Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Moon: DVD Review

Moon: DVD Review

Moon
Released by Sony Home Entertainment
Rating: M

In this superb slice of intelligent sci-fi, Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell, an employee contracted for three years by a mining company to work on the surface of the moon to help extract helium-3 which is to be used on earth as a power source.
As the end of his stretch nears, Bell suffers an accident on the lunar surface and wakes up back inside the base, convinced he is not alone&
There's much to love about Moon - from the retro stylings of the moonbase (its sheer whites recall 2001: A Space Odyssey - as does Kevin Spacey's voicing of the robot GERTY, whose monotone talk and displays emoticons on its screen are reminiscent of HAL) -to the wonderful performance of Sam Rockwell as a disaffected Bell.
But in terms of themes, Moon is more than just scifi.
It has universal themes such as isolation, what it is to be human and how we need other people to survive - the initial opening is all about the character study and how one survives alone and millions of miles away from others before it changes into something even smarter and more existential. Rockwell continues to grow his portfolio as one of the best actors around - his multiple character emotions are brought excellently to the fore by director Jones. It's his performance which literally pivots the film - and which is so compelling, you can't take your eyes off the screen for one moment.
To simply define Moon as sci fi is to do it a disservice - to consider it more as a study of the human condition and of the big questions in life is more appropriate.
Extras: Commentary with the director, and producers, a featurette on the making and the visual effects - as well as a short film by the director Duncan Jones - all add to the experience.

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Orphan: DVD Review

Orphan: DVD Review

Orphan
Released by Warner Home Video
Rating: R16

It appears the scary kids are back.

Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Saarsgard) are two parents trying to put the pieces back of their lives after losing a third child - however, the strain is showing as Kate also battles with going back on the booze and blaming herself for her youngest daughter Max's deafness after an incident involving a lake near their home.
So as they try to get back on track, they head to the local orphanage where they're immediately charmed by 9year old Russian girl, Esther.
Esther becomes a part of their lives - and splits the younger kids - with the elder Daniel wary and Max (Aryana Engineer) being overly welcoming and in thrall of her new sister.
However, it soon becomes clear that Esther is not all she seems&.
For the majority of its (slightly long) two hour running time, Orphan is racked full of suspense - with the sense of foreboding quite powerful at times.
It's quite an honest portrait of a family trying to get back to a normal life - both Farmiga and Saarsgard are compelling and realistic in their portrayal of a normal couple who are stretched to the limits by what's happened.
Of the younger kids, newcomer Aryana Engineer gives an impressive debut performance as Max (traumatized and empowered in equal measures)- but it's Isabelle Fuhrman who provides the requisite spooks and gives you the creeps as her Esther skulks around on screen.
Some will find the brooding build up a little slow in places - and at times the soundtrack pulls no punches in screeching its terrifying intentions (not always to the best effect).
Unfortunately after the end twist sucker punch, Orphan sadly has nowhere left to go and descends into a conclusion mired in clichéd horror films - but for shocks and moments where you find your nails digging into the cinema chair, Orphan delivers the necessary goods.
Extras: Additional scenes including an alternate ending don't add too much to the package - but at least there's something.

Rating: 6/10

Monday, 29 March 2010

My Life In Ruins: DVD Review

My Life In Ruins: DVD Review

My Life In Ruins
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
Rating: PG

The team behind the eternally successful My Big Fat Greek Wedding, have reteamed for this frothy rom com about a tour guide working in Greece.
Nia Vardalos returns and is this time playing Georgia, a history professor who is now slumming it as a tour guide for a dodgy tour company in Greece. Georgia's not doing too well - preferring to concentrate her tours on the architecture, despite her groups insisting they see the tacky tourist traps while out and about.
However, Georgia's about to give up - unlucky in love, unlucky in life, she's decided enough's enough. Her competitor tour guide (played by British impersonator Alistair McGowan) is determined to drive her out - so when Georgia's latest tour group turns up, he seizes his chance.
What can you say about My Life In Ruins? Disappointing is perhaps the politest way to describe this piece of romantic fluff which will anger the sensible with its awful racial stereotyping and distinctly unfunny script.
Vardalos does ok; and even with the support of the ever dependable Richard Dreyfuss, she can't do much to raise this from the mire (which is bizarre as she wrote most of it as well).
Perhaps the best thing about My Life In Ruins is the Greek scenery - some of the ancient monuments look just stunning on screen - however, the jokes about their bus driver's name (he's called Poupi) do little to raise the cultural bar.
Extras: Audio commentaries by Vardalos, director and writer as well as deleted scenes and a featurette entitled Everybody Loves Poupi should tell you everything you need to know about this.

Rating: 3/10

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Ponyo: DVD Review

Ponyo: DVD Review

Ponyo
Released by Madman Entertainment
Rating: G


Cast: Frankie Jonas, Tina Fey, Noah Cyrus, Liam Neeson, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
From the renowned animation stable of Studio Ghibli - the studio which bought you Howl's Moving Castle, comes Ponyo.
Or to give it its full title - Ponyo on a Cliff By The Sea.
A 5-year-old boy, Sosuke (voiced by Frankie Jonas) adopts a goldfish (the titular Ponyo played by Noah Cyrus)when she emerges from the sea one day having escaped from her father, the king of the ocean (voiced by Liam Neeson.)

However their friendship is torn apart as quickly as it's begun after the seas reclaim her. But Ponyo works a way out to become human and return to her friend - yet, her desire could signal the end of the world.

Studio Ghibli animation is always a delight - and this latest offering from the stable of Hayao Miyazaki is no exception. It first wowed me at the New Zealand International Film Festival and has done it again on the small screen - even if it is the American dubbed one with major actors in the roles. Shame, there's no sign yet of the Japanese version in all its majesty.

It's a truly enchanting tale - quite beautifully animated with traditional drawings as opposed to the computer animation so prevalent in today's cinematic world. Ponyo has a pure heart and joy about her - even when a tsunami threatens to engulf a town, the visual of Ponyo, in her human form, skipping over the waves brings a smile to your face.

A work of pure fantasy and one which shows there's plenty of life left in Studio Ghibli - let's hope Miyazaki has got many more tales in mind.

Rating: 8/10 

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Separation City: DVD Review

Separation City: DVD Review

Separation City
Released by Sony Home Entertainment
Rating: M

"A film about falling out of love for the first time."
In this Kiwi film from renowned writer Tom Scott, all aspects of relationships are pored over. Political speech writer Simon (Joel Edgerton) and Pam (Danielle Cormack) are in suburban hell - their marriage is suffering because of their stifling lifestyles. Elsewhere Berliner Katrien (Rhona Mitra) has followed her husband Klaus (Thomas Kretschmann) to New Zealand but has quickly discovered he has a wondering eye.
When Katrien's introduced into Pam's social circle, she soon takes Simon's eye - and the sexual tension in the room could cause an explosion&
It's of note that despite being a Kiwi venture, Separation City has a rather international cast - its male lead is Australian, its lead actress is English - in fact Tom Scott has made no secret of the fact they cast the net far and wide for people to be involved. Mind you the whole film has a distinctive Wellington feel - as it's shot around parts of the capital and in Parliament - it's a real ode to the beauty of the city.
There's a lot to admire in Separation City - it has some genuinely funny laugh out loud lines - most of them courtesy of Les Hill's journalist Harry whose sardonic - and realistic - approach to life is the perfect tonic for Joel Edgerton's dreaming would be stray Simon. It does however, fall slightly short and ends up being simply a reasonable piece of the state of relationships later on in life.
There's also much mockery of the touchy feely approach to life - a men's group consisting of a core group of dysfunctional guys provides a lot of the humour as they bemoan the fact that staying monogamous makes life so difficult (again Les Hill has the lion's share of the best moments during the groups)
Separation City has some fresh moments and will end up being rabidly loved by some - it's a grown up comedy which may not hit all the right notes but certainly has a good go.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 26 March 2010

Year One: DVD Review

Year One: DVD Review

Year One
Released by Sony Home Entertainment
Rating: M

It was one of the films I enjoyed least of 2009 so it was with a degree of trepidation that I watched the DVD and Blu Ray release of Year One, the comedy with Jack Black and the ever brilliant Michael Cera.
They play Zed and Oh respectively, a pair of cavemen who find themselves kicked out of their tribe and thrust into the real world. Along the way, the feeble hunter (Black) and the timid gatherer (Cera) form an unlikely friendship and find themselves in a bit of a predicament.
The problem with Year One is the script - it's clearly not with the performers and the legendary director Harold Ramis (who may be destined to be remembered for Groundhog Day) but the material is a little feeble and just tragically unfunny - which is not great for a comedy.
There are some great supporting performances as well from the likes of House's Olivia Wilde as an empress and Cera's fellow Arrested Developmenter David Cross - but it's just not enough to pull the film together and make it any more cohesive.
Year One ranks as one of the year's hugest disappointments - younger teens will love it - but the rest of us may wonder what's so funny.
Extras: Quite a good collection here - a theatrical and unrated version give you twice the thrills if you feel like it; alternate scenes, deleted scenes, gag reels, commentary with director and stars and a featurette are the lion's share of the extras

Rating: 4/10

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Boy: Movie Review

Boy: Movie Review

Rating: 9/10
Cast: Taika Waititi, James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu
Director: Taika Waititi
Unmissable.
Quite simply that's the only way to describe this latest film from the genius behind Eagle Vs Shark, director Taika Waititi.
It's the story of Boy (a superb James Rolleston) and is set in 1984 on the rural East coast of New Zealand.
Boy's a dreamer - he loves Michael Jackson and lives with a clutch of cousins, his Nan and his brother Rocky (who believes he has super powers after his mum died giving birth to him). He also believes he'll score the girl of his dreams.
He imagines his dad, a deep sea diver, carpenter and owner of some totally boss Michael Jackson moves is overseas - the reality is his father Alamein (a glorious Waititi) is serving a stretch behind bars for robbery.
One day, his dad gets out - and both he and Boy gradually bond. But as the pair start to find their way in the world, and despite Alamein's love for ET, Boy's forced to face the reality of his life.
Poignant, hilarious and heartfelt - and unmissable, Boy is a beaut of a piece of New Zealand rural nostalgia, crammed full of funny moments and heartbreak as the reality of Boy's life starts to take sharp focus in this coming of age vignette from Waititi.
While there is a measure of the quirky, there's also a lot of humanity in the story as Boy begins to realise that his father isn't everything he wants him to be and that he doesn't want to grow up to be like his inept dad. Likewise Waititi's Alamein is a beautifully textured performance; by turns he's comic relief, then simmering violent resentment and finally accepting what life's given him. Te Aho Eketone-Whitu's subtle performance masks a sadness in Rocky at being bereft of a mother and facing the guilt she died giving birth - in fact both the central performances from the two young leads are just beautifully sublime and will see you go through the gamut of emotions.
Waititi's world is one I'd love to spend more time in - from its family message about being true to yourself and your whanau, to some wonderful fantasy scenes and animations, I really can't wait to see what he'll do next.

From the opening quote (from ET no less) and with the strains of Poi E bursting onto the screen - right to the final moments (this critic won't spoil those but let's just say, stick around when it looks like it's over), Boy is a Kiwi delight and deserves to be loved worldwide.

Automorphosis: Movie Review

Automorphosis: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Director: Harrod Blank
How much do you love your car?
Well, I can guarantee your love isn't as much as the love displayed by the characters on show in this doco which is out at the World Cinema Showcase.
Automorphosis follows the very American world of art cars as they explain why they love the phenomenon and how it's taken over their lives.
Basically Harrod Blank's doco meets up with those who are most proud of their car handiwork - from the Spoon Man who's decorated his vehicle with spoons, to the man who'd heard copper was good for arthritis and decked out his entire car with copper pennies (as well as a copper jumpsuit), these are all people who have a story to tell and a passion to spread.
Initially, you find yourself agog, wondering what on earth these people are thinking and whether, quite frankly, they're nuts and their hobby is a little out of control.
But what you begin to realise is everyone has a damn good reason for doing what they do and the world would be an emptier place without these guys and gals.
In a film littered with so many visually amusing moments and images, there is no way I could do it justice on this page - you really do need to see them for yourselves. What's engaging about it is that the director is actually a part of this world and is trying to get people into his passion - and with infectious light story telling, Harrod Blank can't fail but to hook you in.

Automorphosis is a brilliantly entertaining look at the world of art cars; and I'd be surprised if you didn't leave this doco feeling like it's time you did some work on your own motor.

Fish Tank: Movie Review

Fish Tank: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Griffiths, Kierston Wareing
Director: Andrea Arnold
This British film about a 15 year old girl on a council estate has had accolades hurled at it left, right and centre in the UK.
Showing as part of the World Cinema Showcase, it's the story of Mia (brilliantly played by newcomer Katie Jarvis) and her life in the "fish tank" of her world.
Mia's an angry outsider, scornful of the other girls around her and more likely to let loose a tirade of foul mouthed language than try to fit in. In her grey tracksuit, she's a snapshot of many UK teens who feel their lives are going nowhere.
But her world changes one day when her mother brings home a new boyfriend, Connor (Inglourious Basterds' Michael Fassbender) - she's intrigued by this stranger, and the scales fall from her eyes and she starts to see a life outside of her own small world.
There's a certain degree of inevitability to this story - you can see what's coming a mile off; but what you can't see is how powerful the central performance by Katie Jarvis is. She's brilliantly captured the futility and anger of the teen years as she deals with one disappointment after another. However, when she meets Connor, thanks to a multi layered and subtle performance you start to warm up to this lower class ladette as you're drawn into her life.

It's unusual to recommend a film because of one person - but Fish Tank is that film. It rises because of Katie Jarvis' performance and marks out the fact she will be a talent to watch in the future.

How To Train Your Dragon: Movie Review

How To Train Your Dragon: Movie Review

How To Train Your Dragon
Rating: See Below
Vocal Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrara, Craig Ferguson
Director: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
It must be school holiday time very soon.
The reason I say that is because there's animated fare on the way - and this is the first off the block.
How To Train Your Dragon is the story of Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) a scrawny wannabe Viking, who works as a trainee blacksmith while his Viking father and leader Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler who appears to be channeling Leonidas from 300 at times) tries to protect their village from the invading forces of dragons.
But while Hiccup yearns to learn how to kill dragons and make his dad proud, Stoick isn't convinced his son's ready for such a task. One day, however, Hiccup brings down the most revered and rarest of dragons, the Night Fury. But when Hiccup meets the creature, he forms an unlikely friendship and realizes that the dragons are not to be feared but rather befriended.
Will he be able to persuade his father in time as well as get through Dragon academy without compromising his new found morals?
How To Train Your Dragon is the latest 3D film to hit - and it's a joy from beginning to end - and a relief to report that the 3D is used as a tool of the film rather than a gimmick. Sure, it's the traditional story of the son trying to grow and go his own way, but thanks to some pretty impressive dragon flying scenes, a sparse (and underused) vein of humour and a gorgeous soundtrack, it'll keep the kids - and parents - amused for 90 minutes.
Once again, the kids reviewers, Jackson and Connor, came along to help appraise the film - and this is their verdict:
Connor: 10/10: Loved the film overall and liked how the 3D was not in your face and was subtly used; he thought the scene which saw the Night Fury dragon tamed was great and demonstrated the good use of well placed humour; in summary, despite admitting to a love of dragons in literature, he reckons this is the best film of the year so far.
Jackson: 8/10 - he liked the very beginning of the film which saw the Viking village under attack and the idea that dragons were pests like rats and mice; he was also impressed with how well the Vikings could draw dragons and was won over by a scene which saw a small dragon steal a fish from Toothless, the Night Fury dragon. However, as is normal with Jackson, he wasn't so quick to decide which dragon he'd like as a pet - and spent a long time after debating the pros and cons&.I'm still waiting to hear.
Overall, How To Train Your Dragon's a good start to the holiday season; with a lot to indulge the actual children and the children within it should see you happily entertained for 90 minutes.

Final rating (using averages from the kids) 9/10

Bronson: Movie Review

Bronson: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Tom Hardy, James Lance, Amanda Burton
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Tom Hardy (TV ONE's Sunday Theatre The Take, Rocknrolla) stars as Charles Bronson, the man dubbed the most notorious UK inmate, in this biographical take on his life and times.
The story is told in a rather unusual and visually captivating way - in front of an audience, Bronson tells us he always wanted to be famous; with his bald head, polished dome and large handlebar moustache, he cuts a comical figure; almost clown-like in his mannerisms and speech - but heaven help you if you mock him - because there's also an explosion of violence around the corner.
And it's merely minutes before the fighting begins; Refn cuts directly back and forth from Bronson's speech on the stage to his taking on a series of guards and battering them black and blue.
Cutting back to his (brief) life before prison, we learn a little more about Michael Peterson aka Charles Bronson - but quite frankly it appears a life of petty crime was only the precursor to a blooming time in jail which sees him thrive; Bronson becomes a star taking on the guards and starts to believe his own celebrity.
However, Bronson the film is a savage assault on the senses - thanks to the stunning and towering performance from Hardy himself; while Bronson's never going to be a likeable character, it's Hardy's performance which makes him so compelling to watch.
There's some great visual touches and an extension of the performance of a clown sees Bronson at his peak - Hardy's mesmerizing turn never sees you off guard; you're 100% sure of his propensity for explosive violence but yet you can't help but watch this portrayal.

Bronson may be a difficult film for some to watch; it's violent and shows no sign that this prisoner can be rehabilitated - but thanks to Tom Hardy's acting and some visually curious moments, it remains a film which will haunt you over you've seen it.

The Men Who Stare At Goats: Movie Review

The Men Who Stare At Goats: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey
Director: Grant Heslov
Based on a book by Jon Ronson (and an apparently true investigation) comes the film adaptation of The Men Who Stare At Goats.
Ewan McGregor stars as small town reporter Bob Wilton, who one day looks into the story of Gus Lacey who claims to have psychic abilities. After dismissing the story, Bob's life falls apart as his wife leaves him for his boss and he ends up going to Iraq.
Quite by coincidence one night, he stumbles across Lyn Cassady (a deadpan turn by George Clooney) who Lacey claimed was a major part of the operation. With his journalistic nose well and truly piqued, Wilton follows the story having learned that Cassady was a "Jedi warrior" and part of a psychic unit started up by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges in Dude a la Lebowski mode).
So the two set out on a road trip which finds them in the Iraqi desert - and then Lyn reveals he's actually on one last mission.
The Men Who Stare At Goats is a deadpan shaggy dog style story - with terrific turns from Clooney as the Jedi Warrior and McGregor as the increasingly interested and slightly gullible Wilton.
(Incidentally, The Men Who Stare At Goats is titled so because soldiers in Iraq were apparently training to use their psychic powers to make goats' hearts stop - yes it's that kind of slightly offbeat quirky humour.)
While it veers from incredulity to outright "What did they just say?," The Men Who Stare At Goats manages to keep the right side of absurd. Sure, there's plenty of in joke moments to see McGregor told "The Force is strong with this one" and various Jedi references but there's also a lot of very unexpectedly farcically funny moments which catch you off guard and amuse.
Once again, Clooney demonstrates his O Brother Where Art Thou? skill of humour - he never once mugs to the camera or overeggs the jokes; it's a pitch perfect performance.
Jeff Bridges also shines as the man who started the New Earth Army psychics; Kevin Spacey amuses as the runt of the squadron whose jealousy pushes him to the limit and Ewan McGregor displays heart as the reporter who's just after something in his life when it all falls apart.

While The Men Who Stare At Goats' ending comes a little unravelled (and the final scene is a bit of a disappointment) the journey is a scarily funny one with some great one liners, hysterically odd situations and moments where you actually question a) whether these soldiers truly had psychic powers and b) whether what you've just witnessed was based on some grain of truth.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Boys Are Back: Movie Review

The Boys Are Back: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: Clive Owen, Laura Fraser, Nicholas McAnulty, George McKay, Erik Thomson
Director: Scott Hicks
Clive Owen stars as Joe, a wise cracking sports journalist and absentee father (due to work) in south Australia.
He's got a pretty sweet life; a wife Katy (Laura Fraser) whom he adores and a six year old Artie (a brilliant, crowd winning performance from McAnulty) whose hedonistic enthusiasm for life keeps him on the move.
But when his wife suddenly dies, Joe finds himself having to run the house and is forced to reconnect with his son. That's not the half of it though - as his teenage son Harry (McKay) from his previous marriage is heading over from the UK to stay.
Suddenly Joe is facing responsibilities and emotions he'd long thought buried and forgotten&
Based on the memoir by Simon Carr, The Boys Are Back is a sensitive look at a father's relationship with his sons, brilliantly handled by director Scott Hicks (who did Shine) and masterfully performed by McAnulty and Owen.
In fact, it's probably fair to say that it's Clive Owen's charisma which keeps the film from miring itself in schmaltz - the story's rooted firmly in reality and his easy going charm on the screen shows why he's probably one of our more underrated actors.
Joe's lack of rules in the house clearly is destined to lead to problems and it inevitably does lead to things falling apart - but all the way through their troubles, there's an unspoken and permanently obvious love between the father and his sons which makes the film plausible and their relationship believable.
There's a nice chemistry between Owen and his costar Emma Booth who stars as single mum Laura - their arc doesn't follow the normal route and you'll be glad it didn't fall into cliché. And there's a dose of reality when Joe's wife suddenly falls ill which may make you re-appraise the relationships in your life.
The good thing about The Boys Are Back is that it avoids the trapping of usual films like this - not once does director Scott Hicks milk any emotional moment on screen - he uses a subtlety that makes the drama feel more intimate and real.

With its low key warmth and heart, as well as heartbreak, I think it's fair to say that you'll be hard pushed to find a more poignant film about the complicated relationship between a father and his son. Clive Owen shines and is a joy to watch - every one of us can recognize some element of family life (single parent or otherwise) in his portrayal of a man coming to terms with his place in the world.

Green Zone: Movie Review

Green Zone: Movie Review

Green Zone
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs
Director: Paul Greengrass
The team behind the successful run of Bourne movies have reunited for this thriller set in Iraq after the 2003 war.
Matt Damon is Captain Roy Miller, who's in charge of the hunt for WMDs - but every lead they're following turns out to be a dud; each time they're sent in, there's absolutely no trace of anything.
So with suspicions aroused over duff intelligence, Miller starts to follow his own leads - and finds himself slap bang in the middle of a major conspiracy.
But the situation begins to spiral out of control as Miller fails to realise how serious and widespread the conspiracy is.
Matt Damon continues to push his image as the dependably stoic and intelligent everyman that has seen him become a big screen success; Green Zone itself is a conspiracy thriller which takes a little while to unravel but if you have your wits about you, you can see where it's going - and how it will end.
Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson provide good support as opposing factions of the conflict - although, I'd rather director Greengrass had eased up a little on the whole WMD issue; it still feels like there's a lot of anger to be worked through over whether there actually were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - and unfortunately towards the end of the film this becomes a major issue and nearly threatens to derail the tension which has been built up.

Green Zone is not a bad film - it does exactly what you'd expect and along with its jerky camera movements, there are some wonderfully taut and tense times as Miller finds himself out of his depth; throw in some great recreations of the post war Iraqi world and some very impressive chase scenes (including a final act edge of the seat chase) and you've got a good solid thriller.

The Road: Movie Review

The Road: Movie Review

Rating 8/10
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Robert DuVall, Guy Pearce, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Director: John Hillcoat
Prepare yourself for a particularly depressing end of the world.
In the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a father (Mortensen) and his son (Smit-McPhee) are journeying across America after the world ended in some unknown way.(Though it appears to have been nuclear)
As they head south at the urging of the father's wife (Charlize Theron) and search for food, shelter and fuel, the duo meet all manner of problems - thieves, cannibals, and worst of all, their own paranoia and fears.
Against a backdrop of a devastated planet, survivors who are reduced to horrendous scavenging ways to get by and an ever increasing cold front, the duo find themselves unable to escape the inexorable physical and mental horrors which surround them.
To describe The Road as compellingly bleak may seem a little odd - but when you have a film which finds the worst that men can do and has a protagonist who would rather shoot his only son to avoid him being eaten alive, it's clearly not a laugh riot.
What emerges over the course of two hours is a powerfully loaded discussion and contemplation on what it means to be human and how the last vestiges of humanity are gradually worn down as time wears on.
Through billowing skies thick with smoke, and with most of the "action" onscreen taking place amid the backdrop of grey colours, the pair soldier on - and as an audience, you may feel at times like you do.
It's frustrating to report there is no real explanation of what happened to end the world as it did (although it does lead to a lot of discussion once the lights go up) - and while that's fine for a film (after all, we don't need everything spelt out), a little context would have made the sacrifice of one character more poignant rather than feeling odd and unexplainable.
There's a mournful tone throughout and both Mortensen and Smit-McPhee carry the screen well; newcomer Smit-McPhee brings a resonance and humanity to his character - and Mortensen is perfectly cast as the man who's coerced into making some awful decisions and loses a lot of his soul as he tries to survive.

Granted, there are some brooding lines throughout - Robert Duvall's old man character says talk of suicide to survive is "foolish to ask for luxuries at times such as this" - but the meditations on who's good and who's bad when everything goes to hell in a handcart will haunt you for hours after you leave.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Mao's Last Dancer: Movie Review

Mao's Last Dancer: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Chi Cao, Bruce Greenwood, Kyle McLachlan, Joan Chen
Director: Bruce Beresford
Based on a memoir by Li Cunxin, Mao's Last Dancer is set in 1970s America and is the true story of Cunxin's journey from the poverty of China to the opulence of the West - via stardom.
Told in flashback and starting with Cunxin's youth, it shows the horrors of living under the Mao regime in China. Li's plucked from a poor school and thrust into a dance academy where he trains as an apprentice.
However, Li's also given the chance to go on tour - despite concerns from the communist leaders - and ends up in Houston. Initially he struggles with the creative - and personal - freedom on show but ends up accepting the lifestyle and becomes a star.
But things get complicated when Li decides he wants to stay in America - and the Chinese government foists exile on him when he makes the wrong decision (as far as they're concerned.)
Mao's Last Dancer is a perfectly fine - if slightly pedestrian - biopic; the ballet scenes are well done and showcase brilliantly the moves of Chi Cao.
Unfortunately though, it suffers from a couple of slightly ropey performances from its lead actor - he's not quite strong enough to pull off the role and at times, it seems a little amateur dramatics; clearly he was chosen for his incredible ballet skills rather than acting. Plus throw in some quite corny dialogue here and there, and it's not much of a recipe for success.
That said, Bruce Greenwood (as the director of the theatre company) and Kyle MacLachlan (as Li's attorney) are solid and provide decent support; but the real star of Beresford's film is his recreation of communist China in the 70s.
It's horrifying, repugnant and shows exactly why the regime was so detested - and thanks to Beresford's restraint in not exploiting it, it feels real. In one of Li's nightmares, he sees his family paraded and shot - it's so wonderfully underplayed and evocative that it's an image which resonates long after the film's over.

Ultimately Mao's Last Dancer aims for inspirational and sadly falls a little short - while it's a well intentioned true story, it doesn't soar as much on the screen as perhaps it should have done.

Remember Me: Movie Review

Remember Me: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Emilie de Ravin, Pierce Brosnan, Lena Olin, Chris Cooper
Director: Allen Coulter
Ladies, catch your breath - in between his time sparkling as a vampire, R Patz returns to the screen in this romantic drama.
He's Tyler, a rebellious student in New York in 2001, who's got a strained relationship with his lawyer dad (an aloof and emotionally hard Pierce Brosnan) ever since his brother committed suicide.
Tyler is a bit of a closed book drifter, a one night stands kind of guy who won't emotionally open up - but that all changes when a twist of fate brings him to Ally (Lost's Emilie de Ravin).
Ally too is emotionally damaged - having seen her mom murdered on the subway when she was 11, she isn't initially too keen to let Tyler into her life.
But the pair's paths are intertwined and fate has a way of playing these things out.
Both Pattinson and de Ravin are perfectly cast in Remember Me, an aching, yearning film about love - there's broodiness aplenty and inevitable family dramas and a sprinkling of The Taming of The Shrew - but what Remember Me does have is a way of subverting your expectations.
Sure it's a clichéd relationship - Ally's dad, a cop (the ever wonderful Chris Cooper) isn't impressed and Tyler's dad is emotionally stunted from the rest of the family - but it's the central performances from de Ravin and Pattinson which give this film flight and takes it away from your usual brooding young love and aching hearts kind of film.
Granted there are familiar familial patterns playing out here - the family drama on all sides is nothing new and there's more than a few predictable moments as the end approaches.
Some will argue Pattinson's just putting in another brooding performance a la Edward Cullen (ie slightly aloof) but that's unfair to RPatz - whose restrained screen presence gradually unpeels and reveals several layers. It's clear he's destined for a shelf life beyond the ole vamp, and thanks to de Ravin's emotionally rich performance, the pair sizzle on screen.
But it's the rich ending of Remember Me which emotionally shocks you by knocking the wind out of your cinematic sails - it's unexpected, powerful and may well leave you agog. (But you won't find me discussing it here).

Remember Me is an intriguing relationship drama which will have RPatz's fans both drooling and more in love with him than ever before - but its ending will polarise the audience; however sometimes, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

This Way Of Life: Movie Review

This Way Of Life: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: The Karena Family, The great NZ outdoors, horses
Director: Tom Burstyn
A New Zealand doco about a family who live life to the full in the wilds of the countryside may not sound like a riveting watch but This Way of Life sure as hell is.
It's the story of the Karena family - husband Peter and wife Colleen and their six children, and their horses.
But it's also about more than that - it's about a simplicity of life and a recognition of one's place in the world.
Peter works as a horse whisperer and lives off the land - when we first meet him, he's skinning a deer in front of his son Malachi and educating him on how the animal died so they can live.
Although Peter appears to have a philosophy about the world, it's clear not everyone shares his views - within moments of meeting them, we learn that Peter's father is evicting them from the family home because he's selling up. Things get worse for the ever growing Karena family - but over the course of 85 minutes you won't find your spirit crushed at all.
In fact it's just the opposite.
Simply shot and presented in a restrained way, This Way Of Life will stun you with its subtlety, honesty and heart.
As Peter continues to face problems, it's his philosophy and attitude which he's trying to instill in his children which will shine out - Peter's a glass half full kind of guy - and while he's honest about the issues he faces with his father, there's never any doubt that he won't let adversity crush both him and his loved ones. It's hard not to look upto Peter and learn from him - clearly this is a man whose life attitude is beneficial and infectious to all those around him.
And the kids clearly soar because of this attitude - I've never seen such a brood of children so happy in their simple life; there's no sign of any mod cons and yet there's not one single complaint as these kids are overjoyed by the simplicity of nature (either on horse back or jumping on the roof of their truck)
It's the Karena family way - the respect for nature, the chance to live off the land and the lack of fear which will inspire you - whether it's living in a shed after the house is burned down or bareback horse riding without helmets, you can't help but admire their way of life (and even eye it up a little jealously).
This Way Of Life is a celebration of the family codes and morals; beautifully shot, it shows what's great about the New Zealand countryside and showcases a side of life - and an attitude - which makes your heart sing.
While some of the story's narrative leaves you wanting more information and you may get a little frustrated with a lack of context over family rows, overall it's easy to see why the film has been so lauded abroad in Berlin and deserves to do well over here.

However - you may get a little jealous and be tempted to quit the rat race after seeing the simpler life the Karenas live..

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Hurt Locker: Movie Review

The Hurt Locker: Movie Review

Rating: 9/10
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Finally arriving on New Zealand shores after numerous successes at various awards ceremonies, is The Hurt Locker, the front runner for success at the 2010 Oscars.
It's the story of a team of bomb disposal team in Iraq whose lives are put in constant jeopardy on a daily basis - and is based on freelance journalist Mark Boal's accounts of when he was embedded with an American bomb squad.
In a cracking turn, Jeremy Renner plays Sergeant First Class William James, who's brought in as the leader of the Explosives Ordnance Disposal Unit which heads to just about every perilous situation on the streets of Iraq, never knowing if this is the moment their lives will be forfeit.
James works with Anthony Mackie's Sergeant Sanborn and Brian Geraghty's Specialist Eldridge - and they form an uneasy bond, often fighting off the scene and cool and collected when called out; however, it's not plain sailing for the trio when it becomes clear that James isn't averse to taking risks and avoiding protocol.
But what will be the price of his behaviour to the EOD unit?
The Hurt Locker arrives with heavy expectation - and doesn't disappoint in the slightest. From the moment the film opens, you're thrown straight into the middle of it all. Within seconds, The Hurt Locker grips you in its adrenalin vice and doesn't let go.
Director Kathryn Bigelow's crafted an excellent low budget film which captures the grittiness, the horror and the heart in your mouth moment that the troops in Iraq must face; sure, you can argue that the entire film is simply made up of one set piece after another as we follow the EOD unit, but there is a narrative thread which links it together.
Where The Hurt Locker also triumphs - aside from Renner's simply mesmerising turn as Sergeant James - is the fact the leads are unknowns; a film such as this one rises and falls on expectations and the use of relative newcomers to the lead roles means you're never quite sure who will survive when they head to each call out. At times, it's heart in your mouth cinema which will blow you away in more ways than one (apologies - pun intended).

Emotionally gripping, viscerally thrilling, and an edge of your seat powderkeg of tension, The Hurt Locker remains one of the best films of the year (something which the number of awards it's received only serves to cement). Packed full of moments that will shock and awe you, The Hurt Locker is essential viewing.

Alice In Wonderland: Movie Review

Alice In Wonderland: Movie Review

Alice In Wonderland
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Anne Hathaway, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, Crispin Glover, Mia Wasikowska
Director: Tim Burton
Johnny Depp and Tim Burton reteam once again - this time it's for an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland.
Mia Wasikowska is 19 year old Alice, a girl who's facing the possibility of being married off to a man she doesn't love and on the verge of enduring a life she really doesn't want.
As she runs off to consider the proposal, she falls down a rabbit hole and finds herself in Wonderland.
However, on her entrance to Wonderland, she finds she has a destiny to fulfill - she must free the land from the tyranny of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter) and restore happiness to the land she visited as a child in her dreams.
But with the Red Queen on the war path, and the evil Jabberwocky to be unleashed, it looks like Alice really has her work cut out.
Well, Alice In Wonderland is clearly a Tim Burton film - once again, he's reteamed with two of his muses; Johnny Depp onscreen and with composer Danny Elfman. It's also full of the trademark Gothic landscapes and oddball imagery.
Mia Wasikowska is slightly aloof and stifled at the start of the film - which in some ways is befitting as her character clearly doesn't fit into Victorian ways of life; but it makes it hard to feel much for her in the early stages of the film. She's also not the strongest actress it has to be said - her re-emergence at the end from the rabbit hole and re-entrance into society isn't quite as powerful as you'd expect from one who's undergone such a journey.
Johnny Depp is unhinged and ever so slightly sinister as the Mad Hatter, flitting from English and Scottish accents for reasons which don't quite seem obvious - but he makes the Hatter a bit of a crazy zany character - once again, it's another oddball performance for Depp and one which is perfectly suited for the continuing Burton/ Depp partnership.
Stephen Fry is wonderful as the Cheshire cat - thanks to his mellifluous tones, the Cat is a real treat in the film as the wisp-like creature wafts in and out; and it has to be said the star of the film is clearly the CGI and the Wonderland world itself.
Burton's created a nightmarish version of Wonderland - full of odd colours and architecture which seems perfectly in tune with his vision; there's some great images - such as Alice negotiating a raft of heads the Red Queen's had cut off and cast in the moat around her castle. It seems as if technology's finally got to give Burton the chance to create the vision he's always hinted at in previous films - and he's relished the opportunity to create a memorable Wonderland.

Ultimately, this Alice In Wonderland is an insight into Burton's mind - it's zany and visually crazy in parts; however, due to a bit of a lack of an emotional connection, it's a little bit sprawling at times and doesn't quite live upto its initial promise.