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.