Film Review of the Week


Maya The Bee: The Golden Orb (U)

Review: Based on buzzy characters from the German children’s book by Waldemar Bonsels, Maya The Bee first took flight in computer-animated form as a TV series followed by a 2014 feature film for pre-schoolers. Overarching life lessons about courage, tenacity and friendship are enforced in a jaunty third big screen instalment directed by Noel Cleary, which invites cutesy insects to burst into lyrically simplistic songs to convey their emotions. “This here mountain’s no place for ants/Against us beetles, they got no chance,” croons one war-mongering bug (Christian Charisiou), who overcomes his prejudices and appreciates the power of interspecies co-operation by the time the end credits rock and roll.

Screenwriter Fin Edquist harvests sticky sentimentality when the going gets tough but lashings of emotional syrup don’t prevent the solid action sequences from taking flight, including a frantic chase on a fallen leaf down eddying water. The quality of the animation has improved since the first film but water effects aren’t convincing during the river sequence and feathery plumage of a flock of hungry birds noticeably lacks realistic movement in the air. Coco Jack Gillies continues to radiate sweetness as the voice of the humming heroine, who never thinks twice about flapping her wings to do the right thing.

Maya (Gillies) and best friend Willi (Benson Jack Anthony) cause a commotion by accidentally unleashing a slithering stampede of glow worms during preparations for the Spring Festival. “No more of your adventures!” despairs the Queen (Justine Clarke), who orders Maya and Willi to collect buttercup sap to repair damage to the hive. When the youngsters are out of earshot, the frustrated monarch confides to her advisers that she may have to separate best friends Maya and Willi. “It would take something very special to change my mind,” coos the Queen, which a despondent Maya overhears.

During the sap-gathering sortie, Maya and Willi encounter a green ant named Chomp (Tom Cossetini), who is being chased by beetles Rumba (Frances Berry), Boof (Callan Colley) and Henchie (Cleary). The bees take possession of the Regal Orb of Greenleaf from Chomp and pledge to carry the glittering trinket to the ant colony on Bonsai Peak via the bustling bazaar at Loggy Hollow. En route, the orb cracks and reveals a cherubic ant princess, who Willi affectionately christens Smoosh (Evie Gillies).

Maya The Bee: The Golden Orb is a wholesome escapade, pollinated by sweet vocal performances and heartfelt storytelling aimed squarely at young audiences. Comic relief courtesy of blundering red ant soldiers Arnie (David Collins) and Barney (Shane Dundas) is pitched accordingly. When one insect nervously comments that the navy life isn’t for him because he has “no sea legs”, his literal sidekick is confused because he can clearly see his buddy’s trembling pins. It’s a hard knock bug’s life.

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Spiral: From The Book Of Saw (18)

Review: Although it’s never explicitly stated, the ‘book’ referenced in the subtitle of the ninth instalment of the Saw horror franchise is most likely a tattered notepad of plotlines for earlier films, which were soundly dismissed as too derivative or laughably predictable. Screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger have apparently plundered these rejected narratives. They clumsily construct a dreary crime thriller around a Jigsaw copycat with a penchant for mechanical contraptions that force victims to make split-second choices between gruesome dismemberment and death. Staple ingredients of the torture porn genre are – alas – present in Spiral: From The Book Of Saw.

Darren Lynn Bousman returns to the director’s chair after gore-slathered stints behind the camera of the second, third and fourth chapters. He wastes little time hanging one unfortunate soul by their fleshy tongue as a wince-inducing prelude to an orgy of stomach-churning splatter and make-up effects that leave nothing to the imagination. Death-trapped characters are neither likeable nor sympathetic so their demises register purely as plot-driven bloodletting. Chris Rock is woefully miscast as the lead detective in charge of unmasking a madman. In a rare dramatic role, he oscillates between two grating extremes – unhinged and constipated – and when the script unmasks the glaringly obvious mastermind there’s unintentional hilarity as his jaw drops on screen.

Detective Zeke Banks (Rock) has acquired a reputation as a hot-headed maverick, 12 years after he broke ranks to expose a dirty cop. Following an argument with Captain Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols), who inherited the role when Zeke’s father Marcus (Samuel L Jackson) retired from the force, Zeke is forced to babysit detective-in-training William Schenk (Max Minghella). The rookie idolises Marcus’s efforts to clean up the streets. “I’m not him. Prepare to be underwhelmed,” angrily counters Zeke.

The mismatched partners are called to a subway tunnel where they discover the eviscerated remains of Detective Boswick (Dan Petronijevic) – the first victim of a serial killer copycatting John Kramer aka Jigsaw. Captain Garza reluctantly appoints Zeke lead investigator, which enrages fellow detectives Fitch (Richard Zeppieri) and Kraus (Edie Inksetter). As the body count rises and a summer heatwave intensifies, the killer gleefully goads the police and Zeke deduces a deeply personal motive for the carnage.

Spiral: From The Book Of Saw is an inelegant and lumbering return to the meat grinder – including one scene that directly references the devilish 2004 film – which set the barbarity in motion. Jackson is sidelined for extended periods, for which he should be grateful, and there’s scant evidence of a family resemblance with Rock to fuel the fire of a fractious father-son dynamic. Bousman hacks and slashes the cast at regular intervals and engineers a frenetic denouement that baits the hook for further sequels. Zeke was right. Prepare to be underwhelmed.

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Those Who Wish Me Dead (15)

Review: Between laser-targeted gun shots in director Taylor Sheridan’s ruthlessly economical pursuit thriller, a sharp-suited puppet master (Tyler Perry) communicates the art of warfare in a single snappy refrain: “Assume catastrophe and act accordingly.” Those Who Wish Me Dead takes his words to its blackened heart, orchestrating a high-stakes game of cats and mice in the fire-ravaged Montana wilderness by melting away extraneous fat from dramatic exposition and character development. The sinewy script, adapted from Michael Koryta’s book by the author, Sheridan and Charles Leavitt, steadily cranks up tension as a female firefighter and her young ward go on the run from assassins in the belly of a raging inferno.

Fire sequences are orchestrated in pulse-quickening close-up in a specially constructed 300-acre forest, which Sheridan and his team set ablaze to minimise the use of digital effects and immerse actors in their smouldering environment. Angelina Jolie puts herself through emotional and physical wringers to convincingly portray a daredevil emergency responder, tormented by three deaths on her watch. She kindles winning screen chemistry with 14-year-old Australian co-star Finn Little. The young actor scorches every frame with his powerhouse portrayal of a traumatised murder witness: choking on anguished screams as a parent is gunned down in front of him and then letting the floodgates open in juddering sobs when a guardian angel shows him compassion.

His protector is Hannah Faber (Jolie), a specially trained wildland firefighter for the Park County Fire Department in Montana, who parachutes into roaring infernos with her gung-ho team. Three days after one tragic call-out, she fails a psychiatric evaluation and is reassigned to a fire tower, pithily described as a “20 metre by 20 metre box on stilts with no toilet”. Stationed alone in the wilderness with her nagging guilt, Hannah is gifted an unlikely shot at redemption when she stumbles upon terrified 12-year-old Connor Casserly (Little). The blood-spattered boy is on the run from hit men Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult), who murdered Connor’s father (Jake Weber), a forensic accountant with proof of malfeasance in the upper echelons of power.

Jack intentionally starts a forest fire to distract authorities, including Connor’s uncle Park County Sheriff Ethan Sawyer (Jon Bernthal), while they hunt their guileless prey. However, the gun-toting killers underestimate Mother Nature and her furies: Hannah and Ethan’s heavily pregnant wife Allison (Medina Senghore).

Those Who Wish Me Dead sets nerves on edge in opening scenes and stokes that sense of unease by coolly dispatching characters in nail-biting action sequences, complemented by composer Brian Tyler’s propulsive score. Little’s expertly wrung waterworks are no match for real and digitally rendered fires, which mercilessly devour everything in their path and bathe Jolie’s features in flickering golden light. Where there’s smoke, Sheridan’s film is on fire.

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