Thursday, 30 July 2009

Public Enemies: Movie Review

Public Enemies: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, Stephen Dorff
Director: Michael Mann
Guns, girls and gangsters.
You can't really go wrong with a mix like that - and yet somehow, this latest outing from director Michael Mann, ever so-slightly wrong foots itself.
The year is 1933, and John Dillinger (a suave self assured Johnny Depp) is taking on the mantle as the people's Robin Hood, robbing banks and generally raising hell as Public Enemy No 1.
Idolised by the people, and revered among the criminal fraternity, things start to change for Dillinger with the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation under J Edgar Hoover.
Hoover gives the job of catching Dillinger to FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (a slightly muted Christian Bale) but as Dillinger's popularity soars and the net gets tighter, the stakes are raised in this game of cat and mouse.
Public Enemies looks stunning - the recreation of 1930s Depression era America is superb; right down to the suits, stylish hats and crackle-popping of the Tommy Guns, there's much to admire in the scenery.
But it's just in the execution of this film that it feels ever so slightly hollow - Depp is fantastic as Dillinger and has the right swagger, charisma and charm to pull off the character of someone who modeled themselves on Clark Gable and was loved by those who were suffering in America's Depression.
Depp is the perfect Dillinger - his relationship with Billie Frechette (the ever illuminating Marion Cotillard) is raw and real - based on truth and honesty, their brief affair shows a different side to Dillinger as he tried to protect her and her honour at all times.
Bale however, is a little underused - and as a result, I didn't feel Purvis' torment over his role in the FBI - which is a real shame.
I think in many ways, Public Enemies is the antidote to a winter of blockbusters which has been in your face action - be it the robots of Transformers or the general bubble gum of Ice Age 3 and Hannah Montana.
It's a slow burner in many places and appears to have other plots bubbling away in the background - be it the politics of the formation of the FBI or the continuing misogynist ways of the American public - but the trouble is they're too subtle and too fleeting to pick up on.
However, it's great to see Michael Mann directing - no-one does characters meeting for the first time like this director (remember the scene in Heat?)- perhaps the greatest scene of the film is when Purvis and Dillinger meet, separated by jail bars. The only action comes from the piercing glares of the eyes as when they talk, their mouths are obscured by the prison cell.
It's these moments - along with the swirling gliding camera work which ducks and moves around during the prison breaks and gun fights - that I really wanted more of during Public Enemies.

Instead I'm left slightly wanting and underwhelmed.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

NZFF Reviews - 2009 Archive

NZFF Reviews - 2009 Archive

Morphia

Morphia is a dramatic slice of life in an isolated town. Set in a brutal Russian winter, an inexperienced doctor in the turn of the century is called in to help the pregnant and heal the sick. A gory but yet realistic life during 1917 sees the doctor question his own life as he is accidently introduced to morphine. This addiction spirals out of control as he begins to seek ways to continue his habit while jeopardising the safety of the community who has he been charged to look after. This addictive love story with the back drop of a winter that continues on forever makes this film dark but fascinating - especially if you love Russian history and culture and of course vodka! Dark and moody, gripping and fascinating, Morphia is a great entry into Russian cinema.


Valentino - The Last Emperor

An insightful doco film about the live and loves of Valentino, Valentino: The Last Emperor begins with an opening statement that “Valentino loves beauty and it’s not his fault”.
This man was born to design clothes for beautiful women, as he has a vision; when he touches a piece of fabric to sketching the design to his merry team of dress makers then creates the dream.
This private man opens up his business and his personal life to the film before taking to journey of retirement(which was forced upon him rather than him choosing it), making you gasp at the designs and the flamboyant life he leads in the often cut throat and fascinating world of being one of the world’s leading designers.
The perfect film to finish off a wonderful film festival in Auckland. Here's to 2010!

My Year Without Sex

An Aussie comedy drama about a family whose lives are forever changed when the mother has an aneurysm and nearly dies, My Year Without Sex follows them as they deal with the fallout over a 12 month period. It's a film about faith in many ways - be it faith in the church as the mother tries to find some kind of spiritual bent after the brush with death, faith in those around you who support you through troubled times and faith in the future.The film's divided up into monthly set pieces with each one titled something to do with sex - ie missionary - and this framing doesn't work as well as it could do (appreciate it's supposed to be about how everything's become sexual)as it has little to do with what's going on onscreen. It's not a bad film overall - some unexpected laughs here and there - it's a gentle piece which has a sly humour and warmth and may find you leaving with questions about what your own life has amounted to.

OSS 117 - Lost In Rio

Sure the spy spoof genre's been done to death but OSS117, the latest entry-sacre bleu, a Frenchie- is pretty damn good.Actor Jean Dujardin is Hubert de la Bath, a post war spy, who's part racist, part sexist and all funny - he even resembles a French version of Sean Connery- it's 1967 and despatched to Brazil to retrieve a microfilm, de la Bath ends up in a series of (mis)adventures which appear to channel Clouseau at times and which show he's a relic of a world gone by. However, whereas this could lapse so far into parody, it consciously stays away from that and lets the sheer nincompoopery of its agent showcase the comedy.It's a bucketload of fun, complete with Brazilian bikini babes, a blistering Bossanova soundtrack, devilish Chinamen (as he calls them)Saul Bass style film-making and a stellar performance from dujardin. I hope pretty soon we get to spend more time with Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath - because the whole film is a joyous spoofy romp -and far superior to Austin Powers.

Samson and Delilah

This film about two outcast Aboriginal children who flee their reservation and hardly speak throughout has had all of Australia talking.And judging by the packed Civic Theatre in Akl it's likely to be the same here in NZ.What a film-Warwick Thornton's pulled together various threads from his life in Alice Springs and what he saw around him,you almost wonder how anyone could live in a place such as this.Both the leads are mesmerising in a heartbreaking sort of way as you watch the way their non-verbal tender relationship grows as well as feeling sick to your stomach at the times when the real shocks hit.Watching the duo(who are first time actors)suffer is at times bleak and painful to watch but you are glued to the screen and left fully aware that for some, this is the daily reality of their life.There's light at the end of the film but even without that ray of hope glistening, the entire film is still compelling - and sickening - in equal measures

Mary and Max

An Australian 8-year old girl, Mary, socially outcast and awkward, decides one day to start a pen friendship with a random name she pulls out of the phone book. That person is Max, a 40something clinically obese and diagnosed with asperger's syndrome, NY resident. Mary and Max is a beautifully dour piece of claymation animation, tinged with a sadness and dark(at times bleak) humour narrated by Barry Humphries and voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette - it's hard to pin down exactly what it's appeal is-whether it's the aussie nostalgia which colours everything brown in the animation and grey in NY - or because there's humour in unexpected places - laugh out loud funny in some. Granted the animation's not exactly smashing the mould for originality-in fact the characters look like the Cadbury ads which used to be on before Coro - but it's just a sweet and oddly engaging film - and a real celebration of the simple joy of unadultered friendship.

Dogtooth

A Greek film, Dogtooth is about a severely (and I mean severely) dysfunctional family who have no contact with the outside world.A mum, a dad and 2 girls, 1 boy live in their house- the kids are permanently grounded and controlled by their father - he feeds them misinformation on what things are - it's his attempt to eliminate any views of the outside world. Quite why is anyone's guess-there's never really any explanation of motivation.Dogtooth is one of the more shocking films to hit this year's festival(maybe not as much as AntiChrist) and to be honest, it's a wild ride from the blackly humorous to the ferociously sickening in parts-while it's a semi plausible take on Daddy Knows Best, the lack of context as to why may leave many cold -and certainly some of the violence will sicken some.I found this perhaps the hardest film of the festival to watch-and yet at times I found it extremely funny.But the over-riding view is that it's a challenge to watch- and some may not be upto it.

Adventureland

Ah the American coming of age film - it is in its own rights becoming a rites of passage for movie makers. Adventureland from Greg Mottola is set in the 1980s and followis Jesse Eisenberg's James who's about to go to college in NYC when he learns his dad's job's changed and they can no longer afford for him to go.So to make ends meet, he heads to the local craptacular fairground Adventureland to score some work - there he has the summer job we can all recognise from our teen years - coupled with aching lust for fellow carny worker Emily (Kristen Stewart - from Twilight). Adventureland is great fun -wrapped full of humourous well timed lines and pitch perfect performances (including Bill Hader as the carny boss complete with horrendous tache). It's a nod back to the 80s and despite the somewhat tired out genre, Adventureland is a welcome entry - it's fresh, amusing and strangely recognisable. A soon to be cult classic.

Coco Before Chanel


Coco Before Chanel is a biopic of the famous designer.
It begins with Gabrielle before she was nicked named Coco (after a song) being delivered at the orphanage by her father – it’s an issue which plagued Coco all of her grown up life, that of abandonment and no position in society.
Father, lover, husband - all of these roles were never stable in Coco’s life but played an important part in her growth as a designer and the drive to become her own master.
French actress Audrey Tautou was the perfect choice for this role; the way she moved in the shapeless gowns that made Chanel famous and facial expressions - incroyable!
You could see how the designs developed with her understanding of women’s bodies and how the garments were restricting - all of these were fascinating insights into the master.
This likable film was slow in parts but in other areas flowed like the fabrics used by Chanel herself. A must see to any follower of fashion and culture.

Looking for Eric

The king of gritty drama makes a comedy/ fantasy of sorts? Ken Loach brings the philosophical genius(cough) of Eric Cantona to a postman whose live has gone down the gurgler since his family fell apart- this Man U postie finds solace in weed and chats with Cantona as he tries to get his life back on track.And for the most part, it works - but then Loach, formerly the king of miserable realises he may have lightened up too much and halfway through a big slab of unhappiness is thrown into the mix-which endangers the film by making it feel like two flicks tacked together - even Cantona(imaginary or otherwise)disappears when the reality hits. However, a crowd pleasing comedy finale sees the sunshine overthrow the grime and suddenly like a flash of footballing genius, the film's won over in the dying minutes. It's an odd mix but strangely rewarding.

Dead Snow

This film's very easy to sum up - Dead Nazi zombies attack a group of holidaying students high in a cabin in the Norwegian snowy mountains. But what that doesn't tell you is this is a horror splatterfest which is quite humorous in plenty of places - it also covers every single horror cliche in the genre; the gang are a randy bunch - and movie nerds- and the ones who have sex are the first to be picked off(didn't they see Scream?); there's a crazy man wandering the land warning of danger in them thar hills - yes every single cliche is present and correct but in a throwback way and an acknowledgement of what's gone before in the genre.The Nazi zombies themselves are a strange bunch with their motives only really present at the end - but films like this don't lend themselves to sustained analysis.Tremendous fun, gore-tastic and black humour abound - and even odes to Evil Dead..can't fault it- check yr brain at the door(well the zombies would only want to eat it)

Winnebago Man

What do you do when you become a youtube phenomenon? And more importantly who were the phenomenona before youtube? This doco takes a look at Jack Rebney, who gained notoriety after a series of outtakes (taken during the filming of a winnebago commercial) gained a cult following on the underground video sceene - quoted in hollywood, and seen by millions, Rebney was an icon. However, as this doco sets out to find out-what happened to the man whose lowest moments were made so public?Austin based filmmaker Ben Steinbauer tracked him down and found out - the results are surprising and oddly touching - watch the star in its ascent and see what happens next (you can't really say without spoiling it)- an astonishing portrait of an innocent man whose life was changed by factors out of his control. Screening in Auckland has the filmmakers present for Q

The Strength of Water

Sensationally simple and heartbreakingly direct, Strength of Water is perhaps one of the best films I've seen at this year's Festival.Set in the Hokianga, it's the story of two 10-year-old twins Kimi and Melody whose lives are irrevocably changed by the arrival of drifter Tai to their small community.A terrible accident follows and the community is ripped asunder by the shocking turn of events. It's hard to say too much about this without spoiling it-but what I can say is although the cast are relative newcomers and first timers, Strength of Water is a stunning debut for those involved-Hato Paporoa's performance as Kimi is the stand out of the film- just the right amount of sadness, cheek and loneliness for the character and his life.Director Armagan Ballantyne's captured perfectly the beauty and desolation of the coastal villages- the whole film is unflailingly subtle and beautifully shot- a story of bonds, community and heart, Strength of Water achingly raw and is not to be missed.

Cheri

Michelle Pfeiffer as a courtesan in Stephen Frears's adaptation of Collette's Cheri...it's an odd choice but in this tale of the old tart gets a heart and falls in love, it only just works. Pfeiffer is Lea, who believes it's time to settle down from the nightlife, and who inadvertently falls for Cheri(Rupert Friend) son of fellow former courtesan Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates)-trouble is after six years together, Cheri is torn asunder and to be married off.Cue Lea's mourning and heartbreak...can the pair get back together?Cheri is on odd film, it's very faithful to its literary form and there's a lot of banter and concentration needed for the subtleties of the language - but despite Frears' direction and the sumptuous costuming magnificently evoking the era, this drama feels oddly lacking in substance and is quite shallow.Bates is catty throughout and never sympathetic but there's something oddly compelling in Pfeiffer's performance as she channels her last chance for love.

Flame and Citron

Based on actual events and eye-witness accounts of two of the most active resistance fighters in the Holger Danske resistance group during World War II,Flame and Citron is a tense thriller of betrayal, conscience and violence.One of the most expensive films to be made in Denmark, it's also one of the most compelling I've seen for a while as you try to guess who's betraying whom - the contrasting views of the duo are an interesting way to portray their eventual questioning of what exactly they're doing-Citron (the mavellous Mads Mikkelsen)is a reluctant killer and Flame (a mesmerising Thure Lindhardt) is all steely determination as they try to pick off the collaborators. About half way in, I realised I was hooked and gripped by the film's vice-like take on the reality some faced during the War.By turns, thrilling and callous, Flame and Citron is compulsive viewing.

Largo

I had pretty much never heard of LA nightclub Largo until seeing this film but sometimes being ignorant wields the best results - basically the club has a drop in policy for anyone who wants to appear on stage.This doco is black and white and features an array of acts on a dark stage - musical and comics - including those Conchords, Bic Runga, Greg Proops, Sarah Silverman, John C Reilly, E from the Eels, Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Aimee Mann - to name but a few.The only problem is because of the lack of on screen captions, you don't always know who's on the stage-and if you're discovering something new which you love (as I did with the stunning Andrew Bird and his rendition of Nervous Tic Motion of The Head To The Left (youtube it) then it's hard to pick up.That said, I was transifxed and I guess it reflects the intimate and random nature of the club itself-Largo is really entertaining music film-and one of those rare music docos where you end up wanting to see more of the acts

An Education

A coming of age film as 16-year old Jenny(an outstanding turn by relative newcomer Carey Mulligan) who begins a questionable romance with a man twice her age as she yearns to shake free the shackles of a dull English life in the 1960s swinging London. It's about experience of life over reading it in books and burying your head in study. Written by Nick Hornby and based on Brit journo Lynn Barber's memoir An Education doesn't shine as much as it could - it's patently clear the man she starts seeing is a bit of a sleaze - but Jenny is so in awe at being part of the world she dreams of, she doesn't care. The recreation of 60s London is exhiliarating - and Carey Mulligan is superb as the teenager who's older than her years - she's been much lauded for this role and it's easy to see why as she lifts the slightly average TV movie out of the predictable mire.

The Chaser

A Korean thriller which steals liberally from Silence of the Lambs but is never derivative because of it. A former cop turned pimp is convinced his girls are being stolen and sold off by someone on the streets - but he suddenly realises that one of his ladies of the night is in real danger from a serial killer who abducts the women and deals to them in a very haphazard way. I was shocked as to how tense this was - there are moments when your expectations are completely confounded and the direction moves you to a completely different place. Also it's one of the few films I've seen where the fight scenes and chase sequences are random, haphazard and messy - this is a gripping film which is sadly being remade for hollywood - worth seeing the original now rather than reading about the debate over how America (potentially) ruined it.

Ponyo

Studio Ghibli animation is always a delight - and this latest offering from the stable of Miyazaki Hayao is no exception. A 5-year-old boy, Sosuke, adopts a goldfish (the titular Ponyo)when she emerges from the sea one day - however their friendship is torn apart as quickly as it's begun - and then Ponyo works a way out to become human and return to her friend - but her desire could signal the end of the world...Sweet and quite beautifully animated in many ways – Ponyo is simplistic and childish (not in a bad way) but accessible to all.In fact the children in the audience were entranced by the vivid animation and beautiful score as they sat spellbound - and the adults were equally as excited!Ponyo has a pure heart and joy about - even when a tsunami threatens to engulf a town, the visual of Ponyo, in her human form, skipping over the waves brings a smile to your face.A work of fantasy and one which shows there's plenty of life left in Studio Ghibli

Moon

Sam Rockwell is a genius - much underrated and oft ignored - If there's any justice Moon will change that. Rockwell plays the sole inhabitant of a mining moon station (well aside from Kevin Spacey's emoticon voiced robot GERTY) who's nearing the end of a 3 year stint and looking forward to going back home. Awash with alienation, depression and the loneliness, he's definitely looking forward to heading home - but one day he suffenly realises he's not alone on the station...Moon is wonderfully minimalist, full of whites and greys - yeah, there will be comparisons to 2001 - mainly due to Kevin spacey's monotoned robot (whose output is solely emoticons on its screen)but that's doing it a disservice - Rockwell puts in a powerhouse performance and carries the film all by himself - it's a stunning feat of filmmaking as Rockwell's character deals with issues of identity and humanity with gravitas and grace - don't miss this one at all costs!

The Six Dollar Fifty Man

Not strictly an entry on its own to the programme this year, this delightful little short film played before the film An Education and was quite the unexpected treat. Decked out in a red tracksuit and entranced in the world of Steve Austin (the Lee Majors one, not the wrestler), 8 year old Andy (played wonderfully by Oscar Vandy-Connor) is a Raumati Beach schoolkid who lives in his head more than in the playground - he amuses himself by performing astonishing feats of physical prowess (jumping off buildings)but when he gets into trouble, he's forced to face reality. Funny and touching in places, the $6.50 Man reminds me of my schooldays and how I didn't always fit in but how i got by - Oscar is great as the kid stuck between life in his head and real life- he's a real talent to watch and the short went down a treat before the main feature. More like this please!

Drag Me To Hell


Seriously all I should say about this is Sam Raimi returns to horror films - and that should be enough for you really. DMTH is a great return to the slightly wacky, very funny horror comedy a la Evil Dead- Alison Lohman is a bank loans manager who turns down an old woman one day and is cursed as a result (talk about yr bad karma)- trouble is, that curse will see her pursued by an invisible demon and ultimately have her soul taken from her. Very darkly funny in places and some real gross out moments, DMTH has a crazy spirit to it and is a lot of fun. It's played 100% straight and as a result, the gross out moments are even funnier for it - it's horror by numbers and will leave you slightly agog at the end. The soundtrack's great as well - very manipulative and over loud in places - I loved it!

Big River Man

This is the story of the most insane endurance swimmer I have ever seen - hard drinking, hard living Martin Strel, a Slovenian man in his fifties who takes on the Amazon. Despite advice to maybe tone down some of the excesses while on the swim, Strel decides he knows best and tackles the 3274 mile swim in his own indomitable style. This doco filmed by his son, follows him as he basically descends into some kind of madness - I actually didn't think a film like this would be as gripping as it is - but Strel Jr manages to capture the sprial down in an at times hallucinogenic way as both of them negotiate the Amazon.
I can't recommend this film enough - and I reckon it's one of the top picks of the entire festival - if you ever thought the kind of people who take up endurance sports are a bit nuts, this may make you reconsider your opinion. Gripping and surprising in many ways

Best Worst Movie

Who knew that one of the films deemed one of the worst ever made would make such a good subject for a doco?Best Worst Movie is a study of how Troll 2, deemed the worst film on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes became a cult phenomenon and how that affected the lives of those who starred in it - Michael Paul Stephenson, the child star of the film had been hiding from its "success" but suddenly decided to embrace it one day as he began to document how the cult phenomenon was taking over the world.George Hardy, the main lead in Troll 2, is the star of this film as he tries to negotiate his way back into showbiz after a lifetime in dentistry - while he's the happier end of the spectrum, the film also catches up with the other actors(who have varying degrees of success)and the insane Italian director who refuses to believe he made a bad film.Heart warming, amusing and unexpectedly funny BWM is a joy.See it soon and join the cult! Altogether now -"You can't p*** on hospitality - I won't let you!"

Red Cliff

The first minor disappointment of the festival for me - John Woo returns to Chinese soil with millions of dollars and makes a historical epic about Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi), the scheming Prime Minister to the Han dynasty Emperor, who leads a massive Northern army to quell the ‘rebel’ warlords of the South. Don't get me wrong, it looks sumptuous and gorgeous - and is probably a dream film for those who want to study how wars were conducted in years gone by. But it's ever so slightly hollow - I wasn't quite sure whether some of the close ups of the evil Prime Minister laughing sinisterly were ironic - it's a good story which appears to have been told with a set formula in mind and that hasn't helped. That said, the battle scenes are quite stunning in places (even if it does come with Woo's trademark slow mo shots)- Red Cliff is an interesting film which doesn't quite engage 100% but as a spectacle it looks fabulous.

The Cove

Sometimes a film knocks you sideways in ways you couldn't imagine - from National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos The Cove is a remarkably restrained doco about the lengths gone to for the capture of dolphins to populate the world's dolphinariums. Granted a film which says it is unashamedly activist is likely to make some think it'll be a stringing together of sensationalist emotional material aimed at turning you against the Japanese - but you'd be massively wrong to think that. It "stars" former Flipper trainer Ric O'Barry who is now trying to stop the capture of dolphins in Japan for entertainment purposes - his eloquence and measured behaviour is a real jolt to the senses when you realise he spent 10 years training flipper before realising what damage he'd done.No really disturbing footage in the film - just a dose of reality. This is the NZFF's first essential film - you cannot afford not to see this -Check out the film's site http://www.thecovemovie.com/ and see it now!

In the Loop

Well once again the powers that be have forbidden me from talking fully about this film - but essentially it's a spin off from the TV show The Thick Of It (which screened on TV ONE) and written by brilliant satirist Armando Iannucci. It's about British politics and the satire thereof taking in Washington politics as well. What's great about this though is Peter Capaldi's spin doctor Malcolm Tucker - what a genius performance and what a foul mouth his character's got. Full of questionably quotable phrases (the majority of which involve the F word) it's really worth taking this film in and then seeing it again to catch up with what you've missed because you (or the rest of the audience) were laughing so hard at.

The September Issue

Sadly I'm not allowed to give you a full review of this doco as it's due for release very soon in New Zealand (even we reviewers have a code we have to stick to at festival time!!)- but what I can tell you is that if you love Vogue, the fashion world and want to know more about the tour de force that is Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, you could do no better than seeing this.
It's an interesting film which takes you into this at times seemingly unaccessible world of photoshoots - be interested to hear what you think of it!

Bright Star

The NZ International Film Festival kicked off in Auckland last night with a packed Civic theatre waiting in anticipation to see the very latest film from Jane Campion - Bright Star, which premiered recently in Cannes. Starring Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne and Ben Whishaw (brilliant in TV ONE's Criminal Justice earlier this year) as John Keats, it's the tale of their love affair. Campion's crafted another piece of beautiful cinema which is a story of love, yearning and sensuality. Whishaw's very good as Keats - he conveys the despair Keats felt as an "unsuccessful" poet during his lifetime - and Cornish is commendable as Fanny who is suddenly struck by the wonders of love. There's a playfulness to their courtship to start off with - but that's swiftly replaced by the harsh reality of English society - it looks sumptuous and may strike a chord with many romantics everywhere. Sadly this was its only screening - and it should be on general release in 6 months' time - will let you know

Friday, 24 July 2009

The Stone of Destiny: Movie Review

The Stone of Destiny: Movie Review

Rating 5/10
Cast: Charlie Cox, Billy Boyd, Robert Carlyle, Kate Mara, Bryan Lowe, Brenda Fricker
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Set in the late 1940s/ early 1950s, The Stone of Destiny is based on a true story.
Charlie Cox stars as Ian Hamilton, a member of a Scottish nationalist organisation who is outraged that the English continue to subjugate the Scottish.
So in an attempt to strike a symbolic blow for freedom after Scotland's plea to be independent is rejected, he plots to remove the Stone of Scone, aka The Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey.
Along with Kay Matheson (Kate Mara), and a couple of local lads, the quartet head to the big smoke and start to see if their enormous task - both physical and metaphorical - is possible...
The Stone of Destiny is a fairly pleasant way to pass an hour and a half - it has to be said though, very little elevates it beyond the feeling of a made for television movie
That's not to denigrate anything from the story - which is charmingly acted and beautifully shot - all of the cast acquit themselves well in a relatively simple roles and it's a gentle story throughout
Only Hamilton is afforded a bit more depth in terms of character and plot - he has father issues and is clearly trying to do something to impress both his father, the girl he quite likes (Kay) and his country.
While the themes of oppression are universal, The Stone of Destiny seems a real throwback to a Scotland of yesteryear - the actual break out of the stone is quite a tense piece and there's a vein of humour running throughout the whole piece.

But all in all, The Stone of Destiny will possibly mean more to you if you have a nostalgic bent towards reliving Scottish history and emotional times - for the casual viewer, there's little onscreen to engage beyond putting the brain in neutral.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Drag Me To Hell: Movie Review

Drag Me To Hell: Movie Review

Rating 7/10
Cast: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver
Director: Sam Raimi
The words Sam Raimi and horror film are enough to make any cinephile quiver with excitement.
And so it is with Drag Me To Hell.
Alison Lohman is Christine Brown, a loans officer, desperate for promotion.
One day, when told she has to show more leadership and make tough decisions, she chooses the wrong person to exert her authority on.
That person is an old lady in the form of Mrs. Sylvia Ganush (played by Lorna Raver) - when denied a loan to stave off eviction and feeling humiliated, Mrs Ganush curses Christine.
The curse means Christine will be Dragged to Hell by a Lamia demon within three days&.
Drag Me To Hell is a scintillating return to the genre from the master Sam Raimi - although it turns out the script was written some 10 years ago after the end of the Evil Dead trilogy, Raimi's clearly been spending his time working out how to perfect the spectacle - oh, and doing the 3 Spiderman films as well.
Granted, you pretty much know where some of the shocks and jolts are coming in this film - but it's the gross out horror humour moments which are the best for Drag Me To Hell.
There's a few of those scattered around the film which are just, to be blunt, icky and make you squirm in your chair.
But what Raimi manages to do, thanks to an at times deliberately deafening score is drag out some of the tension in the film and really confound some of your expectations as to when the shock's coming.
Drag Me To Hell is a restrained horror - it's not based purely on gore, but seeks to freak you out of your cinema chair when you least expect it - and have you laughing or groaning in disgust when you know you shouldn't.
Lohman's Christine is a sweet character, well played by the actress - you really feel for her as she starts to realise the level of threat she's up against - and Raimi pulls an excellent performance out of her by making the acting straight up and never veering into parody.
On paper the elements of humour, gross out or otherwise, and horror shouldn't work.

But with a master like Sam Raimi behind the camera, Drag Me To Hell succeeds in spades - it reinvigorates the smart horror genre which has become so bogged down by the likes of the SAW franchise

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince: Movie Review

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Robbie Coltrane
Director: David Yates
I have a confession to make - I've never been a fan of the cinematic versions of the Harry Potter films; granted I've read all but the last two of the saga (yes, I am one of the few who doesn't yet know how it ends - and at the moment, I'm comfortable with that) but for some reason (mainly the slightly childlike direction of the earlier films and the inexperience of the actors) I have never been wowed by the whole Potter experience.
So, it was with some dread that I went into the cinema for this one - because whatever a reviewer says, it's just not going to stop the Potter behemoth at the box office - some flicks are critic proof.
But enough of that - on with the latest in the Harry Potter franchise.
Dark forces are gathering over the wizarding world in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - Harry's back for his sixth year at Hogwarts- and it seems Lord Voldemort's rise to power is inevitable.
Upon Harry's return to school, he finds a potions book from the Half Blood Prince and is tasked by Dumbledore to look into the past of one Tom Riddle (aka You Know Who) to try and find a way to defeat him.
But life's never that simple for Mr Potter - throw into the mix Draco Malfoy's skulking about Hogwarts, adolescence and girl problems - and squabbles of jealousy between Ron and Hermione - and you've got a potent mix.
There's much to admire in this latest outing - finally, it's starting to feel like a more adult version of Harry Potter - and one which has a much wider appeal for viewers.
Yes, there will be those who feel there are many plot points left out in the latest rendition - the final books are bigger in tome than previous ones.
There's an obviously evident turn towards a much darker feel in the Half Blood Prince - the whole atmosphere is painted with greys, blacks and whites - there's very little colour on the screen during the 150 minutes.
One scene involving a confrontation between two characters in the dark, ends with one of them saturated in blood - because of the darkness throughout, this vivid burst of colour onto the screen is shocking.
And it's this sense of foreboding and doom and gloom, which saturate this film, which is greatly welcomed.
There's also a distinct lack of blockbuster style action - unless you count kissing (of which there's plenty) - and a lot more brooding and less of Ron Weasly's gurning.
The trio of young actors (Radcliffe, Grint and Watson) acquit themselves reasonably with the weightier material - but this film belongs squarely to Jim Broadbent's Professor Slughorn (the obligatory new teacher to Hogwarts) and the mawkish mournfulness of Michael Gambon's Dumbledore.
This is also the first Potter film I've felt actually accurately conveyed the highs and lows of the wizarding world - thanks to some truly majestic camera swoops, we see all walks of life at Hogwarts - from Malfoy lurking, to Ron kissing and into the distance; it's a stunning turn of direction from David Yates.
Coupled with a truly evocative and beautiful score, this is the Potter which has pitched it perfectly.
That's not to say there aren't some off moments - the plot (as it is) is quite strung out and there could have been some more expeditious editing to cut the film's length - some younger fans may be found shuffling in their seats.

But when it comes to Potter, the true fans are happy to be immersed in Harry's world - and don't care if the film is long, or drawn out in places - with the series now just two films away from finishing, they (understandably) need their fix.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Bruno: Movie Review

Bruno: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten
Director: Larry Charles
Unless you've been living on the moon, chances are you'll have heard all about Bruno.
Thanks to the endless barrage of recent publicity, there can't be anyone who's not witnessed Sacha Baron Cohen's gay Austrian fashionista in some form or another.
But under all the constant hype, there is a film out there - following on from the shock and awe(some) tactics of Cohen's last outing on screen as Borat, there really wasn't any other character left in his repertoire outside of Bruno.
Basically, in this cinematic outing, following a major faux pas at an Austrian fashion show, Bruno finds himself blacklisted from the scene.
In a move not too dissimilar to Borat, he heads to America to achieve fame.
And that's it for the plot (such as it is).
What Bruno is, on the surface, is a collection of real life sketches (some feeling a little false and staged in places it must be said) as Sacha Baron Cohen's alter ego pushes it as far as he can go while interacting with the "real people."
However, like Borat, Bruno succeeds by bringing the worst out in people as they either bow to political correctness or hang themselves by displaying bigoted beliefs - cue many awkward pauses from those who are caught out.
While Borat was at times, squirm inducing, Bruno is likely to shock and offend a lot of people - with plenty of graphic sex jokes, without wanting to sound like a prude, it's not going to be to everyone's taste.
Bruno succeeds in, once again, reveling in pockets of American life which are uncomfortable with some of the modern day gay lifestyle - which isn't really anything new or original.
In fact it's fair to say there is a certain frisson of disappointment that it follows same pattern as Borat - foreigner in America, seeking fame and on a road trip - and pushing people into uncomfortable situations.
But it's also fair to say at times, this is very, very funny, irreverent, scabrous and obscene.
In some of the more amusing moments, Bruno finds himself trying to negotiate peace in the middle East; stripped of his child during an appearance on an American chat show and beaten at a swingers' party.
While poking fun at the celebrity culture and penchant for adopting African children is nothing new, Baron Cohen does it very well and manages to steal a lot of humour from people's reactions to his clearly inflammatory behaviour.
The most shocking part of the film though comes from the public.
Once again it's a real eye opener to see what people will do when the spotlight's turned on them - witness how far American parents will go to get their babies a job in ad; how uneducated some of those in the charity business are and how bigoted some religious people can be.
The producers must have been rubbing their hands with glee as they watched what people would say when the cameras are turned on&
Sacha Baron Cohen clearly has pushed it as far as he can go - witness being pursued in the Middle East because of one of his outfits; meeting with a terrorist to try and achieve fame via kidnapping; his (brief) interview with Harrison Ford is hilarious - there really is nowhere else left for him to go with the celebrity interviewer.
Baron Cohen needs praise though for his quick thinking - he's clearly lived the characters for so long that he knows exactly what they'd do in certain situations - and how to achieve maximum humour and discomfort for those in the firing line.
But on the evidence of Bruno, he's clearly had a lot of fun perverting opinions and subverting attitudes - there are a lot of belly laughs to be had in truly unexpected places. It's a slightly uneven film overall with the various situations sown together on a very thin thread - and it never really achieves the irreverent highs of Borat.

It'll be very interesting to see what he chooses to do next.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Ice Age 3: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs: Movie Review

Ice Age 3: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: John Leguizamo, Ray Romano, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Simon Pegg
Director: Carlos Saldanha, Mike Thurmeier
They say the third time is the charm.
With Ice Age 3: Dawn Of the Dinosaurs, that's definitely the case.
After the events of Ice Age: The Meltdown, Manny the wooly mammoth (Ray Romano) is getting ready for fatherhood with Ellie (Queen Latifah) - and Sid (John Leguizamo) and Diego (Denis Leary) are trying to work out their place in this impending happy family.
Sid is pining for motherhood and Diego's unsure whether he's lost his edge - basically, the pair of them feel out of sorts with Manny's future.
So when Sid stumbles on some dinosaur eggs and adopts them, he inadvertently ends up kidnapped and in an underground world populated by dinosaurs, miles away from his friends.
Realising the danger their friend is in, Diego, Manny and pregnant Ellie head off to try and save him&.
Ice Age 3 is going to be the perfect entertainment for the impending school holidays - and while other third installments of an animated franchise have struggled to keep up the laughs and originality (Shrek 3, I'm looking at you), there's no such danger with this latest addition.
And the reason is because of the pure insanity of some of the side stories.
Granted, the quest to find Sid is not exactly the stuff of cinematic legend, but Ice Age 3 has two major things going for it.
The return of Scrat (and his beloved acorn) and the latest insane addition to the menagerie, Buck the weasel (voiced perfectly by Simon Pegg)
These two combine a wackiness and goofy unpredictability which brings much needed relief to the rather mundane central plot.
Scrat has this time got a female nemesis who messes with his acorn as well as his head - his slapstick antics are sc(r)attered throughout the film and inserted here and there seamlessly - and benefit from the less is more mentality.
But it's Simon Pegg's slightly damaged goods character, Buck the Weasel, who gives the film a much needed boost of sheer hilarity - his character is imbued with a sadness (he's been living underground amongst the dinosaurs for years) but he plays off more of a sort of Apocalypse Now insanity.
The kids will love Ice Age 3 - it's best to enjoy the film in 3D (and it's being released so) and on the big screen - unlike other recent 3D offerings, none of the scenes feel shoe horned in to demonstrate how cool the tech is - some may argue that if the animation's good enough, it shouldn't need 3D to boost it; but in this case, the 3D gives the animation a lush textured feel.

Ice Age 3 isn't on the broad spectrum of animated humourous outings like Toy Story - but it's 90 minutes of great family entertainment which will keep the little darlings quiet while the winter rain continues to pelt down.

The Hannah Montana Movie: Movie Review

The Hannah Montana Movie: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray Cyrus, Emily Osment, Lucas Till, Vanessa Williams
Director: Peter Chelsom

Finally, the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus phenomenon has hit New Zealand.
Dragging my unsuspecting (male) workmate along to the premiere, we walked into the cinema foyer only to be met by a girls dance troop, two boys strumming guitars on hay bales, and a group of 6-9 year old girls screaming "WE LOVE HANNAH MONTANA" into the lens of a video camera for an enthusiastic film crew.
Quite.
For those of you a beat behind the latest tween sensation here are the cliff notes.
Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) is a regular teen who just happens to have a secret identity - Hannah Montana, the most famous pop star on earth. Miley keeps her alter ego a secret by donning an impenetrable disguise when performing - a blonde wig and a pair of hoops.
In Hannah Montana: The Movie, Miley/Hannah has difficulty handling her fame and begins to act like a diva, forgetting her family values and southern roots. In order to stop her transformation into an LA princess, her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) takes her home to Crowley Corners, a small town in Tennessee, where she gets a dose of reality and begins to reconnect with what's really important in life.
The film is a good one for its genre. While it's no High School Musical, it definitely has more get up and go than Camp Rock, which will be a relief for those of you who've already sat through Camp Rock.
The storyline is predictable (how will the town raise enough money to stop the evil developers? If only there was a wildly successful pop star who could throw a benefit concert to raise funds...) and has several loose threads at the end, but to be honest the kids didn't seem to notice, so who am I to point them out?
Adding to the star power are Tyra Banks and Vanessa Williams, who both cameo in the movie- Banks pulls out her fierce facials for a fight scene while Williams struts her stuff as a pushy publicist.
However, the cameo that got all the kids whispering was by up-and-coming country superstar Taylor Swift - a good friend of Cyrus' who recently sang with her at the 2009 Country Music Awards.
The kids in the audience definitely loved the movie - there was dancing in the aisles, and a lot of concert arm waving. My workmate got his phone out and waved it in the air at one point, but I think he was joking.
All in all it's a bundle of catchy tunes and slapstick humour with the requisite Disney morals pushed home. On the plus side, your kids will love it. On the minus side, Hannah Montana gets compared to the Beatles.

But what's a little blasphemy amongst friends?