Friday, 30 May 2014

Maleficent

WRITTEN BY: Linda Woolverton
DIRECTED BY: Robert Stromberg
STARRING: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley
RATING: 3.5 stars

There is no doubt Angelina Jolie is the best thing about Maleficent, but the film does have much to offer audiences in what is an interesting interpretation of Sleeping Beauty. Making his directorial debut, after working in visual effects on dozens of stunning films, Oscar-winner Robert Stromberg has created an enchanting world on film. Writer Linda Woolverton, who also wrote 2010's Alice In Wonderland and 1994's The Lion King, has depicted an origins story explaining how Maleficent became a hardened villain before re-imagining the story we thought we all knew.

Maleficent (Jolie) protects the forest full of giant tree-creatures, elves and fairies. As a young fairy, she falls in love with a poor but ambitious human named Stefan (Sharlto Copley). But when he betrays her to become the king, Maleficent is changed forever and decides to take revenge against the traitor. Years later, she places a curse on Stefan's daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), ruling that at the age of 16 the girl will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a deep sleep, only ever to be awaken by true love's kiss.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the film focuses on parental love for a child, as opposed to the fairytale romance and notions of “true love” we so often see in Disney films, although that is there too. Purists may be shocked by how the story unfolds, but it is at least a unique take on the beloved tale. There are unfortunately some plot holes that are too bothersome to let slide, but the target audience are unlikely to notice.

Maleficent suits Jolie perfectly and she obviously had a lot of fun playing the betrayed fairy, including embracing the outrageous costume and make-up. Fanning is sweet, although hardly memorable. In contrast, Jolie's daughter, Vivienne, has a minor role as a the younger Aurora and charmed in her few minutes of screen time with her mother. Sam Riley provided some laughs as Diaval, along with the fairies, but the film could have done with some more laughs. Copley was also solid and was at his best when his character was angry and vulnerable.

Maleficent may scare some very young children, but most should enjoy the adventurous narrative. 



Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Fault In Our Stars

WRITTEN BY: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
DIRECTED BY: Josh Boone
STARRING: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Willem Defoe
RATING: 3.5 stars

As book lovers so often lament, the film is never quite as good as the original literature. The Fault In Our Stars is no different, but the film is still an emotional roller coaster that manages to delicately tackle some important issues related to childhood illness and first love. It reminded me of A Walk To Remember, which was based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, but I thought that film was better. Nonetheless, with an impressive and convincing cast, The Fault In Our Stars is at the very least sure to make your eyes water, while some may even weep more than once.

Based on John Green's novel, The Fault In Our Stars centres on teenagers Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort) who meet at a cancer support group. They are immediately drawn to each other and share their deepest thoughts. They soon fall in love despite Hazel having to lug around an oxygen tank and Gus having a prosthetic leg. While Gus is in remission, there is the possibility that Hazel's lungs could give out at any time and she could die. Hazel introduces Gus to her favourite novel about a girl with cancer but the book ends abruptly, leaving Gus wondering what happens next. The author Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe)  is a recluse but the pair still try to track him down in Amsterdam to find out what happens to the characters after the novel concludes. 

Woodley and Elgort have fantastic chemistry, which is vital to the success of the film. Both give endearing performances and audiences certainly feel for their plight. Nat Wolff plays their friend who must lose his sight to survive cancer. He is an important supporting character and Wolff gives a strong performance, providing some much needed laughs throughout the film. Dafoe is also very good as the quirky and controversial author. Laura Dern plays Hazel's loving mother and has some tough scenes to perform. Unfortunately Sam Trammell is not given enough to work with as Hazel's father. 

The Fault In Our Stars is slow in parts and a little too long, but the film is ultimately a bittersweet tale that teenage audiences in particular will enjoy. 



Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A Million Ways To Die In The West

WRITTEN BY: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild 
DIRECTED BY: Seth MacFarlane
STARRING: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried,  Neil Patrick Harris
RATING:  3.5 stars

If you have seen Ted or Family Guy, you know exactly what to expect from Seth MacFarlane. The writer, director and producer is true to form in A Million Ways To Die In The West. There are plenty of offensive and dirty jokes, as well as toilet humour and sexual references. There is a little less swearing than you might expect, which is not at all to say the language is in any way tame. MacFarlane has a certain style that at this point you either love or hate. Personally, I am a fan and enjoyed the film's mocking of old western films.

Set in the Wild West where there are seemingly endless ways for people to die before their time, the film is about a sheep farmer named Albert (Seth MacFarlane) who seems to be the only person with any sense in town. When he backs out of a gunfight, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), who has an impressive moustache. Just as Albert is thinking about leaving town, a mysterious woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) arrives and insists on helping Albert turn his life around. But when her notorious outlaw husband Clinch (Liam Neeson) comes to town, Albert is forced to stand up to all of his worst fears.

Albert may seem like a coward at the start, but he is actually a very sweet character and MacFarlane makes him very likeable. Seyfried is a trooper for relishing the role as a ditzy country girl and the jokes about her big eyes are great. Harris is very funny and has a memorable song about moustaches, as well as a line paying homage to his character on How I Met Your Mother.  But his poo scene (you'll know what I'm talking about when you see it) is too disgusting. Giovanni Ribisi is hilarious playing a virgin named Edward who is engaged to a prostitute named Ruth, played by Sarah Silverman. The couple want to wait to have sex until they are married despite her sleeping with everyone else in town. Both play their roles straight and the jokes surrounding their awkward situation are certainly milked for all they are worth. Theron is charming and well cast as a strong heroine. Neeson is also brilliant as a bad guy. There are also some fantastic cameos, but I will not spoil any of them. 

Some jokes fell flat and parts of the film could easily have been cut out to reduce the two-hour running time. But A Million Ways To Die In The West has some enjoyable gags and is sure to be a success at the box office. 




Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Double

WRITTEN BY: Richard Ayoade, Avi Korine
DIRECTED BY: Richard Ayoade
STARRING: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn
RATING: 3.5 stars

The Double is a quirky film that begins as a comedy but becomes very dark as the story unfolds. It also somehow feels both retro and futuristic at the same time. The film is hard to describe without giving away too much of the plot, suffice to say that the core message is one worth pondering. It is a sort of modern film noir.

Adapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky novel of the same title, but actually taking quite a departure from the original piece, The Double introduces the audience to Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), who works in some kind of odd-looking office as a data processor. He is a bit of a loner and blends in with the crowd, so much so that the security guard who sees him every day does not recognise his face every morning when he arrives at work and his boss (Wallace Shawn) forgets his name. Simon's whole life seems to be work, visiting his mother at a nursing home and watching the office copy girl Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) at her home in the evening from the building where he lives across the road from her. But things change quickly for Simon when a new man starts working at the office. James Simon has a very similar name to him and the exact same face, yet no one seems to notice. James is cocky, sexy and more extroverted than Simon. Soon, James starts to get the attention Simon deserves and he realises he has to stop his doppelganger from making his life even less significant.

Eisenberg has a tough job playing one character who is so insecure and another who is so arrogant. He is dressed the same way as both characters so it really comes down to the way he speaks and moves. He does a great job of making the audience believe he could be both men. Wasikowska provides a lot of depth to her role and Shawn is as reliable as ever.

The film is not too long, but it is slow-paced and drags in parts. Ultimately though, The Double is a unique film and its ending will surely spark debate among the audience afterwards.


 


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

X:Men: Days of Future Past

WRITTEN BY: Simon Kinberg
DIRECTED BY: Bryan Singer
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
RATING: 5 stars

X-Men: Days of Future Past is everything X-Men fans want and more. With one of the most impressive casts playing intriguing characters, great special effects, good use of 3D and a complex plot that somehow manages to make sense, the film elevates the already successful franchise and builds on the renewed momentum established with X-Men: First Class. It helps that Bryan Singer, who directed the first two films in the original trilogy, returned to the project as director and the seventh film in the series is certainly worth its two-hour running time.

Adapted from the comic of the same title, but with some changes, X-Men: Days of Future Past is set in the future where mutants are hunted and killed by robots called Sentinels. Few mutants have survived the war, so Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to the 1970s to warn their younger and less wise selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) about the future danger. Wolverine, who is sent back in time because he is the only one whose body can rejuvenate after the ordeal of travelling that far back into the past, must stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing scientist Dr Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), which is the catalyst that leads to the destructive future.

Although the film is quite dark at times with references to the Vietnam War, there are also some very funny moments once Wolverine returns to the 70's including a water bed, a lava lamp and music from the decade. Jackman's facial expressions and deadpan banter with the rest of the cast is always enjoyable. He simply IS Wolverine at this point and it will be a long time before Marvel fans will accept anyone else playing the role.

Dinklage is a welcome addition to the film, while Stewart and McKellan are as reliable as ever. McAvoy is superb as the disillusioned younger Xavier, while Fassbender and Lawrence are equally compelling in their anger. Nicholas Hoult returns as Beast and is given an opportunity to further expand his character. Other favourites returning to the franchise included Halle Berry as Storm, although she is not given much to do, and Ellen Page in an integral role to the centre of the plot. Australian actor Josh Helman also appears as the younger Major Bill Stryker, providing a good tie in to Wolverine's back story. Super fast mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is also a great addition in a small but pivotal role. His slow-motion kitchen scene is a highlight of the film. There are also some surprising cameos that die hard fans will relish. No spoilers on who they are.

X-Men: Days of Future Past sets itself up well for yet another sequel. Remember to stay for a post-credit scene too. 



Thursday, 15 May 2014

Godzilla

WRITTEN BY: Max Borenstein
DIRECTED BY: Gareth Edwards
STARRING: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe
RATING: 3 stars

I loved the first 40 minutes of Godzilla. The anticipation was built so well and there were interesting characters introduced that made me think the film could have some substance as well as great special effects and action. Alas, the film quickly fell apart and was even a little boring and repetitive in parts. It was indeed visually impressive with three monsters destroying the world and the score was impressive, but the film was too long and good actors were forced to give simplified performances with some woeful dialogue. Godzilla was not really bad, it just was not very good either.

Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are scientists working in a Japanese nuclear power plant when a disastrous accident happens. About 15 years later, their son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a military bomb disarmament officer with a wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son. Joe is obsessed with finding out what happened at the plant 15 years earlier, but Ford just thinks his father is crazy. His opinion soon changes when they discover the sealed off nuclear zone has no radiation at all because Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects (MUTOS) have absorbed it. Ford meets Dr Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and begins working with the authorities to stop the MUTOS and Godzilla before they completely destroy Hawaii, Las Vegas, San Francisco and the rest of the world.

Taylor-Johnson is a surprisingly good leading man, although he was a little wooden, which was seemingly an intentional decision on his part to go with his character's military persona. Cranston was as reliable as ever and humanised the story. Binoche had a small, thankless role and Olsen begins with some promise but ultimately spends much of her screen time looking frightened and crying. Watanabe also just seemed to stare off into the distance most of the time, which was awkwardly funny.

The entire plot was rather convoluted and hardly made much sense. There were also hardly any laughs at all. It seems Godzilla took itself a little too seriously and suffered as a result.






Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Mapa

WRITTEN BY: Leon Siminiana
DIRECTED BY: Leon Siminiana
STARRING: Leon Siminiana
RATING: 2.5 stars

Part love story and part self-discovery tale, Mapa is a documentary film about Spanish director Leon Siminiana, who has a broken heart and has lost his television job. Inspired by his friend Luna, Siminiana decides to go to India, with the hope of finding the inspiration he needs to make a feature film. When he gets there, he is confronted with the harsh realities of life in India and relies on the music on his iPod to drown out the hustle and bustle. After just six weeks in India, he becomes lonely and obsesses about finding a woman to travel with him. He returns to Madrid where his real story is waiting for him to share.

The film only runs for 85 minutes, but it feels longer. Although he uses just a camcorder to record his travels, there is some beautiful cinematography. Siminiana also uses comedy to lighten the mood, but there are still a lot of confronting and sad scenes in Mapa.

The Spanish Film Festival is on now in Perth.





Friday, 9 May 2014

Healing

WRITTEN BY: Craig Monahan
DIRECTED BY: Craig Monahan
STARRING: Don Hany, Hugo Weaving, Xavier Samuel, Mark Leonard Winter
RATING: 3 stars

Healing is not your typical prison film. There are some elements you expect to see, such as a bully and contraband drugs being smuggled around. But there is also more substance to the film, which is written and directed by Craig Monahan. Healing is a psychological examination of some of the tragic stories of people who end up in prison and how they can be rehabilitated. While the film drags in parts and there are too many sub-plots that distract from the main storyline, there are some powerful performances and beautiful cinematography showing amazing birds in full flight and hunting.

After almost 16 years in prison, Viktor Kahdem (Don Hany) is moved to a pre-release prison farm. Security guard Matt Perry (Hugo Weaving) creates a program to help rehabilitate the offenders by getting them to rehabilitate injured raptors including eagles, falcons and owls. Matt takes a liking to Viktor and places him in charge of a wedge tailed eagle named Yasmine. As he starts to heal the bird, Viktor starts to heal his own soul.

Hany has been such a consistently outstanding actor on television, it is surprising that this is his first feature film. With all the make-up, he is almost unrecognisable from his performances in shows like East West 101 and Offspring. He is fantastic in this film and should receive award attention for his performance. Weaving is as dependable as always and is given a minor sub-plot, but it does not quite give audiences enough insight into his character. Samuel is also solid as Paul, a young inmate who refuses to see his family. Mark Winter provides some comedy, as well as drama, as an inmate who is easily influenced by the prison bullies.

Healing is slow-paced but quite emotional in parts. It is a fine piece of Australian cinema.




Thursday, 8 May 2014

Belle

WRITTEN BY: Misan Sagay
DIRECTED BY: Amma Asante
STARRING: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Matthew Goode, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson
RATING: 3.5 stars

You may have read/heard reports that describe Belle as Jane Austen for “black” people. It is a fair assessment, but “white” people can enjoy it just as much. Based on a true story, Misan Sagay has written a witty film that also depicts some interesting history of slavery in England. Director Amma Asante balances the different layers of the story very well. Although the plot is centred around one protagonist, there are a lot of issues and themes explored in the film. This period piece is both a romantic coming of age story and a lesson in human rights.

Set in 18th century England, Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is the illegitimate mixed race daughter of Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode). He asks his aristocratic uncle Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice (Tom Wilkinson), and his wife (Emily Watson) to raise the young girl. Belle does not quite fit in with any class due to her mixed race. Her skin colour means she is too high in rank to dine with the servants but too low to dine with guests. When Belle meets idealist John Davinier (Sam Reid), who wants to change the laws to make all races equal, he opens her eyes to racial issues through the infamous Zong slave ship case.

As well as presenting the racial justice story, Belle also explores the pressures women faced in the 18th century, requiring them to marry wealthy men or risk being penniless. This is where the Jane Austen aspect comes into the story. Dido has a dowry from her father but her blonde cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), with whom she has been raised, has no money from her own father, which provides an interesting twist to the marriage side of the plot.

Mbatha-Raw's exceptional beauty is matched by her convincing performance as Belle. She is a strong heroine and her character arc is fascinating. Davinier gives a solid performance as Sam, who is such an endearing character with intelligence, idealism, principles and romanticism. Wikinson and Watson have some great scenes together and their experience as actors grounds the film.

Although Belle is a little too long, those who love historical romantic dramas will find value in its story.



Sunday, 4 May 2014

Chef

WRITTEN BY: Jon Favreau
DIRECTED BY: Jon Favreau
STARRING: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara
RATING: 3.5 stars

Chef is a sweet and funny film with an endearing cast. Unfortunately, it is also a little long, lacks a climax and the ending is rather lame. A strong reliance on social media throughout the film also means it could be outdated in several years. One thing is for certain though, food lovers will enjoy the "food porn" with a lot of attention given to good food and passionate rants about food.

Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a revered chef who is tired of serving the same dishes every night just because they sell well. When an online critic (Oliver Platt) writes a scathing review, it sparks a Twitter feud between the pair and Carl quits the restaurant. With the help of his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and their social media whiz son Percy (Emjay Anthony), Carl decides to start a food truck and cook the food that he loves while taking a road trip with his son.

Favreau is so likeable that when his character has a public outburst, you want to cheer him on and you remain invested as his career takes various turns. He has also written a cute family film that explores the relationship between a father and son trying to find common ground to bond over.

Leguizamo is also impressive as Carl's best friend and sidekick, providing several laughs throughout. Vergara's character seems a little too glamorous, but she plays the motherly role earnestly. Anthony steals many scenes with his adorable performance that never becomes childishly annoying. A small role to Scarlett Johansson as a love interest for Carl seems to only have come about because she is friends with the Iron Man director and she does very little. Likewise, Iron Man himself Robert Downey Jr makes a cameo as Inez's other (and far wealthier) ex-husband, but he is at least hilarious and memorable. The ensemble cast also includes Bobby Cannavale as a fellow cook and Dustin Hoffman as the mean restaurant owner.

There is no doubt that Chef is an idealistic film, but families and food lovers will find value in its sincerity.