Friday, 28 May 2010

A Nightmare On Elm Street: Movie Review

A Nightmare On Elm Street: Movie Review

Nightmare on Elm Street
Rating: 5/10
Cast: Jackie Earle Haley, Clancy Brown, Connie Britton, Thomas Dekker, Katie Cassidy, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, Kellan Lutz
Director: Samuel Bayer
Freddy's back for a new generation.
In this reimagining of the once popular Elm Street series, the teens of a small American town are dozing off - and being plagued by visions of a man in a red and black striped jumper and with a burned face.
After a series of deaths, one of them, Nancy (Rooney Mara) along with her friend Quentin (Kyle Gallner) try to work out why they're being tormented - and how to stop Freddy from killing them all.
But the longer they stay awake, the more dangerous their fight becomes - as sleep deprivation starts to force their bodies to shut down. And that's when Freddy will strike.
It's always going to be difficult to redo the iconic 1984 film A Nightmare on Elm Street - that was always one which defined a generation of horrors and had a major impact on the genre.
So it's not that the team behind this one doesn't try - they do and the successful updating finds Freddy Krueger given more of a sinister backstory which is more relevant and shocking to our times and sensitivities.
But herein lies the problem - Krueger was so intrinsically linked to Robert Englund that it makes it difficult to see anyone else in the role. That's not to say there's anything wrong with Jackie Earle Haley's performance - his growling and menacing Freddy works ok; he's not a patch on the original and there's something ever so slightly wrong with the make up of this Freddy; the face looks reminiscent of as if the Thing from Fantastic Four had been left near a heater and melted.
The cast do okay with their roles; they're all fairly disposable and the relative lack of big names (outside of genre TV shows) means you're not quite sure who's going to make it to the end.
There's the usual predictable shocks, gore and jolts and some of the death scenes are reminiscent of the original - but there's one plus to this film - some of the dream visuals. In particular, a scene where snow is falling inside a bedroom is beautifully done and is haunting as every dreamscape should be.
All in all, this new Nightmare clearly has aspirations to relaunch the series - especially given the final scenes - but it's clear those involved need to make a creative decision about the direction of any future films.

Because based on this first film, Freddy needs a little more bite to sustain a series of sequels.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Prince of Persia: Movie Review

The Prince of Persia: Movie Review

Prince of Persia
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Alfred Molina, Ben Kingsley
Director: Mike Newell
Blockbuster season's clearly underway at the moment.
What with Iron Man and Robin Hood pulling them in, it seems the action flick's clearly in Hollywood's mind this year.
And Prince of Persia is no exception.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Dastan, a young street urchin orphan boy who's taken into the Persian royal court at an early age and who comes to love the ruler as if he were his dad.
However, later on as the Persians are laying siege to a city they believe is hiding weapons which have helped their enemies (spot the parallel here), Dastan finds himself cast out from the royal court after he's believed to have assassinated the king.
Forced into hiding and into an uneasy alliance with Princess Tamina (a dusky sultry Gemma Arterton) Dastan tries to unravel the plot and figure out exactly what a sacred dagger has to do with his father's death and the end of the world.
How could the Prince of Persia go wrong? Practically everybody I've talked to about this film has had something to drool about - whether it's the buffed up Jake Gyllenhaal or the doe eyed Gemma Arterton, there's been something laid out for everyone.
And yet, somehow this adaptation of a phenomenally popular computer game just doesn't seem to get it 100% right on the big screen.
From the opening chase scene through to the FX laden final scenes, the problem is this film is relying a little too much on its source material - and the medium it came from. That is, it feels like it's a computer game on the big screen.
Scenes are held together by one of three plot devices - either a fight scene, a chase scene or plot exposition. There's also some humour thrown in in the form of Alfred Molina's comedy relief Sheik (and his brilliant ostrich racing - when was the last time you saw that on screen?) but it feels like less than the sum of its parts.
That's not to say though that the Persian recreation is anything less than stunning; with swooping camera work, it weaves through the city skylines creating a wondrous version of Persia.
But there's too much which feels like a misfire; the villain feels like something out of pantomime (and is just missing a handlebar moustache to twirl), Jake and Gemma have little chemistry together - and Jake spends most of the time mixing accents and smirking.

I have a feeling this could be the start of franchise - and I'd be willing to give another film a go because there's plenty of potential in these characters - but Prince of Persia aims for family blockbuster fun. It may succeed in parts thanks to some pretty good (but unrelenting) action scenes but a disappointing script sees this ancient story confined to the desert.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Every Jack Has A Jill: Movie Review

Every Jack Has A Jill: Movie Review

Every Jack Has A Jill
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Justin Bartha, Melanie Laurent, Billy Boyd
Director: Jennifer Devoldere
Fresh from the success of The Hangover (Justin Bartha) and Inglourious Basterds (Melanie Laurent) comes this sweet (almost sickly) story.
Laurent is Chloe, a 20 something living alone in Paris and in her dream world, searching for her perfect man; Bartha is Jack, a 30 year old American who wins a trip to Paris from a Coke can - and is promptly dumped by his girlfriend.
So Jack heads to France at the behest of his best friend (a marvellous Billy Boyd) - however, on his arrival he's missing his suitcase. This lost luggage ends up in Chloe's hands on the other side of Paris and despite warnings from her friends not to open it, she does - and falls in love with the contents. And therefore the owner too.
So she decides to do everything she can to find this man of her dreams...will it work out?
Every Jack Has A Jill will find a perfect audience with the romantic; Chloe's the epitome of the dreamer - gazes into the distance wistfully, zones out etc; and Jack is the perfect foil to her; a bit little boy lost with rugged good sadsack looks.
The wheel's not broken here - and Devoldere does little to fix it. Throw in a couple of racial stereotypes with the surly French hotel owner and the English family abroad, and this film is your average romantic drama.
Both Laurent and Bartha play their roles well and make good protagonists; plus there's points to the script for keeping the pair apart for the majority of the film.

Depending on how much you're willing to forgive Every Jack Has A Jill, will depend on how much you'll love it. If you're a little world weary and cynical it'll do nothing to change your world view.

However, if you're prone to dreaming and believing in romance, it'll rock your world.

The Losers: Movie Review

The Losers: Movie Review

The Losers
Rating: 5/10
Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Jason Patric
Director: Sylvain White
So blockbuster season continues apace with this adaptation of a DC Comics series.
A CIA black ops team led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Clay is left for dead during an operation in Bolivia.
But this team of five guys with names like Roque, Pooch, Jensen, Clay and Cougar are determined to fight back - and get Max the man who set up the team.
However, Max has bigger plans for world domination (when don't they?) and soon Clay and the gang are trapped, desperately trying to clear their names.
Along the way, they join forces with the mysterious Aisha (Zoe Saldana) who appears to have a grudge against Max too - but who's playing whom?
If The Losers sounds familiar, then that's probably because it is.
It's a similar plot to most other action thrillers (and sounds uncannily like the TV Series The A Team) and to be honest, there's nothing fabulously new to see here.
Trademark slow-mo action shots, things exploding, a hammy villain (yes Jason Patric I'm looking at you) and gratuitous long camera shots on the lead actress are all present and correct.
Also present is the continual cliché of what I like to term The A Team syndrome - which is where the good guys are seriously outnumbered by the bad guys, but it seems the villain's hired the worst shooters in the world as none of them can hit anything, regardless of how well stacked the odds are against the goodies.
But if you don't take the Losers too seriously, it's fairly good fun. Sure, it's all been done before, but some witty dialogue scattered throughout and some misfits on the team (as well as a charismatic Jeffrey Dean Morgan) make 90 minutes pass relatively quickly.

While there's nothing inherently wrong with this slyly mocking derivative action flick, it does feel like a missed opportunity and with hints that there could be a sequel, here's hoping a slightly smarter and stronger script does it more justice second time around.

Paper Heart: Movie Review

Paper Heart: Movie Review

Paper Heart
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, Jake Johnson
Director: Nicholas Jasenovec
Paper Heart is a curio of a film.
Part documentary, (small) part animation, it stars Charlyne Yi, as an accentuated version of herself.
She's an American teen comedian who in this film sets out to find out what love is, having never personally experienced it herself.
So she heads across America at the behest of her doco producer and talks to various couples to get their stories on how they fell in love and to see if she can get some inspiration on being struck hard by Cupid's bow.
But on the journey, she meets up with Michael Cera (Year One, the great TV show Arrested Development) and they end up forming a bond and a little bit of a relationship.
However, Charlyne begins to realize her quest may have had unforeseen results...
Paper Heart treads a fine line between mockumentary and doco - the scenes of couples telling their stories of how they realized they loved each other are sweet and the paper animation that Charlyne uses to bring them to life are just wonderful.
She meets a pair of judges who tell of how a rain storm brought them together; she gets blasted by a psychic's vision of her future and she goes to a wedding to see how it's all done - this film is clearly not aimed at the cyncial.
But yet, it's hard not to be cynical as she forms the relationship with the ever affable and permanently awkward Michael Cera. While it's well played on screen, personally that was the problem I had - it felt played. There's some discussion of it being awkward with the cameras there, musings about whether they should kiss on camera take a bit of heart out of the film.
Further reading about Paper Heart afterwards only give more credence to the fact I felt a little conned at the end - but that's a minor complaint.
While parts of Paper Heart don't work as well as they could, there's a lot to love in this film - it has a charming heart and an endearing spirit.



Monday, 17 May 2010

Coco and Igor: Movie Review

Coco and Igor: Movie Review

Coco And Igor
Rating: 5/10
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Anna Mouglalis
Director: Jan Kounen
Following directly on from Coco Avant Chanel, this film takes a slightly darker tone when looking at Chanel.
It's 1913 in Paris - and Chanel (Mouglalis) is in love with her Boy and working hard within the industry.
One night she meets composer Igor Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen), a Russian forced to flee the revolution and who is about to perform for the first time in France.
He does so and his latest work is promptly booed off.
The pair meet again seven years later, when Chanel is mourning the death of Boy and Stravinsky has fallen on hard times.
So Chanel opens her house to the family and as time goes, ends up opening her heart to Stravinsky with the pair having a passionate illicit affair.
Coco and Igor is beautifully shot with sweeping swirling camera work but feels a little stifling. It's full of whites and none of the warmth you'd remember from Coco Avant Chanel's Audrey Tautou.
But then to be fair, this is a different Chanel - she's a harder woman, grieving and more career focussed than ever. So in some aspects, she really is more the real person.
Mads Mikkelsen is a little hard too - he's quite stilted in places and doesn't really do much to convey the apparent passion and electricity between the pair.

Coco and Igor is a disappointment but for those Chanel fans looking for a more rounded picture of their fashion heroine, it may offer some insight into the next stage of her life.

Lord Of The Rings trilogy: Blu Ray Review

Lord Of The Rings trilogy: Blu Ray Review

The Lord of The Rings trilogy - Blu Ray release Released by Roadshow Entertainment

So Sir Peter Jackson's take on the Middle Earth saga of Tolkien finally comes to Blu Ray - nearly 10 years after it wowed audiences in the cinema.
For anyone living under the rock and unaware of the Middle Earth story, this is the tale of Frodo Baggins and a group of hobbits. Life in Middle Earth is good for the gang - but with the evil Lord Sauron threatening their habitats, they find themselves involved in a quest to despatch the evil Lord when Frodo is given a ring.
That ring has the power to dispose of the evil which is hovering over them - however, as Frodo ventures further towards Mount Doom, he begins to realise he could lose his very soul in the quest - and pay the ultimate price.
It's great to finally have these films on Blu Ray - because the high definition gives the world of Middle Earth, of Orcs, of Gandalf and the Fellowship the sharpness and beauty which was always planned.
Sure, you can grumble that this trio of films is only the original versions and not the extended editions and that most of the DVD extras have been transferred across rather than supplying new material, but for spectacle alone The Lord Of The Rings blu rays cannot be beaten.
Take for example Gollum's wonderfully vivid realisation - in High Definition, you can truly appreciate what WETA did and the level of detail which went into these creatures. Every scale and ripple on his rugged body is accentuated by the format.
The Lord of The Rings trilogy remains an essential purchase for any fantasy fan - and in this Blu Ray format, (and even with the possibility of the extended editions being released on Blu Ray) it's a great start as we get ready for The Hobbit.

Rating: 9/10 

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Dr Who: Dalek War: DVD Review

Dr Who: Dalek War: DVD Review

Dr Who: Dalek War
Released by BBC and Roadshow Entertainment
Rating: PG
The classic series continues to release some solid sets - this time round it's two much loved serials from the 1970s featuring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor.
In Frontier in Space, the Dr and his companion Jo find themselves pitted against the Doctor's mortal enemy, The Master (a wonderful final performance from Roger Delgado) and must do everything they can to stop the universe being plunged into all out war.
Following on directly from that is the serial Planet of The Daleks which finds an injured Doctor and Jo trapped on the planet Spiridon. With the Doc incapacitated, Jo finds there's thousands of Daleks waiting to take over the universe - can they stop the dastardly machinations of the Master coming to fruition in time?
The Dalek War box set features two fairly by the numbers Doctor Who stories - but where it exceeds once again is with the definitive set of extras. Frontier In Space was a turning point for the show - for all the wrong reasons. Roger Delgado's final performance was in this serial before his untimely death in a car accident - so the set is tinged with the sadness of what could have been. Shortly after his death, Jon Pertwee decided it was time to move on.
In one of the extras, there's a wonderful look back over Delgado's career and the sense of loss is keenly felt by those providing insight into the era.
Throw in a colourised episode which was thought long lost and it's pretty much the dream of any fan of the classic series.
Extras: Numerous - but include production notes, behind the scenes docos, a tribute to Roger Delgado, commentaries - all perfect for the true fans of the show

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Avatar: DVD Review

Avatar: DVD Review

Avatar Released by Roadshow Entertainment
Rating: M
So the biggest film ever which shattered box office records for 3D films - and non- 3D films finally makes it to the small screen.
Even though Avatar's still performing in the top 20, it was always going to be about the test of how it translates given that TV technology has yet to catch up.

Avatar is the story of a marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paralysed former Marine who takes his dead brother's place on a mission to new world Pandora.

It's there that the Earthlings find themselves in conflict with the planet's indigenous people, the Na'vi (a 10 foot tall, blue skinned cat like spiritual race)

The Earthlings want to get their hands on a rich deposit of unobtainium, a rare mineral which could prevent the energy crisis back on earth.

However, that deposit is slap bang in the middle of the Na'vi's spiritual land - so Sully is sent in (via his own blue skinned Na'vi avatar) to try and see if there's a solution - be it military or negotiation...

Given that Cameron and the WETA team always wanted to set a benchmark with the effects, it's fair to say while they look good on the small screen, they can never match up (yet) to the big screen treatment. That said, thanks to the vivid blues and purples of the landscapes, they still work well. If you're one of those who's not seen Avatar (There must be some out there who haven't) then this version is not a bad way to appreciate what's been created and what's been vividly brought to life.

What that means is there's more of a focus on the plot - which was never the strongest point - although to be honest, it doesn't fare any worse.

Sure - you can argue that this speedy vanilla release with barebones (except for a log in to the Avatar experience) is going to have many fans holding off waiting for the ultimate edition, but Avatar remains a spectacle and an important step in the evolution of film effects.

Rating: 7/10

Samson and Delilah: DVD Review

Samson and Delilah: DVD Review

Samson and Delilah Released by Madman
Rating: R16
An incredibly powerful piece which set tongues wagging in Australia on its original release, this the tale of Samson (Rowan McNamara) and Delilah (Marissa Gibson) both Aborigine who live on a reservation.

Life for them is hard - a series of repetitive monotonies (as signified by Samson's brother's band which bashes out the same tune daily) and with no real hope in sight.

One day Delilah's nan dies and after she's set upon by locals who claim she didn't look after her nan properly, Samson takes matters into his own hands, steals a car and the two head away from the reservation for what they believe is a better life.

However, they end up on the streets, struggling to get by and much worse off than they were - will they survive?

On first viewing on the big screen, Samson and Delilah was a moving, powerful and sickening film - even on the small screen and with the fore knowledge of the story, it's still a shocker.

Director Warwick Thornton's taken examples of his life in Alice Springs and put it up on the big screen for everyone to see.

It's mesmerising, horrific, humorous and will leave you wondering how anyone could live in a place such as this. Thanks to the sparse performance of the two main leads, who spend the majority of the film hardly talking, you will be captivated by what you see.

Samson and Delilah is at times bleak and painful to watch - but you are glued to the screen and left fully aware that for some, this is the daily reality of their life.

Extras: Interviews with director Warwick Thornton, a theatrical trailer, a making of and Warwick Thornton's previous short films.

Rating: 8/10 

Friday, 14 May 2010

Robin Hood: Movie Review

Robin Hood: Movie Review

Robin Hood
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Max von Sydow, Mark Addy, William Hurt, Oscar Isaac
Director: Ridley Scott
And so the Legend begins...
Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe have reteamed for their fifth collaboration - and a new take on the folklore hero of Robin of the Hood.
It's 1199 and a glowering Crowe is Robin Longstride, an archer in King Richard The Lionheart's army, who's been fighting in the Crusades for the past decade.
Following the death of the king in battle Longstride and three comrades (Will Scarlett, Little John and Allan A'Dale) head back to England to try and restart their lives. But before Longstride can resume his life (despite never knowing exactly who his father was), he has to keep a promise made to a dying knight, Robert of Loxley.

The problem is that when he returns to Loxley in Nottingham, Robert's father (a frail Max von Sydow) asks him to impersonate his son to keep the village alive with hope - particularly as the recently crowned King John (Isaac) has started a crusade of taxation.

But all of that pales into insignificance with the treacherous machinations of the half French half English Sir Godfrey (a wonderful as ever Mark Strong) who's leading a charge to help the French invade...

Ridley Scott's Robin Hood is a good epic take on the story - sure there will be some who'll feel that he's taken liberties with the story - but what he's crafted is an intelligently told and thoughtful story which in no shape or form is simply Gladiator with Bows and Arrows.

Russell Crowe is restrained as Robin; plenty of scowling but you can tell he is the kind of man who does the right thing. Longstride's relationship with Cate Blanchett's Maid Marian works well as the flick takes time to build it up - giving it more of a realistic feel and one which feels human. The film becomes a thoughtful piece with more of an accent on characters rather than action.

There's some pretty impressive action sequences in the film too - thankfully not too many clichéd slow mo shots of arrows being fired. Each battle scene is bloody, brutal and violent - reminders that combat in those days was painful and difficult.
The final epic sequence which culminates on a battle on England's Dover cliffs is stunning - cameras swoop in and capture every nuance of the action.

If there's to be one complaint of the 150 minute running time, it's that you may leave feeling there were some lulls; coupled with a feeling that very little actually happens over a long time, it's fair to say that Ridley Scott's Robin Hood hits the target - but just narrowly misses the bullseye.

Mary and Max: DVD Review

Mary and Max: DVD Review

Mary and Max
Released by Warner Bros Home Video
Voices by Barry Humphries, Toni Collette, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Eric Bana

This beautifully funny, wry and affecting stop motion claymation film tells the apparently true story of an Australian 8-year old girl, Mary, socially outcast and awkward.

One day in 1976, she decides to start a pen friendship with a random name she pulls out of the phone book.

That person turns out to be Max, a 40something clinically obese, diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, NY resident.

So they begin corresponding and an unlikely friendship grows thanks to the extraordinary frankness of these two penpals.

Mary and Max is a beautifully dour piece of claymation animation, tinged with a sadness and dark (at times bleak) humour.

It's narrated by Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna) and has its main characters voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette - it's hard to pin down exactly what its appeal is.

It's a nice mix of humour in unexpected places - laugh out loud funny in some and reflective in others. There's also some sadness in the film but overall Mary and Max is a crowd pleasing treat. It takes a little while to get used to - but before you know it, you've invested so much in this delightful pair and are hanging on every letter to be delivered between these two unlikely penpals.
Mary and Max is just a sweet and oddly engaging film; it's dripping with poignancy and black humour - and a real celebration of the simple joy of unadultered friendship.

Rating: 8/10 

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Letters to Juliet: Movie Review

Letters to Juliet: Movie Review

Letters to Juliet
Rating: 4/10
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Gael Garcia Bernal, Christopher Egan
Director: Gary Winick
Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Surely one of the most iconic phrases from many an English lesson and thanks to numerous films, that balcony scene involving Romeo and Juliet is etched into many a romantic mind.
Amanda Seyfried stars as the soon to be married American researcher Sophie, who heads to Verona with her fiancée Victor (Garcia Bernal) to enjoy a pre marriage break.
But instead of splurging on the culture or her, Victor spends a lot more of his time meeting with suppliers for his restaurant and leaves Sophie to her own devices.
So, Sophie ends up under that infamous balcony where many a star crossed lover posts a "letter to Juliet" asking for help. As Sophie follows a gaggle of ladies who answer these letters, she finds herself questioning her own life and destiny.
And that confusion is made even worse, when she answers a letter sent by a girl called Claire. The response she dishes out sees the older Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) head to Verona to pursue her destiny - along with her grand son Charlie (Egan) - how will their intertwined destinies play out?
What can you say about Letters to Juliet? It's another romantic comedy which is light and frothy and pitches squarely for a certain audience who'll be happy with it - high art it certainly is not. Beautifully shot though it is - still, with a canvas like Verona to work from, that's not surprising.
It's scattered with bon mots throughout which will amuse some ("Husbands are like wine - they take time to mature") but irritate others; likewise some of the characterisation is a bit lazy. Victor is clearly not the man Sophie should be with - and thanks to that, you don't actually feel Sophie's choice is as painful or as dramatic as it could be. I know it's still supposed to be romantic comedy with a tinge of drama but it would have injected a bit more bite into it.

There's a few cheesy contrived moments as well as some predictable moments but all in all Letters to Juliet delivers exactly what you'd expect.

The Secret in Their Eyes: Movie Review

The Secret in Their Eyes: Movie Review

The Secret In Their Eyes
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Ricardo Darin, Pablo Rago, Guillermo Francella, Soledad Villamil
Director: Juan Jose Campanella
El secreto de sus ojos (to give it its Argentinean title) arrives on our shores having collected the Academy Award this year for Best Foreign Language Film.
Set in 1999, Ricardo Darin (a popular Argentinean actor) plays former investigator Benjamin Esposito who's retired but not been able to put one case out of his mind.
25 years ago, Esposito investigated the brutal rape and murder of a 23 year old woman - but despite pursuing several leads, Esposito and his partner Sandoval never managed to close the case.
One suspect emerges and the duo try everything in their power to get him convicted - but as Esposito recalls the case for a novel, he begins to realise that he has to reopen the case.
Not only that, but he must rediscover the feelings he buried a long time ago for his boss Irene&.
The Secret In Their Eyes is a solid crime drama; gritty and involving. It also has some wonderful character moments and the partnership between Esposito and Sandoval has some brilliant quirky and humorous moments.
But there's an undercurrent of tragedy in this slightly over long film thanks in part to the lost love theme running throughout. Esposito suffers from a destructive unrequited love and the murdered victim's husband suffers from a mournful desire to find out exactly what happened to his wife. As the truth begins to unravel at the denouement, there's a powderkeg of emotions waiting to explode as the slow burner finally ignites.

The Secret In Their Eyes will drag you in - it may take a little time to get going but once it's got its nails into you, it won't let go.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Where The Wild Things Are: DVD Review

Where The Wild Things Are: DVD Review

Where The Wild Things Are
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
Rating: PG
Bursting onto the small screen is the adaptation of the perennially popular book Where The Wild Things Are.

Max is your typical kid - rambunctious, lacking in boundaries and discipline and blessed with a fiercely imaginative mind.

He spends his time building igloos in the snow and wandering around in a wolf costume.

One day after a fight and heated argument with his mum, he runs off, gets in a boat and heads to an island. That island is Where The Wild Things live - and under the cover of darkness, he meets Carol (James Gandolfini) and the rest of the gang - a group of 10 foot tall hairy creatures wreaking havoc for no reason.

Granted, there's not much story to build on from the book but what the ever creative director Spike Jonze has dreamt up is stunning in places - and his decision to turn the Wild Things into toweringly tall animatronic full suits (with creatures made by Jim Henson's Creature Shop) is nothing short of cinematic genius.

Shot with a handheld camera, the film is full of beautiful visuals - as well as nightmarish visions and will amaze you from the very moment the Wild Things appear on the screen. They look like cuddly puppets in places - but Carol's temperamental behaviour and tantrums which rock Max's world are brilliantly brought to life by the vocal work of James Gandolfini of Sopranos fame. In fact, it's possible to say Gandolfini's Carol is a creature version of his Tony Soprano - charming and charismatic but with the capability of turning at just the bat of an eyelid.

Where The Wild Things Are is a charming and sweet piece which will win you over.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Red Cliff: DVD Review

Red Cliff: DVD Review

The Battle of Red Cliff
Rating: M
Cast:
Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro
Released by Warner Home Video

Director John Woo returns to Chinese soil with millions of dollars in Red Cliff, a historical epic about Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi), and the scheming Prime Minister to the Han dynasty Emperor.

The Prime Minister is leading a massive Northern army to quell the rebel warlords of the South.

Filled with sumptuous battle scenes and brutal recreations of the battles which dominated Chinese history, Red Cliff is in places a visual treat. Don't get me wrong, while it looks gorgeous - it is probably a dream film for those who want to study how wars were conducted in years gone by.

But it's ever so slightly hollow - I wasn't quite sure whether some of the close ups of the evil Prime Minister laughing sinisterly were ironic - because if not, they certainly verge on the hammy.

The Battle of Red Cliff is a good story which appears to have been told with a set formula in mind and that hasn't helped.

That said, the battle scenes are quite stunning in places (even if it does come with Woo's trademark slow mo shots)- Red Cliff is an interesting film which doesn't quite engage 100% but as a spectacle it looks fabulous.

Extras: Interview with director John Woo, and a behind the scenes doco
Rating: 6/10 

Friday, 7 May 2010

The Blind Side: Movie Review

The Blind Side: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Jae Head, Kathy Bates
Director: John Lee Hancock
So the film that netted Sandra Bullock an Oscar on the same weekend as she scored a Razzie is finally upon us.
Based on a 2006 book, The Blind Side is the story of Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a towering gentle giant who's from the wrong side of Memphis. Homeless, apparent family-less and with no prospects at all, Michael's life is changed when his path one day accidentally crosses with Sandra Bullock's brassy, Southern sassy Leigh Anne Tuohy.
The Tuohys are from the right side of town; Leigh Anne's husband owns a heap of Taco Bells and with their Christian way of life and ethics, they never want for anything.
So in the true spirit of altruism, the Tuohys take in Michael and begin to offer him some hope - and some of that hope gives him the belief he needs to play American football.
I know exactly what The Blind Side is aiming for - it has aspirations to be inspirational and is clearly pitching purely and simply at uplifting. But sadly, personally it didn't strike the chord.
Sandra Bullock is good as Leigh Anne but I couldn't shake the feeling having seen other Oscar nominated performances that she didn't quite deserve to walk off with the statuette - she does ballsy and headstrong with a heart well but is it Oscar winning? Well that's for debate I guess.
The supporting performances are good - including Quinton Aaron who does a reasonable job of portraying the down on his luck kid in need of a break.

I can see why The Blind Side did well in America and I can see how it will resonate with some here but I didn't really feel like I was watching something that was told originally; it follows a very set formula and is entirely predictable in its story - although there was a hint of something a bit more of a moral at the end (which was left unexplored), sadly The Blind Side didn't give me the feel good factor that had been promised.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

A Single Man: Movie Review

A Single Man: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode
Director: Tom Ford
Finally, the Oscar films are making their way to our cinemas.
The latest is A Single Man, based on the book of the same name, the directorial debut of Tom Ford and the film which saw plaudits rained down upon its leading actor, Colin Firth.
Firth stars as Professor George Falconer, a gay English professor who lives in 1960s Southern California. As the film begins - and via viewers' flashback, he's told by a phone call that his long term partner Jim (Goode) has been killed in a car crash.
Struggling to find any reason to carry on after the death of his 16 year relationship, and reflecting on his past and seemingly empty future, Falconer sets about planning for the end of his life via suicide.
What follows are his attempts to say goodbye and bring some order to his life at the end - and the seemingly mundane duties of his last day at college, dinner with his old friend Charlie (Julianne Moore) and drinks with a student Kenny (About a Boy's Nicholas Hoult) all bring a special significance to Falconer.
A Single Man is a stylistically heavy film - it won't surprise you to learn that it's from the same production design team who make TV's Mad Men; in fact a lot of the stylish recreations of the time are perfectly encapsulated on the screen.
But Ford's made a ham fist of some of his direction - there's plenty of close up scenes focusing on eyes; be it of people or in one case of a massive poster; these seem odd distractions and motifs which don't really fit in.
Likewise Nicholas Hoult's Kenny appears to have been airbrushed to within an inch of his life; with his spray tan and bleached teeth, it's like watching a mannequin - again, there's nothing wrong with his performance, but it just distracts from the overall feel.

However - those are just minor niggles because A Single Man is Colin Firth's film. I'll freely admit I've never really rated him (sorry ladies, I know many of you are thinking of that scene from Pride and Prejudice) as an actor - but after this performance, I really am going to have to re-evaluate him because he's sensational and sears on the screen in this.
One scene when he's told of Jim's death is just stunning to watch; in just a few moments Firth conveys every conceivable emotion you'd expect of someone who's just been told their one true love has died; it's heartbreaking to watch and yet mesmerizing to see him perform so well. Firth commands your attention and never once betrays that commitment.
Where A Single Man also works so well is in its portrayal of Jim and George's relationship - never once is it in your face; it's subtle, tender and loving, a relationship to aspire to and thanks to that, you fully understand George's emotive response to his loss.

A Single Man is a slice of sophisticated cinema; it's slick (perhaps a little too much in places) but thanks to Colin Firth, it's a hypnotic film which will be cherished by many.

New York, I Love You: Movie Review

New York, I Love You: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Natalie Portman, Bradley Cooper, Rachel Bilson, Cloris Leachman - and a host more
Director: Natalie Portman, Anthony Minghella - and a host more
New York - a diverse city and a collection of cultures.
New York, I Love You - a diverse collection of stories all tied together by the city they're set in. And a sequel of sorts to Paris, Je T'Aime.
This film's comprised of 11 stories of around 10 minutes long and they cover a whole range of story topics - the only ever common theme is NY itself.
And it's not just a wealth of acting talent involved too, there's a whole heap of directors - including the late Anthony Minghella (to whom the film's dedicated.)
As with any collection of anthologies and like a box of chocolates, there's some good ones and some duds that you tolerate. But as the stories themselves are only 10 minutes long, it means if you're ever bored or irritated by one of them, another one's knocking in the wings waiting for your attention.
Some are more successful than others - I loved the sparkle and sleight of hand of the story of Anton Yelchin's dumped boyfriend off to the prom; thanks to some crackle and rug from under your feet moments, there's a lot to love about this story where not everything is what it seems.
Likewise, the story of OAPs Abe and Mitzie has a universality around it - and many of us will recognise something of themselves in their tale.
The less successful segments sadly make the 10 minutes a difficult ask - Orlando Bloom and Christina Ricci's tale of books and connections doesn't work as well as it could; but to be honest the diamonds outweigh the lumps of coal.
Sure, there are some common links to these vignettes; characters who drop in and out of frames - but each story is its own beast.

Stringed together by some obligatory shots (and at times unoriginal shots) of the skylines, of life in the city, of shapes and jazz New York I Love You has excellently conveyed the feel of the Big Apple and will find you lost in them for around 100 minutes.

The Hedgehog: Movie Review

The Hedgehog: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Josiane Balasko, Togo Igawa, Garance Le Guillermic
Director: Mona Achache
The Hedgehog aka Le herisson is a French film about a Parisian family living in an apartment block.
11 year old Paloma (Le Guillermic) is a deadly serious child - brought up within a rich family, she's desperate to prevent her life turning into a stuffy rich person. So she decides to kill herself when she's 12 - and spends the intervening time with a hand held camera taping everything around her.
Renee (Balasko) is the concierge of the building; a quiet, unnoticeable woman who performs her chores without complaining and never steps out of line.
However, under that façade lies the truth about Renee- and when both Paloma and Renee meet new neighbour Mr Ozu (Igawa) their lives are changed forever.
The Hedgehog is a sentimental story, which has, according to the director, a kind of fairy tale theme. Paloma is fiercely intelligent and seems at odds with the rest of the world around her. During Paloma's filming, she captures the mundanity of life around her and wonderfully articulates why she wants out. There's a good solid performance from both the actors who play Paloma and Renee and you do get engaged in the story.
It's a story which rewards investment in the characters - and certainly the last 10 minutes packs an emotional punch.
There's also some wonderful animation which appears onscreen from time to time and adds a lot to overall feel of the film - it's not quirky or irritating; it simply allows a bit more depth into this story about friendship.

The Hedgehog is an odd curio of a film - you may actually find yourself more moved than you anticipated as it nears its end.