Monday, 30 November 2009

Extras: The Complete Collection: DVD Review

Extras: The Complete Collection: DVD Review

Extras: The Complete Collection
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Shaun Williamson, Ashley Jensen
Released by BBC and Roadshow Entertainment
Collecting together all 12 of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's comedy and bundling it up with the TV movie which rounded off the series is a genius idea.
Granted it's nothing which hasn't already been released but it's a great collection which sucks you in.
Gervais is Andy Millman, a TV extra who longs to make it - his friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen) is also a struggling actress - and combined with his useless agent Darren (the gangly awkward Stephen Merchant), Andy tries whatever he can to get a bigger part onscreen.
Ultimately though, it leads to Millman being humiliated - however, in series 2, Millman gets the break he's wanted and lands a BBC sitcom. Yet that momentous victory is soured by the fact he's making TV for the masses with catch phrases and parts of his soul being torn from him.
And then in the special, Andy nearly loses everything when he heads for the top.
The joy of Extras comes in the writing and awkwardness which in some ways was pioneered in The Office. Gervais isn't afraid to make himself the butt of the jokes all the way through - and Merchant trades on his towering frame and stupidity for his agent Darren. Coupled with the Hollywood cameos throughout the series, this is compelling viewing.
However, it's the Special TV movie at the end which makes this set what it is - and showcases exactly why the poignancy and heartache - along with Ashley Jensen's terrific performance - work best in this series. As Andy forgets everyone around him on his way up, his friend heads for rock bottom and near depression - Ashley Jensen's performance will leave even the most hard hearted in tears.
Gervais has had the good sense to end Extras after two series - let's hope it stays that way because he's fashioned the perfect sitcom which deals with Hollywood; there's despair, desperation, laughs and tragedy in spades.
Brilliant viewing for fans of Gervais' "awkward moments" style of comedy comedy where the joke's on him - and there's heartbreak aplenty.
Extras: Behind the scenes docos, the difficult second album looks at how they wrote the show after The Office, commentaries, deleted scenes and Outtakes add to the package - but their inclusion only enhance the experience as all have been available on separate discs before.

Rating: 8/10

Dr Who: Remembrance of the Daleks: DVD Review

Dr Who: Remembrance of the Daleks: DVD Review

Dr Who: Remembrance of the Daleks: Special Edition
Cast: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Terry Molloy, The Daleks
Released by BBC And Roadshow Entertainment
This tale from the popular sci fi series' 25th anniversary in 1988 sees Sylvester McCoy's Doctor back on some familiar ground from the show's history and facing his old nemeses.
This 2 disc set had previously been available as part of the mega Davros DVD set but has now been given a separate release outside of that set so fans won't have to pay out for stories they already had just to get this special edition.
Basically the Doctor finds himself back in sixties London along with his companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) - and they're not alone. Because looking for a piece of ancient Time Lord tech are the Daleks - and if the Doctor can't stop them, everything could fall apart.
Taken from the less than popular series of the show, it's clear this was Who at its wobbly best - the Daleks are a bit shonky and you can actually see them wobble as they traverse roads to get to their evil ends.
That said, there's an old school charm to this - both McCoy and Aldred are great and give their all to a script which creaks with references to the show's past (a first for the writers and aimed at cocking a wink to the old school fans in the show's 25th year) but you can't escape from the fact this serial's not one of the best.
However, the same can't be said for the extras on this two disc set - commentary from the show's main stars, a doco about the making of this serial; a discussion of the references made to the show's history in Remembrance of the Daleks; extended and deleted scenes are just part of the additional moments.
But the piece de resistance is a documentary exploring the history of Davros, the Daleks' creator - an entire disc is devoted to this doco Davros Connection, 43 minutes about one of the show's most enduring villains and the actors who've played him through the years.
It's a great end to a relatively inauspicious story - Remembrance of the Daleks is not the show's finest moment - however, that said, the deep dark vein of mystery running though it shows the series was never too frightened to confound expectations for its characters.
Extras: Audio Commentary - with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, Remembrances - Cast and crew talk about the influences and references to other Doctor Who adventures that are spread throughout the story. Back to School - Cast and crew talk about the making of the story accompanied by rare behind-the-scenes material. Extended and deleted scenes, Multi Angle Scenes, Davros Connections, Trailers, Photo Gallery, Production Notes and Radio Times listings.

Rating: 6/10

Father Ted: Definitive Collection: DVD Review

Father Ted: Definitive Collection: DVD Review

Father Ted: The Definitive Collection
Cast: Dermot Morgan, Ardal O'Hanlon, Frank Kelly, Pauline McLynn
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
Ah Father Ted.
The comic insanity of a trio of priests trapped on Craggy Island along with their deranged housekeeper Mrs Doyle.
You'd think the comic potential would be severely limited on a show like this - but as many Ted fans can attest these days, this show's as beloved now as it was on its original transmission back in 1995 (seriously - nearly 15 years ago???)
And yet with this Definitive Collection, while it's packed with all three series of the shows and a bundle of new shiny extras (such as commentaries and video recollections of the annual Tedfest celebration out in Inis Mor, off County Galway), it can only go to show how missed Dermot Morgan (aka Ted) is.
Cruelly snatched by a heart attack at a party celebrating the final episode of the third series, his loss is felt by his absence on this latest collection - it'd have been grand to see what he would have made of all the accolades years on.
There's a lot to enjoy here - and most of it comes from the insanity on show courtesy of writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews; everyone has their favourite Father Ted moment - from the milk float trapped Dougal in Speed 3, to Father Jack's Feck, Ar*e, Girls cry, there's plenty to enjoy in this 5 disc set.
It's also a great collection to reflect on the careers of those comedians who made their names with Ted - from Graham Norton to Ardal O'Hanlon, it proved to be a real fertile ground for the talent involved.
Ultimately though this set is about the Father Ted and Father Dougal partnership - from the madness of their Eurovision song contest entry about a horse, to Ted trying to explain that the toy cows are small while the ones outside their caravan during a break "are far away", it's a sweet humorous relationship which will have you in tears of laughter no matter what mood you're in.
Extras: Interviews with the writers and creators; Comic Relief footage with Ted and Dougal; Ted Fest 2007 and commentaries on all 3 series, this really is the best of the bunch for the show.

Rating: 8/10 

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

What Just Happened: Movie Review

What Just Happened: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Robert de Niro, John Turturro, Bruce Willis, Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart
Director: Barry Levinson
Robert De Niro stars as Ben, a fading Hollywood producer whose star is clearly in the descent.
As the film opens, Ben's just witnessed his latest film, Fiercely starring Sean Penn, being savaged at a test screening - and he knows this could signal the end of his time at the top.
As if that wasn't bad enough he's having trouble with his ex Kelly (Robin Wright Penn) and to give him a trio of troubles, his attempts to get Bruce Willis to shave off his bushy beard so their latest project isn't canned are not going well.
So as Ben tries to negotiate all of these hurdles, it's clear something's going to have to give - can he claw his way back to the top before he's consigned to the showbiz dustbin?
What Just Happened isn't a bad film; it's just not as savage as it could be - while Penn and Willis play themselves, De Niro seems to play another more chilled out version of himself as he tries to juggle all the respective balls.
Given how successful The Player was at doing this kind of satire years ago(and it's inevitable these two will be compared) I have to admit I was expecting a little more caustic wit and biting satire about the industry.
This is not that kind of film and at times plays more like a screwball comedy - I get De Niro's character has aggro from two ex wives, Hollywood studio producers and cantankerous actors but I very rarely felt for him or rooted for him to overcome the odds.

De Niro does a fair job as Ben and there's a reasonable attempt to show Bruce in a bad light, but unfortunately What Just Happened is a bit of a disappointment.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon - Movie Review

The Twilight Saga: New Moon - Movie Review

Rating: Twihards - 9/10; non Twihards - 6/10
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning
Director: Chris Weitz
Well, it's finally here.
With the weight of expectation (to put it mildly), the second of the Twilight franchise has been unleashed on the world.
And it comes after what seems like months of speculation over RPatz, Kristen, the Wolf Pack, and rabid fan love.
So with director Catherine Hardwicke off Stephenie Meyer's sequel, there was a lot for Chris Weitz (American Pie, The Golden Compass) to deliver.
Given the arguments over whether you're Team Jacob or Team Edward, there was a lot resting on this- especially given the tangible absence of Edward in the book, New Moon.
So did it?
The Twilight Saga: New Moon opens with a shot of a full moon and ends with Bella taking a breath - and, in between for the fans of the saga, there's everything they could want. But for those who are probably not 100% bona fide Team Edward/ Team Jacob, there could be a lot of eye rolling and wondering what on earth the continuing obsession is about.
The story takes up where Twilight left off - with Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (R Patz) deeply in love and on the eve of Bella's 18th birthday. Despite her protestations, the Cullens throw Bella a birthday party - but a paper cut sees Bella shed some blood, which sees Edward's brother Jasper try to take her life.
As Edward ends up hurting Bella while trying to protect her, he decides it's safer for him to be out of her life - for good.
Destroyed by the rejection of her first love, Bella falls apart - enter Jacob (Taylor Lautner) who plugs the hole in her heart (despite hiding a secret about himself) with companionship and sworn oaths of fidelity.
But Bella finds he's not enough and when she discovers that thrill seeking and becoming an adrenaline junkie allows Edward to appear to her, Bella chooses to live life on the edge to be with her one true love.
Danger for Bella is just around the corner though - with vampire Victoria out for revenge after the death of her mate (whom the Cullens despatched in the first Twilight) and hot on Bella's trail. A series of miscommunications leads Edward to believe Bella's dead and forces him to sacrifice himself at the hands of the vampire clan, The Volturi (a la Romeo and Juliet.)
Can Bella save Edward in time? And more importantly, will she sacrifice her burgeoning relationship with Jacob for the star crossed love of her life?
Some films are review proof - and the latest in the Twilight franchise is one of those. Regardless of how we critics see it, New Moon will be a box office phenomenon.
Sure, I could spend time telling you how there's a gratuitous excess of abs on slow-mo show here (both with Jacob and Edward) - but that's what the fans want to see (certainly judging by the lusty cat calls and wolf whistles at the NZ premiere); I could reveal there's some horrendously corny teen love lines - such as Edward's "You gave me everything just by breathing" to Bella, but the audience's swoons suggest to me that that's just pandering to the fans - and I could tell you that parts of the film play like music videos as the soundtrack swells over aching teens caught up in their relationship and during the Wolf Pack chasing Victoria the vampire - but again, that's what the diehard fans of the franchise want.
Whereas Twilight introduced the franchise and set the characters up, you'd expect a sequel to ramp up the action and the stakes. However, New Moon is a slight side step on that franchise path as it's about setting up the Jacob/Edward/Wolf pack/Vampire issues which will play out through the rest of the novels/films. So, while there is a bit more action than the original film, there's still a lot of foreboding, plotting and signposting to be done.
And that's perhaps where director Chris Weitz fumbles the Twilight ball a little (in the eyes of a non-obsessive Twihard) - there are scenes of aching moments of love and loss, balanced by a sweeping tinkling piano score - which to the casual viewer seem cliched and unoriginal; some of the newcomers in the Wolf Pack are not the strongest actors - but given their buffness and penchant for wandering around shirtless, you would imagine they're no more than eye candy.
To be honest, the biggest disappointment is the Volturi - early on they're alluded to as Vampire aristocracy who rule with power and fear and yet it's only Dakota Fanning's Jane who comes off as powerful and menacing; Michael Sheen's Aro verges on hammy creepiness - his early menace is soon lost by a lot of clasping hands and wide red eyes.
Yet, there's also much to admire in New Moon - the final fight scenes are a cool, blurry mix of Matrix style bullet time action and sweeping camera work.
But it's Kristen Stewart's stand out performance as Bella which impresses the most. Once again, she commands a powerhouse performance as she falls apart after Edward's abandonment. It's this pivotal acting which gives Bella an edge, a vulnerability and a rawness which shows why she's such a talent; the Wolf transformations and appearances on screen are pretty damn good (though some may feel they're not how they should be when compared to their background in Stephenie Meyer's books); and Team Jacob certainly receives a boost from Taylor Lautner's much improved performance this time around - although given the slightly controlling edge to his character, I somehow doubt there will be many defectors from Team Edward.
New Moon is by no stretch of the imagination a disaster - as an example of its genre, it's perfectly pitched to its audience and its core fan base.
I just suspect the non-fans (yes, there are some out there) may be somewhat bemused as to what all the fuss is about.

However, to the Twihards I say "go, love it and cherish it and get ready for Eclipse, which is heading to cinemas in 2010". The countdown begins now.

Friday, 13 November 2009

2012: Movie Review

2012: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Woody Harrelson, Oliver Platt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Well, we're pretty much screwed.
That's if you believe the Mayans and the latest release 2012.
According to the ancient prophecies, when the planets perfectly align on 21st December 2012, the world will end.
In 2009, (crikey that's now) scientist Adrian Helmsley (a pious Chiwetel Ejiofor) discovers the earth's crust is heating up thanks to recent solar flare activity and the end of the world is nearing.
So when he goes to the President of the US of A (Danny Glover) to relay the information, plans begin for the end of the world. However, what the plans don't necessarily allow for is the full scale survival of the human race.
Throw into this mix, John Cusack's Jackson Curtis, estranged from his wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and 2 kids (yes the uber-moppets, along with a step-father are here and ready for the apocalypse) who's always suspected the final days are on their way.
On a camping trip with his kids in Yellowstone, Jackson finds crazy old Charlie Frost (a wild performance from Woody Harrelson) knows about the conspiracy behind the end of days - and more importantly, how to get through it.
So, when the earthquakes increase in intensity, the nuclear family does what it has to to survive as Jackson does his best to save the day.
But when nature's worst is unleashed, the human race may not make it....
What can you say about 2012, the latest disaster film from the man who blew up the White House when the aliens attacked in Independence Day?
Check your brains at the door and you'll pretty much enjoy it - there are all the pre-requisites of any disaster films; terribly cliched one liners, check; major landmarks being destroyed, check; family under peril - from both nature and the new love, check; evil Government conspiracies and nasty Russians who get last minute redemption, check; massive explosions, check; lots of improbable escapes; check; bloated running time, check- they're all here for you to enjoy over some 150 minutes.
And yet, during some moments in 2012, there are some deeper moments which elevate it from the usual disaster, USA promoting pap. There's an apparent dark conspiracy (though the Princess Diana reference is appallingly misjudged) which runs through and there are moral questions about whether those in power have the right to make all the decisions to prolong the species rather than save all; unfortunately though, those are slightly over-milked by the repetitive sanctimonious speeches made by Eijofor's character. There are moments which will irritate some - the saccharine goodbyes that some family members get to make on phones, the depiction of the Queen with her corgis....
John Cusack emerges with his credibility in tact at the end of this - it's all fairly predictable stuff; but once again with his continuing charisma and old school cool, he makes it through - even though everything's falling apart around him.
If you fancy seeing a film with the world going to hell in a handcart, then 2012 is the perfect getaway - the effects are par for the course and not too bad in places.

However, I do have one plea - I know it's a symbol for Americans, but can Roland Emmerich please just deal with his issues over the White House and stop blowing it up now?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Away We Go: Movie Review

Away We Go: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Melanie Lynskey, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Director: Sam Mendes
You would think that a film that's essentially a pregnancy road trip wouldn't be a winner.
However, this latest from Sam Mendes has everything a decent small film needs in spades.
John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph star as Burt and Verona, a pair of thirty somethings who are still trying to find their place in the world.
One night, in possibly the most original way ever, the pair discover Verona is pregnant - and armed with that news, they head to tell Burt's parents the joyous news. (Verona's parents died when she was in her twenties)
But when they tell the grandparents-to-be, Burt's ma and pa (Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels) announce they're leaving the country.
This sets off the feeling that Burt and Verona need to find a home to settle down in as they were only living where they were because of his parents.
So armed with a growing belly, the duo head to various friends scattered across America to see if they can find somewhere new to live before the baby is born.
Away We Go is warm, wry, witty, whimsical and very unexpectedly funny thanks to some humour and deadpan moments from star John Krasinski (from the US version of The Office).
But the second the humour smacks you across the face, director Sam Mendes spins the world on its head and leaves you close to tears - and it's Taranaki's Melanie Lynskey who as a college friend of the duo is responsible for the melancholy.
That said, Mendes and the script don't wallow in it - it's the low-key warmth and the stunning performances by the leads which bring you back down to earth with a jolt.
Some may feel the characters are quirky, and granted they are, but it's never done in an irritating way as Kransinski and Rudolph anchor it firmly in the charming camp.

Away We Go will leave you beaming from ear to ear and is an unexpected joy as the year comes to a close.

The Vintner's Luck: Movie Review

The Vintner's Luck: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Gaspard Ulliel, Jeremie Renier, Vera Farmiga
Director: Niki Caro
From the much loved book by Elizabeth Knox, and with the reteaming of Niki Caro and Keisha Castle-Hughes, there's a lot of attention and a lot riding on The Vintner's Luck.
It's the tale of Sobran Jodeau (Jeremie Renier) and is set in 19th Century France.
Sobran is a peasant wine maker who has the ambition and desire to produce his own vintage but faces difficulties from not only the land, but also the problems of his place in society.
One day, he's confronted by an angel Xas (Gaspard Ulliel) who tells him that he will give him the help he needs to produce an exquisite vintage and make his name in the world.
Sobran accepts the offer - but is unprepared for what the future has in store for him, his family and those around him.
The Vintner's Luck is a sweeping sumptuous tale of lust, ambition, desire, wine and majestic countryside - but it's also an ode to the earth around us. Director Niki Caro peppers the film throughout with shots of the nature all around - as workers cull the grapes from the vine, we're shown shots of bugs, creepy crawlies and worms permeating the earth. It's a nice touch of respect to the world around us.
There's a very pagan feel to this celebration of the land - and it manages to convey the majesty of nature's bounty.
However, when it comes to the human talent in the story itself, it's a slightly different story.
Jeremie Renier puts in a fair performance as Jodeau - he conveys the right amount of petulance and ambition for someone who wants to better their position but I never really warmed to him through the film's duration - even when he's put through the emotional wringer, it's hard to sympathise for him.
Keisha Castle-Hughes is all scowls and lust - and puts in a wonderfully understated performance; however, you can't help but feel that she's underused in this. It would have been great to see more of her onscreen as she's such a presence.

The Angel Xas infuriates after a while as he dispenses bon mots such as life is pleasure and pain and you have to have both. And as for the scene which is supposed to see Xas and Sobran in love, it ends up feeling more of a weird wrestling fight than an intimate moment.

Overall, The Vintner's Luck is beautifully sumptuous in some parts and soars in places - however, I'm afraid to say it's slightly flawed in others. While it's not as bad as the savaging reviews from Toronto would suggest, you may leave feeling ever so slightly cheated and a little let down.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Eden Lake: DVD Review

Eden Lake: DVD Review

Eden Lake
Released by Madman Entertainment
Cast:
Michael Fassbender, Kelly Reilly, Jack O'Connell, Thomas Turgoose
Rating: 18
If you go down to the woods today, you're in for one hell of a ride.
And a visceral shock.
Eden Lake is the tale of a London based couple, Jenny and Steve (Fassbender and Reilly) who head to the idyllic countryside for a weekend away.
The couple is happy and Steve's got a proposal in mind.
As they head to the Lake to begin their break, they find the area's being slowly turned into a building site - however, amid Steve's protestations, they end up staying after finding a beautiful flooded quarry, complete with beach.
Only they're not the only ones on the beach - and a gang of hoodies (nothing like the Reservoir Hill lot) set up camp nearby, complete with growling dog and thumping music.
Steve politely goes over and asks them to turn it down - and that's when the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan. One confrontation later - and the pair are set on a path which will see their lives ripped apart.
Eden Lake is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a comfortable film to watch - even the back says you don't watch it, you survive it. And that's none too far from the truth.
Over 85 minutes, a sadistic game of survival turns murderous and violent - with a conclusion which may leave you wanting a very stiff drink.
The problem with UK horror Eden Lake, is that at its very worst, it's all very plausible - the gang mentality's prevalent worldwide - and this latest incarnation doesn't seem like too much of a leap from the UK I remember.
All of the main cast acquit themselves well, with the strongest - and most horrifying - performance coming from leader of the yobs Jack O'Connell. If he's channeling something within him, then we should worry because his violent gang leader is psychotic and frightening in the extreme.
Sure, there are a few of the horror clichés (idyllic countryside, a blissfully happy couple) but what's most unnerving about Eden Lake is how close it is to reality.
The ending's not as shocking as the filmmakers would have you believe, but quite honestly, by the time I'd sat through this, I was pretty numb and was really in no state to take another shock.
Eden Lake is not a film to recommend; it's a film which has to be seen because of its powerhouse performances - just be aware, you may find yourself appalled in many places and glad you get to turn the lights on and the film off at the end. As an experience, it's a powerfully unsettling and challenging one.
Extras: Behind the scenes, cast and crew interviews, trailers, galleries.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Defiance: DVD Review

Defiance: DVD Review

Defiance
Cast: Daniel Craig, Live Schreiber, Jamie Bell
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
Rating: M

Daniel Craig swaps Bond's tux for the grizzly outdoors look in Defiance.
He's one of the Bielski trio of brothers who live in 1941 Belorussia and find their lives changed forever, once the Germans invade during World War II.
After seeing his family killed Tuvia (the steely eyed Craig) grabs the rest of them and heads to the woods to see if they can survive - one narrow escape later and suddenly this band of brothers is attracting other stragglers to come and live with them - whether they want it or not.
As the community grows, factions grow between the brothers as they try and keep their freedom. Schreiber's Zus wants to fight the Germans and repel the invaders; Tuvia wants to hold the community together.
But as the Nazis get ever closer, the brothers' find their loyalties to each other, the community and their country are tested beyond belief - can they remain free?
Director Ed Zwick (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond) does a good job of holding them all together - but after the initial attacks, the pace of the film slows a little and it begins ever so slightly to drag.
Schreiber, Bell and Craig are all good in this tale of family, honour and vengeance but it's Zwick who fails to accurately nail the pace - and despite some of the ideas on show here about how far you go for your beliefs (Craig's Tuvia finds he can't take a soft approach and be an effective leader), it's only thanks to the performances that the film's saved.
Extras: None;

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 6 November 2009

Observe and Report: DVD Review

Observe and Report: DVD Review

Observe and Report
Cast: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta
Director: Jody Hill
Released by Warner Bros Video
Rating:
Restricted 16
Seth Rogen stars as Ronnie Barnhardt, a bi-polar head of mall security in this odd mix of comedy and downbeat humour written and directed by Jody Hill.
Bargain hunters at the Forest Ridge Mall are being terrorized by a flasher - Ronnie sets out to catch the pervy perp; figuring after a visit from Ray Liotta's Detective Harrison that this collar could lead to a career in the police force.
And the flasher makes things personal when he exposes himself at the object of his desire, Brandi, the make up counter girl (Anna Faris).
But Ronnie soon learns that the way to the top cop is never an easy one.
Observe and Report is not your average comedy - and it's not all comedy. It's a curious mix of downbeat melancholy, peppered with generous amounts of swearing and a general lack of overtly funny material.
Throw in a controversial sex scene involving Faris and Rogen and it's an uneasy beast which spans 83 minutes.
Rogen is his usual self but is tinged with an odd streak of human loser in this one - there's not too many hilarious lines or endlessly quotable moments throughout. Whether I was missing the point a little, I'm not entirely sure. Had some of the "laughs" been removed from the script and you'd have probably been left with an interesting look at the mentality of mall security and how, in this case, they're a bunch of underachieving oddballs.
The appearance of Liotta's Harrison sparks jealously in Ronnie and also gives him that push to try and leave this life behind. Sadly though what it doesn't do is push the film into sparkier territory; despite the truncated running time, it feels long in places.
Observe and Report serves as a tangential curio in Rogen's career - whether it'll be one he wants to forget further down the line, is anyone's guess.
Extras: Gag Reel - seriously, when did people laughing and corpsing as well as messing up constitute a decent extra? Disappointing - but given the source material, there was little else to pull together.

Rating: 5/10

Blindness: DVD Review

Blindness: DVD Review

Blindness
Cast: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal
Rating: 18
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
From director Fernando Meirelles, who did The Constant Gardner, Blindness is a thriller with an intriguing premise and some genuinely unsettling moments.
As the film opens at a busy intersection, a man stops dead in his car, claiming he can no longer see. Helped by those around him, the man ends up still without sight (he says he feels like he's swimming in milk with his eyes open) and in an A&E asking for help.
But within 24 hours of contact with this mysterious Patient Zero, all those who helped are struck blind - and suddenly without warning, an epidemic begins to sweep the world.
The initial carriers are placed in an isolation ward - the doctor who treated him (Ruffalo) is bundled off to an isolated hospital. However, the doc's wife (Julianne Moore) isn't affected and to make sure she's not separated from her loved one, she feigns blindness to be with him.
However, as the White Sickness (as it's monikered) spreads, more and more people find themselves in the hospital. As the numbers swell, a society begins to grow - and the situation brings out the worst in some...will the world come through the epidemic?
Blindness is a strange experience; initially compelling and a fascinating portrayal of what happens when society goes to hell in a hand cart, it becomes nasty and unsettling when the psychos on the ward come out.
Moore does well as the wife - her vision isolates her from those around her and also give her the insight into the horrors around; and while the ensemble cast are perfectly fine (though Danny Glover's wasted in his brief appearance), it's quite hard to offer up your sympathies to the afflicted as very few of them are likeable characters.
Given the subject matter, it's also quite cold emotionally to engage with the story - and you find your feelings are ones of repulsion and shock as the situation unfolds. But then, that's probably what Meirelles wanted you to feel. There's also a degree of frustration as there are no clear answers or solutions offered - however, as a study of a crumbling society, Blindness is a shocking, gut wrenching watch - it's just not a comfortable one.
Extras include a doco about the making of the film and deleted scenes.

Rating: 6/10

A Christmas Carol: Movie Review

A Christmas Carol: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn, Bob Hoskins.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Before I start I need to get two things out of the way. First this new adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is NOT a comedy, despite Jim Carrey's name above the title. And secondly this is NOT for young children; parents should note that the movie has some dark and scary moments.
Director Robert Zemeckis (The Polar Express and Beowulf) returns with more motion-capture animation, and while the film is stunning to look at, it is missing the key ingredient in Dickens' work - heart.
The tale is faithfully told - Carrey plays Ebenezer Scrooge, a money man who "bah humbugs" his way through Christmas. Gary Oldman plays his faithful, and put upon assistant Bob Cratchit while Colin Firth pops up as Scrooge's nephew. All the cast are made to look like "Dickensian" versions of themselves, with Carrey in particular given lean, menacing features.
But while Carrey is famed for his manic physical comedy, that is on limited display in A Christmas Carol. It seems strange to have a man used to extorting his body on screen to be hampered by animation.
The ghostly appearance of his old business partner Marley (Oldman's voice again) sets the dark tone for the movie - his pounding at the door and the sound, and sight, of his shackles are brilliantly realised.
He warns Scrooge of the error of his ways and that he will be visited by three ghosts of Christmas. And so Scrooge goes on his journey of self discovery to realise that life is worth living.
The story is so well known that at times you end up asking why, despite all of the stunning graphics and 3D elements, yet another version was needed.
One major irritation is the accents given to the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present (both Carrey).
Our Christmas Past ghost is represented by a candle with an otherworldly Irish lilt straight out of the pages of "Hollywood Orish accents circa 1955" but that's not a patch on the bizarre English-Scottish brogue given to Christmas Present.
The typical jolly interpretation is handed an accent which laughable moves from Scotland to Liverpool to Newcastle to Wales - all in the space of one sentence, it truly is terrible and distracting.
Thankfully things pick up for the very scary Ghost of Christmas Future (mercifully no speaking for him), which is likely to frighten more than its share of adults as well as kids.
The ending won't surprise anyone who knows the novel or the countless other movie adaptations of Dickens' tale and perhaps the problem with Zemeckis' version is that it does suffer in comparison. Despite it being a visual treat it doesn't seem to offer anything new.

Films such as Scrooged and, dare I say it, The Muppets Christmas Carol, had more heart and emotion.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

My Sister's Keeper: Movie Review

My Sister's Keeper: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Sofia Vassilieva, Jason Patric, Alec Baldwin, Thomas Dekker
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Take the tissues.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Jodi Picoult, this is the tale of Kate and her dysfunctional family, the Fitzgeralds.
They're as dysfunctional as any normal family - except for two differences: Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) has leukaemia and her sister Anna (Breslin) has been created for the sole purpose of donating organs/ blood/ cells to help get her through the treatment.
Only there are two problems with this - one, Kate's getting sicker and two, her sister Anna's gone to a lawyer to seek medical emancipation so she can live her life and not always endure painful operations for Kate.
With that in mind, the scene is set for a showdown, heartbreak and plenty of tears - as well as a sprinkling of flashbacks to life before the illness.
My Sister's Keeper is what you'd expect - it's emotionally manipulative in parts (right down to the slow motion backed with piano music and power ballads) and will be guaranteed to move even the most hard hearted of cinemagoers to succumb to tears.
However, while there is severe over milking of the emotional issues at stake - a family torn apart trying to do the right thing, a dying young girl wanting her family to heal and a couple of moments - and dialogue - designed purely to pull at the heartstrings, what will surprise you is the unshowy performances of the ensemble cast.
Sofia Vassilieva doesn't make Kate mawkish and sad sack - she brings a quiet dignity to the dying girl who has realized her time is up; likewise Abigail Breslin does well as the sister grown purely to help her sister and failing to do so; Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric play admirable roles in making the suffering parents whose lives have been dragged through the wringer a reality; and Thomas Dekker's fellow sufferer shows a depth of subtlety hinted at during TV2's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

My Sister's Keeper won't win any prizes for originality and there are a few cloying plot holes (how can a mother who's a lawyer be involved in the case of her daughter without it being a conflict of interest is just one), and perhaps the sentimentality has been heaped on a little too much. But what it does do is show the importance of family at times of crisis and how devastating a disease cancer continues to be during and after life.

If you're in the mood for having your heart strings pulled and want an emotional release which will see you crying buckets, then My Sister's Keeper strays on just the right side of sentimental mawkishness - thanks to the performances of its cast, you'll be heading out into the foyer sniffing and holding on tightly to the one you love.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: Movie Review

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Verne Troyer, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law, Andrew Garfield
Director: Terry Gilliam
Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room - yes, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is the last film with Heath Ledger in following his untimely death.
But it's important to note, he's only part of an ensemble cast - and isn't the real star of the film; granted there'll be a lot of attention on it because of that, but that's not the main reason to see this.
Anyway, I've got a bit ahead of myself there - plot wise, it's the fantasy tale of Dr Parnassus (a wonderfully world weary Christopher Plummer) who travels the land with his carnival troupe (including Verne Troyer of Austin Powers fame) and his daughter Valentina (a porcelain doll like Lily Cole).
Granted immortality, Parnassus is locked in an ongoing battle with Tom Waits' Devil - and the Devil has arrived to collect his due. You see, years ago, Parnassus wagered his first born and now to stop the Devil taking what's his, he bets he can win over five souls.
Into this mélange of madness in modern day London, arrives Heath Ledger's shyster Tony. Mysteriously left for dead, he's taken in by the troupe - and could be the tipping point in Parnassus' quest to finally beat the Devil.
Yes, it's sprawling and a bit unfocussed at times, but The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is perhaps one of the most visually original pieces of cinema you'll ever see - there are flashes of pure genius from director Terry Gilliam as he weaves his surreal web.
Within minutes of the film's slightly sinister opening, we're thrown directly into the wondrous world of The Imaginarium and see what wonders it offers those who peer in. I don't really want to spoil the visual surprises on offer moments into the film - but suffice it to say, I'm pretty sure you'll have never seen anything this audacious or original up on the big screen before - both in terms of landscapes and scale - it's simply awe inducing.
If there's a star to this film, then it's director Terry Gilliam - while Ledger shows why he was always a cinematic presence, his dodgy dealer Tony, with his Jack Sparrowesque stylings, is not as outstanding a performance as his portrayal of Joker in The Dark Knight (although it was never meant to be). The rest of the cast are pretty damn good too - from Waits' seedy Devil to Plummer's put upon Parnassus, to Lily Cole's debut performance; each rise to the challenge laid down by their director.
Gilliam has had the wonderful visionary flair to create something magical among the mundane; his flights of fancy transform the film and turn it into something fantastical and new.
It was, after all, his vision which allowed him to give the film a life after Heath Ledger's death; it was his idea which gave Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law the chance to be part of it - and he manages their arrival into proceedings flawlessly and so perfectly, you have to double take how you've been given the visual equivalent of sleight of hand.
It's not a perfect film - and its rambling ways and narrative sometimes threaten to derail it; but for flights of fancy and unique spectacle, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is astonishing on so many levels. The journey is fantastic and so moving that by the end, you'll fight hard to keep a tear back.

If this is Ledger's legacy, then he can be grateful Terry Gilliam helmed his final outing - because what they've produced is simply unique. Easily one of the best films of the year - if only for the sheer audaciousness of it all.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Blackadder: Ultimate Collection: DVD Review

Blackadder: Ultimate Collection: DVD Review

Blackadder: The Ultimate Edition - Remastered
Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Entertainment/ BBC
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tim McInnery, Miranda Richardson
Ah Black Adder, the bastion of comedy quotes since it first began back in 1983 and much loved still, despite being just shy of its thirtieth birthday.
It was the sitcom which saw Rowan Atkinson charm the public (before he goofed around as bumbling idiot Mr Bean) and watching this wonderfully remastered collection of all four series and three after show specials, it's easy to see why.
From the brilliant wordplay to the continuing lunacy - and indeed poignancy - the show's got an enduring urbane appeal and is guaranteed to make you laugh time and again.
Admittedly, the first series was not one of the best -but by the time, Richard Curtis had found his feet in the Elizabethan years, BlackAdder was guaranteed a place in Television history.
And this set should be guaranteed a place in a) TV on DVD history and b) on your shelves at home. Not only content with remastering each of the quartet of series, there's a whole host of interviews/ behind the scenes footage and documentaries for the most ardent of fan to delve into. And if you're not a fan, you'll pretty much be guaranteed to be one at the end of the set.
It's difficult to pick one stand alone moment from the set - from Tony Robinson's suffering buffoon Baldrick to Hugh Laurie's performances throughout, there's more than enough to ensure repeat viewing.
But it's hard to beat the closing moments of BlackAdder Goes Forth when it comes to poignancy - having suffered the idiocy of life in the trenches during World War I, the gang finally goes over the Top to certain death. There was not a dry eye in the house back in 1989 when it first screened - and 20 years on, it still puts a lump in your throat.
If the series are great, then it's a testament to why it never worked 100% afterwards - while the specials are good, they don't hold a candle upto the originals (and certainly the ill conceived BlackAdder Back and Forth shows that) but for a completist, this 6 disc set (which clocks in at over 16 hours) is the perfect way to wile away any spare time you may have.
Extras: Too numerous to list here - but commentaries and extended interviews from the cast and Richard Curtis, Costumes Revisited, an hour doco celebrating the show's 25th anniversary are just a few of the goodies on offer here.

Rating: 9/10

The Reader: DVD Review

The Reader: DVD Review

The Reader
Cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross
Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
From director Stephen Daldry, this is the film which finally saw Kate Winslet enter the pantheon of Oscar winners after five prior nominations.
She stars as Hanna Schmitz, who begins a torrid affair with a 15 year old boy Michael Berg (a stunning turn by David Kross). Years later, when the pair's paths cross again, he's enrolled in a law school and she's on trial for war crimes - not exactly the reunion either would have planned&
The Reader sees Daldry tread some tricky ground - it's difficult to feel anything too much for Schmitz's character because Winslet plays her as cold, unemotional and very matter of fact. Although he does make it an interesting look at how far some would go to protect a secret.
It starts off as a love affair type story and then switches to a court room drama which packs a bit of an emotional sucker punch around the 90 minute mark.
Ralph Fiennes is okay as the elder Michael Berg who ends up dealing with the emotional fall out of his relationship with Schmitz; but it's David Kross who carries most of the film with his performance - it's a compelling turn from a relative newcomer which anchors the film and provides an emotional heart to what is, by all accounts, a thespian's dream role.
The solid extras (the usual docos of behind the scenes and trailers) round off a reasonable package - and while The Reader may not be the easiest night's entertainment, it's certainly understandable to see why the Academy honoured this performance from Winslet.
Extras: Making The Reader; Kate Winslet on the art of ageing Hanna Schmitz; A New Voice- a look at the Reader's composer; Production Designer and a trailer flesh out the DVD

Rating: 7/10

Family Guy: Season Eight: DVD Review

Family Guy: Season Eight: DVD Review

Family Guy: Season Eight
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Seth Green, aka Peter, Lois, Stewie, Brian, Quagmire, Cleveland
Rating: 13 for violence, offensive language and sexual references
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
Cancelled and resurrected, it's no wonder animated hit Family Guy continues to push it as far as it can.
In this latest batch of 13 episodes (taken from the show's actual sixth and seventh season broadcasts), the gang go to the limits of taste, humour, depravity - and perhaps least surprisingly, language.
It's hard to sum up what on earth the creators of Family Guy have in mind when they create these episodes; sometimes, even I'm surprised at what they manage to conjure up on the screen - in amongst these latest eps are such bizarre moments as Stewie the megalomaniac child and pooch Brian end up in Poland on the day Germany invade; Brian loses his girlfriend to Cleveland, Peter manages to lose his family to James Wood thanks to identity theft&.seriously, at times, there appears to be no rhyme or reason to this show.
And yet, if you're not easily offended (and this latest uncut DVD does have some very strong language in places) Family Guy is still a really guilty pleasure as you find yourself laughing at something and then checking no-one saw you giggle.
While the humour is risky and borderline offensive, the antics are at times deeply amusing - and creator Seth MacFarlane continues to push it right to the edge.
Riddled throughout with homages to other films and pop culture, Family Guy works best when it parodies famous moments - Brian channeling Snoopy at a Hallowe'en party is very very funny - and doesn't veer too far into the overtly obscene.
The latest set will appeal to fans of the show and maybe appall some new fans - but with commentaries on every episodes with cast and crew, deleted scenes and animatic episodes to take you behind the scenes as well as featurettes, there's plenty of extras to get your teeth into.
But it's aimed at a certain audience - Baby Stewie continues to amuse as ever - and goodness alone knows why Lois puts up with the sometimes downright stupid antics of her husband (but then why does Marge always support Homer?) - and all in all, Family Guy continues to plough its own comedy route.
Family Guy will never be totally mainstream - and perhaps that's a good thing.
Extras: Commentaries on every episodes with cast and crew, deleted scenes and animatic episodes to take you behind the scenes as well as four featurettes

Rating 7/10

Family Guy Series Eight: DVD Review

Family Guy Series Eight: DVD Review

Family Guy: Season Eight
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Seth Green, aka Peter, Lois, Stewie, Brian, Quagmire, Cleveland
Rating: 13 for violence, offensive language and sexual references
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
Cancelled and resurrected, it's no wonder animated hit Family Guy continues to push it as far as it can.
In this latest batch of 13 episodes (taken from the show's actual sixth and seventh season broadcasts), the gang go to the limits of taste, humour, depravity - and perhaps least surprisingly, language.
It's hard to sum up what on earth the creators of Family Guy have in mind when they create these episodes; sometimes, even I'm surprised at what they manage to conjure up on the screen - in amongst these latest eps are such bizarre moments as Stewie the megalomaniac child and pooch Brian end up in Poland on the day Germany invade; Brian loses his girlfriend to Cleveland, Peter manages to lose his family to James Wood thanks to identity theft&.seriously, at times, there appears to be no rhyme or reason to this show.
And yet, if you're not easily offended (and this latest uncut DVD does have some very strong language in places) Family Guy is still a really guilty pleasure as you find yourself laughing at something and then checking no-one saw you giggle.
While the humour is risky and borderline offensive, the antics are at times deeply amusing - and creator Seth MacFarlane continues to push it right to the edge.
Riddled throughout with homages to other films and pop culture, Family Guy works best when it parodies famous moments - Brian channeling Snoopy at a Hallowe'en party is very very funny - and doesn't veer too far into the overtly obscene.
The latest set will appeal to fans of the show and maybe appall some new fans - but with commentaries on every episodes with cast and crew, deleted scenes and animatic episodes to take you behind the scenes as well as featurettes, there's plenty of extras to get your teeth into.
But it's aimed at a certain audience - Baby Stewie continues to amuse as ever - and goodness alone knows why Lois puts up with the sometimes downright stupid antics of her husband (but then why does Marge always support Homer?) - and all in all, Family Guy continues to plough its own comedy route.
Family Guy will never be totally mainstream - and perhaps that's a good thing.
Extras: Commentaries on every episodes with cast and crew, deleted scenes and animatic episodes to take you behind the scenes as well as four featurettes

Rating 7/10