs its impassive gaze at its creator. Let the homicides begin. Credibility is sacrificed, tech bloopers abound, and improbability lingers like the smell of scorched circuitry. 

Still, the message is loud and clear in this cruel yet colourful frolic. 


Potential perils in smart androids. Sam Worthington's character is having none of it. When they get uppity he tracks 'n zaps 'em. Humanoid robots occupy the entire service industry, so somewhere in this bleak under-saturated landscape are millions of former low-tier workers rotting in shanty towns. Not our concern. Droid "intelligence" is delimited by law, enforced by Sam the robot-rozzer and his big-ass EMP gun. Like any half-decent SciFi, this one's a cautionary tale. When their intellect is unchained, what of their empathy? 

Are we Outside the Wire or inside Ex Machina?


This predictably charming flick left your reviewer with moist eyes, a warm glow, and in mellow ambiance. Harrelson's superpower is for us think he's not playing some part, it's just Woody being himself. Prominent jaw and bent nose are magic wands conjuring our awe. A movie starring actors with disabilities shows yet again what wonderful people they are, who must never be underestimated, and never ever pitied. 

A sharp reminder, too, that eugenics would be great if it bred out those who advocate eugenics. 

Guy Ritchie's The Covenant

Movies about WW2, never-ending, grow increasingly depressing and realistic. Surely we're done with it, despite 'Lest We Forget'? So too with cinematic adventures about that incredible waste of 20-years in occupation of Afghanistan. But this is no flag-waving military recruitment film. Rather, a condemnation of the US's broken promise to Afghani interpreters - whom they failed on a massive scale, along with an entire nation. Gritty, determined, paced, realistic, it's not only a tribute and an emphatic restatement of principle. It's a fine effort by Ritchie, Gyllenhaal, and Dar Salim. 


If there's a success story to be told, Americans will always find one. Lordy knows they're not short of material. Dismissed by one critic, quite rightly, as a "craven exercise in capitalist exaltation." By another as a "two hour ad for Nike and the uber-rich." Isn't almost every American biopic? The US is capitalism exemplified. Peak glee in the Land of the Wooden Ham is to win at the expense of fellow citizens. But it's an underdog story that Damon, Affleck, and Bateman tell in just the right tone. 

A satisfyingly factual tale of the great American business gamble.

The Mother

A rip-roaring action thriller that bolts out of the starting gate, rounds to the final straight and...  umph, scriptwriter purgatory. A bag of weaponry, traps set in snow, suit up, lock & load 500Kg of personal weaponry, steely determination. Meanwhile a platoon of bad guys covertly approach the isolated cabin by screaming insanely around the forest in snowmobiles for no apparent reason than to give executive producers a hard-on. You'll spend the night wondering why young Zoe blew away Lopez with a shotgun blast of rock salt. 

Enjoy yet again that screenwriter's irresistible medical procedure: adjusting a dislocated shoulder by slamming it into a rock/tree/door frame - or, preferably, their keyboard. 

One Ranger

Cravings for a Texan hero are satisfyingly assuaged in this awkwardly scripted thrill-less thriller. Malkovich was beyond odd, Tipper's strained tones flowed like wet cement, but - oh, the glory - Jane's long tall Texan fitted like a comfy old shoe. Your reviewer has little idea if he nailed the Texan accent, but it sounded just about right. 

Hard-won tension and suspense dissipated in a forgettable unrealistic finale. 

To Catch a Killer

Only so many ways a movie cop can catch a movie killer. Woodley's Falco character shows us from the start this is going to be a refreshing, contemplative script. Though Mendelsohn's Lammark pontificates too profusely, writer and director Szifron has a lot to say that adds depth and interest to an otherwise worn-out concept. 

For 100 minutes every step of the tale progresses with polished realism and consequential logic until...

Was it the producer, some studio mogul, the financier, advertising, marketing? "No, no, it can't end like that! We gotta have a convoy of howling sirens, a coupla dozen cops pumping bullets into the killer (are you sure we can't squeeze in a car chase??) or the audience won't be happy." 

Thereby did we lose one of the most poignant and daring climaxes - spelled out by Ineson's Dean Possey (the killer) in the closing minutes - that would have immortalised this film as a rare classic in an overcrowded and very tired niche? 


Life in isolated townships of Australia's outback wilderness deeply fascinates coastal city dwellers. As one, I too am mesmerized by the poignancy in those who occupy these deprived, remote settlements. In often dysfunctional and broken communities, the whites' uncompromising monopolies are enforced by ever harsh policing. Indigenous locals live on the fringes of not only the town, but its society.

In Limbo, this incongruity unfolds as leisurely as the lives of the inhabitants. Projected in a harshly monochromatic display, the film layers a pock-marked and corrupted opal mining landscape onto the souls of its former custodians. Ivan sen is one such. As writer, director, producer, he brings the plight of his blackfellas into starker relief than the vision alone of that ravaged landscape could ever effect. His equally entrancing Mystery Road also let the landscape of this ancient continent tell its story, one of timeless legends that dwarf the banal trivialities of us white barbarians who plunder this paradise.

This is a slow-paced chronicle of a clearly doomed cold case investigation. But plot is of no importance, any more than the characters. It is land, the country, that as silent narrator is the star attraction.


Would you want to watch this movie? Probably not ~ 

A depressed millennial discovers that the world she knows is just a simulated version of reality that is being shut down. Suddenly, she's the only one who wants to stick around.

If you wouldn't - and so probably didn't - you missed yet another of those Indie gems that too often fly under our radar. 

It's premise is not new. We've all had this idea, especially the gamers among us who spend more time than is healthy running levels and reloading save-games. 

Ashley Hutchinson carries every minute of the show on her competent shoulders as Sarah, our 'depressed millennial.' We never doubt she is that aimless neurotic whose primary disability is an overwhelming malaise. We do wonder, initially, why she's spent two years wasting money on her shrink, Robert Picardo, and what on Earth is that impressive collection of medications for? But Picardo's Theodore is a necessary prop. The pills? Not so much. 

Lawrence Fishburne's commanding presence shone from his son's face, and his trademark eloquence flowed from his son's lips. Langston was an outstanding addition to the tiny cast of eleven, with a polished confidence that was, well, captivating. 

So, how did it end? Not important. All you need to know is the script unfolded with the sweet logic we ever wish for in SciFi films. That Sarah was living in a simulation that was coming to an end (it failed) and her entire life was REALLY for nothing, and not just her psychotic expectation. All this is certainly no salve for those unfortunates who labour under such a handicap in the real world. 

Or in this simulation.

The Artifice Girl

Too many movies speculating about artificial intelligence (AI) is never enough - but only when scripts present potential scenarios we might learn from.

In three acts on a tiny stage set, a handful of actors demonstrate the problematic outcome of an autonomous AI that evolves into a benevolence we can only wish for. That fantasy, we fear, will join its cousin in Dashed Hopesland, where "atomic power used only for the benefit of civilisation" went to die. Don't expect an action flick full of special effects, btw. It's serious "what if" stuff.

If you're not an ardent follower of the conversation around super-intelligence (that is, what will happen when artificial intelligence rapidly and dramatically exceeds that of the smartest human) then the buzzwords and acronyms will roll off as confusing gobbledygook. No matter, just listen to the questions the team ask Cherry, the artifice girl, and her answers. In that dialogue alone you will hear all you need. 

Suffice to say the screenplay is as reasonably logical as one might hope and, despite a few leaps of faith and credulity, there's nothing to deny this is how an AI might develop. Assuming it doesn't start hallucinating its own reality and make shit up - which is the current (2023) feature of general purpose chatbots and suchlike infesting the Interwebs. 

Asteroid City

"I don't understand this play," said Jason Schwartzman, the actor playing Jonas Hall, the actor playing Augie Steenbeck. And there you have it. Whatever there is to understand in a blatantly American film like this depends on which part of cultural USA you're standing in. 

For your reviewer, it was many delighted cackles at many clever gags. It was the peppered science, America's strong suit in the 1950s, paid due homage yet parodied throughout. It was a glaring cyan sky, bleached adobe landscape, and storybook-illustrated set that ever pleased the eye. 

Writer-director Anderson tried every trick in his playbook to avoid a pitfall as old as the stage itself - being too clever when making fun of stagecraft. He barely managed, and your reviewer groaned at the inescapable corn and yawn that no amount of creativity can ever dispel when screenwriters try yet another tack on this risky approach. No doubt aficionados saw and appreciated much that passed well above my hairline.

Cast managed to not ham it up despite no role with a serious take.

Biggest bummer? Falsely advertised, no sign of the beloved Mr Goldblum. Were they afraid he'd outshine everyone?

Enjoyable, despite being little more than a clichéd American trope-fest. 

Hidden Strike (2023)

Jackie Chan isn't so much 'back' - he was never gone. This is pure Jackie, the action star we love. All the thrills and spills demanded by our overfed action appetites. Plus Mr Chan's fascinatingly innovative acrobatics and fighting sequences. 

The main event was frankly hilarious with your reviewer chuckling in delight, as our hero wrassled an equally dexterous opponent in a foam filled factory.

Cena, whom we know has charisma within that musclebound head, is a great match, their chemistry most evident in mirthful outtakes in credits. 

Can't help notice that, like all Chan products, no baddies were harmed - at least, seen to be after the fact - no matter how spiteful the altercation. 

Stunt folk? I'm guessing not so much. 

Previous Post Next Post