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.

Captain America: The First Avenger

DIRECTED BY: Joe Johnston
WRITTEN BY: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
STARRING: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell
RATING: 2.5 stars

This could be the most controversial/unpopular opinion I will express on this blog. I didn't like Captain America: The First Avenger. I wanted to like it. I love comic book film adaptations and I was looking forward to seeing this film. But it failed on so many levels. It's not that it's a terrible film, it just lacked the spark that other films of the same genre have given us in recent years, and let's face it, there have been a lot of comic book films in recent years.

At the risk of offending my beloved American friends, Captain America: The First Avenger is just a little too “American” for my liking. I know, what did I expect from the title, right? But the idea that the world is in such dire straits and only America's superhero can save us is just a little too cliché for me. I know other comic book heroes have done the same in the past, but they've never done it in such a dramatically patriotic way. Maybe the name “Captain America” is just off-putting?

I'm also sceptical of the romance in the film between the hero and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). I don't remember the comic being that cheesy, or if it was, it must have worked in a comic book, but not on film. It seems like the love story was there to keep female fans entertained but I was not entertained at all.

Captain America: The First Avenger is set in 1942. It tells the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a wimpy and sickly young man determined to enlist in the army to serve in World War Two. He finally gets his chance when Dr Abraham Erksine (the always superb Stanley Tucci) recruits him for a secret scientific project that makes our heroic geek stronger, faster and a more superior human being. He then embarks on a mission to save the world from the crazed Nazi, Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (a very menacing Hugo Weaving).

What I did love about the film was the earlier scenes before Steve becomes Captain America. The CGI was especially good in these scenes too. Steve is sweet, honest, brave and encompasses all the great things parents want to teach their children – stand up for what you believe in and always do what you think is right. This is the core of what Captain America stands for because this is who Steve Rogers really is. It is this aspect of the character and the famous comic that makes it such a powerful and inspiring story. In those early scenes you care about Steve. Unfortunately, some of that magic is lost in the later scenes and that's a shame because at the heart of this film is, well, heart. It just fails to hold onto it for the whole film. Even still, I look forward to seeing The Avengers when Captain America joins forces with Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk. Bring on 2012!

Hanna

DIRECTED BY: Joe Wright
WRITTEN BY: Seth Lochhead, David Farr
STARRING: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett
RATING: 3.5 stars

It's a big call, but I think Hanna is the best action film we've seen in a long time. The reason? The convincing cast. So often in action films, whether they are dramatic or comedic, the cast can let you down because they can't deliver the often lame dialogue. But Hanna is different. There is not one scene in the film where I found myself groaning or rolling my eyes, even in some sequences that seemed a little far-fetched. I became totally engrossed in Hanna's world and I found myself quietly cheering her on throughout the film.

Hanna Heller is a 16-year-old girl who lives with her father Erik (Eric Bana) in the wilderness of Finland and trains every day to be an assassin. She has never been in contact with modern technology but she is intelligent and an excellent fighter. Her mission is to kill corrupt CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) who is also hunting down Hanna and Erik.

Saoirse Ronan is, in a word, perfect as Hanna. In a role very different to what we’ve seen from her in the past (Atonement, The Lovely Bones), Ronan plays Hanna appropriately as a stiff, naïve but strong person. Supporting Ronan is two of Australia's finest actors - Blanchett in an almost evil step-mother type of role and Bana as the loving, though unconventional, father. Props must also be given to the actors playing the family Hanna encounters along her journey when the film takes on a road-trip theme. Jessica Barden, who plays teenager Sophie, is particularly funny to watch and yet her character is also pivotal to explaining just how different Hanna is to other girls her age and how disconnected she has been from the rest of the world.

My main criticism of the film was that the explanation into the CIA project, which leads to the film's game of cat and mouse, was very vague. The other odd part of the film was that in one humorous scene we see a confused Hanna learn about electricity and then a short time later she is suddenly a whiz on the Internet.

Nonetheless, Hanna is a well-rounded film, part action, part road-trip movie with some well-timed comedic moments. The chase and fighting sequences are fast-paced and exciting, and viewers actually do care about what happens to the heroine in her search for the truth.


The Beaver

DIRECTED BY: Jodie Foster
WRITTEN BY: Kyle Killen
STARRING: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster
RATING: 3.5 stars

Say what you want about Mel Gibson the man, but as an actor, he's still got it. Watching The Beaver, you can forget all the dramas in Gibson's personal life over recent years and enjoy what can only be described as a humorous, moving and honest portrayal of depression. Perhaps it is because Gibson can relate to this character, but Gibson plays a man on the brink of self-destruction so well.

The Beaver tells the story of Walter Black (Gibson) who is so depressed with his work and home life that his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) has no choice but to temporarily kick him out of the family home. Spiralling out of control, Walter tries to kill himself and when that fails, he turns to a puppet for comfort. Walter uses the beaver puppet to speak for him and the puppet soon becomes Walter's ideal version of himself.

The idea that a person can heal their depression by projecting their personality onto a puppet is quirky and yet somehow acceptable within the conventions of the film. The Beaver cleverly explores Walter's relationships at work and home, including a funny three-way love scene between him, his wife and his puppet, as well as his relationship with his teenage son Porter (Anton Yelchin) who will do whatever it takes not to be like his father, and his young son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) who seems to be the most willing participant in Walter's odd self-treatment for his depression.

As a director, Foster always takes risks and The Beaver may be her bravest choice yet, especially considering her choice of leading man. The film was a flop in the US, probably due to the backlash against Gibson, which is disappointing because The Beaver is a funny, raw and sad film, beautifully written by Kyle Killen. There is no doubt that the Foster-Gibson artistic relationship produces great chemistry and art. Don't be put off by the fact that one of Hollywood's greatest stars has taken a fall from grace. Foster has taken a huge leap of faith in her friend and I think Australians should too. The Beaver strikes the perfect balance between comedy and drama.