Friday, 29 January 2010

I'm Not Harry Jenson: Movie Review

I'm Not Harry Jenson: Movie Review

I'm Not Harry Jenson
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Gareth Reeves,Marshall Napier, Renato Bartolomei, Ian Mune, Jinny Lee Story
Director: James Napier Robertson
A low budget noir thriller, I'm Not Harry Jenson tells the tale of best selling crime novelist Stanley Merse (Gareth Reeves).
Merse has hit a bout of writer's block as he tries to pull together his latest book about a killer, Harry Jenson. Despite the best attempts of a hooker and his agent and with the possibility of quitting his latest book, at the behest of his agent, Merse decides to take some time out to clear his mind.
He heads off on a hike in the bush with a gang of people he's never met before - but things turn nasty when one of his fellow trampers ( Shortland Street's Ben Mitchell) is found dead the next day - and Jenson's covered in blood.
Matters are made worse when another of the camping gang is found dead the following dead - and when flashbacks start showing Merse he was at the scene, he begins to question his sanity.
Has he crossed an unthinkable line and begun to live life as a murderer rather than just writing about it?
I'm Not Harry Jenson is a decent noir thriller for a first time director - shot entirely in Auckland's Waitakere Ranges, it uses the scenery brilliantly with sweeping aerial shots and looks stunning on the screen - which is quite an achievement given how tight the budget was for this film by director and writer James Napier Robertson.
There's a suitable edge of paranoia rumbling through - with scenes of close cut dialogue throughout - and it's convincingly carried off by Gareth Reeves (last seen as Ryan ; along with Renato Bartolomei - in TV2's thriller The Cult - don't forget you can watch the entire series here!) whose suitably edgy performance means even he's questioning whether he did it or not. And Reeves works well against Marissa (Jinny Lee Story) - their burgeoning friendship provides a little spark and grounds the drama with a sense of humanity.
However, I have to admit that I could see the end coming and the denouement would have worked a little better if perhaps one early scene had been cut from the final mix - unfortunately that detracted from the film overall.

That said I'm Not Harry Jenson clearly marks a talent out in the form of Robertson - he's got the best out of his cast and is bound for great things on the New Zealand film circuit.


Thursday, 28 January 2010

Invictus: Movie Review

Invictus: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
Director: Clint Eastwood
This is a film some Kiwis may find difficult to watch.
Morgan Freeman stars as Nelson Mandela in the early nineties - recently freed and swept to power, Mandela's in his first term of office, fighting to heal a hurt and racially divided South Africa.
Realising the country was still at odds and desperately needing a healing, Mandela latched on to the South African rugby team, the Springboks, as the key to bringing them back together - but it's not an easy job for Mandela as he wryly notes at a test match, half the black population are cheering for the opposition rather than their national team because of what they represent.
However, the Boks are somewhat of a national laughing joke and haven't won a game in a long time. But Mandela meets with captain Francois Pienaar (a stoic Matt Damon) and rallies him to try and bring the team back from the brink of disaster to national treasure.
So the Boks begin to try and win over hearts and minds as they head to training camps with the public and look to improve their game.
And of course, it all comes to a head with the now infamous 1995 Rugby World Cup with its final which broke Kiwi hearts...
Invictus would make a good double bill with Goodbye Bafana which was released last year - that film concentrated on Mandela's friendship with a guard on Robben Island ahead of his release - Invictus then deals immediately with Mandela's rise to power.
Damon and Freeman are both good in their roles - although it has to be said Morgan Freeman is ever so slightly off in his portrayal of Mandela; while he looks quite close to the iconic man, he just manages to miss the vocal intonations of the man. For a man whose power came from his speeches and rallying, that just slightly detracts from Freeman's portrayal (although I do admit, he was born to play Mandela).
It's a witty, wry script with some very dry one liners and a nice relationship between Mandela's eternally loyal ANC bodyguards and the incoming white Secret Service providing much of the film's humour.
The film's central premise and story is a fair one - but I have to admit to feeling director Clint Eastwood could have been a little more subtle in some of his imagery (scenes when the Boks take the RWC focus on the trophy as a black hand, then a white hand take the cup - yes, it's symbolic, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd be clubbed with the subtlety). There's also some heavy handed moments when Pienaar visits Mandela's Robben Island cell.
But there are moments which pull you in - the idea Mandela walks out of a meeting to find out how the game's going give that edge of characterization and subtlety that Eastwood does very well in all of his film. He also does the rugby scenes well - it's nothing original for sweeping aerial shots, slow mo sounds as the players meet in the scrum and the game unfolds. However, the fact you're right in the thick of the game,makes it thrilling watching for the non-rugby fan.
You can't be a NZ reviewer and not mention the final - while the talk of food poisoning and subsequent furore is glossed over, some AB fans may find the last 30 minutes of the 2hr 20 minute film a trifle hard to sit through as the loss comes into focus once again. Eastwood does a good job of recreating the final and the tension throughout the dying moments (and even the portrayal of the unstoppable Jonah Lomu is visually quite close to the man himself).

Overall, Invictus is a good film but I did leave kind of wishing Clint Eastwood had been a little less heavy handed during some aspects - because thanks to the performances of Damon and Freeman, this inspirational film could have soared a little higher than it actually does.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Dean Spanley: DVD Review

Dean Spanley: DVD Review

Dean Spanley
Released by Universal Home Entertainment
Rating: G

Cast: Peter O'Toole, Sam Neill, Jeremy Northam, Bryan Brown, Art Malik
Sometimes a film comes along which takes you completely by surprise.
A film which you try and explain to people the basic plot of and they look at you like you've lost the plot completely.
Dean Spanley is one of those films.
Based on the book by Lord Dunsany, this film from New Zealand director Toa Fraser (No 2) is based in London Edwardian times and centres around a cantankerous Fisk senior (played with impish irascibility by Peter O' Toole) and his relationship with his son Fisk Junior (Jeremy Northam)
Junior spends every Thursday with his father - out of a sense of family ritual rather than a desire to be with him; but each visit drives a wedge even further between the two.
One day Fisk junior suggests they attend a seminar on reincarnation from a Swami Nala Prash; however O'Toole's character dismisses the entire meeting as "poppycock"
Tucked away at the back of the audience, is Dean Spanley (played by Sam Neill) - his attendance piques Fisk Junior's curiosity and he decides to invite the Dean to dinner to further explore his beliefs.
But the Dean has to be tempted to attend with the promise of the provision of a bottle of a Hungarian wine known as Tokay - a wine only given out by Royal Assent.
The problem is that this Tokay, when imbibed by the Dean, sends him back to a former life - as a dog.
Astounded by what he's seen, Fisk Junior soon finds himself on a quest to secure more Tokay so that he can explore even deeper the reality of the Dean's former life.
Dean Spanley is one of those films which will be given the label of quirky - but to do so, is to simply dismiss its warmth and story.
Northam and Bryan Brown are good in their roles and O'Toole gives a sterling performance as usual - his eyes sparkle with a cheeky cantankerous fire.
But it's Sam Neill whose performance steals this film.
Initially, his Dean Spanley seems a little aloof and wary of the Fisks - but the more he imbibes the Tokay, it becomes clearer to the audience how much of Neill's performance is channeling that of a pooch.
From the jowly beard to the whimpering noises he makes when he first sniffs the wine, Neill embodies all the behaviours of a dog - but in a subtle and restrained way.
Dean Spanley is a tale of fathers and sons, dogs and their masters - of comradeship and relationships, this offbeat story will leave you with a whimsical grin on your face.

Unfortunately this disc is lacking on extras which is a real shame - but doesn't detract (too much) from the overall brilliance.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Ice Age 3: DVD Review

Ice Age 3: DVD Review

Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Cast: John Leguizamo, Ray Romano, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Simon Pegg
Director: Carlos Saldana
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 in an underground world populated by dinosaurs and 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®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 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 are 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.

Rating: 7/10

A Film With Me In It: DVD Review

A Film With Me In It: DVD Review

A Film With Me In It
Cast: Dylan Moran, Mark Doherty, Keith Allen, David O Doherty
Director: Ian Fitzgibbon
Mark (Mark Doherty) isn't doing too well.
An out of work actor who's trying to write a film with his mate Pierce (Dylan Moran), Mark just can't seem to get any luck whatsoever.
His girlfriend is about to walk out on him because of the ramshackle accommodation they live in; his landlord wants he - and his wheelchair bound brother (David O Doherty) evicted -so all in all, Mark is really struggling to get by.
Then one fateful day, his life is completely changed when everyone around him (except Pierce) is killed in a series of unfortunate, unplanned mishaps in his flat.
As Mark struggles to cope trapped in the flat with a plethora of dead bodies, Pierce convinces him there is a way out of it - which doesn't involve either of them going to the police and confessing what happened&..
A Film With Me In It tries for pitch black humour - and somehow ends up being just a little bit dull - and far too contrived to feel much sympathy for Mark.
Moran's Pierce isn't intended to be a nice character - and his matter of fact bullying of Mark who just wants to go to the police doesn't make you feel any kind of sympathy for Pierce and just makes you wish Mark would stand upto him.
The problem with this film is that the contrived incidents - while they're hinted at in the beginning of the film - seem far too wacky and coincidental to be believable - although I'm guessing those who were involved would say that's actually the point.
At times, it throws up echoes of Shallow Grave but there's no real urgency to the pair when faced with a growing body count - and consequently you don't end up willing them to succeed in their quest to avoid jail.
While it ends up being pitch black dark farce towards the end, A Film With Me In It is a curio - it feels overlong despite its brief running time and is a disappointment given the comic caliber of those involved.

In the end it's a film which has missed potential and a melodrama which fails to have any real heart in it - if you had felt more for the characters and their plight, chances are you'd have been a little more sucked into their world instead of feeling like those who'd died got off lightly.

Rating 3/10

Rachel Getting Married: DVD Review

Rachel Getting Married: DVD Review

Rachel Getting Married
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Bill Irwin, Sebastian Stan, Rosemarie DeWitt
Director: Jonathan Demme
Can there be anything worse than an enforced family gathering?
Well, if it's a wedding then sometimes, although it's supposed to be a happy occasion, there can be one or two problems.
Throw in a dysfunctional family and a girl fresh out of rehab, and it's heading for "memorable" (read: disastrous)
Hathaway is stunning as Kym, the sister of the titular Rachel (DeWitt) who shows up back at home days before the actual ceremony.
Straight out of rehab for drugs, she's the flashpoint for some long buried family tensions to resurface as the happy day grows closer.
This film saw Hathaway nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress - and based on this performance, she was robbed by Kate Winslet's taking of the statue.

Her Kym is everything a screwed up, rehab character should be - her acting in this elevates her beyond the Princess Diaries most will remember her for - it's subtle, nuanced and mesmerizing.
In one particular scene, called to the family table to celebrate her sister's wedding rather than sing her sister's praises, Kym actually seizes the moment to bring out her 12 steps programme.
The direction by Demme (The Silence of The Lambs) isn't intrusive - it's all about observation and that lends itself to a documentary style feel.
Rachel Getting Married shows Hathaway's risen well above the teen fodder - and based on this performance, coupled with the right material, she's got a stellar career ahead of her.

Extras: Commentary with Producer Neda Armian, Screenwriter Jenny Lumet and Editor Tim Squyres, Commentary with Actress Rosemarie DeWitt, A Look Behind the Scenes of Rachel Getting Married, The Wedding Band, Cast and Crew Q&A at the Jacob Burns Center, Deleted Scenes

Rating: 6/10

The Escapist: DVD Review

The Escapist: DVD Review

The Escapist
Released by Vendetta Films
Rating: M

Cast: Brian Cox, Liam Cunnigham, Dominic Cooper, Damian Lewis, Joseph Fiennes, Steven Macintosh
The Escapist is one of the latest entrants to the prison break genre - and is one of those films which will have you debating long after the credits have rolled.
Even if you saw it in the cinema, you'll still be looking for the clues to help piece together the puzzle.
Brian Cox is Frank, a lifer, who, on hearing his only daughter is ill after a drugs overdose, decides now is the time to get out. But he can't do it on his own - so he pulls together a gang of associates (a small trusted group) to help him pull off his own prison break. And just when it looks like it's about to come together, the plan could unravel any moment thanks to the arrival of Frank's new cellmate (Dominic Cooper) who inadvertently picks up the attention of one of the meanest inmates.
The Escapist is a pretty gripping piece of cinema - thanks 100% to its lead. Cox is compelling as Frank,a weary man who's determined to serve out his sentence but whose desire to leave is all too real once he realizes the danger his daughter is in. Scenes involving his character towards the end are just heartbreaking and gut wrenching and Cox conveys more of that because of the lines on his face than any piece of dialogue could ever manage.
There are some great character turns in this film - Band of Brothers fave Damian Lewis is brilliant as Rizza - rumour has it he wore women's underwear to perfect the walk Rizza has; Steven Macintosh is just creepy as Tony who menaces Dominic Cooper's James Lacey. Director Rupert Wyatt does a sterling job - you see (spoiler) the break out intercut with scenes from the prison and it takes a little time to piece together the chronology of events.
The soundtrack is a little much at times - the music is perfect, but somehow in the final mix, someone cranked it up to 11 and it's a little piercing during certain key scenes - even if it does get the adrenaline pumping.
The Escapist ultimately may be viewed by some as just another prison flick but as far as I'm concerned it's a slightly superior intelligent drama which you'll find yourself completely engrossed in by the end.

Extras: A Making of the Escapist Behind the Scenes featurette, Story Board Comparison, Audio Commentary and Original Theatrical Trailer make a reasonable package for a good film

Rating: 8/10

Drag Me To Hell: DVD Review

Drag Me To Hell: DVD Review

Drag Me To Hell
Released by Roadshow Home Entertainment
Rating: M

Cast: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver
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 which arrives on DVD - and will make any night the perfect fright night fun.
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...
So Christine tries everything in her power to beat the curse and ensure she lives on.
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, so 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. There's scenes which will have you empathising with Christine and as the wall of sound builds in your living room, you may find yourself jumping when you least expect it.
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.

Extras: Production Video Diaries- would have been great to have had more given how beloved Sam Raimi is.

Rating 8/10

Coraline: DVD Review

Coraline: DVD Review

Coraline 3D
Released by Universal Home Entertainment
Rating: PG

Vocal Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David
From the director of James and The Giant Peach, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and MonkeyBone comes Coraline, based on a book by renowned fantasy writer Neil Gaiman.
Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) has moved to a new apartment with her mother and father (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) - but she finds that her parents are too busy to get her settled in.
To her amazement during her exploration of the new drab home, she finds a locked door - which, when opened takes her through to an alternative version of her current life.
The trouble is, in this alternative world, her Other Mother and Other Father are much more attentive and she starts to feel maybe she should stay with this family (even though everyone in this world has buttons for eyes).
But she gradually begins to discover that not everything is as it seems in the new world&.can she escape back to her old life before it's too late?
There's much to love in this latest animated outing.
Coraline is a beautiful piece of Gothic tinged work - full of dark greys to start off with, its colour schemes are resplendent on the big screen TV - even the fact this film is in 3D and you can wear glasses in your home (much to the mirth and merriment of those around you)
They're vibrant and vivid to show the contrasts in Coraline's world and life - Coraline herself wears a bright yellow coat in her humdrum world - but when she goes through to the Other World, the garden comes to life with plush colours (blues, purples, reds) which really light up the screen.
It's a dark, cleverly animated fable which will scare some smaller children and is a cautionary tale (in some ways) of Mother Knows Best.
Coupled with its ethereal soundtrack (which is wonderfully evocative) and beautiful surroundings, it's quite the treat to behold - the subtleties of the 3D really bring the worlds to life.
The stars of the show - outside of the score and animation - are Teri Hatcher and Dakota Fanning; Hatcher in particular is both motherly and sinister and works hard to bring the Other Mother to life.

Coraline is a gothic horror film for children and adults alike - and it should be cherished and enjoyed - even if it does scare the little horrors senseless in places.

Rating 8/10

Astro Boy: Movie Review

Astro Boy: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Voice Cast: Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane, Kristen Bell, Eugene Levy
Director: David Bowers
From the immensely popular Japanese Manga comics comes the big screen version of Astro Boy.
The film takes place in a future where the humans have been forced to abandon the planet and now live in Metro City, which floats high in the skies.
It's the tale of Toby (voiced by Freddie Highmore) a genius boy who suffers from an absentee scientist father Dr Tenma (Nicolas Cage in typical laconic mood). Tenma's involved in helping the military might of President Stone (Donald Sutherland) - however, one day his nosey son breaks into the lab and watches the unveiling of the Peacekeeper robot.
Unfortunately Toby's trapped when the robot goes beserk, and is vaporized. His grieving father then sets about building a robot replacement but soon realizes it's no substitute for his son and abandons him. Once the military find about robot Toby, they try to kill him off to retrieve his power source; ultimately Toby ends up on the surface of the discarded earth.
So left behind on a planet strewn with robot junk, Toby tries to find his place- and ends up embroiled in the fight to save the day when Stone's military re-election plans spiral out of control.
For an origin film, Astro Boy is a strange mixed bag - there's a mournful sadness running throughout as the absentee father tries to assuage his guilt after his son dies; there are overtures of Frankenstein mixed with hints of Gepetto/ Pinocchio as Tenma brings the robot Toby to life; there are some pretty terrible intelligent puns (Descartes before the Horse being the worst); there's Toby and the band of orphan children (a la Oliver Twist) on the surface trying to fit into the world; and there's Matt Lucas making an appearance as the head of a robot communist group which provides the comic relief.
But it scores well on some other fronts - the score when Astro Boy discovers he can fly for the first time coupled with the soundtrack during the fight scenes - just beautiful.
And then there's the animation - for a 2D film (and maybe we're spoiled a little these days with all this Avatar style 3D trickery) there are some beautifully eye popping moments. The final showdown scene shows a lushness of animated colours (purples, reds, blues) which have to be appreciated on the big screen and are just gorgeous.

Granted, Astro Boy is not the most original film - but for a younger core of the audience it will prove to be a diverting use of their time.

It's Complicated: Movie Review

It's Complicated: Movie Review

It's Complicated
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski
Director: Nancy Meyers
In this romantic comedy, Meryl Streep is Jane who's divorced her philandering hubby Jack (Alec Baldwin) over a decade ago. Since then, she's carved herself a dandy life as she cooks and he's remarried to a younger model with a child.
However, as they come together to celebrate their son's graduation, the pair find there's still an attraction and against the odds begin an affair.
As they rekindle their relationship, it becomes clear that Jack's more into it than Jane as he views it as a reconciliation and a chance to get back together. So things are further complicated when Jane's architect Adam (a muted playing it straight Steve Martin) starts to develop feelings for her.
Ultimately things start to come to a head for Jane and she has to find her place in these relationships&
Meryl Streep was Golden Globe nominated for this piece - and it's easy to see why. It's clearly her film - and while Baldwin brings his roguish caddish comedy touch to the role, neither he nor Martin can compete with Streep - she's light years ahead of them on the screen.
She manages to brilliantly use a deftness of touch to make Jane the likeable element in this - left on the sidelines and unsure of how to get involved in relationships, her transition is plausible, pleasant and in places, funny. She gives a masterclass on bringing subtlety to the character.
Meyers wrote and directed this piece which not only benefits from some zingy one liners but an excellent ensemble cast; Martin underplays his sad sack Adam who's been divorced and unsure of the game for a while - and John Krasinski provides some much needed comic relief in places) but sadly suffers from a lull about 75 minutes in.

It's Complicated is going to appeal more to certain sector of the audience than some; putting it politely, as Nancy Meyers does great films for women, it's fair to say this charming comedy is squarely in the grab a bunch of your girlfriends and head to the flicks.

Land of The Long White Cloud: Movie Review

Land of The Long White Cloud: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Director: Florian Habicht
In this doco from director Florian Habicht, New Zealand's fishers are put under the microscope.
Shot at the annual Red Snapper Classic at Ninety Mile Beach in the Far North, this genial piece takes in the characters and attitudes which are found over the five day event.
With serious money up for grabs, Habicht wanders round capturing the goings on - both on and off the beach as the event gathers pace.
Land of the Long White Cloud is a fascinating insight into those who'll go for the sport of fishing - one of the greatest events on offer in this country, whether you want to be solo or part of a group.
Part of the charm of this relatively short doco is the personalities of those who inhabit the shores for the event.
There's a languid atmosphere amid the competition - and Habicht gets to pick brains and get the fishermen - and women - to open up and offer up their philosophies as the surf peals around them.
One reveals he'd buy socks with the money after he's spent so long hooking his own by accident while out; another talks about how they're normally a smartly turned out office boy who relishes the chances to throw it all off and stand around waiting to catch the big one.
It's an interesting and entertaining look as Habicht asks some of them if they can remember where they were when they heard Lady Di had died; or even if they watch the news - the danger is the casual viewer will think he's trivializing, but what's revealed is probably a more accurate snapshot of Kiwi life than any survey or census could find out.
The fishermen end up contemplating life against a truly wondrous backdrop of rolling waves and blue skies - and espouse such sentiments as: "Look after those you love." Sure, there's a level of cod philosophy here but you'll forgive it that in spades.
Land of the Long White Cloud will appeal to any of those who want to marvel in the majesty of Ninety Mile Beach and the wondrous bounty of the coastline - the most entertaining part though is definitely the human element - especially as you see them enjoying life after the rods have been put down for the night.

Overall, this is the kind of film which sums up precisely why Aotearoa is such a wonderful country - a heady mix of coast, surf and characters. Just don't be surprised if at the doco's conclusion, you have an overwhelming urge to head out for a day's fishing.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Elegy: DVD Review

Elegy: DVD Review

Elegy
Released by Roadshow Home Entertainment
Rating: M

Cast: Penelope Cruz, Ben Kingsley, Dennis Hopper, Patricia Clarkson
New York college professor David Kepesh (Kingsley) appears to have it all - an easy 20 year long no strings attached relationship with a former student (Clarkson); a friend George O'Hearn (Hopper) who's always there for him.
But one day his world is completely changed by Cuban Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz) whom he meets in one of his classes.
Determined to have her, he pursues her and they end up involved in a passionate relationship which ignites feelings of possessiveness in Kepesh, who's secretly worried she will leave him because he's 30 years her senior.
However, the effects of their dalliance are long lasting - and devastating.
Based on the book The Dying Animal by Philip Roth, Elegy deals with the reality of growing old and of self worth.
It's supposed to be an engrossing examination of uncertainty and of instability - but it's ruined by the complete lack of chemistry between leads, Cruz and Kingsley.
Although they're supposed to have a passionate relationship, this lack of anything tangible between the two of them affects the overall feel of the film - and ultimately derails its central message.
It's also painfully slow - and whilst that sometimes allows for character development, I actually ended up feeling the film needed to hurry along as I was starting to get somewhat depressed by the way it all unfolded.
While I appreciate what Elegy was trying to do and deliver a meditation of life, lust and love, it feels a little at times as if Coxiet lost her way.
Some may find Elegy engrossing but others may feel some books don't translate well to the screen.
Extras: None

Rating: 4/10

Friday, 15 January 2010

Sunshine Cleaning: DVD Review

Sunshine Cleaning: DVD Review

Sunshine Cleaning
Released by Madman Entertainment
Rating: M

Cast: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Steve Zahn, Alan Arkin
A film about cracking into the world of crime scene cleaning sounds like an interesting premise - and one which is currently not flooding the silver screen.
Sunshine Cleaning from New Zealand director Christine Jeffs is certainly fresh in places - and irritating in others.
The ever wonderful Amy Adams is Rose Lorkowski, a single mother whose son is forever getting into trouble at school.
Her unreliable sister Norah (Blunt) is flaking from one job to the next - the pair basically want a get rich quick scheme to pull their life out of the mundanity which has befallen them after high school promised so much.
Rose is having an affair with Steve Zahn's cop and he suggests one day there's good money in the forensic clean up business.
Throw in an oddball father (Alan Arkin) and you have pretty much a recipe for some quality screen time. And to a point you do.
But the central characters Rose and Norah (and to an extent Alan Arkin's character) are quite irritating after prolonged exposure - riddled with neuroses and character quirks, which had they been underplayed would have been endearing.
Unfortunately after about 20 minutes, they may get a bit too annoying for you.
Sunshine Cleaning feels in parts a lot like Little Miss Sunshine - which is no bad thing - and it has a lot of humour throughout - Blunt and Adams are good in their respective roles but their characters feel a little too stereotyped at times - Adams' Rose is having a lazy affair with a cop; Blunt's Norah is too kooky (witness her following a daughter whose wallet was found at a crime scene).
And the pair's secretly troubled parental relationship is a story thread which could have been seen coming a mile off.
Overall, Sunshine Cleaning feels a little bit too forced at times - whether that's the fault of the screenplay or the director I'm not 100% sure. It's not a bad film - it's just with such an original premise, it could have been so much more.
Extras: Theatrical trailer, Deleted scenes - not an inspiring selection for a film with such a great central cast.

Rating: 6/10

Dr Who: Series 1-4: DVD Review

Dr Who: Series 1-4: DVD Review

Doctor Who - Series 1 -4 Box Set
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
Rating: PG

Cast: Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Billie Piper, Catherine Tate
23 discs, 2 Time Lords, a wealth of Daleks, Cybermen and adventures - what's not to love about this collected set of the first four series of the remade for the noughties audiences?
Well, this set is a timely reminder of why new Who has been so successful - there was no guarantee when it rematerialized on our screens back in 2005 that it would be a bona fide hit - but thanks to the oft overlooked presence of Christopher Eccleston behind the TARDIS, this series had sure fire hit written all over it.
And when David Tennant, a self professed fan of the show stepped behind the blue doors, the show got stellar and became bigger and bigger.
It's easy to see why the show's so popular - over 45 minutes and some 50 odd episodes, there's much to love - all of the show's cast and its supporting players throw so much into the mix as the Doctor was brought into the 21st Century.
There's only 2500 of these complete series in existence in New Zealand - but without being churlish, aside from a lavish 68 page book, there's little new to entice old school fans to shell out once again for the 4 series they're already likely to own.
Don't get me wrong - there's some great entertainment here; episodes like Dalek, The Christmas Invasion show why the show's done so well in this day and age with a great script and story being the main thrust over the effects (granted there are a few duds - Fear Her and the one with Peter Kay as a loin cloth wearing alien aren't the finest) but for the die hard fan, there's likely to be a sense of frustration that this set doesn't come right upto date with current Doctor, David Tennant's final episodes (being broadcast this Christmas).
That said, the extras are the same as the original sets - and it's quite fun to see David Tennant being given a police escort and his priceless reaction in the video diaries; there's also the behind the scenes cut down episodes of sister show Doctor Who Confidential, which beef up the package.
All in all, if you're a new fan to the show, it's a fabulous jumping off point - if you're an old school Whovian, you may be heading straight to TradeMe to sell off your old sets to get the money together for this set - or for the inevitable reboxing of it along with Doc 10's final eps.
Extras: Christmas episodes, commentaries, outtakes, deleted scenes, cast interviews, BBC idents, video diaries - a 68 page booklet - almost as gigantic as the TARDIS itself.

Rating: 9/10 for new fans, 6/10 for fans who've already bought the series

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Tooth Fairy: Movie Review

The Tooth Fairy: Movie Review

The Tooth Fairy
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ashley Judd, Stephen Merchant, Julie Andrews, Billy Crystal
Director: Michael Lembeck
Dwayne Johnson in a tutu with wings, being a fairy.
It doesn't sound like your average start to any film - but with the Tooth Fairy that's pretty much part of the premise.
Johnson (none of this The Rock business) is Derek Thompson, a fading ice hockey player whose schtick is he knocks out his opponents' teeth on the ice - and hence is known as The Tooth Fairy.
However, when Thompson tells his girlfriend's daughter Tess there's no such thing as the Tooth Fairy, he's swiftly summoned before Lily (Julie Andrews) the head of the real Tooth Fairies (there's an academy of them) and ordered to serve time in their shoes.
So paired up with Tracy (Stephen Merchant), Thompson's forced to live the life of the Tooth Fairy - and face some uncomfortable tooths (erm, sorry - truths) about his world and dreams.
The premise is nothing original, and sure you don't have to be a genius to see where the film's going, but the Tooth Fairy isn't as bad as you may think it could be.
While the kids will love the humour of the goofy Dwayne Johnson getting his wings at inappropriate moments as well as when the pint sized hero faces off against a large cat, adults will warm more to the Stephen Merchant and Billy Crystal factor. Crystal is reduced unfortunately to a mere cameo as a Fairy inventor but in his one scene, he's excellent (stick around at the end for a bit more Billygoodness)- likewise the tall gangly Merchant (Of Extras fame). His Tracy, as Thomspon's mentor is nothing original (once again, he's playing a version of himself) but thanks to a likeable performance and some smart deadpan humour, he becomes one of the best things of the entire film.
Julie Andrews brings a degree of warmth to her role - but essentially it's her turn from the Princess Diaries all over again.
Sure there's a message about belief here - both in your self and in dreams, but thanks to the affability of Johnson and the cast, it's toothfully not a bad family film.

There are some awful puns using the word tooth to start off with (some of which I've chosen to share here with you) but once you get past that, there are some laugh out loud moments throughout meaning the whole experience is not a displeasurable one.

Cold Souls: Movie Review

Cold Souls: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Emily Watson, Dina Korzun, Katheryn Winnick, Lauren Ambrose

Director: Sophie Bartes
Yes, there's echoes of Being John Malkovich here - but Cold Souls is a slightly different affair.
Paul Giamatti (complete with sad sack eyes and jowly cheeks) plays Paul Giamatti, a fictionalized version of the actor, who's struggling with his part in Uncle Vanya. Clearly Chekhov's play is resting heavy on him - and one day, he sees an ad for a Soul Storage place which piques his curiosity.
So, with the ad's slogan "Is your soul weighing you down?" he heads to see if he can find some relief.
What he actually finds is a surgery which can remove souls and hold them in special units (or if they want to avoid tax, can be shipped to New Jersey) to give their owners a new lease of life.
Initially skeptical, Giamatti undergoes the treatment - and things get more complicated for him when a soul trafficking group from Russia ends up stealing his soul to satiate a Mafioso style don's girlfriend. Giamatti ends up facing the possibility of heading to St Petersburg or remaining soulless for the rest of his life&.
Cold Souls is a strange, weird ride - its mournful tone belies some of the comedy on display; sure, there are some existential overtones to the film (Giamatti's not happy when he can't find his soul) and some downright funny moments (his soul, when extracted, just looks like a chickpea)
Parts of the film have weird trancelike qualities - and some of it is downright hallucinogenic as well. An excellent supporting cast - the majority of whom I've never heard of until now - is good too.
But director Bartes (who also wrote the story) has managed to get the very best out of Giamatti - put simply, he's brilliant in the role as he navigates the levity of being soulless with the horrifying reality that he needs his soul to be complete.

It's Giamatti's film and a tour de force performance which keeps Cold Souls on just the right side of a wickedly original premise- if it had been trimmed a little (its 100 minutes feel a little bloated towards the end), Cold Souls would have been perfect.

Up In The Air: Movie Review

Up In The Air: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Melanie Lynskey
Director: Jason Reitman
A movie about a guy who fires people for a living may not be the one film many of us want to see right now as we continue to wobble through recessionary times.
Yet with Golden Globe nominations coming out of its ears and Oscar buzz aplenty, Up In The Air finally opens in NZ cinemas.
It stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a corporate gun for hire who is called in when the bosses are too cowardly to cut loose their staff. Bingham spends 100% of his life in the air and on the way to one sacking after another - and he's happy with it his non-committal lifestyle, living out of a suitcase and out of emotional harm's way.
So when his boss (Jason Bateman) brings in Natalie Keener (Twilight's Anna Kendrick), he's appalled to discover her solution is to ground the staff who do the sacking and get them to do it via webcams.
However, Ryan becomes determined to show her a little something about life and takes her across America so she can see how it's done - and how he does it differently.
Up In The Air wears its heart on its sleeve - if you're fairly film savvy, you may see some of the twists coming; however, even if you're a film cynic, there is still plenty to enjoy with the snappy dialogue and smart humour.
Clooney does what he always does - he's suave and charming as a lovable emotional rogue. But while there's plenty of irony on display in this film (The man who does the firing faces life in the gun) there's also a little bit of predictability as well - that said, Reitman does a good job of using that to his advantage and peppers the script with some very funny one liners.
Whether you buy Clooney's change of heart (the film's tagline - Meet a man looking to make a connection should give it away) is the crux of this film; but there are a couple of scenes which seem at odds to his character - he's pulled into a family drama as a sister (Melanie Lynskey) gets married but his actions there seem directly opposed to what we've come to know about him. In effect, he becomes the cliché and appears to turn his back on his way of life.
Up In The Air has an easy going charm and some great performances from all involved. Thanks to the work of Clooney, Kendrick and Farmiga, you may end up caring about these characters a lot more than you would have expected to - and then again, you may actually get a bit more infuriated with them than you should.

But Up In The Air remains Clooney's film - he's rarely been more magnetic and appealing than in this everyman role - his charm and swagger will probably add more fuel to the Oscar fire that's already burning.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Expendables: DVD Review

The Expendables: DVD Review

The Expendables

Rating: R16
Released by Roadshow Entertainment


With a powerhouse line up of former action heroes (Stallone, Statham, Rourke, Lundgren) like the Expendables packs, you would expect something either a) pretty spectacular or b) vaguely nostalgic.

Sylvester Stallone writes, directs and stars in this tale - here he's Barney Ross the head of a mercenary unit who we first see in action taking down Somali pirates who're holding a group of people hostage.

Needless to say they're all crack action heroes and as a unit are available for hire.

Armed with guns, explosives and the ability to kick ass, the Expendables head to Vilena to fight for freedom. But what they don't know is that someone's double crossing them.

With bad dialogue, little emotion and a relative lack of plot, there's little to inspire here - though if you're after watching some of the heroes of your youth in action, you couldn't ask for more.

Nostalgic it may be - and reasonably disposable fun it is.

Extras: Behind the scenes interviews with the actors; much better to go for the Blu Ray with the big names on the commentary track - The DVD's bounty is disappointing to say the least.

Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Fantastic Mr Fox: Movie Review

Fantastic Mr Fox: Movie Review

Rating 8/10
Cast: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon

Director: Wes Anderson
The first full length animated debut of director Wes Anderson sees him tackle the much loved Roald Dahl fave, Fantastic Mr Fox.
George Clooney voices Mr Fantastic himself, with Meryl Streep taking on his long suffering wife and Jason Schwartzman voicing his son, Ash.
Mr Fox is a fox under pressure - forced to give up his chicken stealing ways by his wife, he's now writing a column for a paper but clearly listless and yearning for his old ways.
So when farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean set up near to Fox's haunt, the Fantastic one fails to quell his desire and is soon organizing one last heist with pal Kylie, an opossum who loves to zone out during conversations.
But Foxy may have bitten off more than he can chew as the farmers fight back&.
Deranged, magical, original and blessed with a wondrous soundtrack, Fantastic Mr Fox is a treat for the family for 2010.
Thanks to some great vocal performances from the likes of Clooney, Bill Murray as a badger and a stand out turn from Jason Schwartzman, the stop motion film is a great way to spend 90 minutes.
Director Wes Anderson deserves an accolade for this film - it's zany and quirky in a brand new way - and takes the animated tale to a whole new level. The puppetry is brilliantly done and fits with the overall tone of the film which is fun.
Sure, there's a subtle layer mocking Fox's arrogance, but Clooney pulls off the role brilliantly - according to our Fantastic Mr Fox featurette, Anderson apparently gathered the cast together to perform the vocals rather than the traditional isolated booth favoured by many. And it appears to have worked because there's an energy which crackles all the way through the film.
That energy's complemented by some original sight gags and some greatly unexpected funny moments - the rivalry between Ash and Fox's nephew Kristofferson is gently dark - and benefits greatly from Schwartzman's performance which adds layers to the character and is wonderfully underplayed.
You can only hope this won't be Anderson's only foray into the animated world - because what he's committed to the screen is great fun. There's a decidedly indie feel to the film - and some wonderfully inventive touches (a fight scene between Mr Fox and Willem Dafoe's Rat is choreographed against flashing lights of an electric fence) show he has a deftness of touch.

Fantastic Mr Fox will charm kids and please fans of Roald Dahl's book - it's a bonkers piece of fun.

Paranormal Activity: Movie Review

Paranormal Activity: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, A House
Director: Oren Peli
So the film which has torn up the USA Box Office and apparently scared Steven Spielberg silly finally arrives on these shores.
Apparently based on a true story (cough, cough) this is the tale of WASPish couple Katie and Micah who live in the suburbs of San Diego. The pair are happy but have started to notice an increase in ghostly activity in their pad.
So Micah decides to buy a camera to chart any off the wall activity in the hope they can find out exactly what is haunting them - and why.
But as the camera rolls and the nights come and go, the situation grows increasingly hostile and dangerous for the pair....until both realize they are well and truly out of their depth.
Ok let's be clear about Paranormal Activity - like the Blair Witch Project before it, this film will 100% divide the audience. It's a polarizing piece - you're either 100% in or 100% out. Granted the marketing seems to be doing a lot for this film with word of mouth giving it the momentum that it needed to become a bona fide box office smash.
But that aside, Paranormal Activity is one of those films which will play on your basest fears and insecurities.
While we watch the action from the comfort of down the camera lens, there's a growing, gnawing tension which ramps the audience up - you're never quite 100% sure where the story is going.
Both Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat are good in this - but it's their ordinariness and average performances that make the film that more compelling as the inevitable spooks begin to play out (to even discuss some of them would unfairly rob you of those heart in the mouth moments you'll see on screen.)
You also have to credit Oren Peli for creating something truly different for a generation which has seen it all before - from the irony to the blood and spatter, this genre was clearly exhausted. Yet the reinvention and ability to twist your fears and deepest worries are two of Paranormal Activity's greatest assets.
Along with the minimal effects and superb sound, you'll feel sickness and panic rising in places.
However, it's with a sense of frustration towards the end, that Paranormal Activity ever so slightly misfires. Its eventual denouement will have some sections of the audience screaming at the characters as they seem to go back on their nature and fall into clichéd horror trappings.

Paranormal Activity works best with a packed audience - its psychological spooks and frights are unexpected and you may find yourself sleeping with the light on after you've seen it.

Whip It: Movie Review

Whip It: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: Ellen Page, Daniel Stern, Marcia Gay Harden, Alia Shawkat, Zoe Bell, Juliette Lewis, Ari Graynor, Kristen Wiig, Jimmy Fallon
Director: Drew Barrymore
Ellen Page (Juno) stars as Bliss Cavendar, a teen stuck in small town America, desperate to get away from the life of mother inflicted beauty pageants and working in a local diner.
Along with her friend Pash (Alia Shawkat from the much missed comedy Arrested Development) the pair one day stumble upon the world of roller derby - and their eyes are opened.
Bliss decides she will join the local downtown Austin team, The Hurl Scouts, and becomes Babe Ruthless, the team's latest addition.
However, Bliss has to live this life undercover from her parents - but as she begins to blossom, she finds both lives coming sharply into contrast and is forced to make a choice.
Whip It is another great entry into Ellen Page's CV - her star's been on the ascent ever since Juno, and Whip It will do nothing to stop that star continuing to rise.
It's not the most original of stories - small town girl wants to break away from the norm and live her own life - it's all been done before.
But what Drew Barrymore's done with this for her first time behind the lens, is to make the simple soar. Coupled with a killer soundtrack, some quirky lines and some great performances (particularly from Alia Shawkat as Bliss' best friend Pash), Whip It really does suck you in for its entire duration.
While the roller derby plays second fiddle until the final climactic match, the scenes are pumped full of action - as well as aptly monikered competitors (Eva Destruction, Holy Rollers, Smashley Simpson and Maggie Mayhem to name but a few), there's also our very own Zoe Bell as one of the skaters. I have to admit I perhaps would have liked a little more derby action but as an introduction to the sport, it's a hell of a good way to get into it.
There's a simplicity of story with Whip It - it wears the cliche on its sleeve (although the ending is anything but) and thanks to some good solid performances, you will find yourself walking out with a big grin. It manages to nicely capture the frustrations of small town America as well as the desperation of wanting to shine at something rather than a family tradition.

Whip It has heart and soul aplenty - there's an exuberance to this tale of girl power which is not only blessed with some ass kicking but will leave you smiling for days after.