The Singing Ringing Tree – Film Review

Director: Francesco Stefani

Writer: Anne Geelhaar and Francesco Stefani

Starring: Christel Bodenstein, Charles Hans Vogt, Eckart Dux, Richard Krüger, and Dorothea Tiesing

Rating: ★★★ 

Originally released in 1957 in what was then known as East Germany, The Singing Ringing Tree is a strange and surreal fairy tele about a spoiled princess who wants a potential suitor to find her the mythical titled tree that can dispel all evil from the world. In the 1960s, the film was bought by the BBC and cut into three parts as a mini-TV-series as part of Tales from Europe. Because of this it has a legacy in the UK of terrifying children, with it’s strange and bizarre moments.

Now it has received a Blu Ray release in high definition for the first time from Network. The Blu Ray comes with a couple of extras, most notably a 2003 interview with Christel Bodenstein, who played the princess. It’s an interesting interview for fans of the film. The film also looks great in the new restoration.

Based on the fairy tale by The Grimm Brothers, The Singing Ringing Tree, tells the story of a prince who travels half way around the world to meet a princess. She rejects his gift of pearls and asks instead for The Singing Ringing Tree. He sets off to find it and bring the tree back to her. Once he finds the tree the princess must love him by midnight, or he will turn into a bear. She rejects the tree and he turns into a bear as promised, with the princess’s love being the only way to break the curse.

The film was noted in the 1960s with it’s release in the UK for being bizarre and nightmarish. For a children’s film, this does have some strange moments in it that could scare children. It’s not trying to be scary, but there is some absurd moments, including a giant fish and a magical reindeer, that are more than a little strange. For older audiences there is something charming about the strangeness. When the prince turns into a bear it’s just a costume, making it feel a little bit like a pantomime without the humour. While the film was recorded in German, when it was re-released in the UK, including this release, there is a narration filling in everything that’s happened. The dialogue isn’t dubbed.

The whole thing looks like a storybook, with handmade scenery and backgrounds. It feels like you are watching a classic storybook on the screen. The colours are bright and nothing looks quite real. The visuals are reminiscent of something like The Wizard of Oz, with bright bold colours. Even though nothing looks real, and the effects are dated, it still looks magical and takes you away on the story.

The Singing Ringing Tree is a fine family film. It looks great in high definition, but this isn’t a classic that’s going to make any children’s (of any age) favourites list. It’s a classic fairy tale told and is charming in its own way.  

Pre-order: https://bit.ly/3yRgVJy

The Singing Ringing Tree is on Blu-ray 18 October from Network

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Venom: Let There Be Carnage – More of What Made The First One So Great – Film Review

Director: Andy Serkis

Writer: Kelly Marcel

Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Woody Harrelson

Rating: ★★★½

Three years ago, Venom was released and was ripped apart by most critics, who hated almost everything about it. The pacing, the tone shifts, the comedy. Even more important though, the audiences loved it, and the film made a lot of money. It was one of those films that divided the critics and audiences completely. Now the sequel has arrived, doing almost everything the original did in a more streamlined run time (a little over ninety minutes compared to the almost two-hour runtime of the first one). If you liked the first one, you’re going to like this one as well.

The film starts where the post-credits scene of the first one ended. Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) is in prison, Eddie Brock and Venom (Tom Hardy) are trying to get along with each other, while at the same time Eddie is the only person Cletus will talk to. Eddie visits Cletus in prison to try and find out where the bodies of his victims were buried to bring closure to their families. On one of these visits, things get heated and Cletus bites Eddie, tasting the symbiote blood and creating Carnage at the same time.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a lot of fun. The humour from the first one is back in full force. Eddie and Venom play off each other so well. Director and motion capture master Andy Serkis has described their relationship as being at the ‘odd couple’ stage, and that’s a perfect description. The FBI are still investigating the events of the first film, which means that Eddie and Venom must be on their best behaviour. Venom can’t eat people, instead having to eat chocolate and chickens to survive. Apart from the two chickens he’s taken as pets, named Sonny and Cher. The comedy works and Venom has some hilarious moments.

The action is slick and entertaining. At its heart this is a monster movie, something akin to a Godzilla film. Venom and Carnage have a massive CGI fight and it’s awesome to watch. Andy Serkis does a great job of directing the action sequences, everything is clear and easy to follow. While you know what the outcome will be, it’s still a good time getting there. The shorter run time than most superhero films really helps the film, making it a thrill ride from start to finish. This isn’t trying to be anything more than a fast energetic comedy-action film and it succeeds at that in every way.

Much like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, or Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, Tom Hardy is the perfect Eddie Brock. He is excellent in the role, trying to live his life normally while at the same time having to constantly try and stop Venom from eating people or taking control. It’s a great dynamic and Hardy is the best thing about the film. Woody Harrelson is also great as Cletus Kasady. He’s demented and twisted and the interplay between him and Eddie works.

The supporting characters are also great. Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) is back from the first film, now engaged to Dan (Reid Scott). The relationship between her and Venom is a highlight of the film. The shopkeeper (Peggy Lu) is also back from the first film, and is the one keeping Venom fed with chocolate.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is more of the first film. It’s just as entertaining and just as funny. There are no real surprises, nothing new is brought to the table, but it’s entertaining and fun to watch. It looks like there’s going to be more, which is definitely a good thing. The mid-credits scene is also worth staying for. It sets up sequels and is a real treat for Marvel fans.

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The Last Duel – Film Review

Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon

Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck, Harriet Walter, Nathaniel Parker, Sam Hazeldine, Michael McElhatton, and Alex Lawther

Rating: ★★★★

Ridley Scott’s latest epic The Last Duel, shows that the director hasn’t lost the magic. It’s another film in a long line of instant greats that Scott has managed to produce for almost fifty years. The Last Duel tells the true medieval story of a trial by combat. Marguerite de Carrouges(Jodie Comer) accuses Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) of rape. Due to the law of the time, this can only be contested by her husband, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), who challenges Jacques to a duel to the death, letting God reveal the truth.

The film is told in three chapters, the first Jean de Carrouges version of the events, followed by Jacques Le Gris and finally Marguerite’s side. It’s the perfect way to tell a story that has been debated by historians for centuries. Through the three versions, we get to witness how the same events can be seen completely different by those involved. Each version has differences that range from subtle to completely changing events. It keeps the narrative interesting and engaging throughout it’s two and a half hour run time. Even though the film goes over the same points, the nuanced differences are crafted so amazingly by the superb cast, writing and direction that it’s never boring.

The three interwoven chapters build to one of the tensest climactic fights in cinema history. By the time the destined duel actually takes place, you feel like you know the three main characters. The stakes are very real, and the fighting is so brutal that your heart stops. If Jean loses then his wife will be burnt alive for baring false witness. It’s a tragic true story that really captures your attention and keeps it for the whole time.

The performances are extraordinary. Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck all deserve awards for how great they are in the film. Their performances are exceptional, filled with emotion and subtlety. The way each of them differs in the different telling of the events, to the smallest detail, gives the film so much needed depth. Some of the difference, the changing lines of dialogue, the looks they give it each, they are so small, but mean so much. It’s also an excellent script that tells the story in the most engaging way possible.

The rape is shown twice, once through the eyes of Jacques and once through Marguerite’s. The difference in how they saw the events is palpable, but at no point is it exploitative. It’s a vital moment in the film, that’s uncomfortable to watch and as brutal as the final duel.

The film also has many grand moments, from massive fights, the wide landscape and buildings of medieval France, parties, and the duel itself. The sets look incredible, the costumes feel authentic and accurate, and you really get a sense of what life was like. It’s not just the visuals that capture the time, it’s the outdated attitudes and ideas as well.  

The Last Duel sadly feels all to relevant today. It’s a story that we’ve all seen in the news regularly over the last few years. The film doesn’t get too involved in the actual trial, before the duel was decided (which is really interesting if you get the time to read up on it). The performances are excellent, the storytelling is nuanced and just pure genius. Ridley Scott is one of the greatest directors of all time and he’s created another masterpiece with The Last Duel. It’s a horrific and barbaric story, that really shows we haven’t progressed as far as we would like to think in the almost seven hundred years since the events take place.

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Halloween Kills – Film Review

Director: David Gordon Green

Writers: Scott Teems, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, James Jude Courtney, Judy Greet, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Anthony Michael Hall, Kyle Richards, Nancy Stephens and Robert Longstreet

Rating: ★★

The middle part of the new Halloween trilogy is finally here after being delayed a year. Following on from the badly titled Halloween (a sequel to the 1978 film of the same name), Halloween Kills picks up almost exactly where the 2018 film ends. The new trilogy continues the story from John Carpenter’s classic ignoring the sequels and reboots and focusing on being a sequel to the original film.

The 2018 film ended with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) injured but victorious over of the monstrous Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney). He has been left in her compound to burn. It’s not long before he escapes the flames and wreaks havoc on Haddonfield once again. The town sets out to defend itself with the chant ‘evil dies tonight’

While the 2018 film is a true sequel to the original, keeping the feel and tone of it while also doing its own thing and setting up a trilogy, Halloween Kills is a bit of a mess. Gone is the dark and brooding tension, which is replaced by over-the-top violence and action. There isn’t a moment in the film that is close to being scary. The violence and deaths are entertaining, but it’s not a patch on the horror of what came before.

The film is also rooted in nostalgia. The opening credits recreate the opening credits of the original, with the same dated orange and grainy writing. Some familiar characters reappear from the original, including a few that have been re-cast. Towards the beginning there is an extended flashback sequence that isn’t necessary in the slightest. It shows what happens after the end of the original film, something that was explained in a line of dialogue in the 2018 film. The nostalgia is charming, but it’s overdone.

Halloween Kills really suffers for being the middle part of the trilogy. It takes a very long time to get going, and apart from very small sections, not a lot really happens. Beyond the final moments, the situation is almost identical at the end as it is at the beginning. The whole film feels kind of pointless, which is a real shame because the 2018 was so great. Making things worse is how slow this one is. It takes what feels like an age to get going. The set-up is already done, so instead we get an extended flashback and padding that just isn’t needed.

There are still some good moments in the film, with the best being the mistaken identity bit in the middle, without giving anything away. It’s the tensest part of the film. There’s a death where someone falls from a window, which is horrific. The sequence, which falls apart if you really think about it (It relies on the crowd not knowing what Myers looks like, despite his face being shown on the news earlier, blurry for us as the audience, although surely not for the characters?), is the highlight of the film. Saying this, the frenzy of the mob isn’t really convincing, again it’s over-the-top and filled with awkward dialogue.

Overall, it’s a truly forgettable film. It’s over-the-top silly with clunky dialogue and a plot that meanders along to set up the final part of the trilogy, Halloween Ends, which is due out next year. The violence is good, but it’s not scary and it’s too boring to ever really be entertaining. Even John Carpenter’s excellent score can’t save it.

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The Tender Bar – Film Review

Director: George Clooney

Writer: William Monahan

Starring: Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Daniel Ranieri, Lily Rabe, Christopher Lloyd, Sondra James, Max Martini, and Matthew Delamater

Rating: ★★★★½

Based on the memoir by J.R. Moehringer, The Tender Bar is a coming-of-age story about an aspiring writer. J.R. lives with his mother, uncle and grandparents and is aiming to go to Yale to become a writer. His father left when he was young and his Uncle Charlie acts as the role model and mentor as he is growing up.

One of the earliest lines in the film is J. R. saying that we all need an Uncle Charlie and by the end of the film, you’ll agree with that. Uncle Charlie is a lovable character and someone that every family needs. He’s a father figure for J.R. and someone that is there for him at every point. This isn’t someone who is going to let you down. Ben Affleck’s gives a career defining performance as Charlie. The facial expressions, the attitude. It’s all perfect. From the first moment he is on screen, he’s full of charisma and elevates the film.

The rest of the cast are also great. Tye Sheridan and Daniel Ranieri both play J.R. at different stages of growing up. They are both great. Lily Rabe plays Dorothy, J.R.’s mother. She has high expectations for her son, wanting a better life for him that she had. Lily Rabe is excellent. Christopher Lloyd gives another excellent performance as the grandfather, who acts like he doesn’t like family relying on him but is always there when needed.

What makes the family so great, despite J.R.’s absent father, is that they are all very supportive of each other. The Grandfather acts like he doesn’t care, just sitting in his chair all day, but he takes J.R. to the father-son day and he’s standing in anticipation when the letter from Yale finally arrives. The whole family dynamic may be dysfunctional, but it’s an aspirational family and when our time with them is over as the credits start to role, you’ll wish it was going to last just a little longer.

The film does walk a very fine line, almost crossing over and becoming too sentimental. It’s a heart-warming film, that feels life affirming and full of positivity. There is enough darkness that stops it from crossing that line and the family drama is well-portrayed. J.R.’s father is a horrible piece of work, and the film doesn’t pull any punches in showing that. The only blunder it makes is a really clunky line of dialogue when J.R. see’s his father for what he truly is and his father says you look like you’ve had a breakthrough. It’s a strange on the nose moment in an otherwise well-written script, which makes it stand out even more.

The Tender Bar is the feel-good film of the year. It’s full of emotion and while a lot of it feels familiar, the performances and family dynamic make the film a great time from start to finish. George Clooney adds another wonderful film to his great list of work as a director.

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