Thursday, 29 December 2011

Best Films of 2011

It's hard to list the best films of 2011 when I haven't yet seen all of them (including a few that have been getting Golden Globe and SAG nominations) so this is just a list of films I've seen this year that I loved.

1) Incendies – One of the most disturbingly powerful films I’ve ever seen. Tragic, confronting and devastating. Not for the faint hearted.



2) Snowtown – Another grossly confronting film and a great piece of Australian cinema. You will feel utter disgust watching this film. It's based on a true story of one of Australia's worst serial killers. I had to look away several times.

3) X-Men: First Class – It may be an unusual choice for the top 10, but with so many terrible comic book adaptations lately, this film was a real winner. It's what a superhero action film is supposed to be.



4) Black Swan – Amazing film and amazing performances by Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Great psychological thriller.

5) Midnight In Paris – Beautiful film about following your heart and your dreams. Woody Allen is a genius.



6) Moneyball – Insightful film about the sporting world. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are brilliant. You don't have to like sport to enjoy this film.

7) 127 Hours – Danny Boyle is such a great film-maker that he can make a film where 90 per cent of it involves one man stuck in a rock. James Franco gave, arguably, the performance of his career to date (his performance in James Dean was also outstanding).



8) The Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Motion capture technology at its finest, proving that audiences can have an emotional connection with a character created with this technology.

9) Melancholia – It seems you either really love or really hate Lars Von Trier. I thought this film was intense, amazing and thought-provoking. If only it were a little shorter.



10) The Tree of Life – Gorgeous cinematography and a gripping performance from Brad Pitt. This film works on so many levels.


Notable mentions:
The Lincoln Lawyer – Matthew McConaughey showed us he can actually act when he's not concerned about prancing around shirtless. A great example of a suspense drama.

Rabbit Hole – Dark and moving. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart give great performances in this sad story of how a couple cope with the loss of a child. Heartbreaking to watch.

Bridesmaids – Showed us that women are just as capable as men of being totally gross and hilarious.

The Beaver – Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster work perfectly together. Say what you want about Mel the man, but Mel the actor is sublime.

Horrible Bosses – Hilarious and entertaining. An all-star cast that delivers the goods.

Drive – Well paced, great directing and lots of creative ways to kill people.




Top 10 disappointments of the year:

1) Your Highness – Not even James Franco could save this film.
2) Larry Crowne – Nothing could save Tom Hanks' career after this flop.
2) The Three Musketeers – I have never looked down at my watch more during a film.
4) Tangled – I couldn't even finish this children's film.
5) Zookeeper – Could have been so much better, but the laughs fall flat.
5) Jack and Jill – Oh Adam Sandler, what were you thinking?
7) Green Lantern – If Ryan Reynolds had not been in this film, I would have walked out.
8) Captain America: The First Avenger – Should have been so much better.
8) Shark Night 3D – So bad, it was good. Unless you're a shark fan or a fan of watching teenagers being eaten by sharks, this film offers very little.
9) Insidious – Not scary, not entertaining. Just bad.




What are your hit and miss films of the year?

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

DIRECTED BY: Guy Ritchie
WRITTEN BY: Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney
STARRING: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Noomi Rapace.
RATING: 2 stars

I really like Robert Downey Jr. He has so much charm and appeal, you would think he would be an ideal dinner guest. I also really like Guy Ritchie as a director. He has a specific style that works in films, like Snatch, and he makes typical fight sequences so much more exciting to watch. Unfortunately, my adulation of Downey Jr and Ritchie does not extend to Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. I don't know what happened with this film, it had so much potential, but in the end, not much happened at all. There were several climaxes that became anti-climaxes and I wound up looking at my watch a few times and thinking, "Is it going to end soon?" That's not what you want from a film.

In a sequel to the 2009 film, Sherlock Holmes (Downey Jr) returns for what is not exactly an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's short story, The Final Problem, but certainly has some elements of it. After some suspicious bombings around Europe, Holmes starts to investigate his arch enemy Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). It seems that with the help of an anarchist group, Moriarty wants to cause a European war. He is also buying some weapon manufacturing companies. Holmes and Dr Watson (Jude Law) team up with Holmes's brother, Mycroft (Stephen Fry), and Sim (Noomi Rapace), a Gypsy fortune teller, to stop Moriarty.

There's a lot happening in this film and yet nothing really happens at all. Ritchie does his best to add some spice by using his distinctive slow-motion shots during action sequences. The slow-motion is used to show audiences what Holmes plans to do in a fight and then we see the action unfold at a quicker pace. This is done a few times throughout the film, but none in a more effective way than in the confronting scene between Holmes and Moriarty, when both men plot the steps of their battle, including their moves and expected counter-moves, in their minds before beginning the struggle. The slow-motion technique is also used in a chase scene in a forest where bullets are seen hitting trees and only just missing Holmes and his crew. It's exciting to watch.

Unfortunately, that's where my praise ends. Although there are a few laughs in this film, there aren’t enough. The chemistry between Downey Jr and Law is minimal, and the female cast do nothing to add any life to the characterisations. At least Fry is entertaining, but even he doesn't quite fulfil expectations.

The first Sherlock Holmes film was average. Unfortunately, A Game of Shadows is below average. Apparently there are plans for a third instalment if this film is successful. Let's hope not. I would rather re-watch Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang for my Downey Jr fix.


Sunday, 18 December 2011

We Bought A Zoo

DIRECTED BY: Cameron Crowe
WRITTEN BY: Aline Brosh McKenna, Cameron Crowe
STARRING: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johannson, Thomas Hadden Church, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones.
RATING: 3.5 stars

I was loving this film so much until the final 20 minutes threatened to ruin all the fun. It was like Walt Disney had sent Mickey Mouse to spread some sparkly magic over the film to give it a lame and ridiculous ending. Why couldn't they have kept it more realistically emotional and heartfelt? It really is a beautiful concept though, and a film worth seeing.

Based on a book written by Benjamin Mee, We Bought A Zoo tells the true story of Benjamin (Matt Damon) a journalist who has lost his wife to illness and is now struggling to raise their children Dylan (Colin Ford) and Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) alone. With Dylan struggling to stay focused at school, Benjamin decides to move his family to a new home and finds the perfect house away from the city. The only problem is that the house is on the property of a run-down zoo and if they want the house, they have to keep the animals too. The family then works with staff, including workaholic zoo keeper Kelly (Scarlett Johannson) to make sure the zoo is ready in time for its grand opening.

Writer and director Cameron Crowe has struggled in the past decade to give audiences an engaging film, but this is probably his best work since Jerry McGuire (because I controversially didn't like Almost Famous). It's not as good, but it explores the same sort of idea about finding value in your life and doing what you love. While the film is about a zoo, it's really about a family's struggle to cope with death. The zoo is just a tool and a catalyst to help the family move on after their tragic loss.

What makes the film really successful though is Matt Damon's convincing performance. Arguably Hollywood's most likeable actor, Damon plays the everyday man well. His character is a father torn between his grief over losing the love of his life and his desire to live an adventure with his children, who are also struggling to cope with the loss of their mother. There are some powerful scenes in the film in which Damon cries, yells and crumbles before our eyes, and his performance is memorable. One scene in particular with Ford is particularly moving and even realistically funny in the end.

Thomas Haden Church provides a lot of laughs as Duncan, Benjamin's older accountant brother, who is constantly telling him what a terrible idea it is to waste his money on a zoo. Speaking of comedic moments, this film does what The Zookeeper failed to do earlier this year - use animals in a funny way. Snakes let loose on zoo grounds, an escaped grizzly bear and a close encounter with a lion provide both laughs and poignant moments. Not to mention the powerful scenes with a sick tiger. Kudos also to Jones who must be the cutest little girl in Hollywood. She has some great scenes, especially when she blurts out personal facts to complete strangers.

We Bought A Zoo doesn't quite achieve everything it sets out to do, and I'm still trying to figure out who thought it was a good idea to cast Scarlett Johannson in this film, but it is a sweet summer indulgence for children and adults alike. If you love animals, you won't want to miss this film.


Saturday, 17 December 2011

Best Christmas Films

Top 10 Christmas Films (in no particular order):

It's A Wonderful Life, 1946 – When a man tries to commit suicide on Christmas Eve, a guardian angel shows him what his hometown would be like if he had never lived. You will cry.

Die Hard, 1988 – New York policeman John McClane attends the company Christmas party of his estranged wife, who is a businesswoman in Los Angeles. Terrorists threaten to ruin the festivities. Some of the best one-liners in film history.





Miracle On 34th Street, 1947 and remade in 1994 – A department store Santa restores a little girl's faith at Christmas. A true classic.

Home Alone, 1990 – Kevin McCallister, 8, is mistakenly left behind when his family flies to Paris for their Christmas vacation. He then cleverly fights some bad guys in some very funny moments. Who doesn’t love this film?





Bridget Jones's Diary, 2001 – Maybe not technically a Christmas film as such, but it has a great Christmas scene with Colin Firth in one of the ugliest and most embarrassing festive jumpers ever known to man.

Love Actually, 2003 – Tells the story of eight couples dealing with their love lives in loosely interrelated plots during the festive season in London. Much better than other films of its type like Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve.





Trading Places, 1983 – A rich man and a poor man switch classes as part of a social experiment during the festive season. Great comedy.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, 1989 – The Griswold family plans turn to disaster at Christmas. There's a reason why this film is on television every Christmas.





The Gremlins, 1984 – Careful what gifts you give people at Christmas! Every child of the 80's can recite the Gremlin rules: keep it out of daylight; never get it wet; and never, ever, feed it after midnight.

Giant, 1956 – Although not technically, a Christmas film, there is a memorable Christmas scene. This was James Dean's last film before his tragic death, and with his character aging into his senior years, the film shows audiences what might have been if the legendary actor had lived a longer life.





Notable mentions, some of which aren't technically Christmas films either, but have Christmas scenes in them:

Stepmum, 1998 – A memorable family Christmas scene. Susan Sarandon is amazing in this film.

Citizen Kane, 1941 – A young Kane receives a sled as a Christmas gift. How could I not mention one of the greatest films ever made?

Donnie Brasco, 1997 – An FBI agent infiltrates the Mafia. In one scene the characters celebrate Christmas by exchanging cards stuffed with money.

Batman Returns, 1992 – Batman fights the Penguin, Catwoman, and a corrupt industrialist during Christmas.

The Godfather, 1972 – Christmas in 1945 is the backdrop for several murders by the Mafia. Still one of the greatest films ever made.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, 2005 – A crook poses as an actor and gets tangled up in a crime during a Christmas setting. Hilarious. Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jnr are fantastic!

Goodfellas, 1990 – In one scene the mobsters celebrate Christmas after pulling off a heist.

Little Women, 1933, 1978 and 1994 – Includes scenes of the family during Christmas. One of the greatest novels ever written and the films do it justice.

Mean Girls, 2004 – A teenage outsider learns about school cliques. Includes a scene where girls sing and dance to Jingle Bell Rock. Even men like this teenage romantic comedy.

Lethal Weapon, 1987 – A young, depressed policeman partners with a veteran officer to solve a murder during the Christmas period. One of the best buddy action films.

L.A. Confidential, 1997 – While investigating a Christmas Eve massacre, three detectives uncover corruption.

When Harry Met Sally, 1989 – Has several Christmas and New Year's scenes. It also happens to be one of the best romantic comedies of all time.


I'm sure I've missed some great films, so please add your suggestions, and have a very Merry Christmas :)

Monday, 12 December 2011

Happy Feet Two

DIRECTED BY: George Miller
WRITTEN BY: George Miller, Gary Eck, Warren Coleman, Paul Livingston
STARRING: Elijah Wood, Hank Azaria, Robin Williams, Pink, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon
RATING: 2.5 stars

The first Happy Feet film was mildly entertaining, but I don't think anyone actually asked for a sequel. We've been given one anyway and I'm probably in the minority when I say I think the sequel is slightly better than the original, though neither film is all that good.

In Happy Feet Two, Mumble (Elijah Wood) and Gloria (Pink, replacing the late Brittany Murphy) have a young son named Erik (Ava Acres) who is not so keen on dancing. Erik is teased by the other penguins so he runs away and meets a penguin named Sven (Hank Azaria) who can fly. There is no way that Mumble can compete with Erik's new hero, until another global warming disaster threatens the Emperor penguin community and it's up to Mumble to save them all. Meanwhile, Will the Krill (Brad Pitt) decides he wants to be independent rather than at the bottom of the food chain with all the other krill in his swarm, but his buddy Bill the Krill (Matt Damon) is not as prepared for their adventure. The two plots are mostly kept separate until towards the end, and even then are not really tied very closely together.

There are few people I would consider to be a comedy genius but Robin Williams (Ramon and Lovelace) and Azaria are two of them. Their presence in Happy Feet Two is enough to make the film entertaining. Pitt and Damon are also very funny with their strange krill bromance while Pink provides some great tunes throughout the film. The real emotion and heart, however, comes from Wood and Acres who give great performances as father and son. Acres is especially good in one scene when she sings a beautiful song about Mumble. It's a very touching moment.

3D is so expensive for the average family to pay and, while I enjoyed aspects of the 3D effects, it probably isn't worth paying the extra money for it. So yes, the penguins are cute, the choreography is great and the songs are fun, but what we get in this sequel is pretty much what we got in the original film. Let's hope George Miller doesn't bother with a third instalment.



Sunday, 11 December 2011

Melancholia

DIRECTED BY: Lars von Trier
WRITTEN BY: Lars von Trier
STARRING: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard, Kiefer Sutherland.
RATING: 3.5 stars

If you want to see a film that washes over you with simple dialogue, plain characters and a straight plot, then don't see Melancholia. But, if you want to see a film that challenges you to analyse your way of life and how you deal with stress and anxiety, then art-house film Melancholia is perfect for you. This existential science-fiction film ties in themes of fear, death, depression and the end of the world without being over-the-top or ridiculous. Melancholia is essentially an apocalyptic disaster film for viewers more interested in people, rather than blowing things up. Sorry, Will Smith.

The long, slow-motion prologue may put off some viewers, but if you know anything about writer/director Lars Von Trier then you know to expect a film that's a little different. After the introduction, in which we see the world ending, we jump back in time to the night of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael's (Alexander Skarsgard) wedding. Justine is struggling to find happiness, even though she is marrying a man who loves her and is supportive of her during her bouts of depression. The extravagant wedding was paid for by Justine's sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland). Meanwhile, a rogue planet called Melancholia is coming towards Earth and Claire is struggling to hide her anxiety that the planet will destroy the world.

The film is a great examination of how depression can overrun our lives and consume us so that we cannot even enjoy moments where we should be at our happiest. In amongst all the drama is also some very funny moments to lighten the mood a little. Sutherland's character has some funny lines during the wedding, as he struggles with his mother-in-law's own kind of crazy. But the biggest laughs come from the wedding planner who refuses to look at Justine because she ruined “his” wedding. In fact, all the performances are very strong, especially from the leading ladies. Dunst in particular seems to have come up with a performance that is so unlike anything we've seen from her before. It's no wonder she's been getting so much praise and accolades for her performance. The use of music is also effective in this film and the cinematography is beautiful.

Ironically, on the day I saw this film, we had a lunar eclipse, which made me reflect even more on the film. Melancholia may be a little slow-paced, and it certainly isn't the feel-good film of the year, but it is full of layers of metaphors and substance, which so many films these days seem to lack. You will be thinking about the film for days later.



Wednesday, 7 December 2011

New Year's Eve

DIRECTED BY: Gary Marshall
WRITTEN BY: Katherine Fugate
RATING: 3 stars

As Katherine Heigl's character says in New Year's Eve, “There's going to be more celebrities here than rehab.” I'm going to attempt to list the long and impressive cast in this film, so you'll forgive me if the list goes on too long and/or if I miss some people: Jon Bon Jovi, Josh Duhamel, Hilary Swank, Sarah Jessica Parker, Katherine Heigl, Zac Efron, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Biel, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Cary Elwes, Joey McIntyre, Alyssa Milano, Seth Myers, Abigail Breslin, Sophia Vergara, Ashton Kutcher, Lea Michele, James Belushi, Cherry Jones, Ludacris, Hector Elizondo and Matthew Broderick.

Still with me? In what has become its own genre these days, there seems to be a film for just about every holiday and occasion whereby several short stories unfold over the course of a two-hour film until all the stories eventually tie together in some way. From the makers of Valentine's Day, we now have New Year's Eve, a film that shows audiences a seemingly typical New Year's Eve in New York.

One storyline follows a caterer named Laura (Heigl) who is catering an important New Year's Eve event when she runs into her famous rock star ex-boyfriend Jensen (Bon Jovi). The party is being hosted by rich man Sam (Duhamel) who is looking for a woman he met last New Year's Eve. Meanwhile, Kim (Sarah Jessica Parker) is struggling to deal with her teenage daughter Hailey (Breslin) while Kim's brother Paul (Efron) tries to make Ingrid's (Pfeiffer) dreams come true in exchange for some tickets to Sam's party. He is also trying to convince his room-mate Randy (Kutcher) to join him at the party but Randy is against celebrating New Year's Eve. He ends up stuck in an elevator with Elise (Michele) who panics about missing her dream opportunity to sing with Jensen in Times Square. Meanwhile, at a hospital, two couples compete to win some prize money for having the first baby born in the new year while a nurse (Berry) cares for dying man Stan (De Niro). As all these stories unfold, Claire (Swank) is struggling as the New Year's Eve organiser in Times Square to make sure the famous ball drops at midnight.

If you're wondering how they can get a cast this eclectic for a romantic comedy, it's because it requires little work for the actors who only have a few scenes. It's also due to well-respected director, Gary Marshall who manages to bring out the best in his cast. There's no earth-shattering performances, but everyone does a relatively good job.

I'm renowned for being cynical about romantic comedies, but I do like these types of films because I invest less in the characters and story-lines, so I can enjoy them for what they are without being too picky about how unrealistic they are. The main problem with this film is that there are so many sub-plots going on that the film cannot accommodate them in two hours. We end up with a bunch of underdeveloped plots and characters. This is a shame because there are actually some potentially good plots I would have liked to have been fleshed out. The singing scenes are also a little cringe worthy. I adore Bon Jovi, but his duet with Glee star Michele, who I also usually like, just seemed like another Glee episode.

This film is certainly not breaking any new ground, but it delivers exactly what it promises its target audience of females. Don't take it too seriously, just enjoy it for what it is.



Sunday, 4 December 2011

Dolphin Tale

DIRECTED BY: Charles Martin Smith
WRITTEN BY: Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi
STARRING: Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Harry Connick Jr, Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman,
RATING: 4 stars

I'm warning you from the start – you need to bring tissues if you're going to see Dolphin Tale. This film is basically Free Willy with a dolphin; it's cute, it's sentimental, it's sad, it's uplifting and it's certainly corny at times. Dolphin Tale is pretty much everything you want a family summer film to be. It also has a great moral to the story that is sure to teach children a valuable lesson about acceptance and overcoming adversity.

Inspired by a true story, Dolphin Tale is about a young boy named Nelson (Nathan Gamble) who is a loner, struggling in school and has only his older cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell) in the army to look up to as a male role model. One day, a fisherman and Nelson find a bottle nose dolphin named Winter washed up on the beach, stuck in a crab trap that has crippled her tail. Nelson and Winter strike up an immediate bond and soon Nelson is helping Winter with her rehabilitation at a marine hospital, led by Dr Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr) and his daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff). To save Winter's life, Nelson seeks the help of eccentric prosthetics doctor Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) to create a new tail for Winter.

The 3D effects add a nice touch to this film, mostly due to the playful way the effects are used with the dolphins. The acting is nothing mind-blowing but everyone gives a solid performance, including Ashley Judd as Nelson's mother and Kris Kristofferson as Hazel's grandfather. The stronger performances come from the lead actors – the children – Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who are raw and emotional. But the real star of the film is, of course, Winter the dolphin. If you don't fall in love with this animal, you have no soul.

My main criticism of the film is its length, which is about one hour and 45 minutes. It packs in a lot of details and sub-plots, such as Kyle's war sub-plot and the possibility for the marine hospital closing down, which both tie in quite nicely as a juxtaposition of what's happening in the main storyline with Winter. The problem is, because the film is trying to pull at your heart strings on so many levels with each sub-plot, it takes time to build that emotional connection with the story and the characters. Unfortunately, it takes a little too long. For a family film where children are supposed to sit still for an extended period of time, it really should have been about 15 minutes shorter.

Nonetheless, with so many animation films coming up over the summer for children, it's nice to see an inspiring and adorable family film with real people and one of the cutest animals in the world. If you have children prone to nagging you about being bored over the holidays, take them to see Dolphin Tale – you'll all enjoy it. Just remember those tissues!



Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Jack and Jill

DIRECTED BY: Dennis Dugan
WRITTEN BY: Adam Sandler, Steve Koran
STARRING: Adam Sandler, Al Pacino, Katie Holmes
RATING: 1 star

If you're an Adam Sandler fan, stop reading this now and go see Jack and Jill. It's not because it's a good film, it's because nothing I write in this review will change your mind about wanting to see it, even though it's a terrible film. If you're an Al Pacino fan, you'll probably never be able to watch Scarface the same way again, but it is nice to see him try something different.

Sandler plays Jack Sadelstein, a family man who owns an advertising agency. Every year he dreads seeing his twin sister Jill (also played by Sandler in drag) when she visits for the Thanksgiving holidays because she is needy and whines about everything. But Jack's wife Erin (Katie Holmes) encourages Jack to be patient with Jill because she's lonely. When Jill decides to extend her stay, Jack signs her up for an online dating service so that he doesn't have to spend so much time with her. Meanwhile, Jack tries to convince Al Pacino (playing himself) to participate in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial until he realises that Pacino is falling in love with Jill and he can use their romance to his advantage.

In a film that lacks plot, you would expect the characters to at least have some depth, but they were all one-dimensional. Jill was the only character remotely interesting, but even she was as annoying, at times, as Jack perceives her to be. Before I continue bashing Sandler, I have to explain that I actually think he can be quite funny and I have enjoyed some of his previous films. But even hardcore Sandler fans would have to admit he's made some dud films in recent years. I like bodily function jokes just as much as the next person, but it seemed to me that almost every scene in Jack and Jill ended with someone farting or getting hit in the face. There's only so much of this slapstick humour a person can take.

As for the performances, Sandler barely looks like he's even trying, which is a shame, because he can actually act when he wants to. Pacino on the other hand gives a good performance with the measly script he was given to work with, and is actually a good crazy caricature of himself. But after a while, I felt like even he became bored with the film. Johnny Depp delivers a great cameo in what is only one of two scenes I would consider genuinely entertaining and worth seeing again. Holmes gives a forgettable performance as Jack's wife and you'd have to wonder why she even bothered being part of the film, while the usual Sandler side-kick team also make an appearance, including David Spade in drag.

But, if you want to see a real drag comedy with a plot and funny characters, you're far better off watching Some Like It Hot – a true comedy classic, free of cheap laughs, that never gets old.


Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One

DIRECTED BY: Bill Condon
WRITTEN BY: Melissa Rosenberg
STARRING: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
RATING: 2.5 stars

It took less than 30 seconds for Taylor Lautner to take his shirt off in the latest instalment of the Twilight series, and so began the first of many laughs from the audience throughout the film. I'm not sure how intentional some of these laughs were supposed to be, but it does seem like the film-makers are poking fun at themselves and the obsession so many people seem to have with the Twilight saga, which is great because Twihards (the obsessive Twilight fans) will still enjoy it, and it also gives casual viewers something to giggle about during what is essentially a sappy vampire/werewolf/human love triangle audiences just keep flocking back to cinemas to see.

If you haven't read the famous books by Stephanie Meyer, Breaking Dawn is the final book in the series. The film, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One, is the penultimate film in the franchise. A lot happens in the final book, so Hollywood decided to stretch it out over two films. But really, it could have all been wrapped up into one film, and it probably would have been better. As it is, the film felt more like a painfully drawn-out double episode of a soap opera.

Breaking Dawn - Part One begins with our heroine human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and broody vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) getting married. Everyone is very happy for them, except moody werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) who is still in love with Bella and is worried that Edward will kill her if they consummate their marriage before she turns into a vampire, because apparently vampire sex is too much for a mere human to handle. Edward and Bella go on a romantic honeymoon, which is shown to the audience in a series of drawn out sequences and over-the-top montages, until one day, Bella realises she's pregnant. Is that even possible? No one seems to know, but soon the baby begins sucking the life out of Bella and it's up to Edward, Jacob and the Cullen family to save her and the baby.

It sounds like a ridiculous plot, but those who know the story are very much attached to it and love it. If you're not a fan of the Twilight books or film series there is no point trying to catch the wave now. True fans will love this film because the first hour is full of mushy teen romance. It's exactly what Twihards want and expect. The second half is a little more exciting and action-packed, although I thought the fighting scenes could have been better. The special effects were not as good as the Eclipse film.

Although it is a slow-paced film, Breaking Dawn - Part One is still enjoyable for Twihards and even casual fans of the franchise. Whether you're Team Jacob or Team Edward, or no team at all, this film has enough romance, action and humour for some light entertainment.


Thursday, 10 November 2011

Moneyball

DIRECTED BY: Bennett Miller
WRITTEN BY: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin
STARRING: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman
RATING: 4 stars

I am not a big baseball fan. As a journalist, I certainly am not a numbers person either. Yet, somehow, a film that brings these two themes together moved me, intrigued me and left me feeling satisfied that I had just seen an amazing film where all the stylistic aspects and storytelling came together almost perfectly.

Based on a true story and adapted from Michael Lewis' book, Moneyball tells the story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a failed baseball player who is now the general manager of the Oakland A's. Just before the 2002 season, three of his team's best players are bought by other clubs with much bigger budgets. Struggling with a weak team and a very small budget, Billy hires Yale-educated economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who has an alternative theory to creating a successful baseball team – finding cheap players who are undervalued because they are too old or injured to create a unified team. Together, Billy and Peter gamble with their jobs to test their theory out.

Moneyball is not a traditional sports movie and is just as entertaining for non-sports fans. For starters, there is very little focus on the players and the games. When game scenes are shown, it is only to depict pivotal moments in the story and it never drags on like some other sports films. Instead, the film centres around the working relationship between Billy and Peter. There is some very clever dialogue, mostly due to the two excellent screenwriters Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steven Zaillian (Gangs of New York). You don't watch a sports film to think, right? But in Moneyball you do think – a lot – and not just about the financial ins and outs of running a sporting team, but also about life, family and career choices.

To develop the character of Billy, we are shown several flashback scenes to his childhood and past as a promising baseball player. We also see his heartbreakingly emotional home life as a single father, and little quirky things about his personality like the fact that he never watches a game live. All of these things develop the character, make you care about him and make you all the more enthralled by the story. With a lesser actor, these complexities in Billy may not have been so evident and moving, but Pitt is a seasoned performer. Unfortunately, Pitt's abilities are often overlooked just because he's Brad “The Most Handsome Man In The World” Pitt. But, if he doesn't get an Oscar nomination for Moneyball (or his earlier 2011 film, The Tree of Life), I will be very surprised.

Jonah Hill is also very impressive as Peter. Who knew he was more than a comedian? He still has some funny moments in this film, but he definitely shows he has the capabilities to be a serious actor too. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a good mildly-bad guy coach who doesn't support the alternative style of management. Robin Wright also appears as Billy's ex-wife and Kerris Dorsey is fantastic as Billy's sweet-natured daughter Casey.

Moneyball is smart, emotional and intense. Essentially, it's a film that is not about winning baseball, but about winning at life and taking chances.


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Falstaff

WRITTEN BY: Giuseppe Verdi
DIRECTED BY: Julie Edwardson
CONDUCTED BY: Simon Hewett
STARRING: James Clayton, Sally-Anne Russell, Katja Webb, Elisa Wilson, Samuel Sakker
RATING: 3.5 stars

There's nothing quite like a night at the opera. Perhaps because unlike films, the opera rarely disappoints. You can't really go wrong performing a classic like Falstaff, an Italian opera with English surtitles. Falstaff is Giuseppe Verdi's final masterpiece, a three-act comedy inspired by a combination of William Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV. The opera was completed in 1892 and given its first performance at Milan's La Scala on February 9, 1893. The West Australian Opera's production of this classic is nothing short of excellent.

The plot centres around Sir John Falstaff (James Clayton) who attempts to woo two married women - Alice Ford (Elisa Wilson) and Meg Page (Sarah-Janet Brittenden) - who quickly learn about his plans and work together with Mistress Quickly (Sally-Anne Russell) to trap the knight and teach him a lesson. Mrs Ford must also try to deal with her very jealous husband. Meanwhile, the Fords' daughter Nannetta (Katja Webb), who has been promised to Dr Caius (Bernard Hull), longs to be with Fenton (Samuel Sakker) and the two plot to find a way to be together.

I can't praise Clayton enough for his performance as Falstaff. Anyone who can play such a fat, shallow, self-centred, arrogant, old man and still be likeable deserves praise. His comedic timing, facial expressions and hilarious body language bring the entire production to life. Clayton dedicated his performance to his mother, who passed away last weekend, and it felt like he put more effort in it for her.

The rest of the cast were also vocally impressive. Kudos to Iain Aitken and Tracy Grant Lord for the set design and costumes too, which were fantastic. The lighting also assisted in creating the colourful scenes and lighting designer Nick Schlieper has done a great job. Falstaff is a funny look at life, love and the ridiculousness of it all.

Falstaff is on at His Majesty's Theatre on November 8, 10 and 12.


Thursday, 3 November 2011

I Don't Know How She Does It

DIRECTED BY: Douglas McGrath
WRITTEN BY: Aline Brosh McKenna,
STARRING: Sarah Jessica Parker, Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Munn, Christina Hendricks
RATING: 3 stars

You know you're watching a relevant comedy when you find yourself laughing out loud and whispering to your friend in the cinema, “That's so true!” That's exactly what I found myself doing while watching I Don't Know How She Does It. It's not that the film is particularly realistic, but many people can identify with the characters and their situations because it looks at gender issues and double standards, family life, motherhood and career ambitions.

Based on a book by Allison Pearson, I Don't Know How She Does It is about Kate Reddy (Sarah Jessica Parker) who is a wife, mother of two, and a successful travelling businesswoman who seems to be good at juggling all of these demanding aspects of her life. Richard (Greg Kinnear) is her architect husband who has recently ventured on his own. One day, one of Kate's investment proposals is approved by her company's New York boss, Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan), so Kate and her assistant Momo (Olivia Munn) are called to a meeting. Thus begins Kate's biggest juggling act as she tries to spend time with her family while also scoring a big business deal.

The film uses voice overs a lot, and at times I found myself being reminded of Sex and The City just because it was the familiar voice of Parker. The film also makes use of interviews to the camera that makes it seem more like a mockumentary. Parker's character even breaks the fourth wall and communicates directly with the audience a few times.

My main criticism of the film is the friendship between Kate and Jack. I don't know if it was the lack of chemistry between Parker and Brosnan, the bad dialogue or the poor acting (probably a combination of all three) but I just didn't buy their friendship. Parker's chemistry with Kinnear however, was excellent, but I think that comes down to him being so likeable. The rest of the support cast includes Christina Hendricks as Kate's fun and opinionated best friend, and the always funny Busy Philips as the bitchy and seemingly perfect super mum. But it's Olivia Munn who steals the show as Kate's junior Momo. She has some of the best lines in the movie but I don't want to share them now and spoil the fun for you. Suffice to say, this witty, grumpy and snobby character is hilarious fun to watch.

While I Don't Know How She Does It certainly doesn't break any new ground, it's a fun comedy that mothers and many other women will appreciate because the moral of the story is that all mothers are super mums trying to juggle various aspects of their lives.


Monday, 24 October 2011

The Three Musketeers

DIRECTED BY: Paul W.S. Anderson
WRITTEN BY: Alex Litvak, Andrew Davies
STARRING: Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz, Matthew Macfadyen, Milla Jovovich, Logan Lerman, Mads Mikkelsen
RATING: 1.5 stars

I don't think I understood this film. Was it to trying to be a clever and witty spoof film like The Princess Bride? If so, it failed. Was it trying to be a quirky and silly uptake on a classic tale? If so, it failed. I'm sure there are audiences who will enjoy this version of The Three Musketeers, but I found myself growing increasingly baffled by the plot and ridiculous use of airships.

Based very loosely on the classic tale by Alexander Dumas, The Three Musketeers tells the story of Athos (Matthew Macfayden), Aramis (Luke Evans), and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) who are disgraced when they are double-crossed by Milady (Milla Jovovich). A few years later, musketeer-wannabe D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) finds them and inspires them to return to their glory days as heroic musketeers. Meanwhile, corrupt Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) plans to frame the villainous British Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) and the Queen (Juno Temple) by suggesting to the bratty King (Freddie Fox) that they are having an affair so that he will start a war with Britain. It is then up to the musketeers so save the day.

The film is full of clich├ęs, historical inaccuracies and more one-liners than Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis could handle. It also rip-offs other films like Fistful of Dollars, The Princess Bride, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean, but it's not done in a fun way.

A relatively decent crop of actors also performed poorly in this film and it was largely due to the bad script. Only Waltz gave a decent performance, but even he couldn't save this film. Bloom is not who I would usually cast as a villain, mostly because he is too effeminate (and I mean that in the nicest possible way, but let's be honest, there's a reason why he always plays the lovesick youth as in the Pirates films and Troy for example) but he wasn't too bad as a slimy villain. The others struggled with the bad dialogue and clunky chemistry.

There's no way to sugar-coat this - I walked out of The Three Musketeers wishing I could get those two hours of my life back. Unless you have a 13-year-old boy, I doubt many others will enjoy this film. On a positive note, if you are planning to see this film, I recommend seeing it in 3D. Unlike most feature films made in 3D today, The Three Musketeers uses the 3D effects as more than just a gimmick at the start, but keeps a consistent effect throughout the movie.


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Contagion

DIRECTED BY: Steven Soderbergh
WRITTEN BY: Scott Z. Burns
STARRING: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle
RATING: 3 stars

Films like Contagion scare me more than any supernatural horror film ever could. The idea that a deadly, contagious virus could spread so easily around the world because people are so unhygienic is horrifyingly realistic. Yes, I'm one of “those people” who carries hand sanitiser wherever I go. You might think I'm weird, but I value my cleanliness. Having seen Contagion, I am now more convinced than ever that carrying hand sanitiser is a smart idea.

Told through multiple stories around the world (but mostly in cities across the United States), Contagion begins with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) who arrives home from a business trip in Hong Kong to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and her son in Minneapolis only to come down with a serious and mysterious illness. Soon, others start to contract the virus and people begin to die from the disease. The infection, which is named MEV-1, rapidly spreads around the world, leading the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) to investigate and try to develop a cure. CDC Deputy Director Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) sends Dr Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minneapolis to investigate Beth's activities because she was the first person known to contract the virus, while WHO representative Dr Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) travels to Hong Kong to do the same. Meanwhile, blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) claims authorities are keeping the cure a secret, which leads to mass panic.

The theme of Contagion has obviously been born out of the fears of recent worldwide infections like Bird Flu and Swine Flu. However, it is the idea that no disease could ever spread quicker than the fear of the disease, which is the most significant theme of the film. Contagion looks closely at how mass hysteria can occur and is an almost more realistic, rather than gory, film of this genre. It also seems to express a frustration with how red tape, funding issues and inter-agency politics hinder the management of such diseases. The film also seems to criticise pharmaceutical industry pressure groups.

Perhaps it is because of all of the politics that Contagion lacks the right level of emotion, and it's disappointing that you don't connect with the characters as much as you would like to. It seems the impressive cast full of Oscar winners and nominees is almost stifled by the script and the greater story idea that the individual stories are not as developed as they should be.

I'm probably being a little hard on Contagion, but it's certainly not Steven Soderbergh's best film. Rather than blow me away, all it did was make me more aware of my own habits, like how often I touch my face, and more paranoid about the hygiene of the person sitting next to me on the bus. Contagion is worth a look, just don't touch anything at the cinema.


Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Drive

DIRECTED BY: Nicolas Winding Refn
WRITTEN BY: Hossein Amini
STARRING: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
RATING: 3 stars

I love a good action film. I also love a good suspense thriller. Drive happens to be both. Unlike a lot of films of this genre (which usually star tough guys like Bruce Willis, Jason Statham or Mark Wahlberg) Drive is unpredictable and keeps you on the edge of your seat. You really don't know if the protagonist is going to make it to the end of the film.

Based on a book by James Sallis, Drive tells the story of a man only known in the script as Driver (Ryan Gosling) who works as a mechanic and stuntman while also working as a getaway driver for armed robbers. Driver falls for his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) but she's married to a man soon due for release from prison. This doesn't seem to bother Driver and he soon takes on a surrogate role taking care of Irene and her young son. Meanwhile, his friend and boss, Shannon (Bryan Cranston) organises a deal that will allow him to drive a flash car in races. Unfortunately, to get the money for the car, he has to turn to a couple of mobsters and he's soon heading down a dangerous path.

The action sequences in this film are powerful with characters being killed at any random moment, and in some new, interesting and gruesome ways reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino film. The driving scenes in particular are exciting, including the opening sequence and a climactic scene towards the end of the film.

Ryan Gosling is an unusual choice for an action star but he pulls it off quite well. There's no explanation as to how his character came to be such a tough guy, but it doesn't seem to matter what his back-story is and the character development comes surprisingly from his body language and facial expressions, rather than dialogue so there's actually a heavy reliance on Gosling's acting ability. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has also cleverly used camera angles to great effect to help.

Drive is a carefully thought-out, slow-paced film that builds its suspense with several mini-climaxes before an exciting ending. It's not just a film for men – women will enjoy it too.


Monday, 17 October 2011

Midnight In Paris

DIRECTED BY: Woody Allen
WRITTEN BY: Woody Allen
STARRING: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Marion Cotillard
RATING: 4 stars

It's hard to review this film without giving away some spoilers so forgive me for keeping this vague. Other reviewers have given away the plot completely, but I'm not going to do that. Just let me assure you, it's a great film. Woody Allen has definitely given audiences some evocative and thought-provoking films in the past like Annie Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Zelig. With Midnight In Paris, there is no doubt that he has delivered yet another masterpiece.

We've all wondered what it might be like to have lived in another era. This feeling is probably especially fuelled when we travel to a foreign country and experience a culture different to our own. There is a sense of nostalgia and romanticism in the place, time and the idea. This theme is explored in Midnight In Paris which is more like dreamy, fantasy poem than a regular film.

Owen Wilson plays a writer named Gil - the character Allen would usually play in his films. Gil and his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) travel to Paris for a vacation while her parents are there on a business trip. Gil falls in love with the city and thinks they should move there after they get married, but Inez does not share his love of the city or the idea that the 1920s was the best era to have lived in. One night, Gil takes a walk at midnight and finds a unique inspiration for his writing.

The film is almost like a dream come true for writers and lovers of the arts, paying homage to the 1920s and greats like Pablo Picasso, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali and F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you're not familiar with the artistic and literary greats, then you may as well not bother with this film because Allen has written the script in a way that assumes you're going to understand all the references without any explanation.

Allen is so witty and engaging in his writing. Like all his films, Midnight In Paris provides several scenes of high brow conversations between characters and Michael Sheen is brilliant as a pseudo-intellectual. McAdams also gives a good performance as the spoilt fiance. There are also some good cameos but it is definitely Wilson who drives the film. The sets and costumes are worth noting, while the cinematography is also good and depicts a very beautiful Paris.

Allen's films are always thought-provoking and say so much about society and human beings. Midnight In Paris is no different. At its heart, it tells us that no period is perfect and we can find happiness in our own time.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

What's Your Number?

DIRECTED BY: Mark Mylod
WRITTEN BY: Gabrielle Allan, Jennifer Crittenden
STARRING: Anna Faris, Chris Evans, Ari Gryanor, Blythe Danner
RATING: 3.5 stars

I'm surprised at just how much I enjoyed this film and I think it has a lot to do with Anna Faris. Even in the most mediocre of films, Faris shines because she's so funny and easy to like. What's Your Number? may not be the most original film concept, but Faris provides enough originality to give this film legs.

Based on Karyn Bosnak's novel 20 Times A Lady, What's Your Number? tells the story of Ally (Faris) who thinks she will never get married because she’s had too many lovers. A magazine article tells her the average woman has 10.5 lovers in her lifetime, but she has already had 20 lovers without finding “the one” she wants to marry. Ally decides she won't sleep with anyone new and starts tracking down her ex-boyfriends to see if “the one” may have slipped by her. Ally's overtly sexual next-door neighbour (Chris Evans) agrees to help her with her search in exchange for her helping him escape his one-night stands by allowing him to hide out in her apartment. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it's also quite fun.

So many romantic comedies these days are making references to pop culture and the modern world, and this film is no different. Facebook and Twitter get massive plugs in this film in some very funny moments. We've also seen a few romantic comedies push the boundaries in recent times, such as Bridesmaids, but this film goes back to the basics of romantic comedies, which is actually quite good to see. The only difference is that both protagonists are promiscuous and the film is a little more raunchy and explicit than most sappy romantic comedies. When one potential future husband says “Well if I wasn't your first, at least I can be your last” Ally responds: “Why? Are you going to rape and kill me later?” Only Faris could pull off a line like that!

Writers Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden, and director Mark Mylod have graduated from television to film and it's not a bad effort all round. Evans is also good in this role as the charming and flirty neighbour. He spends a large portion of the film either in his underwear or barely covering himself with a small towel, so there is plenty of eye candy too. Blythe Danner is also entertaining as Ally's sometimes-a-little-crazy mother.

What's Your Number? may be labelled by some as “just another romantic comedy”, but at its heart there is actually a good moral to the story. Magazines might provide us with obsessive quizzes and tips about life and love, but the truth is put quite simply in this film – happiness in love means being completely comfortable being yourself, rather than living up to other people's expectations. The aim is to find someone who will accept you for who you truly are. Awww...


Thursday, 15 September 2011

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

WRITTEN BY: Tennessee Williams
DIRECTED BY: Kate Cherry
STARRING: Tom O’Sullivan, Cheree Cassidy, John Stanton, Carol Burns
RATING: 4 stars

Lies. We all hate them and we all tell them from time to time. The themes of secrets, lies and how people deal with death are explored in Tennessee William's classic Pulitzer Prize winning play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. An obsession with “mendacity” and the search for the truth is at the centre of this play with its lead character Brick (Tom O'Sullivan) using the word to express his disgust with the rules of social conduct. In fact, a repeated line in the play is, “Wouldn't it be funny if that was true?” Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is a passionate, deep and complex story about family, money, sex and relationships.

The Pollitt family has gathered at their 28,000 acre plantation in the Mississippi to celebrate the 65th birthday of patriarch and tycoon Big Daddy (John Stanton), but no one has told him or his wife Big Mama (Carol Burns) that he is dying of cancer. Nonetheless, some members of the family, including Big Daddy's eldest son Gooper (Hugh Parker) and his wife Mae (Caitlin Beresford-Ord), have already started to scheme about how to gain his inheritance. Meanwhile, Big Daddy's youngest son Brick, the former golden child and star athlete, has developed a drinking problem as he battles repressed emotions over the death of his friend Skipper and his strained relationship with his wife Maggie (Cheree Cassidy).

The stage was simple, yet very effective. Set and costume designer Bruce McKinven has certainly done a wonderful job of making the most out of a confined space. Director Kate Cherry, who has directed several Black Swan productions, must also be praised for her efforts. She has brought out the best in the cast. WA's Tom O'Sullivan seemed to be channelling Paul Newman's performance in the 1958 film adaptation of the play and he certainly played the broody, drunkard character well. Cassidy and Burns were also exceptional with their quick and often lengthy dialogue. However, Stanton seemed miscast as Big Daddy. He lacked the authority the character should have, and he also let his southern accent slip too much.

Whether you studied the play in school, saw the film adaptation or have never heard of it at all, this theatre production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is definitely worth seeing. The co-production presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company is playing at the Heath Ledger Theatre in the State Theatre Centre of WA until October 2.



Tom O'Sullivan and Cheree Cassidy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photo by Rob Maccoll.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Smurfs

DIRECTED BY: Raja Gosnell
WRITTEN BY: J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, David Ronn
STARRING: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Katy Perry, Jayma Mays, Jonathan Winters
RATING: 2.5 stars

I loved the William Hanna and Jospeh Barbara animated series of the Smurfs so much as a child that years later as an adult I bought a Smurfette T-shirt I wear proudly - even in public. I was far more excited than the children around me at the cinema, who are far too young to even know what the Smurfs are, but I could definitely see parents with a twinkle in their eyes as the 3D film began. The first five minutes of the film are fun and when the famous Smurfs song is sung you are suddenly transported back to your childhood. Unfortunately, after that, the film rides a roller-coaster of good and disappointing scenes before reaching its climax. While the film isn't “bad” overall, it wasn't quite as fulfilling as I had hoped it would be.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of the Smurfs (and if you're over the age of 20 I'm terribly disappointed in you) the comic strip was created by Belgian Pierre Culliford, also known as Peyo. I'm not sure how he would have felt about the film, but at least there are a few nods to him throughout the film.

We first meet the Smurfs in their secret village where they are preparing to celebrate the Harvest of the Blue Moon when Clumsy (Anton Yelchin) inadvertently leads the evil Gargamel (Hank Azaria) into the secret village. To escape him, Clumsy and several other Smurfs, including Grumpy (George Lopez), Gutsy (Alan Cumming), Brainy (Fred Armisen), Smurfette (Katy Perry) and Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) escape through a portal to New York. There they meet advertising gun Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) and his wife Grace (Jayma Mays) who are expecting their first child. The Smurfs and the Winslows team up to help each other overcome their obstacles.

There are some good jokes along the way, like arguably the most popular question everyone asks about why Smurfette is the only female among 100 Smurfs in the village. There are actually a lot of sexual jokes in the film for something that is supposed to be children's entertainment. With lines like “Where the Smurf are we?” and “You smurfed with the wrong girl” the film actually treads a thin line, but it's innocent enough that children won't understand the underlying meaning. In fact, it seems the film uses the term “smurf” as a suitable adjective for just about anything.

What makes the film a success is the performances. Hank Azaria is as close to a comedic genius as one could get so there's no surprise he is excellent as Gargamel. Neil Patrick Harris is very likeable and Jayma Mays is just as sweet in this film as she is in Glee. The actors playing the Smurfs are also very good, particularly Winters who played Papa Smurf in the cartoon. So, while I was only half-convinced that The Smurfs is a worthwhile film to see for adults and fans of the comic or cartoon, I can definitely recommend it for children who seemed to never stop laughing during the preview screening.


Friday, 9 September 2011

One Day

DIRECTED BY: Lone Scherfig
WRITTEN BY: David Nicholls
STARRING: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson
RATING: 3.5 stars

I can't give a fair review of this film without first disclosing that One Day, the book, is one of my all-time favourite novels. Why? Because unlike so many romantic films we see (and I've whined about many times on this blog) One Day feels more real, or at least realistic enough, that I found myself relating to the story so much more. It is essentially a bitter-sweet and tragic love story. Fans of the novel will also be happy to know that author David Nicholls also wrote the screenplay, so it stays pretty close to the original story and some of the best witty lines from the novel are in the film.

We are first introduced to Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) on July 15, 1988, when they are in the 20's and graduating from university. The pair decide to spend the night together, though they don't actually have sex. The next morning they decide to be friends and the the film then explores the next 20 years of their lives, sometimes together and sometimes not, on July 15 every year. Emma is witty and smart, though terribly insecure. She wants to be a writer but she lacks the courage for many years to take that leap. Dexter, on the other hand, is an outgoing and confident television presenter. He never seems to have a problem finding girls or success, but he certainly has some inner-demons. Through all their ups and downs in life, it is their affection for each other and their friendship that perseveres, but can they ever be more than friends?

A lot has been said about Hathaway's terrible British accent. While I think her performance was certainly less than perfect, I can accept the wavering accent perhaps more so than my British counterparts, mostly because I think it's ok for her to have an odd accent since her character moves around a lot. My main problem with Hathaway, who I do usually like as an actress, was that she didn't seem to put enough heart into her Emma, which is a let-down. Nonetheless, she does have good chemistry with Sturgess, who was the perfect Dexter. Good-looking in more of a boy-next-door way, rather than a Brad Pitt way, Sturgess is charismatic like his character. When he cries, you want to cry. When he laughs, you laugh with him. That is exactly what Dexter is supposed to be. Kudos also to the costume department for getting the look right over a 20-year period, because it certainly helped create the characters.

One Day is the kind of film that some people will love like they love The Notebook or Titanic. But if you think about how much people love those films, think as well about how much some people hate those films too. So, some people will love One Day for the tragic love story that it is and others will walk away feeling depressed and will prefer to rent the DVD of something chirpier (Clueless maybe?) All I can say is, if you choose to see One Day, be prepared to cry.


Chalet Girl

DIRECTED BY: Phil Traill
WRITTEN BY: Tom Williams
STARRING: Felicity Jones, Ed Westwick, Bill Nighy, Bill Bailey
RATING: 2.5 stars

Chalet Girl is not your typical teenage romantic comedy. For one thing, it's British, not American. It also has a strong focus on sport, namely snowboarding, and a tells the story of a regular teenage girl with a regular life. This is a refreshing change to the Hollywood teenage romantic comedies about snobby, rich high school girls from the Upper East Side or Orange County. All of this bodes well for the film because it gives audiences a slightly different romantic comedy. Despite some originality though, the film still seems to follow a predictable, though fun, plot.

Kim Matthews (Felicity Jones) used to be a champion skateboarder until a car accident killed her mum and she became stuck in a dead-end job and caring for her unemployed father (Bill Bailey) who never quite got over his wife's death. Through an agency, Kim lands a four-month long contract working as a housekeeper/caterer at a private chalet in the Austrian Alps for the very rich and very handsome (and very taken) Johnny (Ed Westwick) and his family. As with every romantic comedy, Kim and Johnny try to deny their feelings for one another. Meanwhile, Kim also learns how to snowboard and decides to enter a competition with big prize money, if only she can get over the phobia that has plagued her since her mother's death.

Writer Tom Williams has made his feature film screenplay debut with Chalet Girl and, aside from the lame ending, it's not a bad effort, especially with the snowboarding inclusion. In fact, director Phil Traill seems to have taken a lot of time filming these snowboarding scenes and such detail is great to see in a romantic comedy.

Jones gives a solid performance as Kim. She's suitably awkward and shy, which makes her very endearing, and she has enough sweetness and courage that you want everything to work out for her. Gossip Girl star Ed Westwick is so charming, he could have chemistry with a rubbish bin. Together, they make a cute pair for a romantic comedy and I'm sure groups of giggling teenage girls will enjoy the film on the basis of their chemistry alone.

Chalet Girl is not for everyone. I can't say it's a great film, because it's not. But it does deliver exactly what it promises audiences in its trailer. A male friend of mine even liked it just for the snowboarding, so perhaps it will reach a wider audience than one might anticipate. I must remember to add the Austrian Alps to my list of “places to see” too. Magnificent scenery!


Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Zookeeper

DIRECTED BY: Frank Coraci
WRITTEN BY: Nick Bakay, Rock Reuben, Kevin James, Jay Scherick, David Ronn
STARRING: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Nick Nolte
RATING: 2.5 stars

Zookeeper is being pitched to audiences in totally the wrong way. It is not a children's movie. It's more of a romantic comedy, albeit one that has talking zoo animals in it. The concept is ridiculous, but if you expect little from this film, you might actually enjoy it for what it really is – an endearing, light comedy.

Griffin Keyes (Kevin James) is a lovable zookeeper who has dedicated his life to helping animals. He is in love with Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) and proposes in a romantic beach setting only to have her reject his proposal due to his lowly-paid job. Five years later, Griffin has a second chance with Stephanie and enlists the help of the talking zoo animals who offer him advice such as aggression from the lions, marking his territory from the wolves and puffing out his throat from the frog. He takes the tactics so seriously that he marks his territory at his brother's wedding rehearsal dinner by peeing in a pot plant. Griffin also enlists the help of zoo vet Kate (Rosario Dawson) who pretends to be his date to make Stephanie jealous.

James is a likeable and unassuming actor. He doesn't have the range that other comedic actors have, like Robin Williams or Eddie Murphy, but he is funny enough to produce some good laughs and emotive enough with his facial expressions in moments of drama and embarrassment that viewers can't help but feel for the loveable, cuddly zookeeper. Dawson plays the straight role to balance out the comedy and does it well, while Donnie Wahlberg gives a good performance in his minor role as the zoo villain.

Meanwhile, the cast playing the zoo animals reads like a who's who of Hollywood. It includes Nick Nolte as the lonely gorilla, Sylvester Stallone and Cher as the lions, Adam Sandler as the hilarious monkey, Judd Apatow as an elephant, and Jon Favreau and Faizon Love as the bears. At times it seems like the film-makers tried too hard to give each actor their own funny moment on screen but they are entertaining enough that children and adults can all laugh along. Zookeeper is not a great film, but it provides enough laughs to entertain.


Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Submarine

DIRECTED BY: Richard Ayoade
WRITTEN BY: Richard Ayoade
STARRING: Craig Roberts, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine, Yasmin Paige
RATING: 2.5 stars

You can see why Submarine was a popular book. The story is almost a modern, British version of Catcher In The Rye (which everyone should read). Director and writer of the film adaptation Richard Ayoade is obviously a big fan of Joe Dunthorne's novel, but unfortunately, I don't think he's produced a film that is as successful as it should be. It's not a bad effort by Ayoade, especially considering it is his directorial debut, but it seems like the film is trying so hard to stay true to the book that it doesn't feel complete as a film.

I'm a big fan of the so-called “coming-of-age” genre and Submarine is exactly that. It tells the story of Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a Welsh teenager whose goal is to lose his virginity to Jordana (Yasmin Paige) and stop his parents’ marriage from falling apart. His relationship with Jordana is complex, awkward and dramatic, like everything is when you're a teenager. However, it's his amateur detective work into his parent's lives that really provides the laughs. For example, Oliver estimates how long it’s been since his parents had sex by how dim the light switch setting is in their bedroom. Then, when he discovers that his new next-door neighbour, a bizarre mystic named Graham (Paddy Considine), is his mother's ex-boyfriend, he increases his detective work, convinced that she is going to have an affair.

Submarine is a fun British film that most Americans would hate and many Australians will admire. In typical British fashion, it's melancholic and brooding while also being quirky and strangely funny. More than anything, it reminds viewers what it was like to be a teenager and to be thankful that we're well passed that stage of our lives. Oliver's innocence through his first love experience with Jordana is sweet. At one point he tells her they should have sex because “it'll be a disappointment anyway, so might as well get it over with”. Meanwhile, his desire to “be a man” and help save his parents' marriage, although ridiculous, is also heart-warming and adorable.

The performances in this film were very good. Roberts in particular shows his comedic timing is spot on and he makes Oliver a far more likeable character than you would expect him to be. Paige also gives a good performance as the deeply troubled Jordana, while Sally Hawkins plays the kooky mother very well. Submarine is far from perfect but it has some laughs and is a relatively realistic look at teenage misery. Worth a look if you like British cinema.


Thursday, 25 August 2011

Tender Napalm

WRITTEN BY: Philip Ridley
DIRECTED BY: Melissa Cantwell
STARRING: Joshua Brennan, Anna Houston
RATING: 3 stars

"Your mouth ... it's such a wet thing. I could squeeze a bullet between those lips." Perth Theatre Company has given Australia its premiere production of provocative British playwright Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm, which opened at the State Theatre Centre this week. To watch Tender Napalm is to experience several years of a couple's life, through all the highs and lows dramatically and cleverly encapsulated in 90 minutes. The gamut of emotions the protagonists and the audience experience is a crazy roller-coaster of anger, fear, hatred, grief, betrayal, vengeance and rejection juxtaposed with desire, happiness and passion. It feels more like highly imaginative poetry than a play.

In this production of Tender Napalm, the stage is simple but used very effectively. The audience surrounds the stage at the back and front, with a single bathtub to one side of the stage. It is an intimate setting in a confined spaced and yet the production is larger than life in many ways.

Ridley's beautiful script is full of intensity and suspense. It's quirky, funny, dramatic, crude and passionate. Tender Napalm is the kind of play that requires a lot of imagination from the audience as the two characters drift into their fantasy world of deserted islands, deep oceans, aliens, serpents, monkeys and war. It is their animated voices and the way they move around the stage that brings the story to life. It requires a lot of energy from the two leads. There is no intermission, it's just a solid 90 minutes of action, emotion, conflict and passion.

Joshua Brennan and Anna Houston give highly energetic performances. Brennan in particular is very good and is due to graduate from WAAPA this year. He looks set to have a successful career as an actor. Credit must also be given to choreographer Russell Leonard, who created an amazingly tense and dramatic fight sequence between the leads for the climax.

There has been a lot of hype about the nudity in this production, but it's not as controversial or confronting as you might think. The nudity is not only justified, but also quite important in tying the story together and establishing the foundation of the characters and their relationship.

At times you wonder where the plot is going, but it is all beautifully tied together in the end. Tender Napalm is definitely not for everyone, but if you like theatre and thought-provoking stories, then it is certainly worth seeing.



Photograph by Stefan Gosatti

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Horrible Bosses

DIRECTED BY: Seth Gordon
WRITTEN BY: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
STARRING: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx.
RATING: 4 stars

It's refreshing to see a film that isn't a remake or relies on gimmicks like 3D technology to entertain audiences. Horrible Bosses has a plot, is smart, funny and unpredictable. It is exactly what a raunchy comedy should be. In many ways, Horrible Bosses reminded me of Pineapple Express and The Hangover – two equally good comedies.

Nick (Jason Bateman) hates his boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) because he overworks him, denies him a well-deserved promotion and then blackmails him so he can't quit. Dale (Charlie Day) hates his boss Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) because she makes unwelcome sexual advances towards him while he's engaged to be married, but he can't quit because he's a registered sex offender for peeing at a children's playground. Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) likes his boss until his boss dies and is replaced by his cocaine-addicted son Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell). On a drunk night out, Nick, Dale and Kurt “hypothetically” discuss how to kill their bosses to make their jobs and lives easier. Soon, they decide to hire a murder consultant (Jamie Foxx) to help them pull off the three murders.

Director Seth Gordon allowed the cast to improvise with what was already a great script, and there is not one bad performance from the actors in this film. Bateman, Day and Sudeikis have great chemistry and comedic timing playing the inept criminals. Spacey is always fantastic and Farrell was almost unrecognisable with his balding hair and beer-gut. Aniston also gives a sexy performance as a sex-crazed dentist in a rare occasion where she isn't just playing Rachel Green from Friends. Ioan Gruffudd provides a hilarious cameo, while Foxx also has a memorable, though small, role as murder consultant Motherfucker Jones. Yes, that's his name. You can imagine the jokes that it generates in the film. In fact, the film is full of provocative, lewd and borderline-offensive jokes and one-liners that audiences will be laughing through most of the film. Oh, and I guarantee you that men will be saying, “I'd like to bend her over a barrel and show her the fifty states” after watching this film. Go see the film; then you'll understand.

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Change Up

DIRECTED BY: David Dobkin
WRITTEN BY: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde
RATING: 3 stars

As a woman, I don't know what men talk about when they get together for a “few quiet beers” but I would love to be a fly on the wall to hear men compare their lives. Is it better to be an eternal bachelor, free to have sex with anyone, or does every man secretly want to be married with kids and have a steady job? What are the pros and cons? Well that's the theme explored in The Change Up in what has been probably unfairly described by many people as Freaky Friday for adults.

Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds) and Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman) are best friends but they couldn't be more different. Mitch is a bachelor and sometimes-actor who spends most of his time sleeping, smoking weed and having sex with various women. Dave is a lawyer who is married to Jamie (Leslie Mann) and has three young children. During a night of drinking, the pair wish they had each other's life while they pee in a fountain. The next morning, their bodies are switched and they have to find a way to not mess up each other's lives until they can find a way to switch back.

Written by the men behind The Hangover, you would expect The Change Up to be full of “boy” humour – lewd, crude and rude jokes – and it is. Unfortunately, they just aren't as funny as they were in The Hangover, which is a shame because the cast is excellent. Casting Reynolds as the playboy character is always going to be a win for casting agents because Reynolds somehow blends goofy cuteness with sexy charm, making him likeable to men and women. Bateman also gives a solid performance, and with the two of them imitating each other's body language, they are both consistent and convincing. Mann is also funny and can bring emotion to scenes that less capable comedic actors would struggle with.

The Change Up is full of laughs, but in the end, you're left wondering if you actually enjoyed it as much as you thought you did during the screening. How many penis jokes can a person actually appreciate hearing in two hours? The Change Up is a fun but forgettable film.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Friends With Benefits

DIRECTED BY: Will Gluck
WRITTEN BY: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, Will Gluck
STARRING: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman, Richard Jenkins
RATING: 3 stars

The age old question is, can men and women be best friends without letting attraction ruin everything? Nowadays, arguably one of the most common conversations among Generation Y is, can you have a “friends with benefits” relationship without it destroying your friendship? Hollywood has explored this issue in several romantic comedies in recent years, most recently this year in No Strings Attached, starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. So let's be clear, Friends With Benefits is not exploring new ground, but it does give loyal romantic comedy fans what they want.

Friends With Benefits tells the story of Dylan (Timberlake), a Los Angeles-based editor of a popular blog. He is recruited for a job at GQ magazine in New York by head-hunter Jamie (Mila Kunis) and the pair become best friends. They make a pact to begin a sexual relationship without any emotional attachments or commitment. Eventually, they fall in love, but are afraid of admitting their feelings because they think it will ruin their friendship. Sound familiar?

What I like about this film though, is that it pokes fun at itself and its genre. References to romantic comedies and the let down they invariable create for audiences in real life are abundant in this film. For example, there is a reference to the unrealistic expectations of Katherine Heigl films and wanting the romantic lifestyle of George Clooney. The sex scenes are also funny, rather than sexy or sensual. However, the film also seems hypocritical in the sense that it criticises romantic comedies for creating a false fairytale and never showing what happens after “the big kiss” and yet it doesn't do much better.

As a female, I am automatically inclined to like romantic comedies. It's not a sexist thing, it's just human nature. (Most) women know that “Prince Charming” doesn't actually exist, but we like the idea that something that romantic could actually happen to us, even if it never does. A good romantic comedy needs a good cast. I still don't understand how Justin Timberlake went from “pop star” to “film star” but I was surprised that he didn't annoy me in this film. In fact, dare I say it, he was actually quite good in parts. Mila Kunis' star power continues to rise with several stand-out performances in recent films including Black Swan and a memorable performance in Date Night last year. She again gives a good performance in this film and is quite likeable. However, it is Patricia Clarkson who steals the show as Kunis' sex-obsessed mother. She is hilarious! I'm glad director Will Gluck chose to work with her again after they worked so well together in Easy A. Woody Harrelson is also a very funny side character, playing a gay editor and Jason Segel is a fun presence too. The superb Richard Jenkins also adds some heart to the film as Timberlake's ill father, whose storyline sets the film apart from some other romantic comedies.

Friends With Benefits is good fun if you like romantic comedies, and if girlfriends drag their boyfriends to see the film, they will probably laugh along at the endless sexual references and jokes. But, if I had a choice between renting Friends With Benefits on DVD on a Friday night or re-watching one of the original “friends with benefits” themed films like When Harry Met Sally, I'd choose the latter. They just don't make romantic comedies like they used to...


Thursday, 11 August 2011

Green Lantern

DIRECTED BY: Martin Campbell
WRITTEN BY: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldenberg
STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard
RATING: 2.5 stars

While I once felt like an excited child going to watch a comic book film adaptation at the cinema, I am now resigning myself to the fact that I'm probably going to be disappointed with many of Hollywood's comic book offerings. Green Lantern had four writers and they still couldn’t get the script right. The plot was far too convoluted that rather than pay attention to try to understand what's going on, you're far more likely to just give up and zone out. Perhaps it is because there were too many writers with too many ideas, but the film could not find the right mix of comedy, action and drama.

At the start of the film, we are introduced to the Green Lantern Corps who are warriors from different races across the universe sworn to keep intergalactic order. Each Green Lantern wears a ring with superpowers drawn from the universe. But Parallax (a Lucifer-like character), whose powers are drawn from fear, threatens to destroy the universe. Thus, the corps recruits reckless test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) as the first human to become a Green Lantern to try to save the universe.

This is a very condensed explanation of the plot. It actually has a lot more to it and therein lies my main problem with Green Lantern; there's too much background information that audiences have to learn and there isn't enough time to explain everything concisely while still developing the characters and showing enough action scenes. If a viewer watches the film with no understanding of the comic, they will need to be eased into the storyline because its quite complex. However, instead of taking the time to set up the conventions of the film for what the film-makers would hope and expect to become a new film franchise, audiences are thrown in the deep end.

There are some good things about the film though. The first of which is one of our villains, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a scientist tormented by his father and in love with Hal's childhood love Carol Ferris (Blake Lively). Given how cruel his father is, you actually feel sorry for Hector even when he becomes the crazy (and ugly) villain. Reynolds is also quite good as Hal. He is so likeable in everything he does but not even he could save this film with his well-timed comedy. The character of Hal also reminded me of Tom Cruise's Maverick in Top Gun rather than the comic book hero; there was just a little too much emphasis on the fact that he's a charming and rebellious pilot. Lively, in her attempt to grow out of her Gossip Girl character, also gives a decent performance, albeit one that still sees the leggy blonde, turned brunette for this film, strut around in pretty dresses that it's easy to forget she's supposed to be a tough test pilot.

My favourite aspect of the film is that it doesn't take itself too seriously and actually pokes fun at other comic book film adaptations. One of these fun moments is the scene when Carol recognises Hal in his superhero costume telling him it's ridiculous that she would not know him just because his cheekbones are covered with a mask.

The end of the film sets up the possibility for a sequel, which they probably will make regardless of how successful the film is. It is, after all, a comic book film so audiences will flock to see Green Lantern even though it's not really worth the money.


Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Glee: The 3D Concert Movie

DIRECTED BY: Kevin Tancharoen
STARRING: Lea Michele, Corey Monteith, Chris Colfer, Mark Salling, Kevin McHale, Darren Criss, Gwyneth Paltrow, Amber Riley
RATING: 3.5 stars

In order to give this film a fair review, I must first confess that I am a Gleek. If you've been living under a rock for the past two years, a Gleek is a fan of Glee, the popular television series. But you don't have to be a Gleek to like Glee: The 3D Concert Movie, although I give you fair warning that you might become one after watching the film.

Glee 3D is a concert documentary shot during the Glee 2011 tour in the United States. The concert itself is great, and the 3D element is a fun addition, but we already know these young stars can sing and dance because we see them do it every week on the show. What the film reveals to audiences is the extent to which Glee has become, and I use this word both loosely and reluctantly, a phenomenon. It's had a huge impact on people struggling with their self-esteem, sexuality, ethnicity, weight etc. Glee 3D highlights just how important Glee has become for so many people, particularly teenagers, around the world.

Glee tells children and teenagers to be proud of who they are. It tells them to embrace their quirks and love themselves. It tells them to be accepting of others and to not judge people without getting to know them. Glee does all of this through song and dance in an unassuming and fun way. Even as a fan of the show, I am at a loss to explain how it became a “phenomenon” but all I can say for sure is that anyone who has ever felt like an outsider (and let's face it, who hasn't?) can relate to Glee.

Throughout the concert, audiences meet several fans who talk about how Glee changed their life and it is these stories that really make the film special. Among the stories is a woman with Asperger's syndrome who says meeting Brittany (Heather Morris) was the greatest moment of her life and how Glee helped her overcome many aspects of her Asperger's syndrome. We also meet a dwarf attempting to be crowned prom queen and a teenager who was forced to “out” himself as a homosexual. But the real star of the show is a toddler dressed in Dalton Academy uniform singing and dancing to Katy Perry's Teenage Dream. I don't think I've seen a cuter child on film in years!

In the concert itself, the Glee cast perform songs taken from Broadway and other chart-toppers including Don't Stop Believing, Born This Way, Raise Your Glass, Fat Bottomed Girls and Jessie's Girl. Lea Michele (Rachel Berry) was particularly amazing on several songs. I just wish Glee Club teacher Will Shuester (Matthew Morrison) had made a cameo alongside everyone's favourite substitute teacher, Holly Holiday (Gwyneth Paltrow).


Thursday, 4 August 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

DIRECTED BY: Rupert Wyatt
WRITTEN BY: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
STARRING: James Franco, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, Tom Felton.
RATING: 4 stars

The original The Planet of the Apes film was good and garnered a cult following. The 2001 remake starring Mark Wahlberg was acceptable, though widely panned by critics and die-hard fans. This new film, which is neither a prequel nor a sequel, but a standalone film, is fantastic.

The main reason for this is that Rise of the Planet of the Apes has the benefit of better technology. The CGI is by no means perfect, but it's good enough to make viewers appreciate just how far cinema and this franchise has come since the original 1968 film. Gone are the actors in ape suits. Instead, we see far more realistic-looking apes full of emotion and even, dare I say it, cuteness that often left the audience sighing. When we first meet our lovable ape Caesar, he's a baby. By the time Caesar and his ape friends are older, smarter, stronger and a little angry, there is a strong reliance on the CGI to deliver some great action sequences, and the film does not disappoint. In fact, the human actors we see on-screen play second fiddle to the CGI. The emotion alone that is expressed on the ape faces are simply wonderful and makes the audience connect with the animals.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells the story of scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) who is desperate to save his ailing father (John Lithgow) who is suffering from Alzheimer's. Will begins to experiment with a new drug on a female chimpanzee but when she attacks people at the lab she is killed and the program is closed down. Will then learns that the chimp has given birth to a baby who he decides to name Caesar (Andy Serkis) and takes him home. Will soon learns that Caesar is intelligent and begins further experimentation with the drug. However, when Caesar out-grows suburban life he is sent to an animal facility for primates where he is mistreated leading him to begin an ape uprising in a climax that concludes on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

Credit must be given to the actors who played the apes. Serkis had a particularly difficult job but gave a great performance. While I'm laying praise on the cast, who would have been overshadowed by the CGI had they not been such stand-out actors, I have to say Franco continues to get two thumbs up from me with every performance. He has an uncanny ability to act with his eyes and it's very important for this role. His scenes with Caesar are particularly moving. Lithgow was also exceptional as the vulnerable Alzheimer's sufferer. It's a very different role to what we've seen from him recently when he played the creepy villain on Dexter and he really gets an opportunity to show audiences what a great actor he is. Speaking of creepy villains, Tom Felton does a great job playing such a cruel character and it's easy to hate him.

The idea of playing God is not a new concept explored in film but I found this film to be very reflective and relevant to today's society. If Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a success, which I think it will be, we can expect to see more of this new franchise. I can't wait!


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

DIRECTED BY: Morgan Spurlock
WRITTEN BY: Morgan Spurlock and Jeremy Chilnick
STARRING: Morgan Spurlock, Peter Berg, Noam Chomsky, Brett Ratner
RATING: 4 stars

If you work in the media, advertising or film, or if you want to be “media aware” (and really, that should include everyone) then you must see The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) has a way of holding up a mirror to western society and raises a lot of questions.

Every day as film-goers and consumers we are bombarded with advertisements; some are obvious and some are subtle. We like to think that we are good at spotting when someone is trying to sell us something, but the truth is, often we are oblivious as to the effect these subtle advertisements are having on us, especially when they are in the form of product placement in films. Ever wondered why after seeing your favourite actor drinking a can of Coca-Cola, you get the urge to have a can yourself? That is the power of product placement and the companies know it and are willing to pay to have their logo or product plastered all over a film if they think it will help sell their product – and it works.

Spurlock aims to examine this notion in his film. Simply, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a documentary about branding, advertising and product placement that is financed through advertising and product placement. Clever, huh?

In fact, Spurlock has indeed cleverly handled the topic in such a way as to expose the inner-workings of the film and advertising industries and how they work together to “trick” consumers into paying to see a film and buy the products shown in the film. It is also very funny and gives great insight into the industries through interviews with directors and the meetings he films with companies. The audience even applauded some parts of the film.

An you know what? Even though I'm aware of how product placement and advertising works in films, after watching The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, I still wanted to try to hunt down some POM juice.