FILM AND TV BITES

Film & TV Bites: Short Reviews

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Film & TV Bites are short reviews of movies and TV shows now available to stream, rent, or buy.



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See For Me (2022)

Film and TV Bites: See for Me is now available to rent or buy.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The home invasion thriller is a staple of cinema and has been for decades. However, it’s fair to say it’s a mixed bag of mundane, electrifying, and downright awful movies. Therefore, I always approach a new home invasion thriller with a degree of scepticism. However, director Randall Okita’s, See for Me put to bed all my doubts within the first twenty minutes, as he updates the Audrey Hepburn 1967 classic Wait Until Dark.

As with many thrillers, the least said about the plot and its delicious twists, the better, hence the short review. But avoiding the detail of the home invasion itself, See for Me has several plot points that help to make it a truly compelling watch. First up is the fact that our protagonist, Sophie (Skyler Davenport), may be blind, but she is certainly not vulnerable. Sophie is strong, abrasive and ruthless, her character multi-faceted from the opening scenes. Secondly, Okita brilliantly explores the interface between disability, tech and independence as Sophie reluctantly seeks help from an app called ‘See for Me.’ And finally, the game of cat and mouse that ensues sees the mouse just as tenacious and ferocious as the cat. 


READ MORE: MOTHERLY


These unique selling points are designed to throw the audience off-balance from the beginning, and they work in what is an otherwise standard thriller. Here director Randall Okita carefully turns up the dramatic tension as the night progresses, weaving in several twists that keep the tempo up and the audience engaged. The result is a nail-biting and entertaining movie. However, beneath this veneer, we are offered a largely predictable story arc that occasionally feels disappointingly simplistic given the potential. But don’t let that put you off watching this cracking thriller because there is also a hell of a lot here to admire. 


Stenofonen (Short Film) 2022

Film and TV Bites: Stenofonen (Oscar-shortlisted Short Film)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Our lives are a complex web of experiences, each one, good or bad, directly influences the adult we become, including our fears, doubts, and insecurities. Often many of these experiences centre on our childhood and youth, and here it’s the choices, attitudes and behaviours of our parents that often leave the most significant mark on who we become. For example, how many of you reading this have found yourself using the exact phrases your parents did during your childhood? And how many of you feel that your choice of career mirrored the expectations or limitations your parents imposed? Often parents only realise the power of their words and behaviour years later when their children challenge them, and sometimes they opt never to accept the influence they hold.

These themes find a powerful, rich, and compelling voice in the Oscar-shortlisted Stenofonen directed by Nicolaj Kopernikus. But this powerful exploration of parental influence and the insecurities it can cause is only strengthened by the fact that Kopernikus’ story is a very personal one.

Kopernikus focuses his camera on the story of his father and a musical ambition and passion that was stifled before it had the opportunity to shine. Here Nicolaj Kopernikus’ son, Louis Næss- Schmidt, plays Kopernikus’ father, aged twelve, in a deep, powerful and beautiful short film based in 1950s Denmark. Watching Stenofonen is like watching a painful and bittersweet memory unfold before you, as young Jørn tries desperately to please his distant and difficult father through his love of music. But his father consistently dismisses his attempts as he alienates his son and his talent. But music can also heal old wounds, even if it takes a lifetime to find peace. 


Archive 81 (2022)

Archive 81. Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner in episode 101 of Archive 81. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2021

Film and TV Bites (January 2022): Archive 81 is streaming now on Netflix

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Loosely based on a podcast of the same name, Netflix new occult/sci-fi horror is a game of two halves. Here the first four episodes of Archive 81 are engaging, fresh and decidedly creepy, while the final four disappear down a rabbit hole of the shows own creation.  Archive 81 is undoubtedly at its strongest when embracing the found-footage sub-genre and the slowly unravelling horror of its Rosemary’s Baby inspired apartment block from hell.

However, Archive 81 quickly dispatches its most significant strengths as it attempts to pay homage to an ever-increasing number of classic horror movies and shows. Here, we find nods toward The Shining, Stranger Things, The Twilight Zone and more, as Archive 81 tries to embody every possible horror and cult movie cliché over its eight-hour runtime. And this brings me to the second major problem for Archive 81; its runtime. While there is plenty here to keep most viewers partially engaged, a least two episodes feel redundant and unneeded.


READ MORE: FOUND FOOTAGE


Archive 81 has moments of brilliance in the atmosphere it manages to create in an impressive opening four episodes. Equally, its cast led by Mamoudou Athie and Dina Shihabi manages to keep the viewer’s attention even when the screenplay begins to wobble and choke on its own mystery and complexity. However, when we compare Archive 81 to the bold and beautiful Midnight Mass, Archive 81 quickly loses its way due to its attempt to be all things to all people. In conclusion, Archive 81 may have moments of sheer brilliance in its opening episodes, but these moments never find a continuing voice as the story slowly gets lost in an ocean of competing ideas and themes.      


King Car (2021)

Film and TV Bites (January 2022): King Car is now available to rent or buy.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Anyone expecting Renata Pinheiro’s ambitious slice of social fantasy and horror to emulate Stephen King’s Christine will undoubtedly be disappointed. For Pinheiro’s complex and, at times, engaging vision is rooted in the social development of a changing Brazil more than classic fantasy or horror. The result will not be to everyone’s taste in a film that looks gorgeous and sounds beautiful yet ultimately weaves too many big and complex social discussions into its narrative. Here, King Car has moments of brilliance as it explores the interface between human creation, industry and nature, but these moments also feel slightly lost in a film that runs out of gas due to its own complexity. There is no questioning that Renata Pinheiro’s movie is bold, creative and different, but easy viewing it is not, which may lead many to tune out after the first thirty minutes.


READ MORE: CHRISTINE


Boiling Point (2021)

Film and TV Bites (January 2022): Boiling Point is available to rent now on Curzon Home Cinema, Apple TV, and Amazon.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

US President Harry S. Truman famously coined the phrase “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the Kitchen”. Of course, whether this originally came from Truman is another matter entirely, but watching director Philip Barantini’s brilliant one-shot drama Boiling Point, this phrase came to mind more than once. Following his short film of the same name in 2019, this feature-length one-shot wonder again features Stephen Graham as Andy, a head chef on the verge of personal and professional disaster in a busy London restaurant. However, by expanding the runtime from 22 minutes to 92 minutes, Barantini allows the drama to grow as we explore the pressures of the front of house team, the trappings of a business run on risk and the close working relationships a busy kitchen demands.

Barantini’s awe-inspiring one-shot drama carries a hot and electric pace that reflects the highs and lows of the service and hospitality sector. While at the same time allowing the audience to feel the oppressive heat of the night’s service. Here the cast is nothing short of outstanding, with Graham’s Andy and his sous-chef, Carly (Vinette Robinson), leading the way in an ocean of engaging and riveting performances. The result is a bold and brilliant cocktail of human drama that weaves together the personal journey’s of each character into a tapestry of high’s, lows, personal sacrifices and kitchen nightmares.


READ MORE: PIRATES


Free Fall (Short Film) 2021


Film and TV Bites (January 2022): The Oscar-qualifying Free Fall won the grand prize at The Festival Regard 2021 and Contis International Film Festival 2021.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Karl Liebknecht once said, for capitalism, war and peace are business and nothing but business.” Liebknecht was, of course, correct; after all, we live in a society where money can, and is, made from everything and anything. Even human misery, tragedy and disaster are fair game in this world of greed, opportunity and wealth creation. When this reality is presented to us, we often find it uncomfortable, and it’s here that Free Fall excels. Adapted from the best-selling novel Swimming with Sharks by Joris Luyendijk and inspired by actual events, Emmanual Tenenbaum’s Free Fall explores the uncomfortable truth at the heart of our capitalist system; profit, greed, and wealth come before people, conscience and ethics.


READ MORE: INDUSTRY


When investment banker Tom arrives at work in London on the morning of 9/11, he has no idea of the tragedy about to unfold across the Atlantic. But as horrific reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Centre come in, Tom’s mind turns to the money that could be made if the event is not an accident as initially reported but an act of terror. With little thought for those trapped in the burning buildings, Tom encourages his boss to bet against the market. However, as the money flows in, Tom is about to receive a stark reminder of the human horror underway. Tenenbaum’s short film is an uncomfortable and powerful reminder of the power of greed and the absence of ethics.


JFK: Destiny Betrayed (2021)


Film and TV Bites (December 2021): JFK: Destiny Betrayed is showing now on SKY Documentaries.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Director Oliver Stone revisits his 1991 film JFK while exploring new evidence and new theories relating to the assassination of John F Kennedy in a riveting four-part series. By bringing new evidence to the table surrounding the president’s death, Stones documentary is a fascinating exposé, the most interesting analysis sitting within the cold war politics of early 60s America. Yet, for all its detail, the questions raised remain unanswered and possibly always will. However, that does not mean the search for the truth shouldn’t continue, and Stone’s series certainly leaves no stone unturned in this quest.


READ MORE: US KIDS


VAL (2021)


Film and TV Bites (December 2021): VAL is showing now on SKY Documentaries.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Kilmer’s deeply personal and, at times, highly emotional documentary is a fascinating journey into fame, creativity and personal struggle. Viewed through Kilmer’s private collection of home movies, VAL follows the highs and lows of fame and the complexities of the Hollywood system. The resulting documentary offers us a personal reflection of a career of both success and failure as Kilmer unpicks his role and legacy while celebrating his love of art, performance and film. However, this is the world from Val’s perspective, and while beautiful and sincere, it does at times feel too glossy for its own good.


READ MORE: SHOWBIZ KIDS


TITANS: Season Three (2021)


Film and TV Bites (December 2021): TITANS is showing now on Netflix.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Following hot on the heels of the equally dark and underrated Gotham, Titans finally reinvented the comic book ensemble for the small screen; of course, Titans had also appeared in countless animated films, and the kids orientated Teen Titans Go! But the TV series offered us a more adult world that felt like a continuation of Gotham. Now hitting its stride in its third season with a dark and unique take on Death in the Family and The Red Hood, this dark, brooding, and violent slice of comic book entertainment has finally laid the 1960s comedic Robin to rest. But, there are problems in this third adventure, and they lay in an over-reliance on Gotham’s world. However, that does not distract from the cinematic beauty on display or the action. Let’s just hope season four stretches its wings beyond Batman’s world.


READ MORE: SUPERMAN AND LOIS


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The Boy Behind the Door (2021)


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Film and TV Bites (September 2021): The Boy Behind the Door is playing now on Shudder.


Any mainstream horror that chooses child abduction and abuse as its main story walks a fine line. After all, how do you couple the true horror of child abuse and kidnapping with classic horror scares without becoming distasteful in the process? Many films over the years have fallen foul of this balance, for example, The Girl Next Door. However, The Boy Behind the Door navigates this fine line with skill, even if the film’s final act sadly resorts to a more traditional horror template. But, the ending aside, there is much to admire in David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s claustrophobic horror-thriller, including the performances of its young leads.

The opening half of Charbonier and Powell’s film is full of tension as it creates a genuinely uncomfortable atmosphere that is only intensified by the lack of information at our disposal. However, within its final act, The Boy Behind the Door stumbles as it adopts a cat and mouse slasher aesthetic that avoids the significant issues raised earlier. Mores the pity because while this may offer the film an easy route out, it ultimately feels evasive. Here, the darkness of the topic is finally too tricky to navigate as the directors try to find an acceptable conclusion.


How to Deter a Robber (2021)

How to Deter a Robber

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Film and TV Bites (September 2021): How to Deter a Robber is now available to rent or buy.


It’s Christmas Eve, and Madison (Vanessa Marano) and her accident-prone boyfriend Jimmy (Benjamin Papac) are spending their holiday with family in a lakeside cabin. However, between the family arguments, isolation and a rather disappointing Christmas meal, the young couples stay is hardly going to plan. But, when Madison and Jimmy spot some unusual activity at the neighbour’s house, they decide to investigate. After all, the neighbours are away, right?

Despite its festive potential, Maria Bissell’s feature debut ultimately whittles away any of its initial promise with an overly convoluted story that leads to nothing but a dead-end. The comedy is lacklustre, the staging erratic, and the characters bland. And while the cast attempt to do their best with the material on offer, the result is nothing short of disappointing. It’s only saving grace, some assured cinematography and an engaging score.


The Return (2021)

The Return

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Film and TV Bites (August 2021): The Return is now available to rent or buy.


We all love a haunted house movie, right? But, with so many on offer, the quality of these varies as directors seek to offer something new. On the face of it, BJ Vernot’s new movie would appear to fall directly into the traditional haunted house sub-genre. After all, here we have a young man, Roger (Richard Harmon), returning to his family home following the sudden death of his father. Here Roger is greeted by a mysterious apparition that emanates from the walls and an ocean of repressed memories. However, BJ Vernot’s film is not what it initially appears to be, as it slowly builds tension before throwing us a curveball of epic proportions. Much like the recent Ghosts of War, The Return is a sci-fi thriller as much as it is a supernatural tale.

Now, I am not about to ruin the twists The Return brings us in what is primarily an entertaining and solid slice of sci-fi/horror. However, as with all films that attempt to transcend genre boundaries, there are also problems within the final two acts of BJ Vernot’s movie. First, many will have guessed the narrative trajectory long before the twist. Second, the use of a Ghostbuster’s style device is plainly ridiculous. And finally, we have the death of a prominent character that seems to cause little upset. However, there is also much to admire and enjoy despite these three flaws.


High Ground (2020)


Film and TV Bites (July 2021): High Ground is now available to rent or buy.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Over recent years Australia has begun to explore its colonial roots on film with urgency, unpicking what colonialism meant and continues to mean for a relatively young nation with a complex history. These movies have included Jennifer Kent’s outstanding The Nightingale, Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence and Warwick Thornton’s stunning Sweet Country. However, High Ground’s exploration of imperialism, genocide and cultural appropriation finds its voice within the confines of a John Fordesqe western. Here its opening scenes are brutal as we follow Gutjuk (Guruwuk Mununggurr) as he is taken into the care of a local mission following the slaughter of his family. Here, High Ground’s tale of violence and an ever-repeating cycle of destruction are both sincere, urgent and essential viewing.

While it may not find the devastating voice of some of its predecessors, High Ground asks us to reflect on the beliefs and actions behind colonialism and the individual’s place in its ongoing legacy. While at the same time never shying away from the brutal ideas of superiority that led to the enslavement and murder of indigenous communities.


Luca (2021)

Luca

Film and TV Bites (July 2021): Luca is streaming now on Disney +

Rating: 4 out of 5.

After serving as a story artist for Coco and Ratatouille, Enrico Casarosa finally takes to the director’s chair with his first feature, Luca – a delightful, engaging and colourful exploration of friendship, pasta, vespers and diversity. Here each beautifully animated scene is bathed in the sunshine and sea air of the Italian coast as we meet two young sea monsters, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). Their newfound friendship, coupled with a daring exploration of the human world above their ocean home.

Casarosa, Andrews and Stephenson’s story takes the saying “A fish out of water” and layers it with a delicate exploration of identity, discrimination, acceptance and love. And while the story may follow a similar narrative arc to many of Pixar’s previous outings, Luca feels delightfully different. Here the film’s beauty and characters are a love letter to Italian culture and filmmaking. Meanwhile, the voice performances of Tremblay and Grazer fill every scene with warmth and honesty. Their magical sea creatures in boys clothing, believable, heartwarming and joyous.


READ MORE: ONWARD


The God Committee (2021)

The god committee

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Film and TV Bites (July 2021): The God Committee is available to rent or buy now.


Austin Stark’s adaptation of Mark St. Germain’s play about a group of doctors tasked with deciding who should receive a heart transplant is both striking and deeply frustrating. It’s narrative flitting between two stories; one strong, engaging and urgent, while the other is melodramatic and ultimately unneeded. The first story explores the politics of the so-called God Committee, a group of doctors who decide who should live or die when an organ donation arrives at the hospital. Meanwhile, the second focuses on the relationship between Dr Boxer (Grammer) and Dr Taylor (Stiles). Here The God Committee falls into simplistic medical melodrama.

When exploring themes of ethics and fairness around the boardroom table, the lives of patients held in the hands of a small group, The God Committee, is engaging, fascinating and scary. But, when exploring the relationship between Boxer and Taylor, The God Committee undoes its most significant asset in a film of two halves that only ever needed one.


Love and Monsters (2020)


Film and TV Bites: Love and Monsters is streaming now on Netflix.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

One of the sad things about our current lockdown and the arrival of movies on various streaming platforms is they often don’t get the praise they deserve. I do not doubt that if cinemas had been open, Love and Monsters would have been one of the sleeper hits of the year. But instead, it quietly slipped onto Netflix with little fanfare. However, Michael Matthews movie is a rare gem in modern fantasy/sci-fi moviemaking. After all, it’s not based on a comic book, nor is it bleak, superhero-based or violent. Instead, Love and Monsters is a brilliantly fun, humorous and imaginative adventure. Here its themes of apocalypse find a genuinely unique voice as humans are overrun by giant insects, treated with contempt by us for generations while small and squashable.

The result is a delightful nature versus humanity story, where nature is finally back in control. However, Love and Monsters pure brilliance doesn’t stop there, with Dylan O’Brien on top form as an insecure warrior in a world of giant slugs, snails and man-eating crabs.


My Octopus Teacher (2020)

Film and TV Bites: My Octopus Teacher is streaming now on Netflix.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What makes us human? And how does our relationship to nature impact our sense of humanity? In a pandemic world, these questions are even more urgent. And as our Earth suffers daily from the damage we have inflicted over generations, our relationship to nature has never needed to change more than now. However, can a single documentary encourage and inspire this change? The answer is simple, yes! From David Attenborough to Apple TVs, The Year Earth Changed, documentaries not only bring the natural world into our living room but encourage us to learn and grow. However, many still view these works from a perspective of human dominance—the human in control as we peek into the lives of our luscious animal kingdom. But, what if another creature equalled our intelligence? Our view of nature, built on equity rather than control.

My Octopus Teacher asks this very question, as the bond between one man and a wild cephalopod takes centre stage. The journey we take is both emotional, unique and urgent as we reflect on our place in a world of so many wonders. While at the same time considering how our responsibilities to nature and life must change to a relationship of partnership and equity.


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