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Movie Review: The Playground

The Playground is a dark and foreboding drama thriller and feature film debut for writer-director Edreace Purmul. Set as a series of chapters, we slowly advance up a flight of cobblestone stairs as this ominous and atmospheric ensemble drama journeys with five distinct individuals.

Joseph is a priest seeking solace on the outskirts of the city. Mr. Vaugn is a businessman, who finds himself in a great deal of financial distress. Grandison is homeless and looking to escape a life of destitution. Jill is a hairdresser trying to rescue her failing marriage, while her ex-con husband, Jack, tries to make good on a deal.

These intersecting tales of temptation keep you watching and waiting as the atmosphere thickens and things begin to spiral. It's a bleak, evil world and this tale of morality functions like a fable, drawing inspiration from folk lore and oral literature including: The Treasure-Bringer, The Son of the Thunder, Barisa and Tales of the Devil.

Lacing these stories and characters into one saga gives this low budget production overarching scale. The thought-provoking interplay of man vs. ideology makes The Playground a challenging film, which like The Exorcist, will sharpen your convictions, or bring them into question.

The Playground 2016 movie review

"To drive or not to drive..."

Purmul's film has a subversive quality as a mysterious man encounters a young girl in a playground, and launches into his anthology of stories. The dynamic is unsettling and the real-life fables give evil unrestrictive power in each situation.

This can be explained away by the grand puppet master, who functions as an omnipotent presence, but the nature of fables and the devious ambitions of this pivotal character make the film's intentions questionable.

The ensemble features Myles Cranford as an unnerving homeless man, Merrick McGartha as an impressionable and crazed counterpart, Christopher Salazar's haunting and melancholy disposition adds to a stereotypical priest, Shane P. Allen works well as a slime ball tycoon, Laurence R. Kivett gives Jack a rambling wanderlust while Ghandir Mounib owns a not-so-naive Jill. To cap it off, Daniel Armand's nameless man is cloaked in mystery, never fully revealed... keeping an air of suspense like a chilling variation of Dracula.

The Playground's air of intrigue is perpetuated by its dark soundtrack, fable storytelling and mysterious chapter format. At 151 minutes, it's a long film, which does feel somewhat drawn out at times. The performances are perfunctory to good and while the stereotypes have their place in an every-man fable, they keep us at an arm's length from the characters.

The dark omens, ominous tone and horror thriller elements will keep genre fans intrigued, but will deter most other audiences with its penchant for evil and slow-boiling to drawn out run time. It's a passion project and the film-makers lean into the abyss, but to the detriment of the film's overall appeal.

Purmul shows flair, creates some truly unsettling moments, demonstrates great resourcefulness and carries the film with a marked consistency in terms of production. Unfortunately, while he mostly meets his ambitions, the duration, insidious atmosphere and seemingly ulterior motives curtail the film's intrinsic entertainment value.

Watching with some hesitation makes it a challenging film experience, which while laden with merit, proficiency and passion, only make it feel like a missed opportunity. The Playground is a niche epic and its dark credence is disturbing, subverting one's enjoyment of the film. Purmul demonstrates his craft and achieves much with little, but it would be good to see what he could do with a broader budget and less divisive content.

The bottom line: Precarious

Talking Movies with Spling - The Huntsman: Winter's War, Run and Byzantium

Spling reviews The Huntsman: Winter's War, Run and Byzantium as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

The Huntsman: Winter's War

Snow White and The Huntsman was a beautiful magpie of a fantasy adventure. While far from perfect, the film's unlikely duo in Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth kept us guessing as a dark, majestic performance from Charlize Theron stole the show. No one was expecting a prequel... sequel... spin-off?

Whatever it is, The Huntsman: Winter's War creates a continuity of its own by including Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, visual effects supervisor turned director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and it's predilection for stealing from bigger and better fantasy films. As if having one brilliant actress wasn't enough, they've gone and snagged another two in Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt.

This time round, The Huntsman is trying to circumvent a complete takeover of the kingdom. We're given a light origins story and introduced to a new love interest in Sara. The two are separated by Freya only to reunite in an effort to foil both Freya and the resurrected Ravenna. Speaking of foil, the costumes and make up are just as dazzling as the CGI moving from grubby woodsman wear to shimmering majesty... it's how they maintain power.

The ensemble is impressive even if Chris Hemsworth is playing a blend of Thor and Brad Pitt in Snatch. He's there, but he's not there... delivering a Wednesday performance, which is further distanced by our difficulty in deciphering his forest of an accent. Luckily, he's able to push off Jessica Chastain in a Witch Hunters style duo, and supported by two snarky dwarves in Nick Frost and Rob Brydon.

The Huntsman: Winter's War

"Say my name, witch..."

The evil queen match up between Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron counterbalances this party of adventurers as the recovery of the magic mirror becomes paramount. It's like an adaptation of Frozen, creating a similar dynamic with dwarves instead of a snowman and moose, and Chris Hemsworth as the mountain man. The twisted sisters complete the picture and instead of singing "Let It Go", they're committed to being "the fairest of them all"... even if it comes down to a dazzling CGI-fueled cat fight.

The CGI is quite masterful, painting an icy magical kingdom and casting a spell on the audience with life-like creatures and sorcery. This distracts us from a pithy story as elements from better films drop into place like dominoes. The goblins are basically mutant Planet of the Apes primates, who are intimidating and just ape enough to be scary.

The icy Queen Freya is a variation of Tilda Swinton's White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, complete with polar bear. Even the altercation at the bar has a Lord of the Rings feel, while Eric and Sara's relationship echoes Game of Thrones.

Disney tried to graduate visual effects wizard, Robert Stromberg, into a fully-fledged director in Maleficent and here Cedric Nicolas-Troyan attempts a similar leap of faith. While the visual effects are dazzling, the storytelling and performances aren't as polished and the film suffers as a result.

The Huntsman: Winter's War has a first-class cast, incredible visual effects and some sharp action sequences, but these fail to rescue a garbled script and truly engage our imagination. The fantasy adventure isn't epic enough to draw wonder, funny enough to be charming or magical enough to absorb us. We're left in limbo, rooting for the talent, marveling at the effects, ploughing through the dull familiarity and waiting for the film to click...

The bottom line: Half-hearted

Talking Movies with Spling - Eddie the Eagle, Race and Grandma

Spling reviews Eddie the Eagle, Race and Grandma as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

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