The fortnightly movie review

The fortnightly movie review

Red Joan
It’s May 2000, and the police are at the door of Joan Stanley (Judi Dench). It seems her past has finally caught up to her – but what exactly did she do? In flashbacks we see a much younger Joan (Sophie Cookson) off to Cambridge to study science, where she quickly falls under the sway of a glamourous group of socialists, especially Sonya (Tereza Srbova) and her cousin Leo (Tom Hughes). His overtly communist actions make him a figure of suspicion, while her smarts see her recruited to type up reports (and occasionally chip in with ideas) at the UK’s wartime atomic bomb project. Despite falling hard for Leo, she equally firmly rejects his proposal that the Soviet Union needs nuclear secrets to keep things balanced between the Allies – until Hiroshima hammers home what’s really at stake. Based on the real-life “granny spy”, this is a fairly straightforward drama that (a few tense scenes once the UK spy agencies realise there’s a leak aside) is more about moral dilemmas than actual espionage. The real drama here is how Joan makes her way in a man’s world; suspicion rarely falls on her because she’s just a woman, and when it does she can always hide her spy gear in a box of tampons.

Godzilla II: King of the Monsters
After the city-smashing events of 2014’s Godzilla, humanity is (somewhat understandably) terrified that giant monsters – here called “titans” (somewhat annoyingly) – will once again start wrecking up the place. Monarch, the mysterious organisation that’s been tracking these creatures (and which also played a part in the recent Kong: Skull Island), knows more than it’s willing to tell. This becomes a problem when a bunch of eco-terrorists led by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) steal the Orca, a device created by Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) that can wake up and communicate with the titans buried around the world. Do giant monsters led by the three-headed “Monster Zero” rise up and wreak havoc? Is Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) the only one who can stop a disaster not everyone wants to stop? When you have a roll call that includes glowing songstress Mothra and flying death-dealer Rodan, telling the tale of a grumpy dad who just wants his daughter back feels like a failure of nerve. But while the drama is uneven and the characters are rarely memorable, the monsters get enough big moments to overcome the story’s many small flaws. It’s worth it for the moments of primeval devastation – Rodan destroys everything under him simply by flying overhead – alone.

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Rocketman
With the echoes of Bohemian Rhapsody still bouncing off cinema walls, does the world really need another tale of the rise and fall (and rise) of a 70s glam rocker? Rocketman aims squarely for the same toe-tapping retro audience that made that Freddie Mercury biopic such a smash, but – suburban origins aside, and even there there’s big differences – Elton John is a markedly different figure, and his music makes for a very different story. The performer formerly known as Reginald Dwight (Taron Egerton) had a grim home life thanks to a disinterested mum (Bryce Dallas Howard) and emotionally constipated dad (Steven Mackintosh), but his kindly gran (Gemma Jones) nurtured his musical talents and then suddenly he’s the biggest star in the world – but could money, drugs and meaningless sex fill the void in his heart? John has an extremely strong back catalogue, and his story-based style of song-writing lends itself to illustrating moments in his life; treated as a jukebox musical, this delivers all the hits and then some, and Egerton throws himself fully into the large-than-life performance scenes. The drawn-out boozy decline is a bit of a grind, but the songs are great and it’s more bitchy than you might expect (Elton does not like his family); bring your dancing shoes.

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Aladdin
Disney’s ongoing efforts to turn their animated back catalogue into live action money-spinners has had mixed results at best to date. This Aladdin comes down (mostly) on the positive side, though director Guy Ritchie only manages to display occasional flashes of interest in what is otherwise a very much by-the-numbers version of the much-loved animated feature. The story here is largely unchanged: Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a “street rat” who falls for Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) but fears she could never love a commoner. Fortunately the evil Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) sends him into a magical cave to retrieve a lamp with a Genie (Will Smith) inside, and it’s wall-to-wall magic shenanigans from there. The songs are blandly professional, with only traces of the original spark; the one obvious addition, Jasmine’s “Speechless”, is a definite clunker. Likewise, the cast are fine but not memorable, feeling more like a perfectly decent touring cast for the stage show – with one exception. Smith’s Genie has plenty of CGI antics but remains a less manic version of the Robin Williams-voiced original. He’s no less funny though, and his slightly more human take (he even gets a love interest here) is charmingly entertaining. Disney products are advertised as a safe choice for your entertainment dollar: this is no exception.

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The Night Eats the World – Screening at the Pivotonian Geelong
Waking up after a big party, Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) discovers a surprising change on the streets of Paris: the city has been overrunning by fast, silent, hungry zombies. The good news is that, after a few close shaves, he manages to make himself relatively safe in the top floor apartment of his zombie-free building; the bad news is that living alone day after day and being unable to go outside or make any loud noise (it attracts the undead) isn’t exactly great for his mental health. This French zombie movie doesn’t exactly have a new twist on the genre – the zombies are still zombies – but the way the story plays out definitely gives it an edge. The biggest threat with zombies has always been the way they can simply outlast the living, and this turns that idea into compelling – if confined – viewing.

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Reviewed by Anthony Morris