Saturday, 27 February 2010

Adventureland: DVD Review

Adventureland: DVD Review

Adventureland
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader, Ryan Reynolds
Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Entertainment
Jesse Eisenberg (who appeared in the fantastic Zombieland) stars as James whose 1980s college plans are scuppered by his father's loss of job.
Faced with the option to abandon his plans for college, James ends up taking a job at a local fairground to try and scrape together the cash. However, it's not really about the money after he falls for fellow carny, Emily (Twilight's Kristen Stewart).

Only she's not as available as he thinks because she's wrapped up with an older man (Ryan Reynolds)&but that doesn't stop James falling hard.

Ah the American coming of age film - it is in its own rights becoming a rites of passage for movie makers. Adventureland is from Greg Mottola who did Superbad - although the humour is of a more subtle and wistful nature in this release.

Adventureland is great fun -wrapped full of humourous well timed lines and pitch perfect performances (including Bill Hader as the carny boss complete with horrendous tache). It's a nod back to the 80s and despite the somewhat tired out genre, Adventureland is a welcome entry - it's fresh, amusing and strangely recognisable.

A soon to be cult classic is tempered only by the relative lack of extras.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, 26 February 2010

From Paris With Love: Movie Review

From Paris With Love: Movie Review

From Paris With Love
Rating: 6/10
Cast: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Director: Pierre Morel
From a story by Luc Besson and from the director who made Liam Neeson an action man in Taken comes From Paris With Love.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as James Reece, a young employee of the US ambassador in France. With his 1920s style spiv like moustache and slightly uptight attitude, Reece is a model employee, deeply in love with his girlfriend Caroline and when his country calls him a bit of a rookie spy.
Except he's a bottom of the ladder kind of spy - the sort who will change number plates. And he yearns to play a bigger role in the espionage world.
He's given that chance - enter John Travolta's dome headed slightly unhinged Charlie Wax who's an operative with the CIA and in France to try and stop a terrorist attack.
But given these two are polar ends of the spectrum when it comes to attitudes and Reece finds himself in a world he never imagined he'd be part of.
What do you say about From Paris With Love? With its tagline, Two agents, One City, no Merci, explosions, gunfights and beatings set to heavy metal, let's be clear this isn't rocket science - or a film you particularly need to concentrate on the plot of (although you do have to keep up).
But against the odds it emerges as a fairly disposable piece of Friday night cinematic action - with Travolta pumped up on energy, cheesy lines (Wax on, wax off) and Rhys Meyers' nicely opposite uptight approach, you end up feeling like you're watching the start of a franchise set of films.
There's plenty of car chases, plenty of explosions and plenty of people being violently shot and hurled across the room but it's thanks to the sparkle and crackle chemistry between the two leads, that it's relatively enjoyable fun. Director Morel brings the same level of energy to the action scenes as he demonstrated in Taken, lending the whole piece with a slick choreographed feel.
To be honest, it's a decent partnership the pair create - and I'm sure a sequel to From Paris With Love (From LA with Love perhaps) won't be too far away.

Oh and it's worth it for just one moment - to see John Travolta finally get that burger he talked about in Pulp Fiction all those years ago....

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Crazy Heart: Movie Review

Crazy Heart: Movie Review

Crazy Heart
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall
Director: Scott Cooper
Already one of the faves for awards after early success, Crazy Heart finally ends up on New Zealand cinemas.
Bridges is Bad Blake, a 57 year old washed up, living the twilight of his life country singer playing bowling alleys and bars in deserted American villages. But Blake's loved - while his fans appear to be in the final years of their lives, wherever he goes he gets a rapturous reception - as well as some very pleased to see him groupies.
Blake is the archetypal bad boy of the country scene - battling alcoholism, refusing to write new material and a little envious of the success of his protégé Tommy Sweet (a pony tailed Farrell), he's clearly in need of redemption.
That salvation comes in the form of Jean (Gyllenhaal) who turns up one day asking for an interview - however, a burgeoning relationship blossoms - has Bad finally found what he needs to turn his life around?
Crazy Heart is Jeff Bridges' film - the Dude once again rolls out a suave performance, managing to capture the bitter regret of a hard rocker as well as encapsulating the charm which has seen him continue to garner success through the years. And it has to be said too that Bridges carries the country songs off well - there's certainly some toe tapping to be had while he's rocking the beat.
While Gyllenhaal acquits herself well as a woman who fights her every instinct to fall for a man she knows is bad for her, her character Jean can't help but be drawn to Bridges' Blake- and after some time in his company, it's easy to see why; with old age etched into his face but with a winning charm, Bad Blake's a new rock hero for the decade.
There's a nice juxtaposition between Blake's hardbitten rocking ways and the polished new country style of Farrell's Tommy Sweet - the contrast is an obvious one but it's clear that it's Blake who has the credibility to last the distance rather than this Johnny Come Lately.
The story of Crazy Heart is to be honest, nothing new - a last chance man desperate for redemption is given one last chance to overcome his own demons, it's Cooper's direction which keeps the film moving nicely along.

But it belongs to Jeff Bridges - not since his turn as the Dude in The Big Lebowski has he managed to command your attention on the screen as he does in this - it brings up memories of Mickey Rourke's turn in The Wrestler last year - showing there's still life in this old dog yet. And it's clear to see why he's the front runner for the Oscars this year - let's hope this time the Dude comes up trumps.

9: Movie Review

9: Movie Review

9
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Elijah Wood, John C Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer
Director: Shane Acker
In a post apocalyptic world, it appears that it's the puppets who will save us.
In the latest computer animation to hit the big screen, 9 tells the story of the world after the machines attacked the humans. In a devastated land, a sack puppet with the number 9 wakes up and suddenly discovers that he is not alone.
After being attacked by a beast, and reunited with others of his type (all numbered from 1 onwards), 9 begins to realize that he holds the key to getting answers about what happened - and how they can live on.
9 is an odd piece of film - meshing Terminator style end of the world horrors with the kind of Sackboy characters of the PS game Little Big Planet, it certainly looks different and has been described as stitchpunk characters at the end of the world.
The dystopian world in which everyone is a number certainly brings memories flooding back of The Prisoner - and certainly with the secrets kept by the likes of Number 1, there's many a parallel.
However, it's there that this ends - because 9 is visually engaging - full of deep browns, greens and bright reds, it's hard not to fall for the burlap dolls as they try to work out what's happened.
That's not to say they're a cute bunch - in fact, it's anything but as many scenes will leave younger ones absolutely petrified.
Part of the problem with 9 is the story - while it's a nice idea, it soon becomes a little too stuck in its own groove. Characters are abducted time and time again and it gets a bit repetitive.
The performances are all perfectly fine - Elijah Wood has the right amount of mirth to be our eyes in this world; John C Reilly provides enough humour and pathos as 2 and Jennifer Connelly is on feisty form as 7, a fighter who left the pack to try and save the world.
Overall, 9 is a little disappointing - with some genuinely scary moments and some brilliant visual touches (some of the creatures are wonderfully inventive and a newsreel scene evokes powerful touches of War of the Worlds), I just came away wanting to have been a bit more engaged by the storyline.

However, thanks to a slightly odd ending and turn of events, 9 will haunt you as you try to work out exactly what message Shane Acker wanted to get across.

Funny People: DVD Review

Funny People: DVD Review

Funny People
Released by Universal Home Entertainment
Rating: R16
Cast: Adam Sandler, Eric Bana, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill

Adam Sandler stars as comedian George Simmons, who has made his name from a series of lowbrow comedies and stand up (sounds familiar doesn't it?)

But despite the fame and fortune, he's not a happy man - and is alienated from his family and lacking friends.

One day, out of the blue, he's told by doctors that he has a rare form of leukaemia - and on learning this, he falls into a depression.

Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) is a budding stand up comedian who wants to quit his day job working at a deli and hit the big time on the comedy scene. Ira and George's paths cross at the comedy club - and Ira's quickly hired by George to help him write some material (although it's clearly a screen for getting someone into his life that he can share his depression with)

As Ira begins working for George, it becomes clear that Simmons has a lifetime of regret to deal with - from family rifts to his aching loss of what he believes to be his one true love - Laura (Leslie Mann)

And when doctors tell him he may have beaten the illness, Simmons realises he has a second chance - so what will he do with it?

Funny People is a film of two halves and at nearly 145 minutes, it is a little too long and meandering in its second half - and with an extended version of the film on the disc you've got to be in it for the long run. However, it's also incredibly impressive in places - and that's mainly due to Adam Sandler (and to a lesser extent Seth Rogen)

Both these actors manage to shake off their perceived personas - but Sandler in a relatively straight role also mocks his own on screen personality - the films Simmons has chosen to do are exactly the kind of films Sandler's made his career from.

But Funny People is a career defining role for Sandler - and with a second version of the film enclosed, it remains an intriguing look at the dramatic potential he has when he plays it straight - throw in some actually funny stand up from him and Funny People remains a slightly missed opportunity from Judd Apatow.

Extras: 2 versions of the film - one of which is extended, gag reel, commentary with Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler, and Seth Rogen give the package a decent if unspectacular element.

Rating: 7/10 

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Limits of Control: DVD Review

The Limits of Control: DVD Review

The Limits of Control
Released by Universal Home Entertainment
Rating: M
Cast: Isaach De Bankolé, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Gael García Bernal, Hiam Abbass, Paz de la Huerta, Alex Descas, John Hurt

A Lone Man (Isaach De Bankolé) is a criminal hitman, hired to do a job in Spain.

Through a series of encounters with pivotal contacts, he begins to edge closer to his target - but the nearer he gets to the hit, the more tangled the web becomes - who can he trust?

The Limits of Control is not your average film- with hardly any dialogue throughout and only the minimal soundtrack, it's not going to appeal to everyone.

Even the sparse dialogue is repeated throughout the film at various junctures and every precious word which is spoken, is pivotal, looped and recycled.

The idiosyncracies and actions of the Lone Man are also looped - each day begins with him doing his tai chi before demanding two espressos in separate cups at cafes in each locale where he finds himself.

Each meeting starts the same way with a contact asking him "You don't speak Spanish, right?" before passing him a matchbox with a piece of paper inside. As he pieces together the puzzles of where he's meant to go, we learn at the same time he does.

However, it's not really about the plot - this is a Jim Jarmusch exercise in cool and minimalism - as well as cameos - the best being Bill Murray (but to reveal much about that would spoil the film.)
John Hurt and Tilda Swinton appear in scenes, espouse some philosophy with our hitman before disappearing into the distance. But if The Limits of Control is about the characters, much of the surroundings help to frame some kind of narrative and context - Spain has never looked quite so beautiful as it does on the big screen here.

Those looking for a coherent plot with a solid explanation of what's going on will be sorely disappointed - but once you settle into the groove and the journey of the story, you are soon sucked in. The looped and repetitive nature of some of the scenes lulls you into a false sense of security as you wait for the jigsaw pieces to fall into place.

The Limits of Control is a diverse piece of film-making - and remains a puzzling yet interesting watch on DVD.
Extras: Jim Jarmusch montage, Behind Jim Jarmusch - a look at Jarmusch's way of filming.

Rating: 6/10 

Couples Retreat: DVD Review

Couples Retreat: DVD Review

Couples Retreat

Released by Universal Home Entertainment
Cast: Vince Vaughan, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Peter Serafinowicz, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis
Rating: M

Couples Retreat (starring a group of the Frat Pack) is the tale of 4 couples who head to an island resort at the insistence of one of their own who are on the verge of divorce - and see the getaway as a last make-or-break chance.

The quartet of couples all have their issues - there's Jon Favreau's Joey and Kristin Davis' Lucy who are at the stage of their marriage where they can't stand the sight of each other; Jason Bateman's suffocating Jason and Kristen Bell's Cynthia who (as mentioned) are on the verge of divorce; Faizon Love's divorced Shane and his 20-year-old girlfriend and Vince Vaughn's Dave and Malin Akerman's Ronnie - who to be fair are the strongest of the couples and whose only real problem is getting time together.

Once on the Paradise Island, the gang soon realise what they'd expected to be a vacation is more about therapy, building and strengthening relationships and talking - than partying and enjoying it.

Written by Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn (a reteaming of the Swingers gang), you'd expect Couples Retreat to be a riotous laugh a minute look at relationships during a retreat on a paradise island.

However, that's far from what you get - it's more like a drama with some gags thrown in occasionally - it's disappointing in the extreme given the comedic talent involved.

Though it's worth saying for the first time on screen, I've actually warmed to a character played by Vince Vaughn; usually boorish, his Dave is probably his most reality grounded and mature role ever which sees you sympathising with his plight as he and Ronnie begin to realise everything's not perfect in their lives.

Most of the laughs from Couples Retreat come from the side characters; from Peter Serafinowicz's contemptuous, sneering, deadpan island host Stanley to Carlos Ponce's terrifyingly creepy yoga instructor.

Extras: A smattering of extras including an alternate ending,gag reel, deleted and extended scenes, a doco on filming in Bora Bora (oh the hardships) and commentary from director and Vince Vaughan round out the package - but ultimately the film is a disappointment.

Rating: 5/10

Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy: DVD Review

Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy: DVD Review

Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy
Rating: PG
Released by BBC/ Roadshow
Cast: Peter Davison, Valentine Dyall, Sarah Sutton, Mark Strickson
Another foray into the Time Lord's endless back catalogue, this trio of releases from 1983 mark a return for Peter Davison's fifth incarnation of the Doctor - as well as a return of a long lost foe.
Essentially this trio of stories sees the Doctor reunited with his old comrade Lethbridge Stewart as well as the introduction of a new companion Turlough to the TARDIS team of Nyssa and Tegan.
Throw in the return of the evil black Guardian who's determined to dispatch the Doctor by manipulating Turlough and you've got a recipe for adventure of the eighties kind.
Beginning with Mawdryn Undead, there's a sense of celebration in this story from the Doctor's 20th anniversary year - Turlough brings with him an air of distrust and an enigma which continues through Terminus (the second in the series) and ends with the sailing ships in space epic Enlightenment.
Peter Davison continues to impress some 20 years with his portrayal and there are some big names from the British TV scene in final story Enlightenment.
As ever with these sets, the stories come second fiddle to the extras which continue to be of a high standard and set the benchmark for docos and add ons for releases. A solid doco looking into the background of the Black Guardian does well to flesh out the story.
From film trims to new CGI effects there's plenty to keep fans interested for hours - throw in commentaries from the main actors and it's a package which will be guaranteed to eat up plenty of time.

Extras: Commentaries - with actors Peter Davison, Mark Strickson and Nicholas Courtney, Sarah Sutton, writer Stephen Gallagher, writer Barbara Clegg, director Fiona Cumming and script editor Eric Saward. Who Wants to Live Forever? - cast and crew look back at the making of the story. With actors Peter Davison, Nicholas Courtney, Mark Strickson, David Collings and Lucy Benjamin, director Peter Moffatt, script editor Eric Saward and plastic surgeon Dr. Simon Withey. Narrated by Floella Benjamin. Liberty Hall - a new drama. Journalist Philip Clarke (Simon Ockenden) travels
to Brendan School to interview Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. Deleted and Extended Scenes Out-takes - the producer's blooper reel.Breaking Point - cast and crew look back at the making of the story. With actors Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, Sarah Sutton and Martin Potter, director Fiona Cumming, writer Stephen Gallagher, designer Dick Coles, camera supervisor Alec Wheal and sound supervisor Scott Talbott. Narrated by Floella Benjamin. Origins of the Universe - Sir Patrick Moore and, Dr. John Mason take a look at the science behind the Big Bang and the origins of the universe. Winner Takes All - cast and crew look back at the making of the story. With actors Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, Janet Fielding, Keith Barron, Christopher Brown and Leee John, director Fiona Cumming, writer Barbara Clegg, costume designer Dinah Collin and camera supervisor Alec Wheal. Narrated by Floella Benjamin. Casting Off! - an actor's view of working on Doctor Who. With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Keith Barron, Christopher Brown and Leee John, with director Fiona Cumming. The Story of the Guardians - the Guardians have appeared in Doctor Who as far back as Tom Baker's era - but who - or what - are they? With Robert Luckham (son of the late White Guardian, Cyril Luckham), Sarah Leppard (daughter of the late Black Guardian, Valentine Dyall), Doctor Who Magazine editor Tom Spilsbury and Doctor Who Adventures editor Moray Laing. Storyboards - a dual-angle feature, in which visual effects supervisor Mike Kelt uses the original storyboards to explain how he went about planning and shooting the model effects sequences for the show.

Rating: 7/10 

Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars: DVD Review

Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars: DVD Review\

Doctor Who - The Waters of Mars
Cast: David Tennant, Lindsay Duncan
Released by Roadshow Entertainment/ BBC
Rating: M
With David Tennant, arguably one of the most popular Doctors, handing over the keys to the TARDIS, there was always going to be a lot of attention on his tenth Doctor's final tales.
And given that his last year was going to consist of only 4 hour long specials, there was infinitely more scrutiny on this quartet of stories.
After the relative disappointment of Planet of The Dead, The Waters of Mars arrives with the heavy weight of expectation on its shoulders - and it doesn't disappoint.
The Doctor lands on Mars on Bowie Base One in the year 2059 - a space base run by Lindsay Duncan's Adelaide Brooke, and one of the first human colonies in space. Within moments of arriving two of the base's inhabitants are turned into zombie like creatures.
But that's not the half of it - the Doc soon realizes he's at a fixed point in time (one which can't be changed without dramatic implications for the future of the earth) and is faced with the reality he can't save one life without irrevocably dismantling the future.
The Waters of Mars is a spooky lead in to the end of Ten's time - it's there simply to showcase the brilliant acting of David Tennant and give the loyal fans a side of the Doctor they've never seen before.
Lindsay Duncan's Adelaide is a strong foil to the Doctor as she grapples with the reality of what happens to all of her staff, her own life and the base itself. The supporting cast do well (aside from irritating robot Gadget which simply grates) and the zombie like creatures which attack do a good job of frightening all and sundry. Sure, there's an argument that there's a little too much running around in corridors but when both Tennant and Duncan turn it on (notably in the electrifying finale), it's edge of the seat viewing.
The extras are the Dr Who confidential behind the scenes look at the making of this episode - an hour long doco which takes you into the world - although after some five years of these now they're starting to run out of ground to cover.
With the final two part epic The End Of Time on its way, The Waters of Mars is a good jumping off point to appreciate what exactly the show will have lost when this Tennant hands over the TARDIS keys.

Rating: 7/10

Boy A: DVD Review

Boy A: DVD Review

Boy A
Released by Roadshow
Rating: M
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Peter Mullan, Katie Lyons
Boy A is an unexpected treat.
It's the story of Jack (Andrew Garfield) a young man just released from prison and trying to make his way in the world. As he tries to build a new life, gets a job and sets about a relationship with Katie Lyons' Michelle, his past starts to come sharply in focus and threatens to derail everything he's worked for.
There's flashbacks to Jack's past as you start to recall the horror of what he actually did - and it's a crime which will make many recall the death of Jamie Bulger and the resulting media furore.
Boy A is a really surprising film; a perfect made for TV DVD which was nominated for 7 BAFTA awards - and its main actor Andrew Garfield (who was in The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus) scooped the best actor award.
It's not difficult to see why - with his self assured acting and engrossing screen presence, he's clearly one of the talents to keep an eye on.
It's very easy to get engrossed in films like this and with a compelling central turn from Garfield, Boy A remains a good compelling and fresh piece of film.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Bright Star: Movie Review

Bright Star: Movie Review

Bright Star
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Kerry Fox, Thomas Sangster
Director: Jane Campion
Jane Campion returns to the big screen with Bright Star, the story of poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his love affair with Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish).
In 1818 London, Keats is a would be poet, Brawne, his fashion obsessed next door neighbour - initially the pair aren't attracted to each other, dismissive of each other's chosen profession and lifestyle.
Yet, against the odds and in the face of disapproval from society, the two are drawn together and begin a relationship.
But with Keats' health failing, it looks as if the duo's affair won't be a long one..
Once again, Jane Campion's crafted another piece of beautiful cinema; a tale of love, yearning and sensuality with some truly gorgeous costumes (which have in fact been nominated for this year's Oscars).
Whishaw's very good as Keats - he conveys the despair Keats felt as an "unsuccessful" poet during his lifetime - and Cornish is equally as good as Fanny who is suddenly struck by the wonders of love. There's a playfulness to their courtship to start off with - but that's swiftly replaced by the harsh reality of English society as Fanny's mother disapproves and forbids the two of them from being together - and from there, while you can tell what's going to happen, it doesn't diminish any of the heart and feeling of the film. The reality of their relationship's breathed a little fresh life into the somewhat dusty works of Keats - and you may find yourself swept away with it all.

Bright Star looks sumptuous and may strike a chord with many romantics everywhere.

Max Manus: Movie Review

Max Manus: Movie Review

Max Manus
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Aksel Hennie, Nicolai Cleve Broch, Agnes Kittelsen, Christian Rubeck, Ken Duken

Director: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Based on true events, Max Manus is the tale of one man's life in the resistance and his battle to conquer his own inner demons.
Having fought the Soviets in Finland, Manus (played by Norwegian Aksel Hennie) finds himself back in Norway just as the German occupation is underway.
Joining the growing resistance movement, he quickly manages to garner himself a reputation as a rebel fighting against censorship and spreading propaganda.
However, he quickly finds himself in the firing line - and is arrested by the Germans. Promptly escaping to Scotland, he finds himself embroiled in a special sabotage group who try to bring down the Nazi occupation from within.
But as Manus continues to fight the ever present oppressors, he soon has to fight his own battles as he loses those around him he loves.
Max Manus is a film of boys own war and to a degree, derring do. It's unflinching in its gritty portrayal of the Norwegian fight against the Nazis - and scenes of street side gun battles are bloody, violent and bleak. There's a palpable sense of dread as Manus and his team take on saboteur missions - because of their initial lack of training and degrees of incompetence, you're never quite sure whether they'll survive or not.
And yet, it's wrong to dismiss Max Manus - production wise, it looks stunning with stomach churning flashbacks to Manus' time in the trenches in Finland. It also doesn't shirk from the grim reality of combat during war - and the effects it has on the main protagonist as his friends are killed and he finds his place in the world uncertain.
It's impossible to watch Max Manus without recalling last year's Dutch resistance flick, Flammen and Citroen which has an uncannily similar storyline.
That said, the end packs an emotional punch - Manus's compassion for his comrades and his portrayal of the feeling that in reality not all of them will return from the missions give it a sad and affecting aura.

All in all, Max Manus is once again a reminder of the ultimate price paid by those willing to sacrifice everything for the freedom of their country - and an acknowledgement that worldwide, many of us owe a debt we can never repay.

Balibo: Movie Review

Balibo: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Oscar Isaac, Nathan Phillips, Damon Gameau, Gyton Grantley, Tom Wright

Director: Robert Connolly
The ever reliable Anthony LaPaglia stars as war journalist Roger East in Balibo - he's called to investigate the disappearance of five Australian journalists in the township of Balibo by Jose Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac).
The quintet was looking into the invasion of East Timor by Indonesian forces when they disappeared - and despite East's initial reluctance to get involved, Ramos-Horta piques his journalistic fancy. East's been promised the job of running the News agency in East Timor as the invasion got underway in 1975 - but he's more concerned about what actually happened to the journalists and why the Australian government - and the world - didn't seem to care.
However, as East heads closer into dangerous territory he soon realises the country's on tipping point and atrocities are being committed which no-one's being told about - can he get to the truth and survive?
Political thriller Balibo is, by turns heartbreaking, horrific and dramatic - the central story of the missing five is book ended by a journalist interviewing a girl who was in Balibo in 1975. He's trying to establish exactly what went on so that those whose lives were lost can get some form of justice. Throughout, the film is interspersed with footage of the journalists and their journey deeper into the heart of East Timor. By initially only using snippets of the journalists' actions, Connolly very cleverly pieces together a narrative framework which is rich in content and throws you right into the middle of the story.
LaPaglia is great as ever as war frazzled journalist East - his relationship with the young Ramos-Horta fizzles with initial mistrust - and even the viewer's not 100% sure if East is being given the truth by Isaac's character. The journalists themselves are well played - and their naivety going into the war zone is suddenly replaced by a very real fear of what they may actually face when confronted by the Indonesian troops. There's a smattering of humour as the journos realise they may have been beaten to the story by a rival network, but the ever encroaching menace and horror of their pursuit of the truth is overwhelming and on several occasions, you find your heart in your mouth. The ending is certainly guaranteed to leave you numb and sickened - but director Robert Connolly doesn't milk the situation for dramatic effect - he simply tells the story rather than tug on the heart strings.
Balibo manages to be a compelling political thriller without delivering an overtly political message - scenes of bodies being discovered massacred in a village are stripped of soundtrack so only the sobs of the characters convey the horrific situation.

Banned in Indonesia amid concerns the story's been skewed to an Australian audience and doesn't tell the truth about how the five journalists died, Balibo remains a deeply affecting and haunting film as the reality of what happened some thirty years ago comes to cinematic light.

Toy Story 1 and 2 3D: Movie Review

Toy Story 1 and 2 3D: Movie Review

Toy Story 1 and 2 3D
Rating: 9/10
Cast: Woody, Buzz, Mr Potato Head, Andy, Slinky Dog
Vocal cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Kelsey Grammer, Joan Cusack
"You are a sad, strange little man."
The claw, the aliens, Jesse, Prospector, Al's Toy Barn, Randy Newman's "You've Got A Friend in Me"; there's so much to remember and love from the Toy Story series.
With Toy Story 3D on its way this year and a brand new series of adventures for the gang just around the corner, it seems inevitable that the first 2 animated films are re-released in 3D to whet the appetite.
But before you scream cash in and protest, hold up just a minute.
The story of Tom Hanks' Woody, the lovable cowboy toy, so beloved by his owner and his friendship and rivalry with Tim Allen's space age toy Buzz Lightyear have thrilled generations of kids - both young and old.
Yet, Disney's pulled out the stops to make this double bill an experience rather than just a back to back screening of the 2 films - with a specially animated opening from the characters to a 10 minute intermission complete with trivia and extra scenes to keep the kids quiet, it's become more of an evening out at the movies.
What of the films themselves? The 3D honestly doesn't add too much to the world of Andy and his toys - it simply lends a level of depth to Pixar's animation that renders it more thrilling on the screen.
And while it's great to see Toy Story again, personally, it's Toy Story 2 which soars - I'd forgotten how close to tears the story of Woody finding his compadres Jesse, Bullseye and the Prospector brought me. There's humour aplenty in the first film but there's a confidence in Toy Story 2 that eclipses the animation and gives it a humanity which is hard to resist.

This is the perfect double bill ahead of the third episode this summer - I can't think of a better way to entertain all the family and to keep the big and little kids happy.

Shutter Island: Movie Review

Shutter Island: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: Leonardo di Caprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow
Director: Martin Scorsese
Scorsese and di Caprio reteam for this spooky mystery thriller adapted from the book by Dennis Lehane (who wrote Mystic River), which was pushed back from last year amid rumours the film company didn't have the cash needed to promote it because of the recession.
Di Caprio stars as US Marshall Teddy Daniels who's sent to a mental asylum on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of an inmate who is believed to still be somewhere on the island.
However, along with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), he finds his investigation blocked at every turn by the doctors in charge of the facility (chiefly Ben Kingsley's Dr Cawley). And as the pair find themselves stranded on the island by a storm, Teddy starts to suffer from flashbacks to the murder of his wife (Michelle Williams) and unsure of exactly who to trust.
Spooky, creepy and full of generally unsettling images, Shutter Island manages to be both disturbing and a masterclass in film making. Once again Martin Scorsese's created a cinematic experience which is full of his trademark camera work and vision which builds a claustrophobic world where you're never quite sure what's going on. Along with a great use of soundtrack and silence, the overall atmosphere is one of menace and uncertainty.
Di Caprio's pretty damn good as the marshall who's struck by visions of his dead wife as he investigates the disappearance - and he starts to unravel the further in he looks into what goes on; equally the supporting cast of Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley do well to keep the mystery going. And Michelle Williams is haunting as Teddy's wife who perished in a fire set by someone Teddy believes is in the asylum.
If you're a regular film goer, you may well spot what's going on - but I guarantee you you won't pick up 100% of what exactly is happening - and yes there's plenty to discuss about the film but unless you want spoilers, here is not the place.

Shutter Island is a moody, enigmatic return from Scorsese - and it's great to see him tackle something slightly different - and he brings to it echoes of the Shining and pulp B movies. It's quite a thrilling ride and while there are a few lulls and the film feels a little long at the end, Shutter Island is a film with a compelling mystery wrapped up in it which will keep you onboard until the credits roll.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Up: DVD Review

Up: DVD Review

Up
Released by Disney DVD
Rating: PG

Voice Cast: Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, Jerome Ranft, John Ratzenberger

A Pixar film is always likely to have me excited - animation is one of the things I love - and I know with this animation studio that their animators have spent hours poring over every frame, ensuring every pixel is in place and every moment is perfectly crafted.

Up is the tale of Carl Fredericksen, who, in the twilight years of his life, after realizing he never followed his (and his wife Ellie's dream) of taking a trip to Paradise Falls in South America, decides to do something about it.

So with the bulldozers literally knocking at his door to make way for a development, Carl unveils a roof full of balloons and heads for the skies as he relocates for good.

The trouble is, just prior to his leaving, Carl was visited by Wilderness Explorer, Russell, who's trying to earn his final badge - for helping the elderly - and who was near the house when it took to the skies. With his unwanted companion, Carl and Russell head off for adventure - even if Carl doesn't want it.

Up is quite an adult tale - it's a yarn about accepting what's in your backyard and living life to the full; it has a winsome quality and has some truly touching moments. But none more than the first sequence which fully illustrates Carl's life with Ellie before the present day is just beautiful, emotionally stunning. Quite how a 3 minute sequence of animation can reduce this reviewer to near tears is a testament to the human touch these computer animators haven't lost.

But I didn't feel the resolute joy with the rest of Up that I have done with similar Pixar releases - whether it's because this story didn't resonate with me, I don't know; that said, I do love the fact that Carl loses his purpose in his life after the loss of Ellie - a rare quality for an animated film to portray - and by relocating and following what were his family's dreams, he rediscovers who exactly he is.

However, for every moment of minor misses, there are 1001 visually stunning moments on Up - and even more so on BluRay - and at the end of the day, when you're watching animation sometimes it's more than enough to simply look up and be impressed.

EXTRAS: As ever with Pixar films, you get the short which preceded the film in the cinemas, the winsome Partly Cloudy, alternate scenes, a chance to visit the real paradise falls and perhaps the best bit Dug's Special Mission, a spin off animation about the talking dog Dug seen in the film. It's a great package and continues to push the high limits of Disney DVD releases.

Rating: 8/10 

The Cove: DVD Review

The Cove: DVD Review

The Cove
Rating: M
Released by Madman Entertainment
Sometimes a film knocks you sideways in ways you couldn't imagine.

Following a relatively low key success on the festival front and in the arthouse cinemas, this National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos doco finally hits the DVD shelves.
The Cove is a remarkably restrained piece about the lengths gone to for the capture of dolphins to populate the world's dolphinariums. A group of activists decide enough is enough and set about exposing the lengths the Japanese will go to to capture young dolphins at a secret Cove in the west of the country. But as they try to get footage from the killing fields, they're blocked at every turn and have to resort to subterrean subterfuge to achieve their goal.
Granted, a film which says it is unashamedly activist is likely to make some think it'll be a stringing together of sensationalist emotional material aimed at turning you against the Japanese.
However, with such powerful footage and content, you won't help but feel the call to action as the final credits roll.
It "stars" former Flipper trainer Ric O'Barry who is now trying to stop the capture of dolphins in Japan for entertainment purposes - his eloquence and measured behaviour is a real jolt to the senses when you realise he spent 10 years training Flipper before realising what damage he'd done and how he'd condemned a species to a life inside and at our entertainment mercy.
This is heartbreaking viewing but not because of one disturbing scene which shows the Japanese at work in the cove - and quite frankly that scene needs to be seen because there really is no option for them to deny what they do.
It's a dose of reality in a thrilling piece of documentary making which is a kind of aquatic Mission Impossible. Just don't be surprised if you feel galvanized into action at the end.
Extras: Theatrical trailer, Outtakes and more hidden camera footage from the group's attempt to infiltrate, audio commentary with director Louie Psihoyos, study guide add to this release's essential film-making.

Rating: 8/10

Dead Snow: DVD Review

Dead Snow: DVD Review

Dead Snow
Rating: R16
Released by Madman Entertainment
Dead Snow (or Dod Sno to give it its foreign title) is a Norwegian delight.
It's the story of eight medical students who head off for a boozy weekend in a cabin in remote Norway for some snow, fun and sex.
However, their holiday's put on hold when a bunch of dead Nazi zombies attack - the undead are after some recently uncovered Nazi gold (quite how they'd spend it is a little beyond me).
To be honest though, Dead Snow isn't supposed to be rocket science - it simply does what it says on the tin - zombies, c'mon people what more do you need?

It's also a horror splatterfest which is quite humorous in plenty of places - it also covers every single horror cliche in the genre; the gang are a randy bunch - and movie nerds- and the ones who have sex are the first to be picked off (didn't they see Scream?).

There's a crazy man wandering the land warning of danger in them thar hills - yes, every single cliche is present and correct but in a throwback way and an acknowledgement of what's gone before in the genre.

The Nazi zombies themselves are a strange bunch with their motives only really present at the end - but films like this don't lend themselves to sustained analysis.

Dead Snow is tremendous fun, gore-tastic and black humour abound - and even odes to Evil Dead..can't fault it- check yr brain at the door(well the zombies would only want to eat it)

EXTRAS: Making of Dead Snow, Cast and crew at Sundance, Make up and special effects featurettes

Rating: 7/10

In The Loop: DVD Review

In The Loop: DVD Review

In The Loop
Rating: R13
Released by Madman Entertainment

Cast: Peter Capaldi, James Gandolfini, Tom Hollander, Anna Chlumsky, Chris Addison

A spin off from the critically acclaimed The Thick Of It, it's a tale of politics, foul mouths and hilarious misunderstandings with global consequences.

With the British Prime Minister and US president looking to go to war, there are the inevitable political splits - and the situation is made much worse by Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander). His comment that war is "unforeseeable" during an interview is picked up - and suddenly the entire world appears to be going to hell in a handcart.

Only to make matters worse, the UK's chief spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (a stunning bilious performance from Peter Capaldi whose anger seems to push him close to a stroke) latches onto Foster as he tries to limit the damage control.

In The Loop is a dizzying, hedonistic trip through the corridors of power - it's like the West Wing on foul mouthed speed. It's about British politics and the satire - and takes in Washington politics as well.

It's fast paced, intelligent, frenetic and full of endlessly quotable F word moments - Iannucci shows why he's the king of UK satire as he lampoons the reality of life behind the political curtain.

With a top notch ensemble cast, In The Loop is full of quality performances - but one simply towers above the rest.

It's quite simply Peter Capaldi's film - his turn as spin doctor Malcolm Tucker defies description - from the first moments when he tells Foster's new intern to go away in no uncertain terms, it's clear he's not a man who minces his words. However, thanks to the juxtaposition of an impending global war and the absurdity of constituency politics, director Iannucci's able to weave a tableaux which is fun, frantic and requires a certain level of intelligence to follow.

In The Loop is a vicious satire and a very funny expression of politics as well as the levels it's played on - from the very top to the very bottom with quibbling interns.

Extras: Audio commentary with Armando Iannucci and cast; deleted scenes; webisodes, trailers and interviews with stars and the director make a great addition to a brilliantly savage film

Rating: 8/10

District 9: DVD Review

District 9: DVD Review

District 9
Released by Sony Home Pictures
Rating: M
Cast: Sharlto Copley
This is the film which rocked everyone's world in 2009 - and it's finally out on DVD.
It made multiple films of the year lists, the majority of which had it near the top - but looking back on the release of District 9 by director Neill Blomkamp, the film's still got a lot of its freshness - and looks stunning in its Blu Ray release format.
Basically the story is of aliens as refugees - they came to Earth one day 20 years ago - and instead of landing in Manhattan or New York, they chose Johannesburg in South Africa. The huge alien craft sat in the skies above the city - and in was only when the powers that be broke into the ship that they found millions of aliens alive and malnourished within. So while the equivalent of the United Nations discussed what to do with these refugee creatures (affectionately given the racist term "prawns" because of their appearance), they were brought down to earth and put in slum areas, segregated away from the rest of humanity.
As private company MNU (Multi National United) investigates the alien technology to no avail, it's decided to rehome the Prawns from their settlements, which have now become riddled with crime and Nigerian gangs. District 9 follows the unraveling of events as a doco crew follows MNU worker Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who's given the job of overseeing the evictions - and who inadvertently sets in motion a series of events which change the equilibrium of the last 20 years.
This film still packs the same kind of punch it did on its initial release - and has even improved with a second viewing. Initially the effects and the story blew me away in the cinema - but now with the benefit of home viewing, there's much much more to savour in the richness of the story and the subtle satire on show.
As I said at the time: "It's hard to pigeonhole is as one particular genre - it's sci-fi, it's guns and explosions, it's unexpected humour, it's geek overload in places, it's Predator, it's reminiscent of Black Hawk Down, Aliens, Robocop - and amazingly, it's buddy cop movie a la Fly - but none of it is derivative. What Blomkamp's come up with is a real mash up of genres - and with a lead who's pretty damn impressive for a first time actor."
I really can't add much more to that - District 9 remains as rewarding as it did in the cinema.

Extras: A whole heap of behind the scenes stuff just adds to the overall brilliance - even better on BluRay. You get Director's Commentary, Deleted Scenes,Koobus Big Gun, The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker's Log -- Three-Part Documentary,The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker's Log,The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker's Log - Chapter 3: Refining District 9,Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Wikus, Innovation: Acting and Improvisation, Conception and Design: Creating the World of District 9, Alien Generation: Visual Effects

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief: Movie Review

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief: Movie Review

Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief
Rating: See below
Cast: Logan Lerman, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Catherine Keener, Brandon T Jackson, Steve Coogan, Kevin McKidd, Rosario Dawson, Uma Thurman
Director: Chris Columbus
From the book series by Rick Riordan comes the latest attempt to launch a new franchise as we prepare to farewell Harry Potter.
Helmed by the director who did the first three Potter films, you'd expect the film was in safe hands.
Lerman is teenager Percy Jackson, a dyslexic ADHD kid who sees himself as a loser and is constantly surprised by his mum's (Catherine Keener) decision to stay with a deadbeat loser (the ever great Joe Pantoliano).
One day when on a school trip, Jackson's attacked by a creature determined to get The Lightning Bolt from him. You see, it turns out that Jackson is the demi god son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), the Greek god of the sea and nephew of Zeus (Sean Bean.)
But someone's stolen Zeus' lightning bolt - and unless it's returned in 14 days, Zeus will bring down all manner of furious vengeance upon the world.
So with the help of a wise cracking protector Grover (Jackson) and a potential love interest daughter of Athena, Percy sets about to prove his innocence and rescue the world from an angry god, hell bent on exacting vengeance.
If you're a Greek mythology fan and know a bit about ancient myths (I'm looking at myself here) you may get a bit more out of Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief than the average punter - references to ancient stories are scattered throughout the film in a fairly clever and subtle way (aside from the jarring revelation that Hell is in Hollywood).
There are some pretty impressive effects - and some slightly shonky ones too - as the film goes through its two hour run.
However, that's possibly where the enjoyment may end unless you're of a younger disposition.
With his Zac Efron-esque looks, Lerman (best known for cancelled drama Jack and Bobby) is perhaps not the strongest lead for the film - his friendship with Grover grates after a while - mainly thanks to the continuing wise cracks from his so-called protector. Also Percy's self revelation of what he is (a demi-god) comes with a lack of depth or context - and while he spends a lot of time feeling like a loser rather than a hero, it's hard to feel for him because there's no context and you don't see him struggle on a day to day basis.
As ever, with the launch of a potential franchise, I thought it was best to take along some younger viewers to stave off the cynicism.
16-year-old Connor (who recently finished reading the first book) thought it was pretty good in places - and loved the depiction of hell and Hades (Steve Coogan) on the screen. He thought the effects were good but felt the plot was a little rushed. He's also decided that it suffers from what he's termed "Harry Potter syndrome" where chunks of exposition were jettisoned to propel the plot along. His feeling was that it led to scenes being thrown together and felt as if some of them jarred a little and didn't exploit some of the subtleties of the book's storyline. Overall, it was a 6/10 for him.
10-year-old Jackson decided it was "quite good" - and could really remember the beginning which sees Poseidon rise from the sea and walk onto the land. He was impressed with those effects - and then went off on a tangent about what powers he'd have if he could control the elements; ultimately he decided on electricity. Overall it's 8/10 for him.
Percy Jackson is perhaps a muddled start to the franchise (there are four other books) and may disappoint some of the legions of its fans. As a piece of cinematic entertainment, it's a fairly harmless film that is unfortunately none too memorable.

Average rating from the tvnz.co.nz kid reviewers - 7/10

Silent Wedding: Movie Review

Silent Wedding: Movie Review

Silent Wedding
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Doru Ana, Meda Victor
Director: Horatiu Malele
Set in 1953 Romania, Silent Wedding is perhaps one of the strangest, most haunting films I've seen so far this year.
It's the tale of Iancu and Ana - whose lusty relationship is the talk of the small farming village where they live - Iancu's been with other women but the elders of the village want him to settle down with Ana.
So, following negotiations in a pub, a date's set for the pair to marry - and preparations begin.
However, during the start of the ceremony, a visitor to the village tells them Stalin is dead - and consequently declares seven days of national mourning, where nothing can happen.
That includes Ana and Iancu's wedding - but the villagers scheme a way to get through the big day. They will hold the wedding - but it'll all be done in silence so as not to attract any attention.
Silent Wedding is a surreal piece in places - and is outrageously inventive. There's a kind of nuttiness to it which actually seems in context with the story.
And yet it's based on quite a sad premise - intially the story is told because the film begins with a camera crew coming across an abandoned factory in a wasteland with elderly people scattered (alive) along the road. As the crew investigates and talks to them, the mayor recounts to them how the factory came into being - and how the village was left behind.
So it's a bittersweet tale which also appears to be diametrically opposed to the comedy of The Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy during the wedding. The villagers use rags around the cups to toast the couple - and a toast is passed on in the form of Chinese whispers.
These are part and parcel of the odd moments which are littered through the film and which give it an overall feel of something a bit different and a little quirky.
Silent Wedding is all about the characters - the richness and hilarity of their emotional connections within the confines of their village life- so it's a particular jolt at the end when it comes back to the wasteland where they used to be.
Silent Wedding won't be to everyone's taste - though if you give it 90 minutes of your day, you'll probably feel like you've seen something different, a bright and breezy alternative and antidote to what's currently at the cinema.


The Wolfman: Movie Review

The Wolfman: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Benicio del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving
Director: Joe Johnston
In 1880s London, Lawrence Talbot (del Toro) is summoned to the family home after the disappearance of his brother Ben.
Talbot is reunited with his father (Anthony Hopkins) - something that he hadn't planned on after fleeing domestic life after the death of his mother. After being called back by Ben's wife Gwen (Emily Blunt), the hunt soon turns to a funeral after the discovery of Ben's mutilated body.
Talbot begins an investigation into the brutal slaying of his brother - and even Scotland Yard's finest (including Hugo Weaving) are called in. But as Talbot digs deeper into claims an animal killed his brother, he's drawn into a dark world and finds himself facing his deepest fears.
The Wolfman is a straight forward remake of the 1941 film - complete with gory blood letting moments and some spine chilling scenes.
And quite frankly after the recent Twilight shenanigans of the wolves with their rippling abs and easy transformation, it's refreshing to see a Wolfman which is primal and angry. Rick Baker's creature work is pretty impressive - and the time-lapse photography when del Toro changes gives the whole thing a spooky dark feeling.
Del Toro himself, apparently a fan of the original film, is perfectly cast in this - his knack of carrying off a troubled character works wonders in Talbot as he questions his own sanity and the reality around him - by keeping Talbot away from too much emotion, Del Toro's created the perfect Gothic horror.
Emily Blunt acquits herself well and provides really the only humanity on display - although she feels a little wasted in the role; Hugo Weaving's glowering and deadpan Aberline has some great lines - but it's Anthony Hopkins who veers a little too close to Hammer horror hamminess which threatens to derail the proceedings. Fortunately though he's reigned in and just about manages to carry it off.
There's a moody malevolence to this Wolfman - it's dark all throughout blending a Gothic atmosphere with some edge of the seat shocks and plenty of gore.
Granted, you could argue this has been done before (it is a remake after all) and that you know exactly what's coming (one scene with Talbot inside an asylum examination room full of doctors as the full moon rises is one example) but it's how these scenes play out that is to be commended.
There are some disappointments though - the ending feels a little rushed and a bit of a mess; almost as if the writers weren't sure how to end the whole film. But with some great initial scenes when the Wolfman attacks and some horror gore, the cons are balanced nicely with the pros.

All in all, it's great to see an old school horror remake like this on the big screen; it doesn't rely too much on FX trickery and plays on your fears of what's out there in the dark- there's a real menace and Gothic horror to this Wolfman which deserves 90 minutes of your time.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Edge Of Darkness: Movie Review

Edge Of Darkness: Movie Review

Edge of Darkness
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Bojana Novakovic
Director: Martin Campbell
Back on the big screen for the first time in 7 years, Mel Gibson returns in conspiracy revenge thriller, Edge of Darkness helmed by NZ's very own Martin Campbell.
Based on a BBC mini series (which was directed by Campbell back when it was initially broadcast in the 1980s) Gibson stars as Boston detective Tom Craven, whose daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) comes home to visit.
However, Emma becomes sick and after vomiting blood, Craven decides to take her to the hospital. But barely out of the front door, she's shot dead in a drive by.
The police are convinced he's the target of the shooter, but Craven begins his own investigation - and gradually begins to realize he's slap bang in the middle of a massive conspiracy which has wider implications than he could ever realize.
So it's a return for Mel Gibson in front of the camera - and perhaps this world weary cop with his steely eyed determination is a suitable role to announce he's back. Gibson manages to convey Craven's simmering anger at his daughter's death and resolve to get to the truth in an excellent way (you're never quite sure exactly when he's going to explode) but unfortunately he's mired in a rather formulaic film which has all the trappings of your everyday thriller.
The problem with this is that the central story of corruption is nothing new and is not really told in an entirely original way. There's Ray Winstone's mysterious government agent Jedbergh, who mumbles and menaces his way through the story; he tries for enigmatic and ends up confused as to which side he's on; there's a sinister shadowy cabal who meet to decide how it'll pan out - and there's betrayal aplenty.

Aside from some jolts to your nerve moments (which are obviously coming), there's little original in how this pans out. .That's not to say it's not good - it's merely middle of the road, generic, formulaic thriller with chases, scenes of suspense and twists aplenty.

At the end of the day, Gibson's probably the main reason to see this - it's a welcome return to form for the man whose private life has overwhelmed his acting abilities.

Precious: Movie Review

Precious: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique,, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz
Director: Lee Daniels
As we head towards Oscar season, some films are already emerging as contenders thanks to a clutch of nominations.
Precious is one of those films.
It stars Gabourey Sidibe as Claireece Precious Jones, an overweight, illiterate 16 year old girl in New York's Harlem.
Verbally, mentally and physically abused by her mother on a regular basis and sexually abused by her father, Precious does what she can to get by.
However, she's kicked out of school when it's discovered that she's pregnant for a second time - and is given the chance to enroll in a special school, Each One Teach One, run by Miss Blu Rain (Paula Patton).
Precious takes the chance on the school and gradually starts to improve her life - however, when her domestic situation comes to a head, it's clear Precious needs to make some life changing decisions - whether she likes them or not.
Based on the acclaimed novel, Push, Precious is not an easy film to watch - while it's got an uplifting end, it's sometimes a difficult (albeit darkly humorous) road to travel.
Mo'Nique is horrifying as Precious' mother - a powderkeg of resentment and twisted by abuse, she's just waiting to explode - and there is one particular moment that will horrify some (even if it is obvious that that's what's coming). However, in her final scenes with her daughter, Mo'Nique manages to subtly lift the character from abuser to leave you with your mouth hanging open as she talks of their family life.
Gabourey Sidibe is compelling as Precious - despite a heavy role to take, this first time actress brings an underlying respect and dignity to all that she undergoes, and good grief, it's the gamut of abuse, violence and bullying. Precious chooses to live in a fantasy world in her head when things get really bad - and it's here that Sidibe brings some joy to the character as she dances to music or attends premieres.
Some may feel that the message of Precious is given in a heavy handed way, but, to be honest, this film's not sugar coated and is a horrifying indictment of the reality that some have to endure on a daily basis. And sure, some of it feels like familiar territory as Precious struggles in class, but gradually overcomes the increasingly insurmountable odds against her.

However, it's not all dark - there's a lot of humour scattered throughout and in many unexpected places thanks to a sharp, sassy script. Both Mariah Carey as a social worker and Lenny Kravitz as a male nurse are good - but Precious belongs to Sidibe and Mo'Nique. It's their performances which give the film its power and while some may argue the ending is not upbeat enough given what we've had to endure, it's a churlish complaint about a film which for many will be a harrowing revelation.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Nine: Movie Review

Nine: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Daniel Day Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Marion Cottilard, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman
Director: Rob Marshall
Based on the Tony musical of the same name (which is itself based on Federico Fellini's 8 ý), director Rob Marshall (Chicago) unveils his version on the big screen.
Daniel Day Lewis stars as Italian film director Guido Contini, the maestro of cinema Italiano, who's under pressure to create his ninth film. Contini's revered in Italy (despite a string of recent flops - a running gag in the film) but is struggling to come up with a script for his ninth outing on the big screen.
But despite seeking inspiration from the women in his life - a prostitute from youth (Fergie), his mistress Carla (a fiery sparky Penelope Cruz), his wife Luisa (an ever dependable Marion Cotillard), his mother (Sophia Loren) and his muse (Nicole Kidman), he's got nothing.
With the studio on his back, sets being built and time running out, Guido's got nowhere to hide - can he get his magic back?
Nine is a sexy, spectacularly lavish affair - with its women giving their all both vocally and physically on the screen, it seemed destined not to fail. And yet, somehow, it manages to do so.
The mark of any decent musical is how well the songs fit into the overall scheme - and to be fair to Nine, the majority of them don't feel shoe horned into the screenplay simply for the film's sake. While Day Lewis is good and verges on farcical at times as he tries to avoid the ever tightening cinematic noose around his neck, it's difficult to empathise with this director who has it all and yet is suffering from writer's block.
The scenery around Rome is stunning and the sets are pretty impressive - but it's some of the musical numbers which fail to stay in the mind hours after you've left the cinema. The opening number as Contini wanders onto his partially built set and is met by the echoes of the women in his mind recalls the final moments of the Muppet Show opening as the gang sang through the arches - only mixed with a Pussycat Dolls audition.
Fergie does well as a prostitute whose influence on Guido's catholic lifestyle shapes him in later life and Penelope Cruz is excellent as the mistress - but they can only go so far as to stave off the quiet moments.
There are lulls throughout the film - and while I'm happy to admit there are always challenges to adapting musicals for the big screen, this one needed a little more effort on the writing front; it hangs together okay but never really grabs the audience.

Ultimately Nine is a case of style over substance; it's a brilliantly, visually dazzling feast but after it's done you'll be hard pressed to remember too much about it.