Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Rum Diary

WRITTEN BY: Bruce Robinson
DIRECTED BY: Bruce Robinson
STARRING: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard
RATING: 3 stars

When in doubt, drink alcohol. That's the motto of The Rum Diary, but considering the title, I suppose that makes sense. It's a film that looks like it might actually be going somewhere in the first half, but by Act II, you realise there really isn't a point, which is what we expect from Hunter S. Thompson. The Rum Diary was written by Thompson when he was 22 years old in 1959 and is based loosely on his own experiences. But the novel was not published until 1998 when Johnny Depp found the manuscript while he was staying with Thompson in preparation for his role in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, which was also written by Thompson.

The Rum Diary tells the story of alcoholic journalist Paul Kemp (Depp) who takes a job at a struggling newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico where his editor has him writing tourist pieces and horoscopes. Paul moves into a rundown apartment with a photographer named Sala (Michael Rispoli), who makes extra cash by fighting cocks, and out-of-favour journalist Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), who's brain has been fried from too much booze. Paul also meets Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a wealthy entrepreneur, who employs him to flack for some investors planning to buy an island to build a resort. But then Paul begins to lust after Sanderson's girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard), which complicates things for him. When he and Sala get into some trouble with the locals, a Carnival dance goes horribly wrong and the newspaper crumbles further, there seems to be nothing else for Paul to do but drink.

The Rum Diary is more coherent than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and is also a more conventional film. Writer and director, Bruce Robinson, has adapted Thompson's work with some changes to the plot and characters, which might annoy die hard fans, but it was probably a necessity considering the depth of the novel that would require too much screen time - the film is already two hours long as it is. There are some fantastic one-liners and witty dialogue like: "Do not confuse love with lust, nor drunkenness with judgment" as well as some borderline offensive hilarity like: "There's no such thing as a liberal. A liberal is a commie with a college education thinking Negro thoughts."

Depp was a close friend of Thompson and you can see he really enjoys playing characters from his books who are based on him. Depp is charming, kooky and witty in The Rum Diary. Eckhart is also brilliant as a jerk, Heard is as seductive as a woman can be and Rispoli is entertaining. But it's Ribisi who steals the show with his constant stream of humour. There is one particular scene in which he merely sits in a chair and listens to a record of Adolf Hitler making an impassioned speech. It's ridiculously funny and brilliant.

Unfortunately, the film has some problems - most importantly, its ending. The main conflict remains unresolved and the story doesn't really feel finished. Thompson always had a habit of writing about nothing but he always did it with humour and zest. This film adaptation didn't feel quite as fulfilling. An attempt to provide some closure at the end with a caption is also unsatisfying.

Fans of the Gonzo journalist will enjoy The Rum Diary and Depp is worth seeing in his passion project, but the film is certainly not for everyone.

Monday, 27 February 2012

The 84th annual Academy Awards

It wasn't the most surprising Academy Awards ceremony, but it certainly was a history-making one. Meryl Streep won her third Oscar, joining an elite club with fellow three-time Oscar winners Jack Nicholson, Walter Brennan and Ingrid Bergman. Only Katharine Hepburn with four wins had more. Meanwhile, Jean Dujardin became the first Frenchman to win best actor and Christopher Plummer became the oldest acting winner ever at the age of 82. The Artist was also the first silent film to win the best-picture award since the first Oscar ceremony 83 years ago.

All of that is quite impressive for an awards ceremony that has been criticised for not including any major blockbusters in its best picture category, and overlooking performances from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar and Michael Fassbender in Shame, not to mention the fact that Drive was not nominated.

While I'm still grumbling about these oversights, the Oscars were actually a pretty good awards show this year and the return of Billy Crystal as host was a good choice. When in doubt, go for Crystal. His opening montage was not his best, but it was still entertaining.

Earlier on the red carpet, Sacha Baron Cohen almost threatened to steal the show in a clever way to promote his new film. Cohen was dressed in character for The Dictator and spilled a vase of what he said were the ashes of the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il on E! host Ryan Seacrest. I'm sure some people found it rude, but I think it was hilarious, especially considering how seriously Seacrest takes himself. Well played, Cohen, well played.

The Academy has largely got its award winners right this year too. It was great to see Aussie Kirk Baxter take home an award for film editing for his work on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and it was a big night for The Artist and Hugo.

Here is the full list of the winners:

BEST DIRECTOR - Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
BEST ACTOR - Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
BEST ACTRESS - Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
SUPPORTING ACTOR - Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Octavia Spencer (The Help)
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE) - Ludovic Bource (The Artist)
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG) - Man or Muppet, from The Muppets (New Zealander Bret McKenzie)
FILM EDITING - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Australian Kirk Baxter)
MAKE-UP - The Iron Lady
SHORT FILM (ANIMATED) - The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore

Oscar winners previously presented this season:
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award - Oprah Winfrey
Honorary Award - James Earl Jones
Honorary Award - Dick Smith
Gordon E Sawyer Award - Douglas Trumbull
Award of Merit - ARRI cameras

Best dressed women:
1) Milla Jovovich was stunning in white.
2) Gwyneth Paltrow looked elegant in white too.
3) Angelina Jolie looked great in black and her leg even caused a Twitter frenzy, prompting someone to create a Twitter account for it. She certainly did like sticking it out.
4) Octavia Spencer showed curvy women how to look fabulous.
5) Stacey Kiebler looked like an Oscar trophy. This dress could have looked terrible on someone else, but she pulled it off well.

Worst dressed women:
1) Viola Davis. What happened to her chest in that dress?
2) Natalie Portman. Nice bling, awful dress.
3) Emma Stone. What was with that bow thing on her shoulder?

Best dressed men:
1) Colin Firth. He always looks good.
2) Brad Pitt. I'm liking the long hair he's been growing lately too.
3) Jean Dujardin. Classy.

What did you think of the Oscars?

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Little Bit of Heaven

WRITTEN BY: Gren Wells
DIRECTED BY: Nicole Kassell
STARRING: Kate Hudson, Gael Garcia Bernal, Kathy Bates, Peter Dinklage, Whoopi Goldberg
RATING: 2 stars

How do you make a romantic comedy about a woman with colon cancer? First, you need to get Kate Hudson onboard because there are few actresses more adorable for audiences to watch. Then you need Peter Dinklage to provide some cheap dwarf jokes and Whoopi Goldberg to play God. Yeah, that will work. Or maybe not. A Little Bit of Heaven falls flat on so many levels. Anyone who has ever been through cancer will tell you that you need to maintain a sense of humour, but you can't make a romantic comedy about cancer - you just can't.

In A Little Bit of Heaven we are introduced to Marley Corbett (Hudson), a successful woman in the world of advertising with commitment issues as a result of her parents' (Treat Williams and Kathy Bates) failed marriage. But that's ok because she has her three best friends (Rosemarie DeWitt, Lucy Punch and Romany Malco) and they're all she needs. That is until Marley finds out she has terminal colon cancer. But that's ok too because, through her cancer treatment, Marley meets a doctor named Julian Goldstein (Gael Garcia Bernal) from Mexico who flirts with her and eventually falls in love with her. Well, maybe in a romantic comedy having cancer isn't so bad after all?

How convenient could it really be that your sexy, foreign doctor falls in love with you, you're slowly dying but you still look good because it's impossible to look bad in a romantic comedy, you win a radio contest and you get an insurance payout so you can splurge on gifts for your friends before you die? Does Hollywood really expect audiences to relate, find humour and enjoy a film like this?

If the dwarfism wasn't enough, there's also a neighbour friend who also happens to be gay AND black. Wow. Not to mention that of course when you're dying the one thing you really want is to settle down with someone, right? Because a woman's life couldn't possibly be complete until she's found "the one". What a shame, Marley laments, that she's going to die before she has any babies. But who wants to spend time with the people they love in their life when there's a man to flirt with and make fall in love with you? Writer Gren Wells has tried to cover far too much in this film. She would have been more successful had she simplified the entire concept.

It’s not all bad or ridiculous though. There are a few touching moments in the film, and I have to admit, I shed a couple of tears. A few of the bonding scenes between Marley and her friends and family are moving, though a little drawn out and repetitive at times. Hudson is good in these scenes though and her chemistry with Bates is strong (unlike her chemistry with Bernal). There are also a few funny moments to lighten the dark mood but again, they provide nothing more than a light giggle at best.

A Little Bit of Heaven has courageously tried to move away from the typical so-called "chick flick" but unfortunately, it doesn't quite get there. If you want to watch a film that deals with love and cancer in a sensitive and beautiful way, you would be better off watching A Walk To Remember.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


WRITTEN BY: Aaron Guzikowski
DIRECTED BY: Baltasar Kormákur
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster
RATING: 3 stars

I had very low expectations for Contraband and I was pleasantly surprised that I actually enjoyed myself. Upon reflection, it's full of plot holes and there is far too much reliance on our hero being lucky, but in an action film like this, it doesn't really matter. If you can immerse yourself in the suspenseful adventure you'll have a good time.

Contraband is based on an Icelandic thriller named Reykjavik-Rotterdam, but this new version is set in New Orleans. Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) has abandoned his life of crime in favour of having a regular life with his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and their two children. But, after his brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) botches a drug deal for Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) Chris is forced back into a life of crime to square Andy's debt. He assembles a crew with the help of his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) to head to Panama and return with millions in counterfeit bills.

I'm getting bored with this idea of Wahlberg always playing the same sort of character and always winning in the end. He does it well, but a lot of his films are beginning to follow a standard formula. Nonetheless, we've come to expect a certain style of film from him and Contraband is exactly what his fans want to see. He even takes off his shirt in one scene to please some audiences. Beckinsale is undervalued in this film, which is a real shame because she's a good actress. The rest of the cast are not particularly high-profile but they all give decent performances. Speaking of type-casting, Ribisi is particularly good as a slimy villain.

The film is directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who starred in the original film and has done a fair job with the action sequences, though they aren't as exciting as other films we've seen recently like Safe House or The Grey.

My major gripe with the Contraband is that it's plot is ridiculous. The team has a short time in Panama to get the cash and yet they somehow have time to find the warehouse where the bills are manufactured and stick up an armoured car. There's that luck again that sees Chris and his crew through.

Contraband is by no means a great film. But fans of action films will enjoy munching on their popcorn and joining the ride of thrills that this film offers. If you liked Wahlberg's other action films, you'll probably like this one too.

Thursday, 16 February 2012


WRITTEN BY: Yasmina Reza, Roman Polanski
DIRECTED BY: Roman Polanski
STARRING: Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly
RATING: 4.5 stars

The scene where Oscar winner Kate Winslet vomits in Carnage is one of the funniest moments I've ever seen in a film. Not since Bridesmaids has a cinema full of people laughed out loud so much throughout an entire film. Carnage even manages to make genocide in Darfur funny (trust me, it's not offensive - it works). But it isn't just the fact that Carnage is hilarious, or that it boasts such an impressive cast. It's that the film has substance so that while it pokes fun at the middle class, it also asks serious questions about what a parent will do for their child, whether they've done right or wrong.

This play-turned-film is about two couples who's children are involved in a fight where one of them strikes the other with a stick, causing him to lose some teeth. The parents of the children - Winslet and Christoph Waltz as Nancy and Alan Cowan, as well as Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly as Penelope and Michael Longstreet - meet to discuss the situation and figure out how best to resolve the conflict between the children. At first, they are cordial, but as the film progresses, the level of civility decreases. Soon they're all drunk and screaming at each other in a hilarious mess.

The film borders on the absurd but it somehow works and it's largely due to the witty dialogue, excellent delivery and the perfect comedic timing of its cast. Winslet was my personal favourite because her character begins so demure and polite, although you can see that she has to bite her tongue at times. By the time she's spewing all over the place and drinking, her character has taken a complete turn and it's so much fun to watch, especially because we're so used to seeing Winslet in more serious roles. Waltz is also very funny. His character is a lawyer and is constantly interrupting the conversation by taking work phone calls. When he's not on the phone, he seems to spend most of his time critiquing the behaviour of everyone around him.

Riley's character appears to be the most reasonable character but even he begins to unravel as the film progresses, particularly when Winslet's character accuses him of being a hamster murderer. Foster is also great to watch because her character is the most annoying and fake, and she and becomes the most hysterical. In a play, her character would be even funnier because the actor can really overact with the role. Unfortunately, in film, her overacting doesn't work quite so well, but she's still enjoyable to watch.

Too often we see directors self-indulge in over-the-top sequences that add little to the story, but Carnage is just 79 minutes long and it's the right length. At no point is the audience bored or wondering why a certain scene was added. It's a testament to how good Roman Polanski is as a director. He doesn't need to stretch the film out just to get to the 100 minute mark. Plus, he's created a much-needed claustrophobic feeling of having these four people in your face by setting the film in a New York apartment and its hallway. He's stayed true to the play.

Carnage combines comedy, drama and social commentary in such a fun and explosive way, you can't help but laugh and enjoy yourself. I came out of the cinema wanting to see this film again very soon. I think I will.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Grey

WRITTEN BY: Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
DIRECTED BY: Joe Carnahan
STARRING: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo
RATING: 4 stars

I am fairly certain that if I survived a plane crash in the middle of nowhere and was then hunted down by a pack of wolves in the snow, I wouldn't last more than about five minutes. But then, I'm not Liam Neeson. Or rather, I'm not his character – John Ottway, the tough marksman who's job it is to kill wolves. Unfortunately, the trailer doesn’t do The Grey justice. It shows Neeson strapping broken bottles to his knuckles to fight a wolf like he's some kind of Wolverine character. The reality of that moment is actually quite impressive and fitting. The Grey is a fun film to watch because it is two hours full of suspense and excitement.

Based on Ian Mackenzie Jeffers' short story, The Grey is about an oil drilling team on board a plane that crashes in Alaska. Only seven people survive the crash and must then withstand the wild climate and a pack of wolves who feel threatened by their presence and begin to take them out one by one. Neeson's character is a man close to suicide before he's faced with the very real possibility of death and then fights hard to stay alive. He takes charge in the group and encourages them to work together to survive.

Joe Carnahan, the writer/director who brought us action films like Smokin' Aces and The A-Team, has produced his best work with The Grey. This film is far more complex and moving, and is certainly a more complete film. Carnahan has done a great job of producing some amazing sequences of action, such as the plane crashing (you almost feel like you're on the plane) and one scene where one of the survivors falls through some trees. The use of sound goes very well with these scenes, adding to the effect. The technical aspects are well supported by good performances from the cast of survivors whose characters are decently developed, and in Ottway's case, well developed.

What I love most about this film is that it's not just an action survival film. There’s actually some depth to it. The Grey deals with suicide, the value of a life and religion – all without being over the top or overly analytical. It's subtle and realistic. If you were in that position wouldn't you be wondering why God, or some almighty figure, would have you survive a plane crash only to be hunted by wolves? Wouldn't you shout to the sky for an answer even if the sky doesn't respond? Wouldn’t you have a heart-to-heart and share a few jokes with your fellow survivors? The film covers all of these aspects in brief moments dispersed between moments of suspenseful thrills.

I have to warn you that there are some gruesome moments as a result of the wolf attack scenes. If you can cope with that, The Grey is definitely worth seeing. You will be on the edge of your seat and the best part is that it doesn't follow a traditional Hollywood ending.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Valentine's Day Films

Whether you're in love, looking for love or mending a broken heart, there's a Valentine's Day film for everyone. Here's my top film picks broken down into three categories…

20 films for those in a relationship or happily single and actively looking for love:

Clueless (1995) – A modern day retelling of Jane Austen's novel Emma, this film has stood the test of time to be one of the most quotable teenage romantic comedies.

Jerry Maguire (1996) – One especially for single mums. With lines like “You complete me” it's a romantic film but its sport management story also has substance.

Pride and Prejudice, the BBC production (1995) – Don't bother with that pathetic excuse for a film starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet. Pass Valentine's Day evening watching Colin Firth as Mr Darcy and you won't be sorry.

Pretty Woman (1990) – Even hookers deserve to find true love. It's the film that made the world fall in love with Julia Roberts leading her to make other great romantic comedies like My Best Friend's Wedding, Notting Hill and The Mexican.

Grease (1978) – A musical love story about a summer love story. What's not to love? You can enjoy the romance and sing along.

Dirty Dancing (1987) – A young woman on a family vacation falls in love with a bad boy dancer. Every woman falls in love with Patrick Swayze after watching this film. “Nobody puts baby in a corner.”

My Father The Hero (1994) – A film about the extent a father will go to help his teenager daughter get her man, even if it means pretending to be her lover. Hilarious film with a great performance from Gerard Depardieu and a young Katherine Heigl.

It Happened One Night (1934) – A spoiled heiress runs away from her family and is helped by a man who is actually a reporter looking for a story. As classic as a film could be. Clark Gable at his finest.

Pretty In Pink (1986) – With hits like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, the 80's wouldn't have been the same without John Hughes. Pretty In Pink is one of his best works.

27 Dresses (2008) – Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. My favourite quote from the film: “I feel like I just found out my favourite love song was written about a sandwich.” The Benny and the Jets scene is so much fun.

10 Things I hate About You (1999) – The film that made Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles famous. A reworking of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.

Suddenly 30 (2004) – On her birthday, a 13 year old girl wishes she was 30 and the next day wakes up trapped inside her 30 year old self. There's something likeable about how daggy Jennifer Garner is in this film. You can also dance along to Michael Jackson's Thriller in one particularly memorable scene.

Love Actually (2003) – A great British comedy that follows the lives of eight couples around Christmas time. Much better than similar films like Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve and He's Just Not That Into You.

The Princess Bride (1987) – My favourite film of all time. It has everything – true love, adventure and comedy. It makes me happy every time I see it.

When Harry Met Sally (1989) – Far superior than any other “complex friendship” film like Friends With Benefits or No Strings Attached. The chemistry between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan is fantastic.

Sleepless In Seattle (1993) – A recently widowed man's son tries to find him a new love. Romantic and sweet. Another classic.

Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) – Renee Zelwegger plays a woman aged in her 30's who is single, chubby, mildly alcoholic and smokes too many cigarettes. She also look for love in all the wrong places. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant are so good in this film.

Girl Happy (1965) – A mobster hires a singer to keep an eye on his daughter during spring break. My favourite Elvis Presley film. So much fun and you can sing along with the songs too.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) – A Greek woman falls in love with a non-Greek and must convince her family to accept him. My family reminds me a little too much of the family in this film. This is especially one for anyone with a European background.

His Girl Friday (1940) – A newspaper editor tries to stop his ex-wife from remarrying. Cary Grant at his very best. Charming, funny and entertaining.

10 films for those who like to have a good cry on Valentine's Day:

Gone With The Wind (1939) – This classic novel-turned-film is set in America's south during the civil war. Not even manipulative Scarlett O'Hara gets her man in the end but, “Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.”

Casablanca (1942) – One of the most quotable films ever made, Humphrey Bogart is heroic, broody and cool. “We'll always have Paris.”

Dr Zhivago (1965) – Classic novel. Classic film. It tells the story of a Russian doctor who is married but falls in love with another woman during the Bolshevik revolution.

The Notebook (2004) – Based on the popular novel by Nicholas Sparks, every woman will cry and every man will wonder why. This is why men don't understand women.

A Walk To Remember (2002) – I cried when I read the book and I cried when I saw the film. Such a moving story. Such a moving story about teenage love and illness. Great performances by a young Mandy Moore and Shane West.

Titanic (1997) – Most women will probably rank this film in their top 10. The film catapulted Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to stardom. Such a beautiful film by James Cameron.

Romeo + Juliet (1996) – Leo sure does know how to make us cry. Claire Danes is great in this film too. Director Baz Luhrman has done an amazing job with making this modern retelling of a Shakespeare tragedy entertaining for a new generation.

Ghost (1990) – After being killed during a botched mugging, a man connects with his partner as a ghost. The concept is kind of ridiculous and yet, everyone loves this film. You know why? Because Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg are fantastic in it.

Splendour In The Grass (1961) – A young girl's forbidden and unrequited love for a rich boy drives her to madness. Natalie Wood gives one of the best performances of her career in this film. It's heartbreaking to watch.

P.S. I Love You (2007) – A recently widowed woman learns that her husband has left her a series of letters to help her move on. One of the rare times I will say the film was better than the book. I cried and cried and cried.

5 films for those miserably single and hating Valentine's Day:

Closer (2004) – This play-turned-film gets quite ugly as a stripper (Natalie Portman), a writer (Jude Law), a photographer (Julia Roberts) and a dermatologist (Clive Owen) have messy romantic entanglements.

Revolutionary Road (2008) – Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet re-team to tell the story of a marriage falling apart in the 1950's. This film is so depressing, you really have to be in the right mood to watch it.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) – Mike Nichols made his directorial debut with this play-turned-movie starring real-life couple Elizabeth Taylor (who won an Oscar) and Richard Burton. When the unhappy couple invite a younger couple over for a nightcap, things seem to fall apart even more for them. There's a lot of witty dialogue in this film.

Match Point (2005) – Woody Allen is a great film-maker and he's given audiences an interesting anti-morality tale in Match Point. A social-climbing ex-tennis pro (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) marries into money but has a passionate fling with an aspiring actress (Scarlett Johansson) who causes more trouble than she's worth.

American Beauty (1999) – Stage director Sam Mendes made quite an amazing film debut with this comic drama about a dysfunctional family. Kevin Spacey plays a husband and father going through a mid-life crisis who begins lusting for his daughter's friend. It won the Oscar for best actor, best director and best picture.

What are your favourite films to watch on Valentine's Day?

2012 BAFTA Awards

It was quite a night for The Artist. It won seven awards, three of which were major awards. The film is looking very strong for the Academy Awards. It's also safe to say that if Chrisopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer do not win the best supporting actor and actress awards at the Oscars it will be a major upset.

Here are the winners:

Best Film - The Artist
Best Director - The Artist
Best Actor - Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Best Actress - Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Best Supporting Actor - Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Best Supporting Actress - Octavia Spencer, The Help
Best Original Screenplay - The Artist
Best Adapted Screenplay - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Best Documentary - Senna
Best Animation - Rango
Original Music - The Artist
Best Editing - Senna
Best Sound - Hugo
Best Production Design - Hugo
Best Costume Design - The Artist
Best Make-up and Hair - The Iron Lady
Special Visual Effects - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Best Cinematography - Guillaume Schiffman, The Artist
Best Foreign Language Film - The Skin I Live In
Best Short Animation - A Morning Stroll
Best Short Film - Pitch Black Heist
Outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer - Tyrannosaur
Outstanding British Film - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema - John Hurt
Rising Star Award - Adam Deacon, Anuvahood

My thoughts on the best and worst dressed celebrities:

Best dressed female - Michelle Williams looked elegant.

Best dressed male - A tie between George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Both looked spiffy in their suits and coats.

Best dressed couple - Colin Firth in a bow tie and his wife Livia in a smart, feminine suit.

Worst dressed celebrity - Helen Bonham Carter looked as ridiculous as she always does.

What did you think of the BAFTAs?

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Safe House

WRITTEN BY: David Geggenheim
DIRECTED BY: Daniel Espinosa
STARRING: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Fares Fares
RATING: 3 stars

You could almost forgive Safe House for being completely unoriginal in its plot because the action sequences are so good. The suspense in these scenes keeps you on the edge of your seat and there are some unexpected moments of action that startle you. Unfortunately, the plot itself is so predictable that it detracts from the enjoyment of the film. Action fans will love it, but if you don't like car chases and fight scenes, Safe House won't change your mind about the genre.

Young CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is trying to make a name for himself but is stuck guarding a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. One day, he is tasked with looking after former CIA agent and now fugitive Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) who has been on the run for 10 years. Frost turned himself in to the authorities to avoid capture by a group of mercenaries trying to kidnap or kill him. But when the safe house is attacked by the mercenaries, Weston is forced to go on the run with Frost until the CIA can intervene to pick him up.

Safe House has been compared by some to the Bourne trilogy but David Guggenheim's script is nowhere near as original. In fact, in between the superb action sequences, the story was rather dry and uninteresting. The plot was predictable and you can pick who the "bad guy" is in two seconds. I found myself waiting for these boring moments to pass just so I could see some more action. It's largely due to director Daniel Espinosa that the film has any kind of originality because he makes the actions sequences exciting. Sure, the car chases and public destruction scenes are implausible, but they’re so much fun that it doesn't matter.

The cast is also impressive in this film. We all known Denzel Washington is an amazing actor and he proves in Safe House that at the age of 57 he's still got the energy to keep up with younger action film stars. He also has the ability to convey thoughts and emotions with just a look in his eye, rather than over explanatory dialogue. He's paired quite nicely with Ryan Reynolds. It's nice to see Reynolds in a serious role where he does not deliver one joke or cheeky grin. I think he was actually acting rather than just playing his charming self for a change, and I must admit, I quite liked it. The supporting cast includes Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson as CIA bosses and they are both very good.

Safe House provides nothing new, but action fans will enjoy it. Men can probably convince their wives or girlfriends to come along too because Ryan Reynolds takes his shirt off twice. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Vow

WRITTEN BY: Jason Katims, Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, Michael Sucsy
DIRECTED BY: Michael Sucsy
STARRING: Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill, Jessica Lange
RATING: 3 stars

You know that saying, "Too many cooks spoil the broth"? Well, The Vow had too many writers working on its script and it certainly did spoil it. A romantic film like The Vow really shouldn't have too many people throwing ideas around because it convolutes a story that should be far more simplistic. It's not that The Vow was a bad film, it just tried too hard to force the romance. With two leads famous for their romantic dramas based on Nicholas Sparks novels - Rachel McAdams from the Notebook and Channing Tatum from Dear John - audiences would expect to see a similar standard in The Vow. Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite match that impressive standard.

Inspired by true events and told through a series of flashbacks, The Vow tells the story of Leo (Tatum) and Paige (McAdams), a young married couple who have been together for about five years. One night, the pair is in a car accident that puts Paige in a coma. When she wakes up, doctors realise Paige is suffering from severe memory loss. Paige believes she is still a law student rather than an artist and is still engaged to her ex-boyfriend who she hasn’t seen in years. She has also forgotten that she has been estranged from her family for years, and does not even recognise her husband at all. Leo tries desperately to make Paige remember their life together but soon realises she may never recover her memory, so he decides the only thing he can do is try to make her fall in love with him again.

It's a heartbreaking concept for a story and the fact that this extent of memory loss does happen every day makes this story particularly sad. However, the film doesn't quite hit the mark on an emotional level. There are also some funny scenes throughout the film but they aren't truly funny enough either, except for one scene when McAdams (I think unintentionally) spits a bit of chewed chocolate into her hair. If that was scripted, then it's brilliant. If it was a blooper, I'm glad director Michael Sucsy kept it in the final film.

Speaking of McAdams, she is a likeable actress but her character in The Vow was too much like her character in The Notebook. She's a rich girl with domineering parents who dreams of being an artist. It's all a little too familiar. However, her ability to communicate her character's confusion and frustration at losing five years of her life and not knowing the person she has become is fantastic. The fact that her character is aged in her 20's and has skipped over some formative years where she learned what she wanted from her life makes it all the more interesting and painful.

Unfortunately, the same acting brilliance cannot be said for Tatum. By his own admission, he's never been to acting school and learns on the job of every film he does. In romantic comedies and action films he can get away with not being the best actor. Unfortunately, in a film like The Vow he needed to deliver a stronger performance. He was too wooden and awkward. Maybe that was the way he interpreted his character but it just didn't work for me.

The Vow had so much potential and I was really looking forward to shedding a few tears at a bitter-sweet love story. Unfortunately, this film left much to be desired.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace in 3D

WRITTEN BY: George Lucas
DIRECTED BY: George Lucas
STARRING: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman
RATING: 3.5 stars for the original film and 1 star for the 3D effects

I am a Star Wars fan. I'm not one of those fans who dresses up and attends conventions. But I do get a little excited at the sight of someone dressed up as Yoda. He's cool. Don’t pretend to disagree. Do I wish I had Jedi powers? Of course, but who doesn't? My point is, I like the franchise. What I don’t appreciate is George Lucas sucking people dry of their hard-earned money to watch the films on the big screen in 3D. I was bitterly disappointed with the so-called 3D effects in Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

I'm going to assume that you've already seen all the Star Wars films, so I'm not going to give you a run-down of the plot. I have no intention of starting a debate about whether they should have released episodes four, five and six (the original trilogy) before episodes one, two and three either. I'm sure hard core fans have a strong opinion about this.

What I want to criticise is the lack of 3D effects. I'm not sure why Hollywood is insisting on adding 3D to films that weren't filmed that way in the first place. Do they not realise it doesn't add anything to the film? It is very clearly a money grabbing exercise. Even the great lightsaber fight between Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) versus Darth Maul (Ray Park) towards the end of the film doesn't make good use of the 3D, nor does some of the good flight sequences that could have used a 3D injection.

If you aren't a massive Star Wars fan, there really isn't much point in seeing Phantom Menace on the big screen in 3D, unless you just want to see it again at the cinema, because the 3D effects are lacking. As a film reviewer, will my disappointment in Phantom Menace stop me from watching the other Star Wars films in 3D at the cinema? Probably not. Does it discourage me from wanting to watch other 2D films turned into 3D like the upcoming release of Titanic? No. I'll still give it a try, but trust me when I say it probably isn't worth you spending money on.

Sunday, 5 February 2012


WRITTEN BY: Abi Morgan, Steve McQueen
DIRECTED BY: Steve McQueen
STARRING: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale
RATING: 3.5 stars

On the surface, it appears that Shame is a film about sex addiction. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that Shame is far more complex and is an examination of a man's unique relationship with his sister and how their childhood shaped them to become the adults they are. Layered with sadness, trauma, affection and desire, Shame is a powerful and heartbreaking look at the human psyche and what it can withstand.

Shame is set in New York and tells the story of Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender), a man who puts on the facade of having a normal life but secretly indulges in his sexual desires. Brandon is a sex addict but he keeps it hidden from the world. Brandon doesn't have sex with prostitutes and strangers because he wants to, but rather, because he actually needs to have sex and masturbate more than normal. His lifestyle is interrupted when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) arrives unannounced to stay with him indefinitely. Her arrival is a catalyst for Brandon's life to spiral out of control as he is forced to confront himself and the choices he has made.

Before Sissy came to live with him, Brandon's life was carefully measured with only a few cracks beginning to appear, such as a computer virus on his work computer as a result of excessive porn downloads. But otherwise, his life followed a steady rhythm. Sissy is the complete opposite of her brother. Brandon is a businessman who blends into the crowd in his suit and tie, while Sissy is a nightclub singer who wears bright colours and vintage designs. Brandon lacks emotion, while Sissy is an emotional mess, falling in love easily and cutting herself when the emotion becomes too great. The film only hints at their back story, but we sense they must have shared a difficult childhood. Perhaps they were abused as children? Certainly there was something traumatic in their past that has made them self-destructive as they are – Brandon being a desperate sex addict and Sissy being a young woman with suicidal tendencies.

A film like Shame relies heavily on the performances of its leads. Fassbender is brilliant as Brandon. I'm disappointed he missed out on an Academy Award nomination because he really does bare his soul as well as his body in this film. There has been a lot of talk about his frontal nude scene, but in a film like Shame, it is actually quite fitting. In fact, he has a lot of sex scenes in this film that are quite moving to watch because we see Brandon's desperation and addiction on Fassbender's face. It is not just sex for the sake of it. Muilligan is also impressive as Sissy. Her character is vulnerable and full of secrets. Mulligan portrays this beautifully.

Shame has been well written by Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen, who also directed the film. The script has left the story open enough that various interpretations can be made. Unfortunately, I felt that the ending was a little too vague and open-ended. I would have liked to see a stronger conclusion because we don't really know what the future holds for Brandon. Nonetheless, the film makes for some insightful viewing. Shame is not for the faint-hearted, because there is a lot of nudity and sex, but it is also there to drive the story forward. Worth a look.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Why The Princess Bride is my favourite film

Grandson: A book?
Grandpa: That's right. When I was your age, television was called books. And this is a special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today I'm gonna read it to you.
Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?
Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...
Grandson: Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try to stay awake.
Grandpa: Oh, well, thank you very much. Very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.

And so begins the tale of The Princess Bride - my favourite film written by one of my favourite screenwriters, William Goldman, (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Misery, All The President's Men), and directed by one of my favourite directors, Rob Reiner, (A Few Good Men, Stand By Me). I'm not one to throw around the phrase "cult classic" but the description is fitting for The Princess Bride. Long before everyone fell in love with Shrek, there was The Princess Bride. It is, in my opinion, the most perfect film ever made because it's fun for the whole family. Youngsters see it as an adventurous love story and adults will appreciate the satire. Sure, it's a little dated with things like the ROUS's (Rodents of Unusual Size), but it's still a film that has something for everyone.

Goldman wrote the novel of The Princess Bride in 1973. It can be read on its own as a hilarious and unique piece of literature. He's written it in a way to make you think he's telling an abridged story written by someone else, who doesn't actually exist, and he injects his own commentary throughout. It's a great read. When The Princess Bride film was released in 1987, it performed modestly at the box office. It wasn't until it was released on video that word of mouth spread and the film became a favourite for so many people. In many ways, The Princess Bride was ahead of its time and Reiner was able to simultaneously parody the genre of a fantasy love story while also celebrating it.

I recently re-watched the film at an outdoor cinema and it was fantastic to see so many fans reciting lines along with the film, as well as seeing people laugh at lines for the first time.

The Princess Bride is constructed as a story within a story, with a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading a book to his grandson (Fred Savage). The story takes place in the fictional land of Florin, and tells of the romance between Buttercup (Robin Wright) and stable boy Westley (Cary Elwes). After declaring their love for each other, Westley leaves to make some money but is reportedly killed. Buttercup is devastated but is soon chosen by Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) to be his bride. However, Humperdinck plans to have Buttercup kidnapped and frame rival country Guilder for her murder to start a war. He hires intelligent Sicilian Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), who employs dumb, but kind, giant Fezzik (Andre the Giant), and Spanish swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Pantankin) who is searching for a six-fingered man who killed his father.

There is not one unnecessary character in the film. From villains like Count Rugan (Christopher Guest) to hilarious characters like Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) and the Impressive Clergyman (Peter Cook), they all add humour and provide pivotal plot points. Here's a few of the best:

Westley – Our hero. He's smart, he's a skilled fighter and he fights for true love. He also has two of the most memorable lines in the film: "As you wish" and " There's a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. It would be a pity to damage yours." Elwes oozes appeal in this role.
Buttercup – The quintessential damsel in distress. She should be actually quite annoying but she's not. Wright perfects the English accent in her first major film role.
Innigo – One of the most quoted lines in film history is, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Patinkin has said it is the line he is always asked by fans and interviewers to quote. It's an odd quote to imitate since there's never a practical use for it, but it's still a great line. We also feel sorry for Innigo because he's trying to avenge his father's death.
Fezzik – Who doesn't love Andre The Giant? His delivery of lines is always perfect from poetry to lines like, “You've been mostly dead all day”.
Vizzini – One of the villains. Wallace Shawn is so funny. His talent is “inconceivable!”

I've already mentioned some great lines, but there are also some great conversations like these...

Inigo Montoya: That Vizzini, he can fuss.
Fezzik: Fuss, fuss... I think he like to scream at us.
Inigo Montoya: Probably he means no harm.
Fezzik: He's really very short on charm.
Inigo Montoya: You have a great gift for rhyme.
Fezzik: Yes, yes, some of the time.
Vizzini: Enough of that.
Inigo Montoya: Fezzik, are there rocks ahead?
Fezzik: If there are, we all be dead.
Vizzini: No more rhymes now, I mean it.
Fezzik: Anybody want a peanut?
Vizzini: Arrrrgh!

The Impressive Clergyman: Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togever tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wivin a dweam...And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva... So tweasure your wuv.

Prince Humperdinck: To the death.
Westley: No. To the pain.
Prince Humperdinck: I don't think I'm quite familiar with that phrase.
Westley: I'll explain and I'll use small words so that you'll be sure to understand, you warthog faced buffoon.
Prince Humperdinck: That may be the first time in my life a man has dared insult me.
Westley: It won't be the last. To the pain means the first thing you will lose will be your feet below the ankles. Then your hands at the wrists. Next your nose.
Prince Humperdinck: And then my tongue I suppose, I killed you too quickly the last time. A mistake I don't mean to duplicate tonight.
Westley: I wasn't finished. The next thing you will lose will be your left eye followed by your right.
Prince Humperdinck: And then my ears, I understand let's get on with it.
Westley: Wrong! Your ears you keep and I'll tell you why. So that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, "Dear God! What is that thing?" will echo in your perfect ears. That is what to the pain means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.
Prince Humperdinck: I think you're bluffing.
Westley: It's possible, Pig, I might be bluffing. It's conceivable, you miserable, vomitous mass, that I'm only lying here because I lack the strength to stand. But, then again, perhaps I have the strength after all. [Slowly rises and points sword directly at the prince] Drop. Your. Sword.

Do you love The Princess Bride? What's your favourite film of all time?

Thursday, 2 February 2012

J. Edgar

WRITTEN BY: Dustin Lance Black
DIRECTED BY: Clint Eastwood
STARRING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammie, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench
RATING: 4 stars

I'm still trying to figure out how Leonardo DiCaprio could possibly have been overlooked for an Academy Award nomination for his performance in J. Edgar. In fact, I'm trying to figure out why Naomi Watts and Armie Hammer weren't nominated either. J. Edgar is possibly the most underrated film of the year. There was a lot of hype surrounding the collaboration between DiCaprio and director Clint Eastwood but then it got mixed reviews and suddenly it was forgotten. It certainly isn't an obvious blockbuster. After all, it is a historical biopic about the founder of the FBI - a man who held far too much power for far too long. But this man remains a mystery and there's interest in that.

J. Edgar tells the story of John Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio), the man who was the face of law enforcement in the United States for 47 years (1924 – 1972) under eight presidents. Hoover dictates his memoirs to a series of young agents who type his words for him. As Hoover recalls his history with the FBI, the film shows flashbacks of his memories. It chronicles major stories that shook America at the time including the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, which Hoover used to expand his jurisdiction, and the capture of notorious outlaw John Dillinger, as well as Hoover's secret files on the rich and powerful, such as Eleanor Roosevelt's lesbian love affairs. Audiences are also given a sneak peek into the personal life of a fiercely private man who was feared and admired. It includes his relationships with the two most important women in his life – his domineering mother Annie (Judi Dench) and his secretary Helen Gandy (Watts) – as well as the man in his life, Clyde Tolson (Hammer) who inherited his fortune when he died.

Writer Dustin Lance Black, best known for Milk, has given us another compelling script. Since Hoover is such a mysterious figure in history, and most of his secret files were destroyed when he died, it is hard to know many things about him. What Black has done is shed some light on the man and provide audiences with enough information to make their own mind up about him. Hoover's sexuality was ambiguous and the film portrays him as almost asexual, if not possibly a repressed homosexual due to society and especially his mother who told him she would rather her son was dead than be a “daffodil”. One thing we do know is that he lacked hobbies, friends and partners, except perhaps for Tolson.

Eastwood has done a great job with the script, avoiding any sensationalism of the story. He doesn't try to avoid Hoover's sexuality, but he doesn't make it a big deal either. The film is as honest a depiction of Hoover as you could get considering we know so little about him. This is why DiCaprio's performance is so good. He has to be reserved and inward. He ages but his character is much the same through the years and DiCaprio portrays him very well. Watts is also impressive in her understated performance, while Hammer has the difficult role of playing a man equally as mysterious, though perhaps more obviously gay.

J. Edgar is an insightful film, although it is perhaps dry in areas that some expected to be more explosive. However, a more dramatic portrayal of Hoover would have been a disservice to his story because the fact is he is a mystery and any more dramatisation would only serve to be inaccurate. What Black, Eastwood and DiCaprio have done is shown us a complicated man in the best way they can while leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions. J. Edgar is a film that history fans will love.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

AACTA Awards 2012

Here are the winners of the 2012 AACTA Awards for film only:

BEST FILM: Red Dog, Nelson Woss and Julie Ryan
BEST DIRECTION: Justin Kurzel, Snowtown
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Leon Ford, Griff The Invisible
BEST LEAD ACTOR: Daniel Henshall, Snowtown
BEST LEAD ACTRESS: Judy Davis, The Eye Of The Storm
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Hugo Weaving, Oranges And Sunshine
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Louise Harris, Snowtown

Red Dog was definitely the sentimental favourite so it's nice that it won the best film award, but I think Snowtown was probably a more deserving winner. After all, the film did take out four other awards. It was also a nice surprise to see Griff The Invisible win an award for its screenplay. It really is a unique film and a very different take on the superhero concept we often see in comic books and films.

What was your favourite Australian film from last year?