Friday, 30 March 2012

Titanic 3D

WRITTEN BY: James Cameron
DIRECTED BY: James Cameron
STARRING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates
RATING: 5 stars

If you've never seen Titanic on the big screen, or even if you have, you should see it in 3D at the cinema. Ok, so that's everyone then. Yes, everyone should see Titanic in 3D. There's a reason why it's in so many people's top five films of all-time. It's one of the most epic films ever made by genius film-maker James Cameron. It has everything – romance, tragedy, action, history, comedy... In fact, I had forgotten just how funny the film was.

Titanic was first released 15 years ago in December 1997 and told the story of the ocean liner's maiden and only voyage. The film cost an estimated $200 million to make and was the most expensive film of its time. The over-budget production included more than 100 permanent extras who were hired for the 160-day shoot while a full-scale replica of the ship was also built for filming. Titanic won 11 Academy Awards.

Like my review of Star Wars in 3D earlier this year, I'm not going to go through the plot and other aspects of the film. We all know about the love story between Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) and how talented the cast is. This film catapulted DiCaprio and Winslet into stardom where they'll remain for a very long time.

What I want to discuss is the use of 3D because many will wonder if it's worth paying to see Titanic in 3D. Is James Cameron merely trying to make some easy money to fund his next exploration to the bottom of the ocean? No, actually, I think he genuinely loves this masterpiece of a film and believed he could make it even more magical – and he has.

When I re-watched Titanic in 3D this week, I was blown away. I own the film on DVD and I've seen it countless times and yet, there was something quite amazing about seeing it on the big screen with a cinema full of people of all ages – some watching it for umpteenth time and others seeing it for the first time. It's a film that everyone can enjoy.

Unlike George Lucas, Cameron is a 3D expert and a film as epic as Titanic looks fantastic in 3D. I actually felt like I was on board the ship. Of course, because it was not filmed in 3D, its not as perfectly presented as Avatar. However, it is still enjoyable to watch and has enough 3D effects to make it worth spending your money on a ticket.


Thursday, 29 March 2012

Wrath of the Titans

WRITTEN BY: Dan Mazeau, David Johnson
DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Liebesman
STARRING: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike
RATING: 1.5 stars

When Clash of the Titans was widely criticised, especially for its use of 3D, the film-makers promised a better sequel. In fact, the star of the film, Sam Worthington, publicly stated he wanted to make a sequel to do a better job. I expected very little from Wrath of the Titans, and frankly, I got what I expected.

Set 10 years after the original film, Perseus (Worthington), the demigod son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), is trying to live a normal life with his 10-year-old son, Helius (John Bell). But there is a power struggle going on between the gods and the titans. Weakened by humanity's lack of devotion to them, the gods are losing control of the imprisoned Titans, including Kronus who is the father of Zeus, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Poseidon Danny Huston). The titans are locked away in Tartarus (hell), which is guarded by Hades, but then he and Zeus' son Ares (Edgar Ramirez) change their loyalties to Kronus. They capture Zeus to drain his power, which forces Perseus to travel to the underworld with his cousin Agenor (Toby Kebbell) and Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) to save his father.

I have many issues with this film. The first is, I don't understand the accents. For me, when I'm watching a film, if the accent of even one actor is badly executed, it throws me off enjoying the film. In Wrath of the Titans I'm not sure what the accent is supposed to be. It seems like director Jonathan Liebesman just told everyone to keep their natural accent so that what we're left with is supposedly Greek characters speaking with Australian, Irish, English and American accents.

My second issue with the film, which is related to the accents, is the performances of the actors. Worthington was once a good actor. Remember when he blew us away with some of his Australian films 10 years ago? These days it seems like he's not even trying and its very disappointing. Get a dialect coach, Sam! You couldn't sound more like a bogan from Rockingham. Meanwhile, Neeson, who I would be happy to watch washing dishes or reading the Yellow Pages, seemed like he didn't even want to be in the film. Fiennes was also half-hearted and while Kebbell provided some laughs, his character also became a little annoying. Pike did a fair job but for a woman who fights in battles and literally goes to hell and back, her hair was far too neat. Bill Nighy has a small but pivotal role in the film as Hephaestus and he's probably the most interesting.

My third gripe is with the 3D. What James Cameron showed audiences in Avatar was that 3D didn't have to be a gimmick – it could actually be used to add depth to a film and make audiences feel like they were with the characters. What Wrath of the Titans shows audiences is a few decent scenes of 3D but way too many gimmick shots of weapons poking out of the screen. It's fun, but it's a novelty, and that's not what 3D should be.

If you're a teenage boy, you'll probably enjoy Wrath of the Titans. There are a lot of plot holes, but there's so much action that the target audience probably won't even notice. The best thing I can say about the film is that at least it's not too long.


Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Meeting Robert De Niro

As a journalist, I've met my fair share of famous people. Actors, politicians, royalty, sportspeople, musicians... Some of them have been my idols, some I thought it was cool to say I met, and some I couldn't care less about so I was just doing my job. But through it all, I've been professional (except maybe when I interviewed Anthony Warlow and I acted like a Justin Bieber fan. But I really, really admire him).

So, when I heard Robert De Niro was coming to Perth my heart skipped a beat, or rather it felt like it was going to leap out of my chest, but I thought I would be fine. I could definitely maintain my level of professionalism and there was no way I'd be nervous, let alone star struck. He's just an actor, right? Wrong.

De Niro is as close to a living legend as you can get in Hollywood. He's the Godfather. He's the Taxi Driver. My meeting with him was brief, I didn't get my photograph taken with him and I wasn't even allowed to be closer than a metre near him, and yet the memory will stay with me forever.

I met De Niro at a press conference. Before it began, journalists assembled and rather than yapping away like we usually do while we wait for the talent to arrive, we were mostly silent. Everyone was excited and perhaps a little intimidated. We were told we could ask De Niro just one question each. We had to make it count. We were also told to avoid questions about his films because he was in town to promote Nobu Perth, the restaurant he co-owns. But I had so many questions for the icon. Where to begin?

I couldn't pass up an opportunity to ask about his films, so my question, which I asked very nervously, was this: "It's fair to say you're one of the greatest actors of all time, but you're also obviously passionate about restaurants. When people talk about Robert De Niro 50 years from now, what do you want them to talk about? What do you want your legacy to be?" De Niro smiled at me. Yes, he actually smiled warmly, not that De Niro smirk he gives in films before he whacks you or to journalists on the red carpet before he grunts and storms off. Could it be he actually liked my question?

De Niro is known for being terse with the media but he was unusually jovial in Perth. He replied to my question: "We'll see, whatever sticks. Who knows?" Then he elaborated further, speaking for another minute about how enjoyable, but also difficult, it is to make films and develop restaurants. He gave the impression he'd be happy to be remembered for either passion, but hopefully both, and I think he will.

I met De Niro on Sunday and on Tuesday I'm still grinning about it. I've stood two metres away from the Queen, but sitting one metre away from De Niro was far better. No offence, Liz ;)


Robert De Niro with chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa at the press conference. Photograph by Angie Raphael.

Here are some of De Niro's best films:

The Godfather: Part II (he won as Oscar for this performance)
Raging Bull (he also won an Oscar for this film)
Taxi Driver
Cape Fear
This Boy's Life
Sleepers
Once Upon A Time In America
City By The Sea
Meet The Parents
Goodfellas
Casino
Wag The Dog





Have you had a similar encounter with one of your idols? What happened?

Monday, 26 March 2012

A Dangerous Method

WRITTEN BY: Christopher Hampton
DIRECTED BY: David Cronenberg
STARRING: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon
RATING: 2.5 stars

I studied some of Sigmund Freud's theories when I was at university so I thought a film that explored the relationship between Freud and Carl Jung that eventuated in the development of psychoanalysis would be interesting. Unfortunately, I was wrong. While some of the key performances were outstanding, the film itself lacks intrigue.

A Dangerous Method is based on the book A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr and the play The Talking Cure by Christopher Hampton, who also wrote the screenplay. It begins in 1904 when Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who is an aspiring doctor but is struggling mentally, arrives at a clinic run by Jung (Michael Fassbender). Using theories and methods developed by Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Jung helps Spielrein overcome her problems. Jung, who only knew of Freud through his writings, travels to Vienna to meet him and they soon strike up a friendship and begin developing a theory about psychoanalysis. However, the men have very different approaches and clash in some ways. Soon, Spielrein goes from being Jung's patient to his colleague and she begins an affair with him, even though he is married to Emma (Sarah Gadon). Later, when Freud takes Spielrein on as a patient, he learns of the affair and uses it against Jung during their ideological battle.

Have I mentioned lately how much I adore Fassbender? He really is a powerful actor and his performance in this film is nothing short of brilliant. He has an ability to act internally and so subtly that audiences sense his character's struggle to express his emotions without requiring an over-the-top dramatisation. Knightley could certainly learn a thing or two about acting from Fassbender. I haven’t seen a worse case of over-acting in years. Knightley's character is complex and troubled. A more talented actress would have relished in the role, but Knightley seemed to be trying far too hard. Meanwhile, Mortensen played Freud very well and was a good balance against Fassbender. Vincent Cassel also has a small but pivotal role in the film and he's so entertaining to watch - he gives the film the spark it needs to carry on.

A Dangerous Method is a very different film for Cronenberg, who is better known for his work on Crash and A History of Violence. Unfortunately, he has paced the film too slowly. While those with an interest in psychoanalysis may find this film interesting, it's not for the mainstream.


Sunday, 25 March 2012

Mirror Mirror

Guest review by Jackie Raphael.


WRITTEN BY: Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller
DIRECTED BY: Tarsem Singh
STARRING: Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer and Lily Collins
RATING: 3 stars

Mirror mirror on the wall what is the greatest fairy tale of all? Well, for me, the classic narrative of Snow White is definitely one of the best. The new adaptation of this story certainly takes some interesting twists, going against several of the stereotypical clich├ęs of fairy tales and poking fun at the conventions of these films.

The film starts through narration by the Queen (Julia Roberts), telling her story of how she came to rule the town and take her throne. Having kept her stepdaughter, Snow White (Lily Collins), locked away in the castle since her father’s disappearance, the Queen lives her life in luxury as ruler. While the Queen lives off the taxes of the civilians she finds herself running out of money and deciphers a plan to marry Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer). However, the prince has fallen in love with Snow White, who he met when Snow White decided on her eighteenth birthday to see what has come of the town and rebel against her stepmother’s wishes.

Perhaps the most interesting contrast to the original story of Snow White is how the seven dwarfs are depicted in this film. Their role, their names and their personalities differ largely, which makes for some funny scenes. Several jokes are carefully planted in the film for the adults to enjoy but ultimately it is still a children’s film.

The performances in Mirror Mirror were nothing special, but all fulfilled the expectations of their characters. Roberts lacked evilness, but carried herself well as royalty. I was distracted at the start by Collins’ eyebrows but after getting used to them her depiction of Snow White’s soft yet strong character was well done. I was most impressed by Hammer who played the cheesy prince charming character convincingly, with the perfect white teeth, good posture and bouncy hair. Hammer’s enthusiasm in the role made his delivery perfect. Out of the seven dwarfs who were played by Jordan Prentice as Napoleon, Mark Povinelli as Half Pint, Joe Gnoffo as Grub, Fanny Woodburn as Grimm, Sebastian Saraceno as Wolf, Martin Klebba as Butcher and Ronald Lee Clark as Chuckles, I found Povinelli’s character to be the most entertaining. As always Nathan Lane was amusing, as he played the role of Brighton, the Queen’s trusted adviser.

Mirror Mirror is fun for the children and fun for the child inside us all that wants to believe in happily ever afters. This film is definitely worth seeing for all those seeking escapism and a flashback to their childhood.


Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Hunger Games

WRITTEN BY: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray
DIRECTED BY: Gary Ross
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz
RATING: 3 stars

I know you all have just one question about The Hunger Game: Is it worth the hype? Sadly, the answer is no. A second question hardcore fans of the books will have is: Does the film stay true to the book? Well, according to the diehard fan who I took to the preview screening, the answer is yes. The film blends themes from reality shows like Big Brother and Survivor, while also drawing on films like Gladiator and The Truman Show.

Based on the first novel in a trilogy by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is set in the future where the USA has collapsed due to war and famine. It has been replaced with Panem, which is divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Every year, a boy and girl from each district are chosen to fight to the death on live television. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her younger sister's place for the latest match, leaving her friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) to care for her fragile sister and mother. Katniss and her male counterpart Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) decide to work together to win the Hunger Games but only one of them can survive til the end to be crowned the winner.

Dare I say it, I think the film should have been more violent in its depiction of the pivotal fight scenes. After all, this is a story about teenagers murdering each other. It's a battle where only the strongest, smartest and most skilled survive. It actually makes me wonder why it's targeted at children in the first place because its potentially quite graphic and horrifying. Unfortunately, it seems like the film has tried to tone down the gore so that younger audiences can enjoy it. The problem is that it means the film lacks spunk. There are a lot of close-ups and not much blood is shown, so audiences don't see the graphic details. I suppose this is clever for its purposes but it left me wishing for more.

What the film lacks in gruesome violence, it tries to make up for with romance as sappy as Twilight, which many have compared the film too, although there are no vampires or werewolves in this story. I just didn't buy the romance. In fact, I didn't even like the character of Peeta. I'm hoping Gale has a bigger role in the sequel, which I'm sure they will make, because his character was much more interesting to me. I know teenage girls (and some women) reading this will have a strong opinion about this love triangle. Just like the creation of Team Edward versus Team Jacob, there are females around the world passionately pledging their adoration for Peeta or Gale.

What I do love about the film is that our heroine has heart and can also kick arse. Unlike other female leads (like Bella in Twilight) Katniss can take care of herself. She's a great role model for girls and Lawrence is perfect for the role. Hemsworth is also good as Gale and Hutcherson gives a fair effort as Peeta. Elizabeth Banks is scary and funny as Effie Trinket, while Stanley Tucci is hilariously brilliant as television host Caesar Flickerman and Lenny Kravitz is impressive as Katniss' stylist Cinna. I also liked Wes Bentley's portrayal of game-maker Seneca Crane. However, I was disappointed with Woody Harrelson as former Hunger Games winner Haymitch, who was rather annoying. Donald Sutherland also has a small but pivotal role as the president and I hope he plays a bigger part in the sequel.

In recent years, we've had Harry Potter and Twilight. Now it seems The Hunger Games is the latest obsession for fans of the teen book turned film franchise. Whether you like it or not, get used to hearing about The Hunger Games A LOT over the next few years.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Arcadia

WRITTEN BY: Tom Stoppard
DIRECTED BY: Kate Cherry
STARRING: Andrew McFarlane, Kirsty Hillhouse, Scott Sheridan, Whitney Richards
RATING: 3 stars

How do you blend mathematics, science, literature and history successfully in a play? Through witty dialogue, comedy and mystery. At least, that's what Tom Stoppard has done with his 1993 play Arcadia - and it works. At almost three hours in length, Arcadia is perhaps a little too long, but it is entertaining and beautifully performed.

Arcadia is set in the English countryside in the 1800s and the present day. The play juxtaposes the activities of two modern-day scholars and the house's residents against the lives of those who lived there 200 years earlier. In the 1800s scenes, audiences are introduced to teenager Thomasina Coverly (Whitney Richards) who has a very advanced understanding of mathematics. She studies with her tutor Septimus Hodge (Scott Sheridan) who is a friend of famous poet Lord Byron. In the present day, a writer named Hannah Jarvis (Kirsty Hillhouse) is investigating a hermit who once lived on the grounds while a literary academic named Bernard Nightingale (Andrew McFarlane) is investigating a mystery surrounding Lord Byron. As their investigations unfold, the truth about what happened 200 years ago is revealed.

The play is complex and intriguing, with smart dialogue and comedy to balance out the drama and mystery surrounding the plot. It also draws on several themes including mathematics, physics, literature, landscape design, classicism versus romanticism, order versus chaos, poetry, botany… its almost easier to list what it doesn't discuss. What the play does very successfully is present complex ideas in a simple way that stimulate thought, all while the characters try to piece together the details.

The set design is simple, yet effective. The two eras share the same setting, which includes a large table and several props. The two periods even blend during some scenes. The performances are also impressive in this production. The dialogue alone is difficult to master at times and yet everyone is on the ball. Led by popular Australian actor McFarlane and Black Swan State Theatre Company regular Hillhouse, the actors play off each other very well. Sheridan as naughty teacher Septimus Hodge is a stand out while Adriane Daff provides several laughs as the flirty Chloe Coverly.

Arcadia is being performed by the Black Swan State Theatre Company at the Heath Ledger Theatre in the State Theatre Centre until April 1.


Caption: Rebecca Davis, Whitney Richards and Andrew McFarlane. Image by Robert Frith.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

21 Jump Street

WRITTEN BY: Michael Bacall
DIRECTED BY: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
STARRING: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube
RATING: 3.5 stars

Attention children of the 80s who watched the television series 21 Jump Street. Go see the film adaptation. I'd really like to end this review here, but since you probably expect a more thorough explanation, I'll go on. 21 Jump Street (the film) is actually more of an homage to the television series than you would expect. It's completely ridiculous in its concept and yet it realises that and embraces it. We know that grown men cannot look like teenagers, but who cares? It's fun! Rather than become a cringe worthy product of its genre, the film is full of laughs and worth seeing, even if you never saw the show.

Written by Michael Bacall, but based on a story he developed with Jonah Hill, 21 Jump Street begins in 2005 when our protagonists Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are in their final year of high school. Schmidt is a book-smart loser who tries far too hard to look like Eminem, while Jenko is a stereotypical jock who doesn't care about school. They're both devastated when they miss out on the school prom for different reasons. Flash forward seven years to the present day and the pair are now police recruits and friends. When they screw up an arrest, the pair are sent to 21 Jump Street - an undercover unit where young-looking officers are sent into high schools to solve crimes. Their task is to investigate a drug ring but being back in high school could be harder than they think.

Yes, the concept of the film is just as ridiculous as that of the television show. However, unlike the series, the film is not taking the idea seriously. It’s there to be made fun of and fun is certainly what you have watching 21 Jump Street. The film mocks the show while also recognising that it was very popular during its time. Fans of the television show will laugh at the nods towards the popular series and there are many cameos from the original cast including Holly Robinson Peete (Judy Hoffs) and of course Peter DeLuise (Doug Penhall) and Johnny Depp (Tom Hanson) who share a hilarious scene. Keen fans will even notice that the original series is screening on a television in one scene.

The film also repeatedly satirises the buddy action film genre, especially in one unconventional car chase scene. It even pokes fun at modern pop culture and how much schools have changed. Apparently, it's now cool to care about the environment and wear both straps of a backpack. Teenage boys are also now wearing skinny leg jeans and bullying is frowned upon. As Tatum's character says, "I totally know the cause. Glee!"

The dialogue in this film is fast and mildly disgusting at times. There are some good one-liners and they are delivered with conviction. Hill is fast becoming a big name in Hollywood. He's a smart comedic actor who can also take on serious roles (Moneyball). He plays shy and awkward well, but he has some great scenes where he is allowed to go a little crazy with his character and it's fun to watch. Tatum is also very good. I prefer to watch him in comedic roles (She's The Man) because he's not the greatest serious actor, but his comedic timing is impressive. They are supported by a good cast including Dave Franco who plays a popular student linked to the drug ring and Brie Larson who plays his casual girlfriend and is in the drama class. The only disappointment was Ice Cube as the police boss who seemed disinterested.

While 21 Jump Street relies a lot on stereotypical characters and can appear to be a little unoriginal in areas, there is enough sheen to make it an enjoyable laugh-out-loud film.


Sunday, 11 March 2012

Margin Call

WRITTEN BY: J.C. Chandor
DIRECTED BY: J.C. Chandor
STARRING: Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore
RATING: 3 stars

You know those films where not much really happens and yet you still remain relatively interested in it? Well that's Margin Call. We learn at the start what's happening (the stock market is on the verge of collapse) and by the end of the film it's still happening. There's no resolution. But hey, it's about the start of the global financial crisis so it's not an easy thing to just tie up with a typical Hollywood ending. However, what the film does show audiences is what it might have been like on Wall Street the night before the global financial crisis hit.

In Margin Call, we are introduced to a financial company that is downsizing its staff numbers. One of the people fired is Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) the head of the risk management division who was working on something big before he was let go. One of the young analysts, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), completes the work late that night and immediately calls his colleague Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) to discuss his dangerous discovery. All the senior management at the company (Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker, Demi Moore and Jeremy Irons) are then called in for a long night of double checking the figures before debating what to do to save the company from financial ruin, even if it means selling worthless shares that will ruin other companies.

As a newcomer, writer/director J.C. Chandor has shown some promise. He's written some clever dialogue and has produced a script that is simple enough that even the most uninterested in the stock market can understand what's going on. The film manages to offer some sympathetic characters while also showing audiences the harsh truth that there are some people in the financial world who are more concerned about making money for themselves and their company than making sure the market remains balanced for everyone. In fact, although no real companies or people were named in the film, Irons' character, John Tuld, has a similar name to Richard Fuld, who was the chief executive of the bankrupted Lehman Brothers.

Although the film is slow-paced, the performances are so strong in this film that its compelling to watch. The entire film plays out like an episode of 24, and you feel the strain that the characters feel. Leading the pack is Irons, who is cold and slimy. Equally powerful is Spacey who wants to do the right thing but knows its much easier for him if he does the morally wrong thing. Bettany is also very good and shares some moving scenes with several cast mates including Quinto and Tucci, while it is left to Gossip Girl star Badgley to provide most of the laughs, and dare I say it, he does a pretty good job. Baker and Moore are also in good form. There isn't really a bad performance in this film.

However, for all my praise and intrigue in the film, there is something missing. There just isn't enough of a spark to make me want to watch this film again. I think it's a good film, but it isn't a powerful film. Perhaps the subject matter just isn't quite interesting enough? It should be, considering it affected the whole world, and yet there's something lacking about it. It's worth a look, but it's probably not worth buying on DVD later.