WONDER PARK *** (85 minutes) PG
Here’s an enjoyable, brightly animated, somewhat surreal adventure about a fabulous thrill-ride theme park populated by larger-than-life talking animals, all of which exists inside the fertile imagination of a little girl, June (Brianna Denski).
In the real world she likes building parts of her elaborate park with her mother (Jennifer Garner) and her friends, no matter how much damage they cause.
But joy leaks out of the enterprise when June’s mum falls gravely ill. She loses all interest in her imaginary creation, only to discover during a walk in the country that the park actually does exist through what appears to be a portal to another dimension.
It’s here she meets all manner of talking critters who tell her of the Park’s demise due to a cloud called “The Darkness” and the marauding of thousands of blank-faced “chimpanzombies’, who destroy all in their path.
If you’re starting to think the film was written by a child psychologist, you’re not alone.
Though the film’s copious flash and dazzle will please kids, there’s an awful lot of subtext going on here about facing your fear. This is coupled with some pretty stark, nightmarish imagery involving the zombie-chimps, so take the film’s PG rating seriously.
An unfortunate footnote to the film is that its director, Dylan Brown, a former Pixar artist making his feature debut here, has no credit on the film.
This is because late in post-production when the film was virtually finished, Paramount received complaints about “inappropriate and unwanted conduct”. Upon investigation, Brown was fired and his name stripped from the credits.
This followed an earlier incident in which actor Jeffrey Tambor (The Larry Sanders Show; Arrested Development; Transparent) was replaced by Ken Hudson Campbell because of his troubled conduct record.
It’ll be interesting to track what effect this now has on Brown’s career. It looks bad, yet Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gun was fired from the third film in 2018 over a bunch of old tweets, only to be rehired in March this year after Disney copped a huge backlash from cast members and media outlets. Maybe he’ll be blessed by the same luck.
THE AFTERMATH *** (108 minutes) MA
The nostalgic aura of old-fashioned wartime romances envelopes this fine, engaging, handsomely produced drama, spiced by an uncommon setting and top-self performances.
With the husk of a shattered Berlin as a backdrop, the end of the war in Europe brings together proud British officer Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) and his wife Rachael (Keira Knightley).
Happy and eager to resume the intimacy of marriage, they are gifted a magnificent mansion in the unscarred countryside, away from all the bomb craters and mounds of rubble.
The one fly in the ointment: they have to share the house with the previous German owners, Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard) and his withdrawn daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann).
Morgan’s job is to help rebuild Berlin and re-establish order, which calls for some un-soldierly conduct; Rachel’s job, it seems, is to support her husband and the sanctity of their marriage while patiently awaiting the return of passion to their love life. This is slow in coming, and leads to inevitable temptation.
Though set immediately after the German surrender, the war still flickers as defiant remnants of the Third Reich target Allied soldiers as gestures of defiance. This adds tension to the piece, as does the largely unspoken tragedy that haunts the couple.
Performances are sterling throughout, but it is Clarke who stands out as a man of honour who can nonetheless be struck down by a spear of emotion, with one particular scene likely to make your heart break.
Though predictable, this is a fine, satisfying drama for adults who enjoy their storytelling at a moderate pace.
PET SEMATARY ***1/2 (98 minutes) MA
Sometimes, you’ve just got to let things go. That’s the message that comes through loud-and-clear once all the mayhem has died down in this superb, updated adaptation of the 1983 Stephen King novel.
Moving to a nice, quiet rural town, Dr Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) hopes for a quiet life with wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence), toddler Gage and their loving cat, ominously named Church.
Working near the local campus, Creed is made aware of creepy goings on regarding the makeshift pet cemetery and the nearby Indian burial ground.
Says the local elder (John Lithgow), who has grown fond of Ellie, bury something you love in its sacred soil and it could return to you from the grave – only a little changed.
With terrific, taut direction by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, Pet Sematary is a top-notch nail-biter, dripping with atmosphere and boasting a host of creepy tropes expertly deployed to maximise a thick ambience of hope mixed with dread – a lethal combination, to be sure.
There was pretty good film made in 1989, directed by Mary Lambert and written by Stephen King, who had begun getting involved in film adaptations of his work after being disappointed by films such as The Shining and Children of the Corn.
Fine as it was, the new version plays a very straight bat, avoiding some of the cheesy touches so redolent of the 1980s. It’s certainly a much better film, scarier, and deadly serious when it comes to confronting the issue of wanting things to go back to being the way they were.
Sometimes, that ain’t such a good idea.
HELLBOY *** (121 minutes) R
Though there was no real call for it – as shown by its dire box office performance in the US – this reboot of 2004’s Hellboy isn’t such a bad time-killer, with all the requisite pseudo-mythical mumbo-jumbo, wisecracks and comic-book ultra-violence (hence the questionable R-rating, which was upheld by the Review Board).
Our reformed demon (David Harbour, under several kilos of demonic make-up – sans horns, of course) has been tasked with preventing the return of the evil Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich).
The jokes are still there, thankfully, as director Neil Marshall (The Descent; Game of Thrones) unleashes several impressive VFX tornadoes to an ear-splitting soundtrack.
Fans will know what to expect, and will enjoy. Any hope that this film will inspire a series, though, is pretty remote.
DESTROYER ***1/2 (121 minutes) MA
When the history of this generation’s most accomplished actresses is written, Nicole Kidman will easily stand out as one of the bravest and most daring if her performance in Destroyer is anything to go by. It’s a solid crime thriller boosted by a terrifically tortured central turn.
As LA detective Erin Bell, Kidman plays a gruff, alcoholic, vengeful has-been, cursed by an undercover operation that went horribly wrong.
She’s on the last rung before a total collapse: she has no friends left on the force and the only good thing in her life, her daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn), is spiteful and resentful towards her after years of neglect.
The discovery of a murdered body on the paved slopes of the LA River sets Bell on the hunt for criminal kingpin Silas (Toby Kebbell) who has apparently returned to town. Bell’s investigation involves some ugly scenes, including exchanging a sexual favour for a lead and literally beating information out of a wealthy criminal operator who proves unco-operative.
With little concern for making her anti-heroine particularly likeable, director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight; Aeon Flux; Jennifer’s Body) gives good balance to the professional and personal demons eating away at what’s left of Bell’s soul.
Her journey, much of which is told in flashback, also includes a tense action sequence in which she happens upon a group of heavily armed crims on their way to rob a bank.
Amidst all the film’s grit and realism, Bell is clearly in need of redemption, at whatever cost. She’s determined to prove to herself that she’s not the wasted person others make her out to be.
It’s a great character arc that leads to a very well-executed finale where Bell’s beaten and bruised character has a chance to find some measure of solace and closure.