Thursday, 29 April 2010

Gentlemen Broncos: Movie Review

Gentlemen Broncos: Movie Review

Rating: 3/10
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Jennifer Coolidge
Director: Jared Hess
So the director of Napoleon Dynamite returns with this film showing nationwide in the World Cinema Showcase.
Set in mid town America, Angarano stars as aspiring sci fi teen author, Benjamin Purvis, home schooled and naïve in the ways of the world. Sent to a writers' camp, Purvis meets his hero, esteemed sci fi author Ronald Chevalier (Clement) and enters his manuscript (the terribly titled Yeast Lords) into a competition to win a deal.
However, Chevalier is struggling to find inspiration for his next book - and so, inspired by Purvis' Yeast Lords, he promptly plaigarises the whole thing.
But at the same time, Benjamin's sold the story to some local (terrible) film-makers and when their movie comes out, a creative showdown's on the way.
Gentlemen Broncos is quite frankly irritating. With prevalent quirky characters who are just annoying rather than wonderful, it quickly begins to grate. Every single one involved on the screen is blessed with irritations rather than nuances which would make them lovable.
Sam Rockwell makes good of his role as the star of Yeast Lords, in the comic reinterpretations of both Chevalier and Purvis' books - yet, these recreations mock the terrible sci fi adaptations and just look awful. I understand it's supposed to be a tribute to the comic and awful pulp scifi world, but after seeing scenes of pink vomit, dive bombing stags and naff costumes, it just cloys.
Thank goodness then for Jemaine Clement, the shining beacon from within the mess. His Ronal Chevalier (who sounds like Alan Rickman at times) is destined to be a cult character, with easily quotable lines from within his New Age mantra just waiting to be embraced by the masses.

It's just unfortunate that the rest of the film is such a disappointment and a misfire.

Home By Christmas: Movie Review

Home By Christmas: Movie Review

Home By Christmas
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Tony Barry, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Martin Henderson, Gaylene Preston
Director: Gaylene Preston
With The Pacific now underway on TV ONE, there's a lot of nostalgia in the air.
And Home By Christmas will simply compound that.
It's a New Zealand film memoir by Gaylene Preston based on interviews with her father Ed Preston about his time in World War 2 in Italy and North Africa.
Culled from archive material, Preston's called in the services of Goodbye Pork Pie's Tony Barry to narrate the material and essentially play her father. But as we learn early on, Ed was never too keen on sharing his experiences until one day, as a Christmas present, he decided to open up to his daughter.
What unfolds is the story of one man and how he signed up to the NZ Army back in 1940 because the rest of the rugby team were doing it for a free holiday and he didn't want to be left out.
As he remarks, they never expected to see any war - but that was the opposite from what they'd ever have hoped.
In between Ed's recollections, the story of the domestic life and wife he left behind, Tui (played by Chelsie Preston Crayford from The Cult and Show Of Hands) unfolds in flashback. It's a clever way to tell the story and there's a simplicity to it which is appealing - and while it's not the most original story, there's a level of truth to it which makes it universal.
Through old photos, footage from the times and period recreation, the whole story of Ed Preston comes to life - it's a bold narrative touch which makes the memoir stand out.

There's a subtlety and restrained feeling about this film which makes it engaging - Ed's tell it like it is style means Home By Christmas will strike a chord with many in the audience who've heard hints of similar stories from previous generations. It's also a humbling and haunting film - but one which is important and needs to be told; given that old soldiers didn't tend to talk about what they saw or what happened, many memories and reasons to be grateful for their sacrifice have been lost over the years.

The Box: Movie Review

The Box: Movie Review

The Box
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
Director: Richard Kelly
Following on from Donnie Darko and the flop that was Southland Tales, Richard Kelly heads to Twilight Zone territory with this new film showing at the World Cinema Showcase nationwide.
Based on an episode of the show called "Button, Button" Diaz and Marsden star as a couple just getting by in 1970s Conneticut. One day the doorbell rings early in the morning and the pair find a box on their doorstep along with the message that Mr Steward will visit at 5pm.
When the time comes, Mr Steward (Langella) shows up on their door - and with the offer that if they press the button, they will get one million dollars. However, if they do take the offer, someone unconnected to them will die.
As if that wasn't bad enough, he gives them 24 hours to mull over what they'll do before the offer is rescinded.
So moral dilemmas abound as the situation begins to spiral out of control...
The Box is frustrating, infuriating and to be honest, brilliant in places. There's a Twin Peaks/ David Lynch style running throughout which gives the whole story an edge of insanity which sees it work.
Langella and Diaz are very good in their roles; Marsden is not quite upto par - but it's Kelly who sees a return to form after the critical drivel that was Southland Tales. Complete with trademark water effects, nosebleeds and Arthur C Clarke, the whole film has a haunting and eerie feel which will guarantee it cult hit status.

Iron Man 2: Movie Review

Iron Man 2: Movie Review

Iron Man 2
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johannson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle, Garry Shandling
Director: Jon Favreau
Iron Man's back - and so is Robert Downey Jr.
Downey Jr stars as Tony Stark, the billionaire weapons manufacturer/ playboy in this sequel which carries on 6 months from the end of the first (which saw Stark reveal to the world he was the man in the mask).
However, that declaration's irritated Russian Ivan Vanko (a heavily tattooed Mickey Rourke) who believes Stark stole the design for the Iron Man suit from his father. So with that in mind, Vanko sets out for revenge.
But Vanko's not the only one who's got designs on Stark - rival Justin Hammer (a brilliant Sam Rockwell) is out to usurp Stark on the business front; a senate enquiry (headed by Garry Shandling nonetheless) is out to strip Stark of the Iron Man suit; and the army's got designs on the suit - for national safety naturally.
And Stark's got even bigger problems because it appears the power source he's using to keep himself alive is fading - and soon, with time running out, both Stark and Iron Man could be no more....
Iron Man 2 boasts some great action sequences and has some pretty impressive gadget tech within Stark's laboratory; that coupled with some scenes of War Machine and Iron Man fighting side by side mean it's destined to become a fan favourite. In fact Favreau's ploughed everything into the action scenes and they're excellently executed - right down to Scarlett Johannson's very impressively choreographed fight scenes.
Downey Jr once again owns the role of Stark - and some sparky scenes with long time love and Stark Industries cohort Pepper Potts (aka Gwyneth Paltrow) really manages to convey an excellent relationship between the pair. There's also a fair amount of humour scattered throughout and in places, the script crackles with great dialogue.
But despite Downey Jr's cocksure swagger, he's nearly eclipsed by Sam Rockwell's brilliant performance as Hammer and a menacing Mickey Rourke who lumbers in the background as Whiplash.

It's just unfortunate that at times, this feels a little crowded and suffers from the Boys and their toys affliction with guns everywhere, explosions and so on. What it leaves you feeling is a little underwhelmed - that said, Iron Man 2 is a good solid action flick, which while sadly lacking in emotional depth at times (and is not as much fun as the first) won't stop you lapping up this blockbuster.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Anything For Her: Movie Review

Anything For Her: Movie Review

Anything For Her
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Diane Kruger, Vincent Lindon
Director: Fred Cavaye
This French drama centres around Lisa (Kruger) and Julien (Lindon), a simple couple whose happy life revolves around their son Oscar.
But their world is ripped asunder when police burst her into their home one day, arresting Lisa for murder. Despite her apparent innocence, she's given 20 years and sent to jail.
Julien's distraught - and despite trying to appeal and heading down the legal track, he soon discovers there's nothing he can do in the face of such insurmountable evidence against his wife.
However, he has an unswerving belief she's innocent and when Lisa attempts suicide, he realizes he has to do anything he can to free her...
Anything For Her is a good solid - if at times, formulaic, drama; a little slow to get going but you gradually get hooked in as Julien works out his plan to get his wife out.
Thanks to Lindon's increasingly desperate performance, it's understandable how he would do anything for his wife and as he grows more frustrated, then that's where the tension really cranks up. Yet Lindon's performance remains plausible as he works out what he can do to ensure his wife lives the rest of her days as a free woman.
It's the final third of this film which comes alive - and it's a shame that it takes too long to explode because when it does, it's a mesmerizing watch. Both the leads are watchable although the direction's a little heavy handed at times and doesn't do anything to rise out of the ordinary. Fred Cavaye does well in some early parts of the film, establishing situations but in others, he loses it using stock shots and flashbacks which are unoriginal.
However, that said, Anything for Her remains a compelling look at what someone would do for love; it steers out of the implausible by offering up sensible solutions for Julien to achieve his goals. It's about courage and having the grit to fight on for your belief.

Just be grateful after watching this, you don't feel you'd have to go to the same lengths to free your loved one...

Friday, 16 April 2010

Big River Man: DVD Review

Big River Man: DVD Review

Big River Man
Rating: M
Released by Vendetta Films

Big River Man is the endurance story you have to see to believe - because in places, it's simply nuts.

This doco is the story of the most insane endurance swimmer I have ever seen - hard drinking, hard living Martin Strel, a Slovenian man in his fifties who takes on the Amazon.

Despite advice to maybe tone down some of the excesses while on the swim, Strel decides he knows best and tackles the 3274 mile swim in his own indomitable style.

The eventual results which are filmed by his son, follows him as he basically descends into some kind of madness - I actually didn't think a film like this would be as gripping as it is - but Strel Jr manages to capture the sprial down in an at times hallucinogenic way as both of them negotiate the Amazon.
I can't recommend this film enough - on the small screen, it really is captivating and terrifying in equal amounts.

If you ever thought the kind of people who take up endurance sports are a bit nuts, this may make you reconsider your opinion. Big River Man is gripping and surprising in many ways.

Extras: Q&A at Sydney 2009 film festival and trailer

Rating: 8/10 

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Dear John: Movie Review

Dear John: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
After the Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe and the Last Song, another Nicholas Sparks book makes its way to the big screen.
This time, it's 2001 - Tatum is John, a US military man on leave, who, one day meets Amanda Seyfried's Savannah in one of those spring break coincidences that can only happen in the movies or romantic fiction.
The pair begin an easy and intimate 2 week long romance which is cut short by Savannah's return to school and John's return to the theatre of war.
But pledging their love to each other, the duo promise to write and keep their love alive.
However, life has a habit of getting in the way and the romance doesn't turn out quite like it should.
Dear John is going to appeal to the romantic among you; it's not that I'm not romantic (honest) it's just that this film failed to register any kind of emotion in me at all. I was curiously unmoved by the whole thing. Sure clichés abound (one girl says of another boy -'I'm not his type, he just doesn't know it yet') and there's sentiment flying left, right and centre in this formulaic film.
Half the problem lies with the leads; while Seyfried's enough to carry off the role of the conservative college student who falls hard for John, it's Tatum's performance as John which barely seems to register any emotion at all (save for one scene with his father) - his army man is a stereotype, who in one scene resorts to fisticuffs because he's angry. Oh and he has daddy issues too. (Although given his autistic father is so wonderfully played by the ever great Richard Jenkins, you almost forgive him.)
While you can't blame the actors for this (I'm guessing it's part of the screenplay), it just makes the film feel predictable and disappointing.

The spectre of 9/11 hangs nicely over the relationship and gives the film a welcome touch of reality; but Dear John, complete with its music video style scenes of letters being written, posted and shots of mail travelling and being delivered, offers nothing new to the romantic drama genre.

Hot Tub Time Machine: Movie Review

Hot Tub Time Machine: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Rob Corddry, Crispin Glover, Chevy Chase
Director: Steve Pink
Let's face it, you're not heading to Hot Tub Time Machine for witty erudite discussions.
It's the story of a group of guys who've got various issues - John Cusack's Adam's just been dumped; Craig Robinson's Nick has an unfaithful wife and a job that involves him sticking his hand in dog's bottoms; Clark Duke is a teen who's going nowhere and Rob Corddry's Lou has just tried to commit suicide.
Spurred into action by the suicide attempt, the quartet head to one of their haunts from their past to live it up. But when they get there, they find the party resort has gone down the dumps - and deciding to get drunk, the guys head to the hot tub to party.
After a night's decadence - and a shoe horned in plot device, they awake to find themselves back in the 1980s and as younger versions of themselves at Winterfest 1986.
That entails of course - the birth of MTV, leg warmers, fears the Russians are about to invade and Ronald Reagan.
As they try and work out how to get back to 2010, all four of them must confront mistakes from their past and ensure nothing's changed.
What can be said about this? The film finds its level in the first few moments as Craig Robinson's failed musician pulls out a pair of car keys from a dog's backside and throws them straight to its owner&subtle it ain't.
Also, sadly, it's not as funny as it could be - unless you're a teen who wants to see plenty of bare breasts, vomit and toilet humour. Granted you know Hot Tub Time Machine isn't going to be anything other than a variant of the gross out comedy, but with a bit more effort in the script, this could have played out a little less predictably.
Despite some sweet moments involving the eternal issues of people growing up and a relatively amusing ongoing gag about Crispin Glover's one armed bell boy being about to lose his arm, there are more gross out moments than anything else.
And it's a shame as most of the cast seem up for this; Cusack is as cool as ever and injects sad loser Adam with a bit of a warmth; and I even had some sympathy and laughs with Craig Robinson's character.

Hot Tub Time Machine was a great disposable concept - sadly the execution leaves you with a hangover without all the fun - and a feeling that you're glad the eighties are firmly in the past.

Daybreakers: Movie Review

Daybreakers: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe, Isabel Lucas, Claudia Karvan
Director: The Spierig Brothers
Vampires are all the rage these days and with a plethora of blood suckers out there, you'd have to wonder what story is left to be told - and how well it will do in the wake of the Twilight box office juggernaut.
This latest entry into the vampire genre is set in 2019 and sees the world swept with the vampire pandemic. With pretty much everyone overtaken by the desire and necessity to consume blood, real stocks of the red stuff are in short supply.
Enter Ethan Hawke's Edward Dalton, a haematologist working for Sam Neill's Charles Bromley. Bromley owns a human farm which is keeping the vamp population in blood - but it's running low and Dalton's desperately trying to find a substitute for human blood.
However, when Dalton literally runs into one of the last surviving groups of humans, he finds out from Willem Dafoe's Elvis that there is a cure for vampirism and one which could free them all from their misery.
But will he get that cure out into the population - or will forces stop him from giving every last vampire the chance of survival they need?
Daybreakers is an intriguing entry into the vampire genre with a solid central premise - the idea of vampirism being a condition which is parasitic and debilitating was explored in Let The Right One In. So in terms of bringing something new to the table, Daybreakers doesn't quite make it on that front - but what it does manage to do with its pale sharp colours is create a Blade Runneresque world with a tinge of Nightwatch about it.
All of the cast do a solid job with Ethan Hawke conveying the moral struggle well - and Willem Dafoe providing the out there elements required for his character.
There's also a fair amount of gore too - when the vamps are experimented on, they bubble and sizzle before exploding. The creature effects aren't too bad either - the vamps that have suffered from a lack of blood and mutated will give a few nightmares here and there.
Sure, there's an allegory for corporate greed with Sam Neill's Charles Bromley character doing everything he can to bleed the population dry and keep the company afloat; but overall there's not too much subtlety on show here; with explosions, chases, and shooting, it follows the predictable plot path of films of its type.

With Daybreakers, it feels like a case of missed opportunity - had the Spierig brothers pulled back a little and eased up on the explosions and gore, it could have been a really interesting entry into the genre. As it stands, it's a fairly disposable piece of Friday night entertainment.

Winter In Wartime: Movie Review

Winter In Wartime: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10

Cast:
Martijn Lakemeier, Yorick van Wageningen, Jamie Campbell Bower

Director: Martin Koolhoven

Set in the last winter of World War II, Nazi occupied Holland is under siege - both from the Germans and a blanket of snow.

15 year old Michiel (Lakemeier) is one of those who is appalled by the Nazis and wants to join the Resistance in some form of other. Despite being inspired by his Uncle Ben and warned off by his father who's the mayor of the town, Michiel ends up helping a crashed pilot (Campbell Bower). It's this act of defiance which sets in motion a series of events which will end Michiel's teenage years in ways he could never imagine as he finds his innocence shattered forever.

Winter In Wartime was the official Dutch entry into the Academy Awards this year - and it's beautifully shot and captures the atmosphere of the time excellently, The story's well told and is captivating from beginning to end - there's an ease to the central performance from Lakemeier which makes it easy to watch. He captures the petulance of the teenage years, the conflict with his mayor father who wants to protect him from the troubles and the desire to grow up and be treated like a man very well.

Campbell Bower (Twilight: New Moon star) interacts well with Lakemeier and the pair invest a fair amount of emotion into their friendship. While all of the cast's performances are solid, the film does follow a slightly predictable path - when Michiel finally bonds with his father, the war comes crashing into their world. It's a little predictable - as is the twist towards the end which if you're savvy can be seen coming a mile off.

However, that doesn't lessen the impact of the film - while there appears to be a glut of war films on the slate this year (Max Manus, Home By Christmas to name but two) each of them deserve your time in the cinema.

Winter In Wartime succeeds as a tale of lost innocence and thanks to the universal story, you may find yourself dragged more into this world than you would expect.

Genova: Movie Review

Genova: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Colin Firth, Hope Davis, Catherine Keener, Willa Holland, Perla Haney-Jardine
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Genova stars Colin Firth as a professor whose life is turned upside down by the death of his wife in a car accident.
But it's not just his life which is changed; his two daughters are deeply traumatized by the incident as they were in the car at the time. The youngest, Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) was a prime factor in the crash and is struggling to deal with the guilt, as well as being wracked by night terrors.
The eldest Kelly (Willa Holland) is bordering on her teen years and so with these two in mind, Firth's Joe moves the pair of them to Genoa, Italy to try and start afresh.
However, the move to Italy has different effects on all of them as Mary begins to see her dead mother (an ethereal Hope Davis) and Kelly begins to discover her sexuality.
Genova is an odd film; shot in hand held close ups in places and with beautiful scenery, it is at times, a little too slow to get into. Granted, it's supposed to be about the build up of the circumstance, but you don't quite know what genre it's aiming for.
At times, it's a teen drama as the family begins to fall apart, but the appearance of the mother appears to suggest a degree of ghost story. Sadly it doesn't quite work as well as perhaps it should.
This is no reflection on the cast who carry the script well and the shots inside Italys myriad mazes of streets do well to capture the claustrophobia of parts of the city. However, it's the end of the film which just slaps across the face. After a build up in the last 15 minutes, and a major incident involving all three of the main protagonists, you're expecting to see some kind of closure and resolution. But what you get is another scene on the end which doesn't suggest there's any kind of end for any of them.

Whilst it's fair to say thats true of life, having invested 90 minutes into these characters, it seems only reasonable to expect a little more.

Food Inc: DVD Review

Food Inc: DVD Review

Food Inc
Rating: PG
Director :
Robert Kenner

It's no surprise that at a time when sustainability and the grow your own ideals continue to permeate our society, we should get a doco about the truth about the foods Americans buy at their supermarkets.

In Food Inc, that's precisely what Robert Kenner does as he looks at what is consumed these days, how it's produced and what the personal - and long term - costs are.

With input from Fast Food Nation's author Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan who wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma, the veil on the industry is lifted.

However, what is shown on screen doesn't lose any of its impact - amid graphics, we learn of the personal horrors being committed by the mega businesses as they try and stop the family farm from growing. The cheap factory mentality manifests itself as you see how one farmer's being prosecuted for helping other farmers save seed - his actions and desire to prove his innocence have led to years of court cases, which he can't ever win - it's continuing proof that the odds are stacked against the Davids in this fight against Goliath.

All of the major companies talked about in this film obviously refuse to appear so it's fair to say while the doco isn't biased, it certainly doesn't have both sides of the argument represented.

That said, Food Inc presents a compelling case which you feel engrossed in throughout - it throws up several issues which, if you're not already aware of them, may shock you into wanting to do something to break the mega-corp influence.

Extras: The sole extra is a photogallery which while looking pretty as it slideshows across your machine does little to add to the experience; disappointing given that a film like this could always serve up an update as an extra.

Rating: 7/10 

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Dr Who: End Of Time: DVD Review

Dr Who: End Of Time: DVD Review

Doctor Who - The End of Time
Rating: PG
Cast:
David Tennant, John Simm, Timothy Dalton, Bernard Cribbins
Released by BBC and Roadshow Entertainment
And so the end comes to pass on one of the most popular Doctors in the show's 47 year old history.
The End Of Time - Parts One and Two (aka 2009 Winter specials) sees David Tennant's Doctor vacate the TARDIS for the last time as he takes his swansong.
Since the end of the Waters of Mars, the Doc's known his time is up and his death draws near - and so summoned by the Ood, he finds his old nemesis the Master (John Simm, all bleached hair and hoodie) reborn and on the brink of bringing around the end of time itself. However, what neither of them realize is that pretty soon everyone's lives will be changed forever by the return of something no-one could foresee&
The End of Time is brilliant in places - and infuriating in others. It's not just David Tennant's swansong, but it also sees the departure of the team which brought back the show in 2005 - including head writer Russell T Davies, who wrote these two episodes which clock in at over 2 hours of Whooey goodness.
But the cracks show in some of the story telling; if you're being nitpicky, you could claim that Davies has stolen various parts of fantasy elements for the (slightly absurd) resurrection of the Master; and when the big bads of these episodes are revealed, the plot holes abound.
That said though, while the first part of the story lacks a little, it's the end which sees this corker of a finale come to life - thanks in large to the acting of two people; David Tennant, who showcases all of his best at the end and Bernard Cribbins, who despite being in his eighties, shows what a wonderful actor he is. Simple scenes between this pair will leave most of you close to tears as they show (in one scene in a café) what good writing and superlative acting can do.
EXTRAS: On Blu Ray, the final product looks superb in full HD and is well worth investing in if you have the extra cash. Also included on the 2 disc set are the behind the scenes making of the final episodes (complete with David Tennant's last day on the set - and all the emotion which comes with that), as well as the BBC idents made specially for the series swansong over Christmas 2009. But the highlight has to be the David Tennant video diary in which we actually witness through his own camcorder, the end of the era - just brilliant.

Oh and one thing I almost left off - you get your first look at the 11th Doctor Matt Smith at the end of these episodes - and if you're not left salivating for more, you're clearly never going to be a Whovian. The perfect send off piece on a great set.

Rating: 9/10 

Seven: 15th Anniversary: DVD Review

Seven: 15th Anniversary: DVD Review

Seven - 15th Anniversary Edition
Rating: 18
Cast:
Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow
Released by Roadshow Entertainment

15 years after it first shocked audiences with its what's in the box denouement, Seven is repackaged and re-released to celebrate the decade and a half on.

David Fincher's vision is still chilling after all these years; the plot sees John Doe, a killer, exacting punishment on those who get off on being involved in the seven deadly sins.

Morgan Freeman's hard bitten Detective Somerset along with Brad Pitt's newbie Detective Mills are soon on his trail - but as each horrific crime is unveiled, the net draws closer on Doe - and also the pair who are hunting him.

Seven is still a killer despite all the time having passed; its impact on the thriller genre can't be dismissed and its ending certainly raised the stakes for what audiences would expect post its release.

Extras: The re-released set is a good one too - with 2 discs seeing an array of audio commentaries (from the likes of the sound team, the production team and the actors and Fincher themselves) which will add to the experience; coupled in with that are storyboards, filmographies, promos, notebooks and alternate endings showing what could have happened, this is a pretty comprehensive package.
Also thrown in for good measure is a limited edition 32 page comic which concentrates on the poor schlub who was the victim of gluttony - just don't read it after you've eaten.

Rating: 8/10

Is Anybody There? DVD Review

Is Anybody There? DVD Review

Is Anybody There?
Rating: M
Cast:
Michael Caine, Bill Milner, Anne-Marie Duff, David Morrissey
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
1980s England - and in the stifling atmosphere of an old people's home, we find death and dementia not too far away.

10-year-old Edward (Bill Milner) lives in a care home run by his parents - but to get by on a daily basis, Edward has a morbid fascination with death - obsessed by the final moments of some of the residents, Edward spends his time recording their last dying breaths in an attempt to find out what comes after.

One day, while out walking and listening to the exit of an elderly resident on a pair of headphones, he's nearly run over by Michael Caine's ancient magician Clarence. The two form an unlikely bond as Edward realizes after Clarence tries to commit suicide, that he holds the secret to what comes next&

Is Anybody There? is a tear-jerker in parts - but thanks to a stellar performance from Michael Caine it avoids heading down the three hankies track. Once again, Caine manages to turn what could have been a fairly mawkish script into some truly emotive moments - there's pathos in spades here as Clarence first visits the home; he's shocked to realize that he will ultimately end up here but too weary to fight against the inevitability of his condition.

Bill Milner's Edward isn't a bad performance - while his morbid fascination and depressing endless questioning is a product of where he's been brought up, the sense of playfulness and earnest desire to learn about the afterlife and find some meaning in the world make the character rise above what could have been a tearful, doleful mire.

The only unwelcome note in Is Anybody There? is the family marriage melodrama which blights the final portion of the film - it's an unnecessary footnote to what's gone before.

Extras: None (disappointingly)

Rating: 7/10 

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Final Destination: DVD Review

The Final Destination: DVD Review

The Final Destination
Rating: R16
Cast:
Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Mykelti Williamson
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
When Nick O'Bannon (Campo) gets premonitions at the local speedway of a whole heap of deaths thanks to a speeding flaming car hitting the grandstand, he manages to get himself, his friends and a few bystanders out of the park before it's too late.

Just seconds after they've vacated the track, catastrophe strikes and over 50 lose their lives as the envisaged accident takes place escape. However, with one of the bystanders killed within hours of the race track carnage, and thanks to a little help from the worldwide web, it soon becomes clear to Nick and his friends that their cards are marked and death is going to find them one way or another.

The Final Destination franchise lurches on with yet another tale of teens in peril - this time though, death's saved 3D as its preferred method of dispatching people. There's little to offer in the way of character development, plot or anything sensible - but for this franchise which started a decade ago, it's never really been about anything other than the deaths.

And while the use of this new digital technology sees some very impressive Bond style opening credits which mesh all the previous deaths from prior films, it soon resorts to having you duck and squirm in your seat as various deathly implements head towards you in the cinema. However, half the problem of this film lies with its characters.

Obviously underdeveloped and with little back story or attitudes which make you like them, it makes it difficult to care about any of those the Grim Reaper has his eye on. Even one of the main leads, an airhead jock, is so unlikeable that you don't really care when he meets his maker.

Mercifully short and with the 2D and 3D versions included in this release, there will be some who will absolutely love it - and there will be others (myself included) who hope this really is the end of the franchise.

Rating: 5/10

Monday, 12 April 2010

What Just Happened: DVD Review

What Just Happened: DVD Review

What Just Happened
Rating: M
Cast:
Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Sean Penn, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Stewart
Released by Roadshow Entertainment

In this "satire" of Hollywood, Robert De Niro stars as Ben, a fading producer.As the film opens, Ben's just witnessed his latest film, Fiercely starring Sean Penn, being savaged at a test screening - and he knows this could signal the end of his time at the top.

As if that wasn't bad enough he's having trouble with his ex Kelly (Robin Wright Penn) and to give him a trio of troubles, his attempts to get Bruce Willis to shave off his bushy beard so their latest project isn't canned, are not going well.

So Ben finds himself in the middle of a life crisis - as well as a career one - can he pull any of it back?
What Just Happened isn't a bad film; it's just not as savage as it could be - while Penn and Willis play themselves, De Niro seems to play another more chilled out version of himself as he tries to juggle all the respective balls.

Given how successful The Player was at doing this kind of satire years ago(and it's inevitable these two will be compared) I have to admit I was expecting a little more caustic wit and biting satire about the industry.

Overall, coupled with a complete lack of extras, What Just Happened is somewhat of a disappointment - when you consider what kind of potential there was here, it's just a shame nothing more came of it.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Date Night: Movie Review

Date Night: Movie Review

Date Night
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Ray Liotta, William Fichtner, James Franco
Director: Shawn Levy
Steve Carell and Tina Fey team up in this comedy about mistaken identity.
They're Phil and Claire Foster - a NY husband and wife whose suburban lives have been besieged by the mundanities of two point four children; for whom each day is a series of routines - including their Date Night which sees them ordering the same dishes week in, week out.
So, shocked by the news one of their favourite couples is about to divorce, Phil decides to shake things up to prevent their marriage from being the next casualty.
On the spur of the moment, he takes Claire to a swanky Manhattan restaurant and refusing to give in because he doesn't have a reservation, takes someone else's.
And that's where the problems start - because it turns out the reservation was for two people who have big problems with the law and pretty soon, the pair are out of their depth and fighting for their lives.
You would imagine Date Night would be the dream partnership on the big screen; both Carell and Fey are much loved in The Office and 30 Rock - and to be honest, they work well together on the screen; they're a plausible pair of long time marrieds who've lost their spark.
Fey is particularly funny - I have to admit to never having been 100% won over by her charms but she really has some hoot out loud funny lines; likewise Carell is his usual toned down self but again, thanks to some great lines, gets the chance to shine. The pair have such great ways of delivering the lines that gives it some sparkle; with both of them, it's down to inappropriate lines and odd comments here and there which really make this likeable duo work well.

But unfortunately this caper doesn't quite work as a story and I don't know exactly what went wrong with it; it's not a bad film, it's just a bit lacking that 5% magic that needs to make it gel. Perhaps it's because in parts it feels like a blockbuster (complete with a well shot chase scene) mixed in with some old fashioned comedy, but the sum of its parts don't add up.

While the chemistry between Carell and Fey is great, there's just something about the film which leaves you a little disappointed at the end of the night.

Kick Ass: Movie Review

Kick Ass: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Grace Moretz
Director: Matthew Vaughn
What if the superhero in your neck of the woods really was the guy next door?
And what if he really didnt have any special powers other than a desire to make a difference and live upto his love of comic books?
In Kick Ass, Aaron Johnson stars as Dave Lizewski, your average teenage boy who is at a loss as to why no-ones ever become a superhero. So donning an all over green body scuba suit, Dave aka Kick Ass heads out to the streets to see if he can make a difference.
And he does for about 2 minutes; before hes stabbed, beaten up and run over by a car.
However, after a spell in hospital and undeterred, Kick Ass heads back to the streets and becomes a sensation much to the disgust of local crime kingpin Frank DAmico (a brilliant Mark Strong) who vows to shut him down.
But DAmico has other problems in the form of 2 other masked vigilantes, Big Daddy (a superb Nicolas Cage) and his daughter protégé, Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz in an abusive star turn) who want revenge on DAmico.
When all of their paths cross, the would be superheroes find their lives changed forever.

Theres so much to love about KickAss granted, its not for everyone but this film, based on a comic book and adapted for the screen by Jonathan Ross wife, will have you laughing loud.
From Nicolas Cage brilliantly channelling Adam West as Big Daddy, through to Johnsons very rounded performance as the everyday kid who ponders why a nobody becomes a superhero, Kick Ass is a welcome addition to the comic book genre.
But what marks it out above the normal films is how its grounded in a reality as Lizewski notes you only need naivety and optimism to become a comic book hero as hes just your average guy, no radioactive spiders. Coupled with some very real violence (and one use of some boundary pushing language from the young Hit Girl, which offended some censors), this comic book adaptation embraces the reality of the superhero world and subverts your expectations.

Each kick, each punch, each beating has a very real effect on those who experience it and its this which may catch you off guard because you expect the heroes to survive every blow. And they all have issues too when Kick Ass realizes a new superhero in town is getting more attention than him, he looks to add a cape to his outfit to see if its giving him the edge; its this kind of layered detail which really brings the story to life.

Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) has done a great job with bringing this stylishly to the screen; along with a pumping soundtrack, cut scenes of fights and a truly brilliant flashback involving the best use of a comic ever committed to celluloid, Kick Ass really does reset the boundaries for the genre.

Forget Spiderman, X-Men, The Hulk et al Kick Ass is the new hero in town and having set such dizzying highs on the screen through some great action set pieces, it really does deserve to be your new favourite film.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

She's Out of My League: Movie Review

She's Out of My League: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Alice Eve, TJ Miller, Nate Torrence
Director: Jim Field Smith
Jay Baruchel stars as Kirk, a weedy airport worker, whos downtrodden at work and unlucky in love.
Suffering from low self esteem, Kirk is the kind of guy who reckons hell never be a success in life or love.
Then, one day, this average Joe meets what his friends describe as a hard ten Molly (Alice Eve all teeth and blonde hair as well as other noticeable assets). Much to their surprise and Kirks the pair strike up a relationship.
But despite the best intentions, Kirk begins to fill with self doubt over why Mollys with him and that along with the doubts from family and friends threaten to sabotage their budding relationship.
Shes Out Of My League is a formulaic, sweet natured comedy with a few foul rough edges and some awkward moments.
Jay Baruchel plays the neurotic, self destructive loser with low self esteem issues with a lot of charm thanks to his gentle portrayal and recognisable everyman, this film never lapses too far into self parody and keeps one foot clearly in the charm camp.

Theres some laugh out loud moments which take you completely off guard and both the likeable leads make this film work. Its also nice to see the raw honesty of the relationship exposed and unlike most films of this genre, one of Kirks friends actually spends time actively encouraging Kirk to believe in himself and wills him to make it all work.

Shes Out Of My League wont win any awards what it will give you though is a diverting film for 100 minutes filled with unexpected laughs.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Clash Of The Titans: Movie Review

Clash Of The Titans: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Alexa Davalos, Mads Mikklesen
Director: Louis Leterrier
So, winter blockbuster season is upon us.
First cab off the ranks in the blockbuster stakes is this remake of the 1981 classic Clash of the Titans - this time, it stars Avatar's Sam Worthington.
It's set in ancient Greece and sees Sam Worthington as Perseus, the son of the ancient Greek god Zeus (a bearded Liam Neeson). Perseus is your average kind of guy; rejected by his human stepdad because his wife slept with a Greek god, he was cast out and given to human parents. But when they're killed by Hades, Perseus swears vengeance for them.
And with a background of mortals turning their backs on the gods, war is on the verge of breaking out between the immortals and the humans. Perseus finds himself on a quest to stop Hades (a whispering Ralph Fiennes) unleash hell on earth as payback for man turning their backs on the immortals. But Hades is hell bent on revenge - and not only on mankind but on his brother Zeus as well.
Will Perseus follow his fate - or will he save the day and the ancient world?
If you're au fait with Greek mythology (I'm holding my geek hand up here - and proudly I may add) then you'll appreciate the way the characters have been brought to life; there's all the subtle layers of hubris that the likes of Homer imbued his characters with; there's also the jealousy and the pettiness of the gods on full display here as they threaten to destroy the world because they're being ignored. It's a nice nod to the source material of this film (and even in one scene the original) which makes this version of Clash of the Titans so appealing. Coüpled with the fact that the story zips along nicely and doesn't bog you down with too much backstory, Clash is a fairly affable night out at the cinema.
Although judging by the amount of manly men on display here, certain sections of the audience will be wowed by Sam Worthington's performance (the majority of which appears to be spent scowling and glowering). The rest of the cast are okay but they're simply there as window dressing (Gemma Arterton as Perseus' protector Io, particularly is not the strongest and appears to have been brought in for her dusky looks) to the creatures and the story. Most disappointing is Ralph Fiennes' hammy Hades - he's whispering and doesn't really do much to convey menace (although the effects for Hades are pretty good).
The CGI in the film isn't too bad either (it's not earth shattering)- director Leterrier (The Transporter) does a good job of bringing some of the mythical creatures (such as the Pegasus, the Kraken, Medusa) to life - and some are given a nightmarish touch which may frighten some of the younger end of the audience.
But the biggest misfire on this film is to release it in 3D - it's a completely pointless decision. The decision was made retroactively after the film was made so it doesn't actually bring anything to the table by being converted to 3D - it's not been filmed with this in mind, it adds nothing to the stunning recreation of the Greek world they've created and it's a real let down.
Fans of the original 1981 version of Clash of the Titans (compelte with its stop motion animated creatures courtesy of the genius which was Ray Harryhausen) will enjoy this remake; that said, though, you don't have to be a fan of the original to come on board because this is simply blockbuster entertainment in its purest form. If you check your brain at the door and just fancy scenes of mythical creatures and testosterone fuelled fight scenes, then you're in for a good time because it's disposable fun. It won't win any major awards and won't leave you with masses to talk about after it's over, but that's not a bad thing.

Which sometimes is really all you want in a blockbuster after a long week at work.

Nanny McPhee and The Big Bang: Movie Review

Nanny McPhee and The Big Bang: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maggie Smith, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes
Director: Susanna White
School hols are well and truly here.
What with How To Train Your Dragon and now Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, it's clear there's a fight going on for the household cash - if the rain sets in over Easter.
Emma Thompson is back as the Nanny in this second world war set sequel which sees Maggie Gyllenhaal's Mrs Green on the verge of tearing her hair out - with her husband away at war and city dwelling cousins sent to live on the farm, plus with quarreling kids of her own, she's really got her work cut out.
However, enter McPhee - who turns up on their doorstep because the army sent her (she's a military Mary Poppins) and with a brief to pull the kids into line.
But that's not all the problems - Mrs Green's brother in law (Rhys Ifans, verging on a 1930s silent film villain) has gambled away his half of the farm - and is determined to do what he can to save his own neck from the debtors.
Look - what can I say about Nanny McPhee? It's clearly a family film aimed at the families who've got younger kids; jokes about poo from the farm, a belching bird and sibling squabbles do not a sophisticated day out make. Coupled with a slightly nostalgic way we all lived in the war, parts of this film may irritate you a little more than is necessary.
Throw in some cute animal moments and synchronized swimming pigs and you clearly have a recipe aimed at the younger end of the market. Not that there's anything wrong with that - coupled with Emma Thompson's very restrained and austere performance as the slightly nightmarish nanny, there's plenty to keep that audience relatively amused for the duration.
There's also some good one liners from the city dwelling Cyril (Eros Vlahos) who has a way with sardonic lines such as this about Nanny McPhee - "She has a face that could make us win the war hands down."
But, yet, there's a vein of tragedy running through this film which an adult will pick up - there's betrayal, war orphans being relocated, family love issues, an ongoing nod to the city's perception of the country folk (hint "we're in the land of poo" and "Oh covered in poo people" comments from the kid characters will tell you where that's angled) which are clearly aimed at the more perceptive end of the audience.
It's this odd mix though which doesn't quite hang together - while all of the main adult cast do proficiently in their roles, the child actors are in places a bit ropey (although they do have their moments) and the whole thing isn't exactly enthralling in the way other kids movies can be.

In conclusion (and to reiterate), Nanny McPhee and The Big Bang will be loved by the younger end of the audience; older kids and adults may find it somewhat of a harder sell to sit through as there's not enough to keep them engaged throughout.

Leaving: Movie Review

Leaving: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Sergi Lopez, Yvan Attal
Director: Catherine Corsini
Kristin Scott Thomas stars in this French film about a 40 year old woman living in the south of France - and desperate for a change.
Married to a doctor and with two kids, Suzanne's decided to go back to work as a physiotherapist; her husband gives her the nod and decides to build a consulting room in their backyard.
Cue Ivan (Sergi Lopez) the odd job man who's been to jail turning up on their doorstep.
However, soon after the work begins, the pair find themselves attracted - and unable to fight their feelings.
But what begins as an affair soon engulfs five people's lives - and with disastrous consequences..
Leaving will divide you - personally I felt it's hard to feel too much sympathy for Kristin Scott Thomas Suzanne in this film - she's got everything she needs and clearly is unhappy; but the fault lies within her character rather than the film itself. Robbed of any real context of why she's so miserable in her marriage, until her husband starts to act jealously (as any wronged partner would), she's not really got much in the way of a case for the affair.
And yet, there's an undeniable chemistry between both Suzanne and Ivan - and it's this which makes this film plausible (even if you don't agree with it). Sure, she's got no financial freedom and there's a social comment here with the woman leaving her home for a Spanish blue collar worker but I didn't really feel any connection - or sympathy - to Suzanne's plight.
However, Kristin Scott Thomas puts in a strong performance as Suzanne as her plight begins to affect all around her - and it's towards the end as it starts to really unravel that she finally comes alive as a character and delivers an emotional and powerful performance - which almost makes you forgive the fact she's lied, cheated and slept with someone else.



Nowhere Boy: Movie Review

Nowhere Boy: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Anne Marie Duff, Thomas Sangster
Director: Sam Taylor-Wood
A film about John Lennon's early life is probably long over due.
The Beatles may have had a recent resurgence - but very little's ever really been committed to screen about the adolescent years of one of those behind the legacy.
Aaron Johnson stars as the teenage Lennon who's living with his aunt Mimi (a stiffly icy Kristin Scott-Thomas) - when his uncle drops dead one night, Lennon's suddenly struck by a desire to find his mum (Anne Marie Duff)
Ultimately the pair is reunited and Lennon starts to discover his musical side - and the rest as they say is history.
Except with Nowhere Boy and John Lennon in this film, that's not the case. Nowhere Boy is an interesting look into the early familial side of life of the man who would help shape the future of music.
However, it's not without its faults - at times, it feels like a kitchen sink drama as it negotiates the mother son and aunt triangle. There's an odd dynamic between Lennon and his mum Julia - it feels at times flirty - and is slightly uncomfortable to watch early on until you realize why she is like she is. It does also seem like a DVD or TV Movie - there's never really anything compelling given as a reason as to why it should be on the big screen.
That's not to say it's not good in places - 1950s life is stunningly recreated in this and the soundtrack is great.
And Johnson as Lennon is great - he manages to capture the cheekiness of Lennon's humour well and also gets the sadness down to a tee as he deals with the day to day family troubles. There are early hints of the Beatles - with Thomas Sangster (Love Actually) being given the Paul McCartney role.

But Nowhere Boy is less about the formation of the band and more about the problems Lennon faced growing up - if anything it provides a peek into a life some of us may not have known anything about.