Sunday, 30 November 2014

Horrible Bosses II

WRITTEN BY: Sean Anders, John Morris
DIRECTED BY: Sean Anders
STARRING: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Chris Pine
RATING: 4 stars

If you like crass gags, slapstick and innuendo, chances are you will enjoy Horrible Bosses II. The theme of murder in the first film has been downgraded to kidnapping for the sequel, and that seems to parallel a similar decline in the quality of humour in Horrible Bosses II. But, while it is not quite as good or original as the first film, it is still a far superior comedy to many others released this year.

With their previous employers no longer causing them headaches, Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) start their own company and create a shower device. After producing enough items to make a lucrative deal with businessman Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz), the trio are then tricked out of the deal. They plan to kidnap Bert's son Rex (Chris Pine) to get the money they are owed. But instead, Rex, who is keen to come out of his father's shadow, soon takes over their intricate plan and further complicates their dramas.

The trio of Bateman, Day and Sudeikis are still hilarious and their chemistry is almost perfect. Meanwhile, Pine is a fantastic addition to the cast. He is much more than a pretty face and shows audiences yet again that he can keep up with more seasoned comedians. Jonathan Banks is also very funny despite playing a straight-laced detective searching for Rex. Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey all return for the sequel and are used in a good way to advance the plot, although Aniston's character is a little repetitive. Unfortunately, Waltz is not given enough to do in the film and it seems like a waste to have someone of his calibre in such an uninteresting role.

Horrible Bosses II is silly and outrageous. It is a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Thursday, 27 November 2014


WRITTEN BY: Christopher Kyle
DIRECTED BY: Susanne Bier
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones
RATING: 1.5 stars

If you had never seen Jennifer Lawrence act in anything before watching Serena, you would think she was a terrible actress. Worse still, the film is totally boring and predictable. The score serves only to emphasise the ridiculousness of the plot involving a string of unlikeable characters. Serena was clearly doomed from the start. It was filmed in 2012 and reunited Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, but it was shelved for more than a year before its debut. That is rarely a good sign for a film. Indeed, with a running time of close to two hours, the film dragged painfully before an unsatisfying climax and conclusion.

Set during the Depression, George Pemberton (Cooper) runs a wood plantation business and is looking to expand further. When he meets the mysterious Serena (Lawrence) who has a troubled past, he immediately proposes marriage. But the film is no fairytale, so the plot quickly starts to unravel from that point on. Serena becomes a partner in George's business and that unsettles his friends and co-workers. It seems the entrance of Serena into George's life might lead to his undoing.

The film becomes repetitive with talk about wood chopping, politics (and not the interesting kind) and "love making". There are several sex scenes between Cooper and Lawrence but they are, for the most part, neither sexy nor advance the plot. The sub-plots involving George's love child, a jealous best friend and a hitman who works at the plantation, are supposed to be thrilling but instead, each conclusion can be seen coming from the get-go.

While Lawrence gives perhaps her first really bad performance on screen, Cooper, who has never really impressed me, is equally woeful with an accent that changes with every sentence. Rhys Ifans plays the mysterious hitman and while he is somewhat entertaining, he seems to be a caricature and there are too many things about him left unexplained. Toby Jones is solid as the local sheriff and Sean Harris is also good but their roles are small.

The film has been directed by Susanne Bier and written by Christopher Kyle. It seems perhaps they have both failed in their adaptation of Ron Rash's book, as the film spirals into an odd melodrama. Don't waste your money on Serena.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Big Hero Six

WRITTEN BY: Jordan Roberts, Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird
DIRECTED BY: Don Hall, Chris Williams
STARRING: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr, Daniel Henney
RATING: 3 stars

Big Hero Six may be another Marvel adaptation, but it lacks the charm of many of its predecessors – and it has nothing to do with the fact that it is an animation aimed at young audiences. In fact, the animation is great and the 3D effects are used well. Unfortunately, the story is lacklustre and the film is much darker than expected with character deaths making it perhaps a little inappropriate for very young audiences. That being said, the moral of the story is fantastic as the protagonist learns about grief and finding courage rather than seeking revenge. It is an important lesson for children.

Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a teenage genius in robotics. His brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) encourages him to apply to a robotics college to develop his skills, but a fire soon destroys his dream. Hiro then upgrades his brother's health care invention named Baymax (Scott Adsit) and turns the robot into a superhero to take down a masked villain threatening San Fransokyo.

Adsit does a great job playing Baymax so straight, providing a lot of laughs as well as some emotionally accessibility unusual in a robot. Potter is also very good and their relationship is very sweet. Other actors providing their voices include Jamie Chung, Maya Rudolph, Genesis Rodriguez, T. J. Miller, Damon Wayans Jr, Alan Tudyk and James Cromwell but their character development is not quite so strong.

Big Hero Six is a solid action/adventure for children with some good physical comedy, but it is hardly memorable. The young boys I saw the film with would still prefer to re-watch Frozen.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I

WRITTEN BY: Peter Craig, Danny Strong
DIRECTED BY: Francis Lawrence
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin
RATING: 4 stars

Fans of the Hunger Games books (like me) will love this latest instalment in the film franchise. But as a fan, even I have to admit that splitting the final book into two films has been a mistake. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I has far too much padding and not nearly enough events happening. As a book, it was complete and thrilling. As the first part of a two-film story, it lacked some excitement. Nonetheless, the film does have a few good action sequences and further develops some characters and their relationships. It also allows smaller characters in the book, such as Elizabeth Banks' delightful Effie, to be more prominent in the film. No matter what any review says about this film, people will flock to the cinema to see it – and they should.

Part I opens with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) waking up in District 13 after literally shattering the hunger games in the previous film. Under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), as well as the advice of her friends including Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Finnick (Sam Claflin), Katniss is tasked with saving the districts from the villainous President Snow (Donald Sutherland) by being the face of the rebels' propaganda campaign. She must also fight to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who is being held prisoner in the Capitol.

Lawrence was fantastic and had several moments to show her acting chops. It was great to see Hemsworth in a more significant role this time, while Hutcherson took the back seat this time but was also solid. Claflin provided some sweet emotional moments, while Sutherland continued to intimidate as the antagonist. Banks was hilarious and Woody Harrelson also drew laughs immediately when he appeared on screen. Moore and Hoffman were both great too, adding some gravitas to the film – not that it needed it.

Suzanne Collins' novels are full of violence and politics, which is quite a lot to take in for young readers. The film does a great job of also capturing that essence. It is a shame that a financial decision detracts slightly from the impact of the final chapter, but The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I is certainly still worth your money.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Men, Women and Children

WRITTEN BY: Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilson
DIRECTED BY: Jason Reitman
STARRING: Jennifer Garner, Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort, Rosemarie DeWitt, Dean Norris, Judy Greer
RATING: 3 stars

Men, Women and Children seems to have a lot to say about social media and how technology has changed the way we interact with each other. Unfortunately, it does not really raise any new points that have not already been addressed. Nonetheless, it is a fun exploration of how we portray ourselves online and to our friends and family compared to who we really are. While there are a lot of laughs along the way, the film is also far darker than expected, dealing with some serious issues including suicide, body image, pornography, overbearing parents, marriage breakdowns and young love. With so many plot lines, there is sure to be something everyone can relate to in this film.

Based on the book by Chad Kultgen and narrated by Emma Thompson, the film explores several stories. Don (Adam Sandler) is married to Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) but they are in a rut. He masturbates to porn so much the spyware has killed his computer, while she longs for some romance. Meanwhile, their son Chris (Travis Tope) has also watched so much porn that he cannot get an erection without it. His love interest Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) has a questionable modelling website run by her celebrity-seeking mother Donna (Judy Greer). Hannah's friend Allison (Elena Kampouris) hardly eats because she is obsessed with being thin. Overprotective mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner) tracks every move her daughter Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) makes on her computer and phone. Finally, Tim (Ansel Elgort) is struggling after his mother left his father Kent (Dean Norris). He quits the school football team to play computer games and strikes up a new friendship with Brandy, while Kent starts dating Donna.

Garner is a stand-out performer in this long cast while Tim and Brandy's relationship is the most realistic and enjoyable to watch. Norris and Greer lack chemistry, as do DeWitt and Sandler. The remaining cast are all solid. Ultimately, Men, Women and Children covers a lot of different issues and is an enjoyable film. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014


WRITTEN BY: Dan Gilroy
STARRING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmend, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
RATING: 4 stars

If Nightcrawler proves to be even a little glimpse into the future of journalism, my heart will break. It is a dark thriller and at times almost a black comedy, with a creepy central character who seems to have no moral or legal grounding to stop him from invading people's lives to film the perfect footage. It is also a terrifying and sensational look at the competitive world of journalism and what constitutes news. While writer/director Dan Gilroy takes his time to slowly build the story, the final act will keep you on the edge of your seat and the climax is a shock.

Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a socially awkward but intelligent small-time criminal looking for night work in Los Angeles when he stumbles on a burning car on the side of a freeway where police are trying to free a trapped woman. He pulls over to watch and sees freelance cameramen, including Joe (Bill Paxton), filming the rescue. That is enough excitement to make Louis decide that he too wants to become a nightcrawler. Although he is eager and a fast learner, Louis does not have any understanding of journalism or the ethical and legal frameworks in which journalists work. So, he begins entering crime scenes and filming gory assaults and crashes to sell the graphic images to news director Nina (Rene Russo) who is so keen to improve ratings that she never really questions how Louis is getting the footage. He also hires a desperate homeless man (Riz Ahmend) to help build his empire.

Gyllenhaal is extraordinary as the super-skinny and mentally twisted main character. He has impressed audiences in the past with his serious and dark roles but this role pushes him even further. It is hard to believe Russo is 60 years old because she looks no more than 40. Her character is a strong woman who is manipulated and blackmailed by Louis but she remains defiant when confronted by police and colleagues. It is an interesting representation of a news director. Ahmend gives an understated performance and is one of the few sympathetic characters in the film. Paxton has only a small role, but he is as reliable as ever.

Gilroy's understanding of newsrooms is a little off because most of what Louis presents to Nina would never get a run, at least not on Australian news. However, this is a work of fiction, so the inaccuracies can be overlooked. Ultimately, aside from being an exciting thriller, the film has a deeper message less about modern journalism and more about the future of journalism, which is worth considering.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Really Bad Day

WRITTEN BY: Rob Lieber
DIRECTED BY: Miguel Arteta
STARRING: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey
RATING: 3.5 stars

It is such a delight to watch a funny family film that never resorts to silly gimmicks or slapstick humour. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Really Bad Day may have an awful and long title, but the film is so sweet and with a running time of just over 80 minutes, is a great choice for children during the forthcoming school holidays.

Based on a picture book by Judith Viorst, the film is about the Cooper family, led by new stay-at-home dad Ben (Steve Carell) and Kelly (Jennifer Garner) who works in book publishing. Their oldest son Anthony (Dylan Minnette) is the envy of his friends for dating the most beautiful girl at school, daughter Emily (Kerris Dorsey) is starring in the school's production of Peter Pan and baby Trevor is just starting to learn to talk. Only middle child Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) is struggling at life, especially when he finds out a more popular child at school is having a birthday party on the same day as him. Alexander makes a birthday wish that his family could experience just one bad day like him, but he never expected the wish to come true.

The entire cast in the Cooper family is great with each given their moment to shine in drama and comedy. Carell gives a more subtle performance than we often see from him in comedies and is a goofy, loveable dad. Garner is as charming and cute as ever, while each of the young cast members are believable in their roles.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Really Bad Day is not only funny, but also has a lovely message about family.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

A Thousand Times Goodnight

WRITTEN BY: Erik Poppe, Harald Rosenløw-Eeg
STARRING: Juliette Binoche, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lauryn Canny
RATING: 4 stars

Although A Thousand Times Goodnight is not based on any specific real life events, its relevance to modern journalism is significant. The film will resonate with audiences because it depicts the daily struggles of freelance war photographers in terrifying situations as they try to get the perfect photograph to show the horrors happening in parts of the world that most of us would never visit. It also shows their life at home and what it is like for their families who live in constant fear that their loved one will be killed. The film tries a little too hard to push its point at times, especially on the impact of the family life, but it is the war scenes that are the most compelling and insightful.

The first 15 minutes are immediately gripping, depicting the preparation of a woman who is about to become a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Fearless photographer Rebecca Thomas (Juliette Binoche) is there to document the process and even rides in a car with the woman into a marketplace populated with young families. She manages to get away and shouts for everyone to flee from a bomb, but it is too late. Many die in the blast and Rebecca is injured. She returns home to her husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and their two daughters who have become used to Rebecca being away, but this latest brush with death has changed their outlook on her work. Rebecca agrees to stay home and work in less dangerous situations, but when her daughter gets a school project on Africa, she thinks it may be a perfect opportunity to visit the country for some mother-daughter bonding. Of course, it does not turn out to be as safe as she had hoped.

Binoche is mesmerising as a woman torn between her passion for the job and her maternal duties. She loves the adrenaline rush but she also hopes to change the world with her photographs and that is commendable. It is interesting that director/co-writer Erik Poppe has made the protagonist a mother and lumped all the maternal criticisms on top of what is already a stressful but important job no matter what the person's gender is. It makes you wonder how differently the story might have been portrayed if it had been a male photographer. Coster-Waldau is also very good, encouraging the audience's sympathies. Young actress Lauryn Canny, who plays their oldest daughter, is equally compelling in what is a tough role to portray.

A Thousand Times Goodnight unfairly simplifies some issues and unnecessarily intensifies others. At times, it is a little melodramatic, but it is also a powerful and thought-provoking tale that is so relevant in today's world where we are confronted with a new terrorist threat and journalists are risking their lives in ways they never have before. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Let's Be Cops

WRITTEN BY: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas
DIRECTED BY: Luke Greenfield
STARRING: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr, Rob Riggle, Nina Dobrev, James D'Arcy, Andy Garcia
RATING: 2.5 stars

I was expecting Let's Be Cops to be really bad. So low were my expectations that after not wanting to fall asleep or walk out of the cinema, I almost believed that I liked it – until I properly reflected on what I had seen. The film does not have any laugh-so-hard-that-you-cry moments, but nor will you cringe with embarrassment at its woefulness or roll your eyes at its ridiculousness. It is definitely silly and at times it feels like a series of short sketches thrown together. However, it is also fun and has a likeable cast. If you are willing to go along with the story, you might enjoy it.

Former football hopeful turned unemployed actor Ryan (Jake Johnson) and game-maker Justin (Damon Wayans Jr) are 30 years old and have not yet achieved certain goals they had set out for themselves when they moved to Los Angeles. One night, the best friends dress up as policemen, but their costumes are so good that everyone thinks they really are officers. The pair decide to milk it for all it's worth, with Justin using it to woo his crush Josie (Nina Dobrev) and Ryan taking it all a little too seriously as he throws his legal weight around in the community. Soon, they get in way over their heads when they get caught up with some local thugs and corrupt detectives.

There is a lot of pressure to be funny when you are part of the Wayans family but Damon is good at delivering humorous lines while also being a believable romantic lead. In fact, he and Dobrev may be one of the most attractive pairings on screen this year. While Dobrev is no Cate Blanchett, she does not need to be in this film and it suits her to play the pretty damsel in distress. Wayans also has great chemistry with Johnson, obviously given their work together on the television show, New Girl. Unfortunately, it was hard at times to separate the film characters from the television characters, particularly for Johnson who plays a similar wayward role in both. Rob Riggle is surprisingly more straight in this film than he usually is in comedies, while Andy Garcia and James D'Arcy are disappointingly reduced to caricature bad guys.

Let's Be Cops is pointless and probably best suited to teenage boys. But if you do not mind a bit of stupidity, it is a fun film. 

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Drop

WRITTEN BY: Dennis Lehane
DIRECTED BY: Michael R. Roskam
STARRING: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace, Matthias Schoenaerts
RATING: 3.5 stars

The Drop is a fitting final film for James Gandolfini. Linking an animal rescue story to mobsters may seem odd, but it works wonderfully. Dennis Lehane has adapted his own short story, Animal Shelter, for the screen and director Michael R. Roskam does a great job of slowly revealing the intricate details of the tale. The Drop is definitely an unconventional gangster film with a few twists along the way before a surprising climax.

Bob (Tom Hardy) works at a bar with his cousin Marv (Gandolfini) in a neighbourhood that is run by gangsters. Money is exchanged at night with a different location chosen to be the drop point. One night, Bob and Marv are caught up in a robbery and they lose money belonging to a Chechan crime boss. They must figure out who stole the money and return it, or risk further retaliation from the mob.

Hardy is powerful and engaging in this role as a quietly spoken and gentle man who is also bizarrely calm and comfortable with violence. It is not an easy feat and it shows Hardy's strength as an actor. Gandolfini plays an ageing man who has been dealt a tough set of cards in life. His character is layered and it great to see his last role pack so much punch. Noomi Rapace plays Nadia, who seems to attract trouble but has a soft side depicted in the sub-plot about an abandoned puppy that Bob finds in her bin. She and Hardy make a good on-screen pair. Matthias Schoenaerts is also impressive in a villainous role with substance. 

The Drop is unique and that is not something you often get in a mobster film.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Love, Rosie

WRITTEN BY: Juliette Towhidi
DIRECTED BY: Christian Ditter
STARRING: Lily Collins, Sam Claflin, Suki Waterhouse, Christian Cooke, Jaime Winstone
RATING: 3.5 stars

Timing is everything and that painfully crucial point is drilled into audiences in Love, Rosie. While we have seen similar films exploring the often complex friendship between men and women (think When Harry Met Sally, My Best Friend's Wedding and One Day) there is still something appealing about this particular film. Perhaps it is that the protagonists are so sweet and innocent that you cannot help but wish everything would work out well for them. While the film is based on a novel by Cecelia Ahern, there are some major changes that might put off some loyal fans of the book. But for the uninitiated, Love, Rosie is an endearing film that is both heartbreaking and uplifting.

Rosie (Lily Collins) and Alex (Sam Claflin) have been best friends since childhood. When Alex decides to leave Dublin and move to Boston to attend Harvard medical school, Rosie plans to go with him to study hotel management. But fate intervenes and keeps her in Dublin when she accidentally falls pregnant. Soon, the pair are living quite different lives and although there is sexual tension between them over the years, they can never quite seem to get on the same page of life to turn their enduring friendship into a romance.

Claflin is a bit goofy, but he is charming enough for the role. His chemistry with a very likeable Collins is good too, but could have been improved. Christian Cooke plays the self-centred jock role well and Alex's blonde model girlfriends, played by Tamsin Egerton and Suki Waterhouse, are also decent. However, all three almost seem to be caricatures, which is a shame. Meanwhile, Jaime Winstone, who plays Rosie's bluntly honest friend, provides some good laughs.

My main problem with Love, Rosie was the way it sped through the years of their lives. There were moments that needed further explanation and context. Nonetheless, the film is enjoyable and may even make you shed a few emotional tears. 

Friday, 7 November 2014

The Best of Me

WRITTEN BY: J. Mills Goodloe, Will Fetters
DIRECTED BY: Michael Hoffman
STARRING: James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan, Liana Liberato, Luke Bracey
RATING: 3.5 stars

If, like me, you are a sucker for any Nicholas Sparks novel and/or film adaptation, then you already know you need to bring tissues and be prepared to weep over a romantic and often tragic love story. The Best of Me is yet another tearjerker and although the film adaptation has made some significant changes to the novel's plot, it still works well. Perhaps nothing will ever reach the dizzying heights of The Notebook, but The Best of Me still has all the ingredients of a sappy and yet still engrossing story including young love, second chances, tragedy and overcoming obstacles.

Former high school sweethearts Dawson (James Marsden/Luke Bracey) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan/Liana Liberato) reunite after more than 20 years in their small hometown following the death of Dawson's surrogate father, Tuck (Gerald McRaney), who they both loved dearly. As they revisit Tuck's house, their memories of young love return and they reminisce about what they had and how their lives turned out.

Marsden was a fantastic choice for the romantic lead. Aside from his ridiculously good looks, he brought some rugged charm to the role and had excellent chemistry with Monaghan who has a girl-next-door sweetness that makes her endearing. Liberato was equally delightful to watch, representing the innocence of youth. Although Bracey gave a decent performance as the boy from the wrong side of the tracks with an abusive father, the fact that he looked so very different to Marsden was jarring at times as the film had so many flashbacks. The film really needed someone who looked more like Marsden.

The Best of Me has some stunning settings and an equally beautiful sentiment. It is a great choice for a date night at the cinema.

Thursday, 6 November 2014


WRITTEN BY: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
DIRECTED BY: Christopher Nolan
STARRING: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy, Michael Caine, John Lithgow
RATING: 3 stars

I was engrossed in the complex tale of Interstellar and was waiting for that awe-inspiring moment I have come to expect when watching a Christopher Nolan film – but it never came. Interstellar is even more ambitious than Inception, but Nolan did not quite hit the mark this time. While the film is visually stunning, it was too long, and at times, painfully drawn out. Interstellar has a powerful message about the meaning and importance of time, gravity, relativity, the environment, family life and so much more. Perhaps that was the film's problem – it tried to cover too much.

Interstellar is set in a future where humanity has used up many vital resources. In a last-ditch attempt to find a habitable planet in another galaxy, NASA works secretly to avoid further criticism from the world that they are wasting money while people starve. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a widower and is raising two children when he agrees to pilot a space expedition even though it means he will miss years on Earth with his young family. His daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain) is mad at him for leaving, but the bright girl soon plays a vital part in her father's mission.

McConaughey had great chemistry with Foy and was a good choice to play the loving father, eager to be part of history and save his family. He brought a sensitivity to the role of a scientific man. Chastain is building quite a portfolio of work playing strong women and she again delivers a good performance. I am not an Anne Hathaway hater like so many people are, but even I found her a little annoying at times in this film, playing a NASA scientist and the daughter of Cooper's mentor (played by Nolan favourite, the dependable Michael Caine). John Lithgow has a thankless role as Cooper's father-in-law who is left to care for Cooper's children. It was a shame he was given so little to work with. But he was just the tip of an iceberg of actors seemingly desperate to work with Nolan. There are several random stars popping into the film in minor roles including Matt Damon, Casey Affleck and Topher Grace – all of whom are solid, especially Damon who has taken on an unusual character.

I was enjoying most of the space journey with the protagonists, but ultimately, the mounting number of plot holes could not be swallowed up quickly enough by the giant black hole depicted in the film.