Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Magic In The Moonlight

WRITTEN BY: Woody Allen
DIRECTED BY: Woody Allen
STARRING: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Jacki Weaver, Hamish Linklater
RATING: 3.5 stars

Just when you have had enough time to catch the latest Woody Allen film, he comes out with another one. Inevitably, not all of his films will be as great as others and it seems that after several successes in recent years, Magic In The Moonlight has become a minor hiccup in his extensive resume. It is not that the film is bad. It is actually a very funny and engaging romantic comedy with an intriguing magical element and lovely cinematography. But, it does not quite reach the heights of other brilliant films we have seen from the writer/director.

Set in the French Riviera in 1928, Magic In The Moonlight introduces the audience to Stanley (Colin Firth), an English illusionist who disguises himself on stage as Chinese man, Wei Ling Soo, and spends his spare time debunking spiritual frauds. Meanwhile, Sophie (Emma Stone) seems to have clairvoyant moments and impresses everyone around her including Grace (Jacki Weaver) who wants to talk to her dead husband, and Grace's son Brice (Hamish Linklater) who is in love with Sophie. Stanley poses as a businessman intent on revealing Sophie as a fraud, but the task soon proves to be more difficult than he expected.

Firth is as charming and delightful as ever in this film. He has some hilarious moments and there is a certain kind of awkwardness and arrogance about his character, which he shares with one of Firth's most famous roles as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Fans will also be thanking Allen for giving them a dripping wet Firth again. Stone is also sweet and endearing, with some witty remarks along the way.

Much has been said about the age difference between Firth and Stone who share an unusual romance on screen. But for the time in which the film is set, the age difference is not a problem, and the actors have good chemistry. The real problem for many it seems is the "creepy factor" surrounding Allen's own private life.

When the film ends and you realise why it is called Magic In The Moonlight, you will smile to yourself and surely feel uplifted.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Expendables 3

WRITTEN BY: Sylvester Stallone
DIRECTED BY: Patrick Hughes
STARRING: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Harrison Ford, Kellan Lutz, Arnold Schwarzenegger
RATING: 3 stars

At this point, you are either a fan of the Expendables franchise and will see it regardless of what any reviewer has to say, or this third installment will not even register on your film-watching radar. That being said, if I can tell you two things about this film that might matter to you it is this: firstly, there is not anywhere near as much violence as we have seen in the other films, although there are a lot of people getting shot and blown up; and secondly, the new cast members added to this film are mostly enjoyable to watch. Ultimately, while the plot is weak, there is still a lot of fun to be had with The Expendables 3.

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his team of mercenaries are on a mission when they discover the arms dealer they are pursuing is Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), Barney's Expendables co-founder who he thought he had killed years ago. Barney gathers a new team to help him catch Stonebanks, but when the young crew are captured, it is up to the old heroes to save them.

Stallone, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li, who has a tiny role, give the audience exactly what they expect from them. The rest of the old team are also still around including Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews, who are all solid. There are also new faces including Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey and Glen Powell who, aside from Lutz, are perhaps not quite as convincing or interesting.

Kelsey Grammer has a small role helping Barney recruit his new team and is a welcome addition. Harrison Ford is a good replacement for Bruce Willis who was apparently dumped because he wanted too much money. Wesley Snipes is given a lot of focus, particularly early in the film. Antonio Banderas is like a hilarious cross between Puss in Boots and Donkey from the Shrek franchise. But it is Gibson who really impresses as the villain. He may not be as muscular as Stallone, but he is still convincing as a tough guy and also has the suave arrogance needed for the role. With all his real life controversies, it is easy to forget that Gibson is actually a fantastic actor, and he shows his abilities in this film by not appearing to be in any way cringe-worthy with his delivery of one-liners like his co-stars.

I am not even sure I understand what the point of The Expendables 3 plot was, but it hardly seems to matter. I laughed out loud a few times and still enjoyed seeing a group of older action stars share the screen together. That novelty has not yet worn off. 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

WRITTEN BY: Felix Herngren, Hans Ingemansson
DIRECTED BY: Felix Herngren
STARRING: Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg
RATING: 4 stars

I have not yet read the book of The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, so I cannot draw any comparisons, but I have heard some fans of Jonas Jonasson's book are disappointed with a few changes made for the film. That being said, as someone unfamiliar with the story, I found the film to be absolutely delightful in its outrageous quirkiness. This black comedy has everything including Socialist Russians, Einstein, bikies, presidents, prison camps, prime ministers, the Berlin Wall, parties, the atomic bomb, the CIA and even a circus elephant. There is never a dull moment in this Swedish road-trip film.

Bomb enthusiast Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) is 100 years old and living in an aged care facility when he decides to run away and enjoy whatever life he has left. When Allan arrives at a bus station, he meets a bikie who orders him to hold onto a suitcase while he uses the toilet. But when Allan's bus arrives, he takes the suitcase with him, leaving the angry bikie behind. Soon Allan is on a bizarre adventure, but in a series of flashbacks we see this journey is just one of many extraordinary experiences in Allan's life.

Gustafsson gives a fantastic performance and the make-up to make him look so old is even better. The supporting cast are also solid including Iwar Wiklander as the station master who joins Allan's adventure and David Wiberg as a timid student.

If you like eccentric characters and foreign films, this is definitely a film worth seeing.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Top 15 Robin Williams Films

He was arguably the greatest comedian the world has ever seen, but Robin Williams was also an amazing dramatic actor. While his family, friends and fans mourn his untimely death, I thought it best to celebrate his life as an actor. He brought so much joy to the world, and his performances in film and television will live on.
Here is my top 15 Robin Williams performances...

15) The Butler (2013)
Cecil Gaines serves under eight US presidents during the civil rights movement, Vietnam War and other major events. Williams basically had a cameo as Dwight D. Eisenhower, but he captured the US president well.

14) Flubber (1997)
A quirky professor discovers a rubbery, bouncy, green substance. This film is wild and funny, and great entertainment for children.

13) The Birdcage (1996)
A gay cabaret owner and his drag queen partner pretend to be straight so that their son can introduce them to his fiancée's right-wing parents. This film is so much fun.

12) Happy Feet and Happy Feet II (2006 and 2011)
Emperor penguins usually find their soul mates through song, but when a penguin is born who cannot sing, he uses tap dance to try to impress his fellow penguins. Williams is the master of comedic voices and his contribution to these two films was a welcome addition.

11) Patch Adams (1998)
A medical student treats patients illegally using humor. This role certainly suited Williams. Heartfelt, funny and sweet.

10) Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
An irreverent DJ is assigned to the US Armed Services radio station in Vietnam and surprises everyone with his unique style. This is a favourite film for many fans. It had an important message and Williams improvised a lot of the lines.

9) Insomnia (2002)
Two homicide detectives are dispatched to a town to investigate the methodical murder of a local teenager. This was a dark film that showed Williams was a great dramatic actor.

8) Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
The inhabitants of a rainforest fight to save their home, which is threatened by logging and a pollution. I studied this film at school and it still has a powerful message today. Williams again lends his voice to an interesting character.

7) Hook (1991)
An adult Peter Pan must return to Neverland when Captain Hook kidnaps his children. This was a childhood favourite for me and many others. It is hard to imagine anyone else playing this role. Williams obviously had a lot of fun with the Peter Pan character.

6) One hour Photo (2002)
An employee at a one-hour photo lab becomes obsessed with a family. A man I grew up adoring for all the laughter, suddenly became sinister and creepy in this film. It was a powerful performance and still freaks me out.

5) Jumanji (1995)
When two children start playing a magical board game, they release a man trapped inside for decades and unleash many dangers that can only be stopped by finishing the game. This is just an awesome film for the whole family to enjoy, but Williams is a fantastic lead. There is so much happening that there are fewer opportunities for Williams to be his usual outrageous self, but he still finds some moments to shine.

4) Dead Poets Society (1989)
An unorthodox English teacher inspires his students to love poetry and seize the day. O' Captain! My Captain! This character is a hero, and Williams is magnificent in the role. Who doesn't want a teacher like John Keating?

3) Good Will Hunting (1997)
A gifted mathematician seeks help from a psychologist to find direction in his life. Williams won his only Oscar for this role, and it was certainly well deserved. If you had forgotten he was an impressive dramatic actor, this film was surely a reminder of his depth.

2) Aladdin (1992)
Aladdin is a street urchin who finds a magic lamp with a genie inside. He asks Genie to make him a prince so he can woo Princess Jasmine. I have seen Aladdin countless times and know every line. Even though I know what Genie is going to say next, I still laugh at many of the jokes every time, which is a testament to how funny Williams truly was. Aladdin remains my favourite Disney film and one of the main reasons for this is Williams' performance.

1) Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
During a bitter divorce, an actor disguises himself as a female housekeeper to spend time with his children. I had a great childhood and my parents are still together, and yet, this film had an emotional impact on me. Not only does Williams immerse himself in the hilarious role, but his speech at the end of the film about family still makes me cry every time.

RIP Robin Williams and thank you for all the wonderful memories.
What is your favourite Robin Williams film/performance?


Sunday, 10 August 2014

Begin Again

WRITTEN BY: John Carney
DIRECTED BY: John Carney
STARRING: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfield
RATING: 4 stars 

Begin Again is an ode to the music industry and pays homage to New York, while also invigorating its audience to believe in second chances. A likeable cast has been assembled to portray this sweet story, but it is the music that will really pull you in and charm you. This is definitely one film where the soundtrack is vital to its success. Writer/director John Carney covers various themes in his film including loneliness, love, city life and chasing your dreams. The ending may polarise some viewers, but it has a thought-provoking message.

Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a disgraced music producer/executive who is separated from his wife and has a teenage daughter he struggles to connect with. One drunken night out alone, he stumbles into a bar and sees singer-songwriter, Gretta (Keira Knightley), perform. She too is down on her luck after breaking up with her musician boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine). Dan sees some potential in Gretta and the pair decide to work together on an album.

Regular readers of my blog know that I consider Knightley to be one of the most appalling and annoying actresses working today. But, I was blown away by her performance in Begin Again. She is actually a very good singer and has great chemistry with Ruffalo and Levine. The latter makes his feature film debut in Begin Again and although he is playing an arrogant rock star, which may not be a large stretch for him, he was still quite good. But it is Ruffalo who unsurprisingly impresses the most. He is such a reliable actor and is able to express a range of emotions. Hailee Steinfield plays Ruffalo's rebellious daughter and she has some great moments. Catherine Keener plays Dan's estranged wife, and although she did not have much to do in the film, at least they gave Ruffalo an age-appropriate wife. James Corden also provides some sweetness and laughter to the film as Gretta's endearing friend.

Begin Again may seem like a very simple film, but it delivers a poignant message as the protagonists take the audience on their inspiring journey of self-discovery.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

WRITTEN BY: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
STARRING: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, 
Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker 
RATING: 4.5 stars

In Guardians of the Galaxy, director James Gunn delivers an imaginative and fresh take on the Marvel universe, with stunning visual effects, costumes and make-up. The use of 70's and 80's music in the most unusual situations is also very effective. Any film with a soundtrack that makes you want to dance and references Kevin Bacon and/or Footloose gets two thumbs up from me. But there is a lot more to Guardians of the Galaxy than that. In the latest Marvel film, there are no Avengers - this is all about new characters in space. There are a few nods to the Avengers, particularly Thor, but this film seems to be the start of a new wave of Marvel films - and it is very exciting.

Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star Lord, (Chris Pratt) is abducted from Earth as a child after his mother dies and becomes an adventurous thief in space. When he steals a mysterious silver orb wanted by the villainous Ronan (Lee Pace), Quill finds himself being hunted by several people. Quill joins forces with an unlikely team of misfits including a raccoon named Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), his tree-like sidekick Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). When they learn the true power of the orb, Quill and his team decide to work together to save the galaxy.

I never would have thought of casting Pratt as a superhero, but he is a wonderful addition to the Marvel films. As a comedian, he brings some great laughs to the role and, as has been widely reported, he lost a lot of fat and built up muscle for the role. Saldana is likeable and a good romantic match for Pratt. Cooper actually gives one of his best performances ever, while Diesel is surprisingly sympathetic and Bautista is convincing with his gruff presence. Pace is also a worthy villain. Small, but important, roles have been given to seasoned actors including Glenn Close, John C. Reilly and Benicio Del Toro as The Collector. It will be exciting to see where the next film takes the evil Thanos (Josh Brolin) character.

Die hard fans will notice some differences between the comics and the film, especially for characters like the thieving Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) but they should not be too disappointed. Guardians of the Galaxy is a thrilling and fun film, and worth seeing at the cinema in 3D.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

And So It Goes

WRITTEN BY: Mark Andrus
STARRING: Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Sterling Jerins
RATING: 3 stars

I doubt Rob Reiner has ever made a film because he needed the money. The director who gave us classic films including the impressive run of Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery and A Few Good Men is obviously passionate about film and storytelling. And So It Goes is his latest project and deals with the relationship between two elderly people who form an unlikely friendship in picturesque Connecticut. It is lame in parts and nowhere near his best, but the film has the same kind of heart-warming sentimentality we often see in Reiner's work. If you want a feel-good romantic comedy about family life, And So It Goes certainly delivers.

Cranky real estate agent, Oren (Michael Douglas), gets quite a shock when his estranged son leaves a granddaughter named Sarah (Sterling Jerins), who he did not know about, in his care. Struggling with his new role as a guardian, Oren seeks the help of his lounge singing neighbour, Leah (Diane Keaton). As Oren gets to know Leah and his granddaughter, his outlook on life begins to change.

Douglas and Keaton may be veteran actors, but they lack chemistry during their more intimate moments. It is perhaps only because they are both good actors with great comedic timing that their romantic incompatibility can be overlooked. Reiner also appears on screen as a toupee-wearing pianist with a crush on Leah and he has some funny moments. Frances Sternhagen plays a real estate office assistant and is also an absolute joy to watch. In fact, she is probably responsible for most of the laughs. But it is Jerins who steals many scenes and adds some important sweetness to the story.

And So It Goes almost goes too far with its mushiness, particularly towards the end of the film, but it ultimately has an endearing message.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Devil's Knot

WRITTEN BY: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
DIRECTED BY: Atom Egoyan
STARRING: Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, James Hamrick
RATING: 4 stars

Devil's Knot is based on a brutal and horrific true story about three boys who were murdered and the three teenagers perhaps wrongly accused of the crime. You will no doubt put your detective hat on as you watch the film and try to figure out what might have happened. The continuous shocks during the trial scenes will leave many gasping and shaking their head at the corruption. The resolution will likely leave you with an eerie feeling and the most curious viewers who are unfamiliar with the true story will probably jump straight onto the internet to find out what happened in real life with the case. If you have not seen the documentaries or know the story, then you will enjoy this dramatisation. If you are familiar with the case, you may not necessarily get as much out of the film.

Based on the book, Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, the film is set in 1993 and tells the story of three boys who go out to ride their bikes after school and are found murdered the next day, naked and submerged in water. The detectives seem to mess up the investigation at every turn and eventually focus on three teenagers – Damien Echols (James Hamrick), Jessie Misskelley Jr (Kris Higgins) and Jason Baldwin (Seth Meriwether) – who they suspect killed the boys as part of their satanic beliefs. The townsfolk become hysterical, the media jumps on the bandwagon and soon the trio are on trial for murder in a community that has already condemned them.

Colin Firth plays Ron Lax, a strong-minded investigator seeking justice and a fair trial for the teenagers accused of murder. He seems to be the moral compass of the film and the closest character to representing the audience as each moment of corruption is revealed. Reese Witherspoon, who put on some weight for the role, is impressive as Pam Hobbs, a grieving mother who does not know what to believe. Hamrick is also a stand-out performer as the accused ring leader of the murders, while Alessandro Nivolo and Kevin Durand are both creepy as other parents. Unfortunately, there are a lot of good actors in minor roles who do not get to develop their characters well enough, including Dane DeHaan as an unusual witness and Stephen Moyer as a prosecutor.

Echols has reportedly spoken out against the film, but that is hardly surprising. Devil's Knot shows the power of rumours, fear and prejudice. It depicts just one story of injustice and is a gripping film for those unaware of the sad case.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sex Tape

WRITTEN BY: Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
DIRECTED BY: Jake Kasdan
STARRING: Jason Segel, Cameron Diaz, Rob Corddry, Rob Lowe
RATING: 3 stars

Sex Tape is about a married couple with children who decide to film themselves having sex to spice up their relationship. But then the video is accidentally shared through iCloud so they try desperately to delete every copy before their friends see it while a mystery person also threatens to post it on a pornography website. It is a simple enough idea but so many parts of the film are far-fetched. Jason Segel is no stranger to nudity but Cameron Diaz shows more of herself than we have seen before. Their chemistry is good but the story lacks much depth or comedy. Even Rob Lowe's small role, which should be hilarious, barely cracks a few laughs. 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

WRITTEN BY: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
DIRECTED BY: Matt Reeves
STARRING: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell
RATING: 4 stars

I loved Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its sequel is equally impressive, as it follows the after effects of the deadly virus unleashed among humans. The film is a little over two hours long, but it is well worth it. Visually, it is one of the most stunning films so far this year. The apes look real and the world around them looks real. Aside from the special effects, what makes these films so good is the character development. The apes are intriguing characters, while the humans are equally important, and their interactions are exciting, especially during the battle scenes. If you have seen the trailer, you know the apes ride horses. It sounds ridiculous, yet it works. There are certainly some lame moments, but that is to be expected in this genre. Ultimately though, it is the emotional impact that will linger with you.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

WRITTEN BY: Ehren Kruger
DIRECTED BY: Michael Bay
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Jack Reynor, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer
RATING: 3 stars

I grew up with Transformers, but all the films have been quite average. This sequel, which is almost a bit of a reboot with a new and fairly decent cast, is far too long at almost three hours and has a weak plot. The action and special effects, which are the most important aspects of the film, are good but nothing spectacular. Those who enjoyed the other films should still like this fourth instalment, but everyone else may as well give it a miss. The film may be considered a box office hit but there are better blockbusters worth seeing at the cinema.