Sunday, 31 March 2013

G. I. Joe: Retaliation

WRITTEN BY: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
STARRING: Dwayne Johnson, Adrianne Palicki, D. J. Cotrona, Bruce Willis, Channing Tatum
RATING: 2 stars

Did the world really need a sequel to G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra? I doubt it, but we've got one anyway. Thankfully, we've got a film that is a million times better than the original film. Unfortunately, it had such a low starting point that even being that much better doesn't say much for it. It is still absolutely terrible. Unless you had any interest in the original film, do not even bother seeing the sequel.

Most of the characters in the first film are not in G. I. Joe: Retaliation. I'm not sure how many people would even notice though. When a surprise attack on a G. I. Joe team near North Korea wipes out most of the soldiers, the survivors promise to retaliate. But the attack seems to stem all the way from the White House. So, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrienne Palicki) and Mouse (Joseph Mazzello) enlist the help of retired Col. Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) to stop the threat from destroying the world.

The weak plot is really just an avenue for the heroes to blow things up, especially for Johnson's character. But the most exciting action sequence is actually set in the Himalayas after Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Jinx (Elodie Yung) raid a Nepalese monastery to capture Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). Snow Shadow is unconscious in a body bag while Snake Eyes and Jinx have to fight a bunch of red ninjas on zip wires. It's a long sequence, but it's quite exciting. In fact, this entire sub plot is actually the most interesting part of the film.

All of the performances are unmemorable and there is not enough screen time for Channing Tatum or Bruce Willis. This is definitely a Johnson film. Also, the 3D is almost non-existent, so it is certainly not worth paying extra for it. I hope the film makers do not bother with a third instalment.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A Good Day To Die Hard

WRITTEN BY: Skip Woods
STARRING: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch
RATING: 3 stars

Don't you hate it when you go on vacation and everyone tries to kill you? Welcome to John McClane's life. The original Die Hard film has certainly stood the test of time to be considered the pinnacle of action films. Its star, Bruce Willis, has made a fortune from its lesser-quality sequels. While the second and third films in the franchise were still quite good, the fourth completely bombed – excuse the pun. That has not stopped Willis from coming back for a fifth instalment. While it is not anywhere near as good as the original, there are still all the things fans have come to expect from a Die Hard film – one-liners, explosions, and an ordinary cop doing ridiculously extraordinary things. It may be mindless fun, but at least it is indeed fun.

In A Good Day To Die Hard, John McClane (Willis) travels to Russia believing his son Jack (Jai Courtney) has gone off the rails. But when he tries to “save” Jack, he learns that his son is in fact a CIA operative working undercover to stop a nuclear-weapons heist. Of course, father and son join forces to bring down the criminals and along the way they deal with some rather nauseating father/son issues. I won't give away any spoilers about the plot twists, suffice to say you will see them coming from a mile away, unless you are too involved in the action to notice the thin plot plodding along.

Reality is essentially suspended in this film with trucks flipping over, helicopters exploding in extraordinary fashion, buildings collapsing and the protagonists enduring more knocks than any real human being could withstand. Fans will accept that because it is so much fun to watch. You will laugh at some of the ridiculousness, such as the car chase – which is a great bit of product placement for Mercedes – but it won't matter. The real problem with this film is that McClane is no longer the anti-hero cop who saves the day. He's a little bit too sure of himself now and that is not really who the character is supposed to be.

Willis may be getting old, but he still looks like an action hero. If anything though, his powerful presence is almost overshadowed by Courtney who is incredibly buff for the character. If the film makers are intending to do a sixth film with Courtney in the lead they will certainly attract more females to the cinema. There were more than a few gasps from the women at my screening when Courtney took his shirt off. The good thing about him too is that he can actually act, so he may be another Aussie success story in Hollywood.

Did we need a fifth Die Hard film? Probably not. But anyone who loved the previous instalments will still enjoy seeing the quintessential action hero on the big screen again. Yippie ki-yay! 

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Croods

WRITTEN BY: Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders
DIRECTED BY: Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders
STARRING: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener
RATING: 3.5 stars
I had a lot of fun with The Croods. More importantly, the cinema full of children appeared to have even more fun. It's probably 10 minutes too long, but it does keep audiences entertained with plenty of action, as well as humour (even the kind that adults will enjoy) and a lot of heart. If you saw Brave last year and it made you want to hug your mum, then The Croods will make you want to do the same for your dad.
The Croods are cave people struggling to survive in a world where all their friends have died. Patriarch Grug (Nicolas Cage) is constantly reminding his family to obey the rules to stay safe, but his daughter Eep (Emma Stone) finds those rules stifling. She wants to go out and enjoy her life, not stay cooped up in a cave. One night, Eep ventures beyond the cave and meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who claims the world is ending and they must get to higher ground to survive. When it appears that he is right, the Crood family and Guy join forces to save their lives.
Cage is very good as Grug. His voice works perfectly for the role and it is sort of a return to form for him. Reynolds is also his charming self and Catherine Keener is also good as Eep's mother. But Stone is the real stand-out performer. She's a great heroine for young girls. Cloris Leachman is also a scene stealer as Gran. She's got some great lines. The character Belt (voiced by co-writer/co-director Chris Sanders) is also a cute addition and is sure to be a big winner among children.
What makes the film especially enjoyable though is the comedic violence. It's still appropriate for children, but it will make adults laugh. It's the sort of humour that involves laughing when someone falls over – you know you shouldn't, but it's just too funny. In fact, the film has a lot of slapstick comedy, which is good fun. There aren't really any lame one-liners or cheap laughs. The animation is also to a high standard and is full of bright colours. It is screening in 3D, but it is probably good enough to see it in 2D.
Most importantly for a children's film, The Croods has a good family message. Don't be surprised if you find yourself feeling a little emotional at the end. 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Rust and Bone

WRITTEN BY: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain
DIRECTED BY: Jacques Audiard
STARRING: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure, Corinne Masiero
RATING: 3.5 stars

Two flawed characters struggling with their individual plights, supporting one another, bringing out the best in each other and overcoming life's obstacles. It is a beautiful notion that is exquisitely executed in Rust and Bone. Though it's not an amazing French film, it will linger with you. It is poignant, abstract in parts, raw and thought-provoking.

Rust and Bone is based on two unrelated short stories in a book written by Canadian author Craig Davidson. Co-writer and director Jacques Audiard has fused the stories together very well. Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) leaves Belgium with his son Sam (Armand Verdure) and moves in with his sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) and her husband in Antibes, France. After getting a job as a bouncer, Ali meets a whale trainer named Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) when he saves her from a brawl and takes her home. He leaves his number with her but does not expect to hear from her again. When Stephanie has an accident at work and loses both her legs, she contacts Ali and the pair strike up an unusual friendship.

The plot is entirely character driven. There are events that obviously keep the story going, but it is really about the protagonists and how they respond to the situations they find themselves in. The character arcs are long and fulfilling for audiences who enjoy characterisation in stories. In some ways, the protagonists aren't all that likeable and yet, you do want them to succeed. It is because – not despite – their flaws and downfalls that you are on their side. While some parts of the film are totally predictable, others go off on unexpected tangents that intrigue you further with the story.

Cotillard is very impressive in such a challenging role. The scene in which she realises she has lost her legs and her character's struggle to adapt to the dramatic changes in her life from making a coffee to being able to enjoy sex and feel sensual are moving. Equally, Schoenaerts gives a powerful performance. His character is so complex in the way he endears himself with his behaviour towards Stephanie and then behaves so abhorrently with Sam. He is both violent and consoling. It's an interesting blend.

Rust and Bone is a unique film. Although it is spoken entirely in French with English subtitles, it is not just for foreign film fans.

Saturday, 16 March 2013


WRITTEN BY: Mark Lamprell, Joanna Weinberg
DIRECTED BY: Mark Lamprell
STARRING: Laura Michelle Kelly, Ronan Keating, Magda Szubanski
RATING: 1 star

Australia usually does well with comedies, but not this time. In fact, I think Goddess is an embarrassment to Australian cinema. The plot is thin, the acting is average, the moral of the story is woeful (how dare anyone try to tell women how they must live their lives) and the dialogue is terrible. I'm not sure why every man in this film was so smitten with the female protagonist either. Perhaps it worked better on stage, but as a film, Goddess was a complete failure.

Elspeth Dickens (Laura Michelle Kelly) is a stay-at-home mum of twin boys while her husband James (Ronan Keating) follows his dream of saving whales. But Elspeth struggles with the isolation and pressure of caring for her children mostly alone. James gives Elspeth a webcam so they can keep in touch more when he is away but he remains out of range. Instead, Elspeth sets up the webcam in her kitchen and starts to sing her so-called “sink songs” to the world. When advertising boss Cassandra Wolfe (Magda Szubanski) learns about Elspeth, she decides to make her an offer she can't refuse, even if it means sacrificing family commitments.

If I can say one good thing about this film, it's the singing. Kelly has a great voice but the theatre actress needs to tone down her facial expressions for film. Keating was doing well through most of the film until they gave him a song to sing on a ship. He can sing just fine, but I'm not sure why the film started to look like a lame Ronan Keating/Boyzone music clip. Corinne Grant and Pia Miranda have small, unimpressive roles, which is a shame because they can both do so much more. Szubanski also seems only interested in being there to claim her next pay cheque.

The cinematography is also terrible. Clearly there were budget constraints, but some of the imagery looked too fake. Modern audiences expect so much more visually. It left Goddess looking like a midday movie from the 1990s.

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Importance of Being Earnest

WRITTEN BY: Oscar Wilde
DIRECTED BY: Kate Cherry
STARRING: Scott Sheridan, Stuart Halusz, Jenny Davis, Rebecca Davis, Adriane Daff
RATING: 4.5 stars

Few playwrights can engage an audience with as much wit and charm in their dialogue like Oscar Wilde. Whether it is through sarcasm or social reflections, Wilde knows how to humour an audience. The Importance of Being Earnest is a beloved play that was first performed in London in 1895. Perth's Black Swan State Theatre Company has made the bold and yet wise choice of opening its 2013 season with the classic in the capable hands of director Kate Cherry.

The comedy of manners deals expertly with mistaken identities, love, social standing and stereotypes. Algernon (Scott Sheridan) and Jack (Stuart Halusz) are best friends who both have different identities in London and in the countryside. When Jack proposes to Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen (Rebecca Davis), and Algernon begins to woo Jack’s ward Cecily (Adriane Daff), both use the pseudonym Ernest. But there are many obstacles to their romances and none more complex than the intimidating Lady Bracknell (Jenny Davis).

The cast of eight is made up entirely of West Australian actors and features many well known faces such comedian Pete Rowsthorn, of Kath and Kim fame, playing Reverand Canon Chasuble, as well as Michael Loney playing two butlers and Pauline Whyman as Miss Prism. Rowsthorn in particular manages to get lots of laughs. Jenny Davis, who is a stalwart of the Perth theatre scene, is very good and delivers her lines with conviction. Rebecca Davis was probably the weakest cast member and perhaps over-acted in parts. But her scenes with Daff were very good. Both Sheridan and Halusz were engaging and entertaining. They had great chemistry together.

The set design was relatively simple, with only three main sets, but one in particular literally drew gasps of awe from the audience. The garden set was beautiful, bright and utilised well. Set designer Alicia Clements did a great job with the stage space. The costumes by Lynn Ferguson were also elegant.

Black Swan State Theatre Company’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest is playing at Perth's Heath Ledger Theatre at the State Theatre Centre until March 28.

Adriane Daff in The Importance of Being Earnest. Image by Robert Frith.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Broken City

WRITTEN BY: Brian Tucker
DIRECTED BY: Allen Hughes
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper
RATING: 1 star

How do I even begin to describe how terrible Broken City is? It's too long, boring, predictable, has awful dialogue, the characters are unlikeable and there's far too much bad acting from supposedly good actors. In fact, I'm struggling to think of one good thing about it. Writer Brian Tucker has made his debut with Broken City, but I think he needs some screen-writing lessons. Director Allen Hughes has also struggled with the script and tried to overcompensate with the camera, but the effect is just dizzying in parts.

Broken City tells the story of disgraced New York policeman Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) who becomes a private investigator. He is hired by Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) to follow his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) around to gather evidence that she is having an affair before the forthcoming election. But Billy inadvertently uncovers a massive conspiracy of corruption and murder that threatens his own life.

I've always been a fan of Russell Crowe. He has disappointed me in some roles but I have always backed him – even during the phone-throwing years. He's a quality actor. Unfortunately, not even he could save this film, although I thought he delivered the bad dialogue better than anyone else. I'm not sure what was going on with his orange face. Was it intentional to have a fake tan to juxtapose his character's fake persona? Or was it just a simple make-up disaster? As for Wahlberg, well he has never convinced me that he can actually act. It has never really mattered though because he has often been in revenge-themed action films that require little acting ability on his part. He is as wooden as ever but at least he takes his shirt off to keep the drool factor high for his fans.

It's hard to believe Zeta-Jones has won an Oscar. She has been fussier with her film choices in recent years and yet her past two performances (she also appeared in Side Effects) have been very weak. She seemed to over-act in Broken City and she struggled with the delivery of her character's terrible dialogue. The remaining cast was barely memorable, although it's a shame that Kyle Chandler, who had roles in Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, would follow those films up with this.

If you value your time and money, don't waste either on Broken City. 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Oz The Great and Powerful

WRITTEN BY: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire
STARRING: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff, Joey King
RATING: 3.5 stars

Oz The Great and Powerful is one of the few films I would suggest should be seen in 3D. It is a visually stunning film with a wonderful use of colour, costumes and special effects. It also pays homage to the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, with several nods throughout. Although the film appears to be for children, there are some parts that are actually a little too scary for youngsters and some jokes that only adults will understand to enjoy. Of course, the ridiculously good looking cast is also a bonus, so really, there is something for everyone in this latest adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novels.

Set before the events of The Wizard of Oz, and similarly filmed in black and white at the start, Oz The Great and Powerful opens in Kansas. Circus magician Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco) is an arrogant and selfish womaniser. When a tornado strikes the area, Oz is caught in the storm and transported in a hot air balloon to the bright and colourful Land of Oz. There, he meets innocent witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) who believes he has come to save Oz from the wicked witch. She introduces him to her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) who is not so sure about Oz. He is told he must defeat the wicked witch to take his throne and inherit the gold at the Emerald City, prompting Oz to play along with the guise and use his illusions to impress the locals. But when he meets a witch named Glinda (Michelle Williams), Oz finds something else worth fighting for.

Much of the success of this film comes down to the imagery and mise en scene. Oz was designed by two-time Oscar-winner Robert Stromberg, who also created the worlds in Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. He has done a great job of bringing the world alive, including the yellow brick road, China Town and the forest. Director Sam Raimi has used the 3D effects to maximum benefit, especially during the tornado scene and Oz's ride down a waterfall. The only minor issue is that the film is more than two hours long and a few scenes drag on unnecessarily.

An impressive cast has been assembled for the film. Franco oozes charisma and it's hard to imagine anyone else pulling off the role of Oz as convincingly. His character arc is interesting and Franco is able to show both his comedic prowess and his sex appeal. Unfortunately, the female characters are not as well developed. Williams is beautiful and lovely, but her character lacks any real depth, while Kunis and Weisz are also one-dimensional. But anyway, it's Zach Braff voicing a flying monkey dressed as a bell hop and Joey King voicing a China doll who get the most laughs with their one-liners throughout the film.

I'm sure Disney will make plenty of money out of Oz The Great and Powerful, so a sequel is almost certain. 

Friday, 1 March 2013

Cloud Atlas

WRITTEN BY: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
DIRECTED BY: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon
RATING: 3.5 stars

I didn't really know what to expect from Cloud Atlas and three hours later when it finished, I still wasn't sure how I felt about it. But something about the film lingered in my mind and I kept thinking about it afterwards. It's the kind of film you would have to watch a second time to fully grasp it. There's no doubt its a “thinking” film, so don't go into the cinema believing you can have a snooze in the middle and not miss anything. The film is ambitious in its style, story and message.

Cloud Atlas is based on the novel by David Mitchell and involves six loosely interconnected stories that span about 500 years including: a Pacific Ocean voyage with a stowaway slave; letters from a composer to his lover; a mysterious murder at a nuclear power plant; a publisher being tricked into living in a nursing home; a clone trying to find freedom in futuristic Korea; and a tribe living in post-apocalyptic Hawaii. The stories, which vary in genre, are weaved together under the notion that we are all connected. Perhaps the point is forced on the audience a little too much, but it is a good moral to the story, nonetheless.

The film also features its principal cast playing roles in each story and representing different ages, genders and races. In fact, the most fun with this film comes in trying to spot the actors under all the make-up and costumes. Don't cheat by looking it up; you'll only ruin it for yourself. Despite having three directors, the flow of the storytelling actually gelled quite well too. At first it is jarring, but once you understand the various story lines it is fun to watch. Some stories begin to build into a climax before they switch to another story that loosely connects to it. It's very well edited. There is also a good blend of drama, thrills, comedy and action, which almost makes you feel like you're watching several films at once.

A strong cast has been assembled to portray the various characters and they largely do a good job, especially Hugo Weaving and Hugh Grant who play villains in every story. I was also impressed by Jim Sturgess and Jim Broadbent who showed great range. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry may have the top billing, but they were overshadowed by their fellow cast mates.

How Cloud Atlas was overlooked for Oscar nominations in editing and make-up, I'll never understand. It is a beautiful, thought-provoking film that will stay with you for a long time.