Thursday, 26 July 2012

Films of June/July

Well, as regular followers of my blog would have noticed, I was MIA for six weeks from June to mid-July. I was overseas and not keeping my blog up to date. However, I have still been seeing films. Since these films have been out for a while, here's just a quick few thoughts on some of the big films that were released over the past two months.

Written by: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Directed by: Ridley ScottStarring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron
Rating: 3 stars

I was so excited to see this film that I went to the preview screening the night I was due to fly out of Perth. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced it was worth my effort. Prometheus is a sort of prequel to the Alien franchise but works as a stand-alone film. However, fans of the other films will have added benefit from knowing the history. Set in 2093, crew members on-board the Prometheus vessel land on a planet in search of gods to explain why they created humans. But the crew are in way over their heads and are not prepared for what they will find on the planet.

The film has a lot of big ideas about the meaning of life, humanity and the existence of the universe. Unfortunately, the plot becomes so involved in analysing these themes without really coming to a satisfying conclusion or developing its characters that the film drags on for a while before any real action happens. By the time the climax came, I was over it and didn't care who was being killed off. However, by the end of the film I was left intrigued as we got closer to understanding the link of how it all ties in with the original Alien film. A sequel (if director Ridley Scott makes one) to connect those dots further will hopefully be enjoyable to watch. The film is worth seeing in 3D.

Written by: Jennifer Westfeldt
Directed by: Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring: Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Kristen Wig, Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd
Rating: 3 stars

Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) are best friends who have no romantic feelings for each other. But in their circle of friends, which include couples Ben and Missy (Jon Hamm and Kristen Wig) and Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd) everyone seems to be getting married and having children. At first, Jason and Julie are happy with their single dating lives but when they see the toll children take on the romance of a relationship they decide they don't want that for themselves. So, Jason and Julie decide to have a child together while keeping their relationship platonic and make an arrangement to share the parenting responsibilities while dating other people until they find their "person" who they want to marry.

The film tries to offer audiences something different for a romantic comedy but it inevitably ends up following a standard storyline. Westfeldt has made a good effort to write, direct and star in the film, and there are actually some very funny and poignant moments. However, there was still something lacking with the plot. Megan Fox has a small, forgettable role as Jason's girlfriend while Edward Burns plays Julie's almost too perfect boyfriend. The remaining cast reunites four members of Bridesmaids. The performances are entertaining but nothing extraordinary. A fun date film.

Written by: Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo, Allan Loeb
Directed by: Adam Shankman
Starring: Julianne Hough, Diefo Boneta, Tom Cruise, Malin Akerman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin
Rating: 1 star

It pains me to say this but Rock of Ages was so bad, I was laughing within the first minute at how lame it was. Set in 1987, Sherie (Julianne Hough) comes to Hollywood to become a singer. She meets Drew (Diego Boneta) who is a waiter at The Bourbon Room, run by Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand). But Drew also wants to be a rock star. Meanwhile the bar is under threat from the mayor's wife Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who wants to clean up the club strip. When rock star Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) comes to the bar for a one-off gig everyone's lives begin to change.

Throughout the entire film I was confused about whether it was a spoof film mocking the 80's or a genuine unapologetic musical. If it was the former, it wasn't convincing enough, and if it was the latter, it was too embarrassing to be entertaining. I actually enjoy musicals but Rock of Ages made me want to throw rocks at the screen. I haven’t seen the stage version so I don't know how it compares, but sometimes things work in some media that can't be transferred to another. That may have been the case here. Songs include major 80's hits like I Want To Know What Love Is, Wanted Dead of Alive, I Love Rock n' Roll, Every Rose Has Its Thorn and We Built This City. Unfortunately, the performances were so bad that they completely butchered the classics. The only oddly entertaining aspect of the film was seeing Tom Cruise playing a rock star. His character was funny at times but also an idiotic caricature. If you want to relive the 80's just listen to the music, don't bother with the film.

Written by: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini
Directed by: Rupert Sanders
Starring: Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Stewart, Sam Claflin
Rating: 3 stars

In an original, darker retelling of the famous Snow White tale, the evil Queen Ravena (Charlize Theron) marries Snow White's (Kristen Stewart) widowed father and then kills him on their wedding night, locking Snow White in a dungeon for years. One day, Snow White escapes into the forest but Ravena needs her. She wants to suck out Snow White's beauty so she can be beautiful forever. Ravena sends the Hunstman (Christ Hemsworth) to capture her, but instead he decides to protect her from Ravena.

The film is slow to get started and the first half hour could have been simplified to 15 minutes. But once the action starts it is exciting in parts. It's also a great fantasy piece with the scenes in the forest and with the seven dwarves. The film actually reminded me of a cross between Willow and The Princess Bride. I wasn't entirely convinced with the chemistry between Hemsworth and Stewart, but as the film progressed, it did improve. Unfortunately, the resolution to the love triangle was lacklustre. Theron was terrifying at times as the witch but at other times was a little too dramatic. Overall, it was an entertaining, retelling of the famous tale.

Written by: Michael Berg, Jason Fuchs
Directed by: Steve Martino, Mike Thurmeier
Starring: Ray Romana, Peter Dinklage, Denis Leary, Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah, John Leguizamo, Wanda Sykes
Rating: 3 stars

Manny (Ray Romano), Diego (Denis Leary) and Sid (John Leguizamo) have yet another adventure when their land begins to break apart. The trio are marooned on an iceberg with Sid's grandmother Granny (Wanda Sykes). They use the iceberg as a ship to return to their land so they can be reunited with their family. But, there are other animals on an even larger iceberg and as pirates, they want to take the heroes as prisoners.

If you liked the previous Ice Age films, you'll probably enjoy this fourth film. The stars of the original film are in many ways just going through the motions with their characters but there's enough depth there to keep the story going. The writers have done well to inject some life into the film with some new characters who are quite entertaining, especially Sykes and Peter Dinklage who plays Captain Gutt. Jennifer Lopez also provides a sassy love interest for Diego. It's not a ground-breaking film but like Shrek, this franchise is one that families will continue to enjoy.

Written by: Michael Lucas
Directed by: Peter Templeman
Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Sarah Snook, Ryan Corr
Rating: 3 stars

Infertility and cancer. They don't sound like themes you would expect in a comedy, but it works in Not Suitable For Children. Infertility is a sad truth that many struggle with, but what if you were fertile and knew the moment you would become infertile? Jonah (Ryan Kwanten) has cancer and an operation to remove the disease will render him unable to have children. He doesn't know if he ever wants to have children, but he's dreading the prospect of not having the ability to choose. So, Jonah decides to find someone to have his baby before he has the operation.

This film is like a slightly more serious version of Friends With Kids, mostly because of the cancer theme. But it is still a comedy. Ryan Kwanten makes some good choices for Aussie films when he returns to Australia in between filming seasons of True Blood. They are always quirky and fun. His performance is very good and the audience is so hooked on his journey you actually want him to find someone to have his baby despite it actually being a ridiculous idea. You just feel sorry for him. But it is flatmate Stevie (Sarah Snook) who gives the most powerful performance. She gives the film heart and the balance it needs. Hey Australian film-makers, cast Snook in more films, ok?

Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves
Directed by: Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
Rating: 3.5 stars

In a new version of the Spiderman tale, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is abandoned by his parents as a young boy to live with his aunt and uncle (Martin Sheen and Sally Field) but mystery surrounds his parents' departure from his life. Peter's dad was a scientist and years later, Peter decides to learn more about his father's work with Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Of course, while struggling with his teen romance with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Peter is also bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes Spiderman. When Dr Connor's experiment goes wrong, it's up to Spiderman to save the city from The Lizard.

I had very low expectations for this film and I thought it was too soon for a reboot, especially considering the success of the previous Spiderman trilogy. But I have to admit I enjoyed some of the action sequences and the humour throughout the film. It was a much funnier version of the story, probably because our hero is in high school and the film is targeted at teenage audiences. Garfield was great as Peter/Spiderman. He was socially awkward and goofy while also being a likeable and sympathetic character. Stone's performance has been met with criticism by some but I thought she was very good too. I also enjoyed Hollywood stalwarts Sheen and Field as Peter's uncle and aunty, while Ifans was a good villain. So, I suppose in some ways the casting choice on this film was better than the other Spiderman films (I wasn't a fan of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst as the protagonists). I'm sure there will be a sequel. It will be interesting to see how this new franchise compares to its predecessor in the long run.

Written by: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi
Rating: 3.5 stars

When John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a child, he makes a wish that his teddy bear, Ted, (Seth MacFarlane) could talk and be his best friend. That wish comes true, but years later, John is a 35-year-old man working at a car dealership who has been dating Lori (Mila Kunis) for four years. Lori who wants Ted to move out so she and John can marry and get on with their adult lives.

For all the hype about how wrong, filthy, offensive and rude Ted was going to be, I have to say I wasn't all that shocked by it. Surely I haven't been that desensitised by Hollywood? But I actually found most of the film to be quite mainstream. There were only a few scenes and lines that overstepped that mark but even then, as long as you're not an easily offended person, you'll laugh more than you will gasp. It's great to see Wahlberg loosen up for a film after playing so many tough guys on film. We see him sing and dance (both terribly) in this film and it's enjoyable to watch, especially considering the Marky Mark history he's been trying to convince the world to forget. Kunis is also very good in her role and has some funny moments. But of course, MacFarlane steals the show, as he should since he wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film as Ted. It's a great effort on his behalf. While the film is not amazing, it is certainly enjoyable.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Magic Mike

WRITTEN BY: Reid Carolin
DIRECTED BY: Steven Soderbergh
STARRING: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello
RATING: 3 stars

I've never understood the appeal of strippers. Why anyone would want an almost naked stranger dancing on top of them while dozens of other people watch is beyond my comprehension. But, Magic Mike is not just a film about strippers. It's about what it is like working as a stripper – the fun, money, struggles, sex and drugs. It's a dramatic film but it's also funny and romantic. There's obvious eye candy that will have women giggling like school girls in the cinema, but there's also a deeper story that is worth a look.

Loosely based on Channing Tatum's own experiences as a teenage stripper, Magic Mike chronicles the journey of Mike (Tatum) a man who has been stripping at a Tampa club for several years to save enough money to get his furniture business up and running. When he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer) a struggling 19-year-old boy at his day job in construction, Mike decides to introduce him to Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) who runs the strip club. Mike convinces Adam to try stripping for some extra cash and to help make the show better so they can expand the business. Soon Adam is drawn into the world of strippers, alcohol, drugs and sex with random women, much to the dismay of his sister, Brooke (Cody Horn).

What a year it has been for Tatum with three big films in 2012 (The Vow and 21 Jump Street were released earlier this year). In Magic Mike he seems most comfortable and it's probably because he's almost playing his former self. McConaughey almost steals every scene he's in because he's so outrageous and sexy as the club boss. It's the perfect role for him. The other dancers are also well cast, especially Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello. Unfortunately the female leads were not up to the standard of the men. Olivia Munn's character was so unbelievable while Cody Horn was too awkward playing Brooke.

The choreography in the film is a major highlight. Whether you enjoy seeing strippers or not, the dancing itself is actually very good. Magic Mike may have seemed like an odd choice for director Steven Soderbergh but he's managed to make what may have otherwise been a B-grade movie quite enjoyable and insightful to watch. This is a film almost every straight woman and gay man around the world can enjoy. Straight men might even learn something too.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

WRITTEN BY: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
DIRECTED BY: Christopher Nolan
STARRING: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Jospeh Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard
RATING: 4 stars

It's hard not to like Christopher Nolan as a film-maker. The word “genius” gets thrown around far too often, but the way Nolan is continuously able to create entertaining films of substance with interesting and complex characters must be admired and respected. It is, quite frankly, genius film-making. He's given us films including Inception, Memento and, of course, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Now, The Dark Knight Rises completes his Batman trilogy and I have to admit, I'm sad to see the franchise end.

The conclusion to the epic story begins eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is now a recluse and has retired his Batman alter-ego since he was named the murderer of Harvey Dent. The city has been experiencing “peace time” since then with guilt-ridden Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) still in charge. But Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, (Anne Hathaway) warns Wayne/Batman that Gotham will soon be embroiled in a new war because a terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) has a nasty plan for the city.

Nolan co-wrote the script with his brother, Jonathan and their villain is vastly different from The Joker. Bane is smart, strong and skilled – the perfect opponent for Batman. He wears a mask to help ease the pain he feels from his disfigured face and he's a menacing presence on-screen. Hardy may seem like an unusual choice for the character but he gained a lot of weight for the role and gives a terrifying performance. He acts with his eyes very effectively. Another surprisingly good casting choice was Hathaway. When it was announced she would play Catwoman, there were mixed reactions from fans on social media. But doubters will be silenced when they see her performance. She's sexy, witty and fun. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also very good as young detective, John Blake. The returning cast headed by Bale are also in good form. There isn't a bad performance in this film.

At almost three hours, The Dark Knight Rises is a very long film, but you will not be bored. There's enough fast-paced action to keep things very interesting, as well as a suspenseful plot that will keep you guessing. It's what a blockbuster film should be. If you loved Nolan's previous two Batman films, you will love The Dark Knight Rises. See it in IMAX.