Wednesday, 28 July 2010

NZFF Archive Reviews - 2010

NZFF Archive Reviews - 2010

Triangle

A mindbender,Triangle is the tale of Melissa George's Jess who one day goes sailing with 5 friends.Out on the water,they end up capsized when a storm passes by.From out of nowhere,a ship appears and the remaining survivors jump up on it-finding it deserted,they try to see who's onboard and how they can get home-but soon,one by one they're dying.All except Jess...Triangle is a superior piece of film;it draws out the tension by leaving it for quite a while before the horrors begin to unfurl.But if you're expecting horror on the boat of the nutter on the loose kind,you're on the wrong track as director/writer Chris Smith throws in a time travel plot as well..It's really smart,suspenseful stuff and holds you right until the very end.Sure you may guess some of the tricks(if you've seen the marvellous TimeCrimes)but the pieces don't fall into place until the very end.Mindblowing and head-scratching,this needs your love and time.A great end to the Akl festival for 2010.Here's to 2011!

The free China Junk

The story of five fishermen who set off from Taiwan in 1955 to get to San Francisco (a 6000 mile trip)in an old junk vessel has charm aplenty.Robin Greenberg's crafted a doco which is gentle,easy on the eye and at times akin to a shaggy dog story-which is 100% true.None of those involved in the voyage had any experience of the wider sea-and none of them had any sense of the achievement they may get when the journey was completed.Using footage shot at the time of the voyage, accounts from those onboard and documents,the whole journey is wonderfully brought to life-throw into the mix a few humourous anecdotes and comments-one remarks how he didn't know how to swim and it doesn't matter because he'll suffer less if they come across trouble.But the vignettes flow so well and the footage used sews such a rich nostalgic tapestry,that Free China Junk achieves such a lot in its 100 minute running time that it'd be hard not to be entertained by this doco.

The Killer Inside Me

A difficult watch to say the least,The Killer Inside Me (from Michael Winterbottom)is an adaptation of a Jim Thompson book about a sociopathic sheriff in 1950s Texas.Casey Affleck plays said Sheriff Ford who finds himself entangled in blackmail and extortion-as well as a torrid affair with prostitute Joyce(Jessica Alba)-and when things come to a head,boy oh boy do they explode as Ford discovers he's heading in deeper and deeper.This film,despite its slick 50s look and polished performances is going to be steeped in controversy because of its violence-well,specifically its violence against the two women in Ford's life-both played by Alba and Kate Hudson-which are shocking in the extreme.While Affleck's performance is chilling and spot on,it's a hard ask to watch a man who's meted out such violence as he has-audiences may find themselves split down the middle on this flick which has echoes of American Psycho(but none of the humour)

Four Lions

British satirist Chris Morris turns his eye on four would be suicide bombers in this hilariously insane comedy.Sure,in anyone else's hands the words suicide bombers and comedy wouldn't work but with Morris,everything in this film works.From the minute the film opens,it's clear the clueless quartet have no idea what they're doing-in Morris' hands (along with script writers of the brilliant Peep Show)this is savagely funny(even if you can see some of the jokes coming)-what they've done is take logical arguments over the matter to the absurd end.It's farcical in places and yet as the final scenes roll out,it's also quite sad as you realise these four have negotiated themselves into a corner.There's also endlessly quotable lines too which will find their way into people's Facebook statuses..But no one in this ends up superior -even the police are incompetent(a great scene arguing a bear or Wookie during a fun run)-however, be warned this film contains an infectious Toploader song.Awesome.

How I Ended This Summer

A Russian drama with only 2 cast members (and only a polar bear)set in the Arctic may sound like an odd choice but this drama is deliciously bound to catch you unawares.Seasoned worker Sergei and newbie Pasha work at a station,collecting data and relaying it back and forth via a radio to the mainland.One day Sergei heads out fishing to break the monotony of the routine-but while he's out Pasha gets a message involving Sergei's family-and doesn't relay it.Caught within the lie,it's only a matter of time before everything explodes.With sweeping long shots capturing the remoteness of the landscape,this is quite a magnificently brooding piece(once your inner voice stops screaming why didn't he tell him)which you'll find yourself swept up in-never before has a non-delivered message caused such tension and such dread.Magnificently played by the leads and evocative,this will catch you offguard and sink you deep into its world- and leave you with much to discuss afterwards.

Cyrus

Pitched as an odd comedy in its trailer,Cyrus stars John C Reilly,Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei as a mismatched trio.Reilly is John a divorcee who meets Marisa's Molly at a party and they hit it off;so much so that after 7 years estrangement,he thinks she could be the one.There's only one problem-her 21 year old son Cyrus(Hill)who initially welcomes John to their home but soon starts to act up in order to get him out.Cyrus is a polished little gem of a film, delightfully quirky and confounds every expectation-while still delivering plenty of laughs and a good dose of heart.Appears to have been shot on handheld cameras so they swoop in and out capturing every awkwardly odd moment.It's played very straight by the cast and Hill delivers a knockout performance of comic menace via Cyrus.Reilly's equally as good at the deadpan too-and Tomei is great as the mom who can see nothing wrong with the relationship.An unexpected treat in more ways than one.See it and love it.

Manurewa

Showing as part of the Homegrown section,this short is a fictionalised effort centred on the events which led to the shooting of liquor store owner Navtej Singh.The short starts with a teen petting a horse,engulfed in his innocence before his peers collect him in their car and then head off;a liquor store owner works the late shift as his wife spends time at the temple-he's berated for not visiting his father.Sam Peacocke's direction masterfully weaves together several strands as we cut back and forth from different Sth Auckland snapshots before the tragedy unfolds.Manurewa doesn't profess to offer answers over what exactly happened but merely shows a community unfolding into events around it;it's life in a heartbeat as it all changes around them and lives collide in a brutal moment which shapes everyone's future.This is a haunting short with a final shot which will stay with you for a while after it ends.Manurewa is an intelligent education into a shocking event

When You're Strange

Laying the ghost of Oliver Stone's The Doors to rest is no mean feat-but this doco by Tom DiCillo brilliantly beats the final nail in the coffin of Stone as it recounts the story of the Doors,their formation and their eventual demise.And it's really down to one person-again.Jim Morrison;using footage from the man himself,it superbly pieces together what made the Lizard king tick,how the band worked and why they worked.Narrated with typical ease by Johnny Depp,this morphs together music,concert footage, pictures and interviews to produce a hedonistic,hazy,at times trippy version of the life and times of the influential band.With a whirl of images heading on to the screen and at you,it,at times, feels like you've dropped LSD with the rest of them and are part of the times.It does a wonderful job of encapsulating why Morrison was such an enigma and gives you enough footage to salivate the oldest of fans.This year's best musical doco is a wild ride back into the original Wild child.Genius.

Russian Snark

A bittersweet comedy about two Russian artists who end up in Auckland certainly saw the aisles packed out for the world premiere in Akl.Stephen Papps and Elena Stejko star as Misha and Nadia in this odd piece about adjusting to life in a foreign land.Misha is a tortured artist who believes in his work and is intense in his outlook;Nadia realises that she can't support both of them and leaves the relationship.But her descent into the seedier side of nightlife sees both of them suffer an epiphany.With black and white shots of art at work or in progress punctuating the story,it takes a little time to get used to.However,while some may find it difficult to puncture through,there's actually quite a sweet tale of Misha's growing up, the ties that bind and getting in touch with what matters-as he says at one point:"It's better to be a good man than a great artist."

The Insatiable Moon

Shot on a shoestring budget when the Film Commission passed,The Insatiable Moon became a labour of love for those involved.It's the story of Arthur(a tremendous powerhouse performance from Rawiri Paratene)who believes he's the second son of God and who frequents a halfway house run by Greg Johnson's Bob in Ponsonby. However,Arthur's life intertwines with Sara Wiseman's social worker at a time when the boarding house is threatened with closure.The Insatiable Moon is a story of heart and compassion, populated with some truly brilliant and crowd pleasing performances from the central cast.It's got audience pleasing moments throughout as well as some laughs but it's Paratene's impishness and charm which sees this film from beginning to end;with big eyes and a disarming grin,he's the heart and soul of the film which binds the whole thing together.However, he's nearly upstaged by Johnson and Wiseman who imbue their roles with such class,it's hard not to be swept along by this tale.

I Love You Phillip Morris

Jim Carrey stars as flamboyant conman Steven Russell in this film which is outrageous and fun at the same time.Adopted at birth,Russell feels he's living a lie and suddenly decides everything must change-so he starts committing frauds left right and centre to pay for his life as a gay man and enjoy the extravagances.But as ever,the law catches up with him and banged up,Russell finds Ewan McGregor's sweetly touching Phillip Morris and the two fall in love.However,Russell's determined to get out of jail and does everything in his power to ensure Morris and he have a life together-but it doesn't run smoothly.Light, frothy, funny and outrageous in equal measures,ILYPM is a hilarious and insanely fun ride with scenes which will shock and surprise you.Carrey is very good as Russell but it's McGregor who's the best thing in this with his performance just endearing on many levels.OTT it may be,but it's a great piece of popcorn entertainment.

Police Adjective

Easily the slowest film that I've seen this festival,Police Adjective is the Romanian tale of detective Cristi who's undercover and tracking a drugs ring.But without the flashy action of Hollywood,this film is a slow burning piece which looks at the procedure of gathering evidence,pulling together reports and deciding on courses of action.But the point of difference in this film is Cristi-he's not convinced that the kid he's tailing deserves to go to jail for essentially merely smoking hasish-with pressure mounting from his boss to find evidence and to hurry a sting operation,Cristi's conscience starts to get the better of him as he worries that the kid could do jail time for an insignificant crime.To say very little happens in this film is to do it a disservice;sure, it's a slow building piece but there's smart humour within -once you get used to the long shots and Cristi simply tailing his suspect and watching and following,there's a whole world you realise you've been sucked into.

Teenage Paparazzo


Vinny from TV2's Entourage aka Adrian Grenier latest doco is an interesting look into the world of the paparazzi - but with one very real difference. Grenier is stunned to find himself papped by 13 year old Austin Visschedyk.But Grenier is not alone-with the likes of Paris Hilton and Desperate Housewive Eva also being papped by the kid. So Grenier forms a friendship with the kid to find out how someone gets into this and why (hint- there's a lot of money to be made from the "ahh, it's a kid, sure I'll pose" attitude) But Grenier finds more than he bargained for over the years of the doco as he sees Austin enveloped by the world and begins to realise he's helped create a monster.A brilliant doco which not only explores the methods and motives of those paparazzi but also offers up the question of whether the pair can be friends when the camera's off.Wholeheartedly recommended in these days of tmz, people magazine and others of their ilk. A smart assured debut for Genier.

A Town Called Panic

If a Belgian stop animation film using toy farm animals,a cowboy and Indian and a horse doesn't sound like your kind of film then this won't be for you.Based on a surreal Belgian TV series,this is the full length version of the lunacy which sees Cowboy and Indian forgetting Horse's birthday and deciding to build him a BBQ to make up for it.But an ordering error sees them get too many bricks and soon their home is crushed and sent to the earth's core, where their adventure gets even more insanely mad.However,it's not really a film for coherency it's more about mad moments reflected up on the big screen-moments such as a giant penguin robot operated by mad scientists throwing snowballs at a small village for giggles.However, despite the surreal display of madness,this is quite a fun piece of throwaway cinema which may appeal to those looking for a bit of escapism from the thought needed for some films.Another fine selection from Ant Timpson's Incredibly Strange-and deranged.

Oceans

This year's nature doco of the festival is an outstandingly shot,relatively non preachy primarily French piece about the majesty and bounty of the Oceans of our planet.With laconic and sparse narrative from Pierce Brosnan,the gorgeously shot footage sweeps and swoops in and out of the waters of the world, as our senses are bombarded with wondrous images of sealion,marine iguanas,a sea otter smashing shells on a rock on its belly to feed-to scenes of squid fending off crab who've wandered too close to their territory.It's hypnotic mesmerising snapshot of some of the world around usWhen Pierce is not talking, then this really is when the film soars(no disrespect intended) because there's nothing to beat the beautiful viciousness of nature at work as we take a stroll through the water wildlife - funny, touching, awe inducing,Oceans truly is a majestic piece of cinema,which needs to be seen on the big screen and is a reminder real life is all around us and wonderful.Superb.

Agora

Rachel Weisz stars in this Spanish made historical epic about ideological struggles and astronomy.She plays Hypatia,history's first mathematician-philosopher in the final days of the Roman empire in 4th Century Alexandria.With the rise of Christianity,the Alexandrians are violently divided as the opinions clash-most of the time with bloody consequences.It's a sumptuously shot piece of film(similar in style in many ways to HBO series Rome)and a great performance from Weisz as Hypatia.While it doesn't soar as much as it perhaps should,there's still plenty to admire from this-it's a real thinking man's kind of conflict struggle as the library in Alexandria becomes the scene of a major siege and one final fight.Despite its epic feel,it's also quite individual in its treatment-Hypatia's slave loves her but is torn with his Christian beliefs and there's betrayal all round.Agora is a marvel on the eyes and is a more intellectual entry into this year's festival.

The Loved Ones

Or as it'll be known-that film where the Twilight star gets tortured and endures the worst prom night since Carrie.Xavier Samuel is Brent,a mess after killing his dad in a car crash.He rejects the advances of Lola who asks him to the end of school dance because,well,he's going with someone else.Big mistake.Lola and her deranged dad then abduct Brent and the worst night of his life begins.Aussie comedy horror The Loved Ones is a twisted treat;a comedy horror which is equal parts laugh out loud and violent outbursts.Xavier Samuel has little to do except brood and be tortured but it's Robin McLeavy's at times psychotic portrayal of Lola which keeps your eyes glued to the screen.The whole of Brent's night is interspersed with his friend's prom night with high school and messed up hottie Mia(Packed to the rafters' Sammy)-and it's a nice contrast with Brent's night.Cool filmmaking from Sean Byrne make this a real crowd pleaser and a real violent surprise.Recommended.

The Human Centipede

Erm,sometimes cinema leaves you lost for words.Touted as the most disgusting film at the festival this year,this flick is more about the discomfort in your mind-although I'll freely admit what you see on the big screen ain't exactly comfortable viewing at various moments.Loosely plotwise(it's all there in the title)a lunatic Dr who specialises in separating Siamese twins decides to join people instead.2 American female tourists get lost in the woods in the dark-and guess what?Yup they end up at the mad scientist's house and part of his Siamese triplet experience...The Dr looks like Christopher Walken's time ravaged brother and seems to have swallowed more than a small portion of ham when acting.It's not exactly well acted (although there are some human touches)and it's all about the gross factor but there are still some funny moments-this really is cinema to cringe to in more ways than one it has to be said.If you like your cinema a little on the edge and out there,it's for you.

A Prophet

Winner of the Grand Jury prize in 2009 at Cannes,A Prophet clearly deserves its accolades.This is the tale of Malik,a French Arab sentenced to 6 years in jail who,thanks to a terrible act early on,finds himself a pivotal part of the Mafia scene.Set entirely in the jail,this sophisticated, restrained and sensitive drama (with a wonderful performance from Tahar Rahim)follows the path of a crim as he tries to survive and as he rises to the top of the underworld.Don't be put off by 155 mins running time;every single minute continues to build a richly layered and subtle film which is nothing like you've come to expect from the prison genre.Sensitive direction and great performances allow it to soar.This is a film to be treasured-this is cinema at its most searing;a film which you can't tear your eyes from and one which will live on with you after you leave the theatre.Stylish and realistic, A Prophet is up there with the best of the 2010 festival.See it as soon as possible.

The Runaways

Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning leave their Twilight images behind in this tale of hedonism, hard rocking and harmonies.Set in the 70s it's the tale of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie and how their rock and roll lives collided and they blazed the trail for women in rawk music.Mostwill come to see Kristen,but this film belongs to Fanning as drug addled Currie and Michael Shannon as the maestro who sees the potential of the female band-it's their relationship with everyone else which eclipses most of the film itself;and thanks to great performances and a hit of humour here and there,it fizzles as it evokes the times.Stewart is good as Jett; all raw intensity and brooding explosiveness but there's more humanity on display by Fanning as her rock'n'roll dreams come to a head and she starts to lose her way.Sure, parts of it will be claimed as jailbait,but the fact it's all true steer the film from sleaze.And a great soundtrack helps set the vibe and feel-go grab yr guitar and rock out.

Space Tourists

Ever since I was young I wanted to go into space - and these days, you no longer necessarily need heaps of training merely cash.This brilliantly shot doco focuses on Indian/Iranian Anousheh Ansari whose ambition it was to go into space. So 20 million down and a lot of time inside Star City, a training facility, she managed to do just that. Marvel at the drive of someone who knows their very life could be lost by doing this and then gawk at the shots of the Earth in its majesty from the windows of the space capsule. Be stunned by the rigorous training schedule - one wannabe spends time testing all the foods which will be frozen. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, the camera crews follow those who don't have 2 pennies to rub together as they salvage bits which fall off the rockets launched into space to repair rooves and build shelter;it's a startling contrast in a film which is entertaining, informative and never once stops you looking up at the sky and wondering when your turn is

Please Give

Charming and a bit wry,Please Give sees Catherine Keener's Kate suffering from guilt-she lives in a downtown NY apt and spends her time running a business with hubby Alex(Oliver Platt)which buys dead people's furniture and then sells it on at a profit.But as they befriend the granddaughters (Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet)of their elderly next door neighbour she starts to feel bad about what they do-as does Alex(but his guilt manifests in an affair).Plus throw in a teenage daughter and the mix is somewhat of a complicated one.Mind you, this never really gets past gentle comedy-it's more an examination of white middle class guilt and Kate is pathologically driven to give and donate to everyone -except her daughter.There's some laughs to be had from Alex's offbeat remarks and performance as well as the elderly grandmother's directness but it's really quite a soft film which easily passes 90 minutes in good company.

The Arbor

A captivating film, The Arbor is set on a tough housing estate in Bradford, England and is the tale of young mother Andrea and her struggle to survive on the estate she spent her whole life on.A true story,Andrea's tale is a self written one and adapted into a screen play-it's one of a mother with three children to three different fathers-and was written as an escape from her troubled life.Andrea was a young mother, her second baby was to a local Pakistan lad in the estate who abused her and so the spiral begins.This story starts with the Andrea's story but finishes with her half English half Pakistan daughter's life story,whose tale is full of drugs, children been taken into care and multiple men. The beauty of this film is how it's delivered, as a live version of the play is acted out and lip-synched onscreen within the actual arbor of the estate. Families watch this haunting story and the audience were hooked-both on the screen and in the cinema.A must see, gripping and realistic.

Women Without Men

Dramatic film about women in Iran that crave their own freedom;freedom from politics, arranged marriages or the pressures to wear the traditional veil.As a woman takes her own life protesting at being married off and as a woman’s graceful age becomes a barrier to how she is treated by her husband show how this film takes the audience on a journey of three women make a better life for themselves on their own,and solely their benefit. This film opened my eyes to the oppressed culture that woman accept being part of their culture and how imperialism from the western world will never change their attitudes to women and their feelings and opinions.All the woman wanted in this film is to find a new form,a new way of release which I don’t think in this day and age is too much to ask for.This film made me realize how lucky I am to be a woman born into a society in New Zealand where my voice and opinion is respected and it’s my decision when and whom I wish to marry,that I am very grateful for

My Dog Tulip


This animation adaption of the book written by J.R. Ackerley absolutely blew me away, as I am not one for this genre;although this film was clever,witty and sentimental which I enjoyed every minute of. As a female Alsatian dog affectingly named Tulip was rescued from a working class family who don't have the time or the energy to care and love such a beautiful animal,Ackerley in his late fifties decided to take it upon himself to give Tulip a loving home which filled an empty void in his own life.Even though Ackerley lost many friends due to this boisterous animal, he gained this back through the love, humor and devotion for 15years of companionship.This film is truly incredible, my favorite film so far and my first truly enjoyable animation.I know the audience fell in love with the rogue of the animal as much as Ackerley did by the way they laughed and listened while we experienced the finer details of a grown man trying to find a suitable suitor for his beloved dog.Highly recommended

Salam Rugby

A doco about women's rugby in Iran sounds like it'd be somewhat odd to rugby lovin Kiwis-however, this debut piece by Faramarz Beheshti may open a lot of people's eyes to major injustices in Iran.Some may already have views on how women are treated there but I guarantee you won't be more outraged to hear about the restrictions placed on the Iranian women's rugby team-including the oppression they face when trying to train, the restrictions placed on the governing bodies and the general disdain those who try to change things are treated with.Sure, it could be a political film but what it actually turns out to be is less of a diatribe against these injustices but a simple presentation of the facts of daily life.There's a light touch to the doco and an incredibly dry disarming humour running throughout.As Faramarz himself said this film may surprise some,but it's only when seen through Western eyes-the ladies who play rugby simply accept the reality of life and get on with it- regardless

Cell 211

Here it is the first film of the festival which is truly unmissable;a Spanish drama set in a prison which sees a riot take place and a guard trapped within.The irony is the guard's not due to start until the next day and just came in early to get the lay of the land;so with his identity unknown,he sets about befriending the riot leader to try and defuse the situation.But soon,he's in deeper than he could ever imagine and his life will never be the same.To say more would spoil it..Thrilling,tense,spectacular and wonderfully played,Cell 211 is astonishingly good and criminally brilliant;with great lead performances and a script which sizzles with shades of grey, it's a great piece of cinema which grabs you by the cojones right from the start and doesn't let up.With twists and wonderful cinematography,it's possibly also the contender for most likely to be remade by Hollywood.so do yourself a favour and see it now before that's done.Cell 211 is 100% guaranteed to blow you away.

The hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell

A brand new Kiwi film with a world premiere at the film fest is always something to savour-and fortunately The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell lives upto the billing.Set in East Auckland's Howick it's the story of William McInnes' manchild Gazza Snell,whose world is falling apart with a failing business and all he's obsessed with is getting his eldest son to Milan for a karting championship.However,when his youngest is seriously injured in a crash,Gazza loses touch with reality and his insistence on focussing solely on the karting causes the family rift to widen.Gazza Snell is a feelgood Kiwi battler kind of treat-despite the initial beginnings there's plenty of warmth in this tale of a suburban dad;thanks to good solid performances from McInnes and Robyn Malcolm as his desperate housewife, it succeeds - even with its sentimental ending. Gazza Snell i's packed full of heart, humour.. and Howick- first Kiwi film of the festival deserves to be a massive hit.See it soon!

Splice


Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley team up in this flick about two scientists who splice human and animal DNA together. But despite a lack of morals and ethics at the start(cos they're caught up in the heady excitement of the experiment)the pair are quickly divided when the creature is born;Polley's Elsa wants to keep the female creature but Brody's Clive, despite wanting to be a dad, wants shot of it.There's little really of the legal and ethical debate but it becomes quite a curious mix of horror and unsettling incest toward the end-but thanks to a sensitive performance from Delphine Chaneac as the creature (who's a mix of Gizmo and the bald chick from Star Trek 1)it's really quite an impressive piece of film and not a bad entrant into the mad scientist/ abhorrent experiment genre.Sure there's the icky moments and the slightly disturbing moments but what else would you expect from Ant Timpson's Incredibly Strange Films?

Puzzle

The notion that I'd spend 90 mins in a cinema on a sunny Sunday watching a film about a woman who gets hooked into competitive jigsaw puzzling sounds like a strange one.But yet this is what the 2010 NZ International Film Festival's all about-that difference;from the worlds of difference section comes Puzzle, an Argentinian film about such a subject. However, it's not dreary at all- it's a strange mix of relationships,a desperate housewife and an addiction to jigsaw puzzles.When she hits 50 Maria suddenly finds a way out from domestic life by becoming hooked into this world-but there's nothing implicitly wrong with her life(her husband loves her and the kids too)it's just she's looking for something different. Good performances and something different is what Puzzle is-it's acutely told and simmers along. Maybe you should go see it and watch the pieces fall into place (just like one of the jigsaws Maria's so quick to assemble)A different afternoon's cinema.

The Housemaid

Just what is it with rich families?So much money, so much opulence and luxury - and clearly so many issues -this remake of a Korean classic sees a young divorcee given the role of a housemaid in the Hoon family house.The man of the house suddenly starts taking the master and servant a little too far(despite a daughter and heavily pregnant wife) and soon, all manner of problems are on the way as she becomes pregnant. Soon the mother in law is poisoning her daughter and the duo plot to get her our of their lives for good-and however they can. It's quite a slow building film but one with some racy moments and some wonderful visual touches; there's plenty of starched white around as well-from snow to shirts,this is a house which stinks of repression.But it's a believable story, well told (aside from the final few scenes which take away some of the overall feel of what's gone on).A strong thriller and one which you can sink into and watch unfold thanks to the strong central performances.

The Double Hour

A Tense psychological thriller,The Double Hour - or La Doppia Ora-is the tale of Sonia, an apparently shy chambermaid who meets the rugged former cop turned security guard Guido one night at a speed dating event.Pretty soon, they're in a relationship and all's happy until one day while at Guido's work, their happiness is rudely interrupted.Following a break in, Sonia soon finds her life changed in many ways.Twisty, turny, haunting and stunning in places,The Double Hour surprises you at every turn-it's a slick sophisticated thriller which is to be blunt a bit of a head trip and may cause you to shout"What The?"at the screen. It's very clever and requires you to keep up as the labyrinthe plot expands -it's complex and wonderful in places thanks to the central performance of Ksenia Rappoport.You won't know exactly what's going on - and when the revelations come there's a collective penny dropping within the audience. Clever film making for dark nights.

The Ghost Writer

A crackling sizzling political thriller from Roman Polanski, this is the story of Ewan McGregor's Ghost Writer who's brought in to clean up former UK PM Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan)'s memoirs after the apparent suicide of the last writer.But as the Ghost starts work on them,Lang's facing a war crimes trial for flying terror suspects to the CIA.Soon the Ghost finds himself in the eye of the storm and in the mother of all paranoia.Great film from Polanski even if occasionally it does stretch credibility at times(the writer suddenly becomes cracking investigator)but this film veers towards smart rather than too cliched-there's some fun dialogue as McGregor's character rocks some amusing lines(All the words are there just in the wrong order he remarks about the book)Brosnan's suave as the PM who recalls Tony Blair and the parallels are frightening-it's a thriller which really keeps your attention for its 2 hours and proves Polanski still has it. Go see now.

The Illusionist

From the same people who made The Triplets of Belleville, this beautifully animated tale is the story of a fading magician who leaves the French music halls to head to England for some more work.He ends up in Scotland where he charms the daughter of an innkeeper and she promptly follows him to Edinburgh.It's not sordid though-it's a charming story about friendship and growing up; but there's also a sadness about it which left a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye at the end as both grow up in ways they couldn't imagine.The hand drawn animation is gorgeous; the majority of the film is dialogue free but packed with humour in ways you'd never expect - and the whole thing ends up feeling like a magical window into a more innocent world of the past. There's also the idea that the magician is losing his place in a world which is embracing rock'n'roll rather than music hall variety-it's sad strong stuff but wondrous to look at; a great emotive start to the festival

Candyman - The David Klein Story

The Jelly Belly bean - a sweet treat which keeps you smiling; Candyman, a doco which is also a sweet treat which is fascinating and compelling viewing. Director Costa Botes takes a look at the true story of David Klein, the confectioner who revolutionized the industry with his jelly belly beans but signed it all away.Consequently he no longer has a place in the official history of the bean(whose fans include Weird Al Yankovic).Klein though is not bitter about this-and you wonder what keeps him going; but Klein is the kind of guy who likes to give;on his birthday he hires an ice cream truck and gives it all away to the kids. He is a great mentor, has great intentions and wouldn't harm anyone-except it seems himself. The doco itself is a riveting and insightful watch; full of light touches from Botes which keep the narrative hurtling along as the team follows Klein- he is really proof that sometimes sadly the nice guy does finish last in a cruel world.However, he's inspirational. Go see!

Strange Birds of Paradise

This doco details one Aussie man's love of West Papua and his quest to ensure details of the Indonesian conflict are heard worldwide. Charlie Hill-Smith first went to W Papua in 1999 and fell in love with the island, its culture and its people - as well as the music of the region. He finds a group of W Papuans who become refugees in Aussie and having heard their tales of what happened, heads back there to ensure others get the chance to speak. Flashbacks are cleverly brought to life as they're told in cartoon form as former refugees talk of the harsh treatment of the Indonesian people as they try to oppress the region. However, that doesn't make them less effetive. Initially naive and innocent Hill-Smith's doco becomes more urgent as he begins to realise the scale of what's happening - a shocking eye opener to what's going on with some of our neighbours. More at strangebirds.com.au

The Misfortunates

A Belgium comedy drama about growing up in a dysfunctional family, The Misfortunates is the tale of the Strobbe clan, whose uncouth ways permeate every member of the family (token comment when offered beer - don't bother yourself, we'll drink from the bottle) and whose youngest Gunther is looking at a way out of the group. The blonde mulleted kid figures a writing career is his exit strategy but hasn't reckoned on how difficult it could be. Not as funny as you'd expect from having the kids live under one roof with mum, The Misfortunates is a disappointing entry this year to say the least. Still, if you want to spend time with a family who you think are worse than yourselves, then this could be your cup of tea. It's a strange hybrid cross of UK TV show Shameless and a farce comedy in places - with Roy Orbison thrown in for good measure.

Love Lust and Lies

This doco from Gillian Armstrong (who will be at the festival this year) is the latest in a series of films following 3 female friends through life's trials and tribulations. The film begins with a flashback of the trio when they said none of them would get pregnant - and then follows the subsequent births of their daughters. The latest film (having followed them when they were 18, 26 and 32) takes them in in their 47th year as they reflect back about what's gone on. Only one of them seems to have led a relatively normal life - ie happy with her spouse and family; the other two talk of love, marriage, divorce, work and the failure of some of their dreams. It's a frankly open touch which sees this doco become so enthralling - many of us will see a little something of ourselves in this trio and Armstrong's smart enough to not moralise or judge merely to let the story breathe and events take their course. Look forward to seeing further installments (if they're planned)

I Killed My Mother

Lauded on the international circuit, this film from film "prodigy" Xavier Dolan is about a teenage boy Hubert and the fiery, argumentative relationship with his mother. In every frame, the antagonism and the irritation is present; from small talk at the table to the boy scrutinising his mum's every move. Hubert's taken over the wing of a local teacher and decides to get his own independence by renting a flat. Hubert's opposed to anything his mum says or does (as every teen is wont to do these days) and sees her every move as an assault on who he's turning out to be, even stating at one point that he thinks he wasn't made to have a mum. There are some poignant moments between the pair and while some have lauded this film as the second coming, it's very hard to love passionately- although it is worth seeing a talent explode onto the screen in the form of Dolan, who will be one to watch as the years continue.

Collapse

Who would have thought that putting a man in front of a camera inside a warehouse would have been so electric? Collapse sees doom theorist Michael Ruppert given free reign to expound his views on why the economy went down the gurgler. Filmmakers grabbed him for research for a play and the minute the camera started filming, it was clear those behind the lens had found something special. Rather than being a crackpot, Conspiracy theorist Ruppert is a highly literate, deeply intelligent Richard Dreyfuss lookalike who spends the time discussing what lies ahead for us all. Ruppert predicted the 2006 global financial meltdown Perhaps the only frustration is that the chain smoking Ruppert is given so much space to speak (aside from occasional interruptions from the interviewers) but the doco remains a compelling one man argument and a riveting watch. You can't help but think there's some truth in Ruppert's thoughts -he's a voice to keep listening to as time continues to see financial world.

Trimpin

A good doco should inform, educate and offer you a window into something you know little or nothing about. This year, Trimpin' is that doco. He's a Seattle based sonic artist who's previously shunned recordings of his sound or how he works which ultimately mean one day, he will pass into folklore as only oral tradition will be the way to remember him. This doco follows Trimpin' as he tries various methods of creating sound with all kinds of things- shoes on sticks to name but one - and as he works on a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, using toy instruments such as those plinky plonk sounding pianos. As we follow this path, we also find out about his childhood in the Black Forests of Germany. It's a fascinating insight into how creativity works and how the eccentric sounding artists really get their inspiration. It's also a vital piece capturing the creativity and sound of an unique character and the real vision they bring to the musical world.

Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke Island

Or as it's better known, Waiheke The Greenpeace retirement island. A relatively low key doco follows six members of the original Rainbow Warrior and charts their lives on the ship before they settled on Waiheke. Suzanne Raes' film follows their daily lives-including one's DJing on the local radio station as well as exploring what brought them together and how Greenpeace here was shaped by the infamous Rainbow Warrior. Using photos and archive footage, it's a really interesting look at the ties that bind which proves to be touching and emotive-so much so,that I completely forgot the ultimate fate of the boat involved.It's the final 20 minutes which plot life after the sinking which add a mournful tone to the doco but the six also reflect on how the campaigns have become less innocent now and more focussed-it's an interesting dichotomy of views which shape this document of how activism continues to play a part in many of our lives. A great piece showingy NZ continues to champion activism

Joan Rivers - A Piece of Work

Stunning doco about the 75 year old stalwart of showbiz and what she's doing to make sure she stays working and in the limelight. This film follows a year in Joan's life as she tries to launch a stage play and seize every opportunity which comes her way. A warts and all portrayal of the reality of being in the public eye for so long has never been so compelling and so heartbreaking. We see Joan spend all her effort trying to get her play off the ground and watch her slump from the mediocrity of the reviews; even though she gets three stars it stops her launching it in America. You can't help but want her to succeed as she takes everything going- and as she whores herself out by offering more of a performance for more cash onboard a boat. But what you do get out of this is a cautionary tale of how ruthless the industry can be- however, given the amount of effort Joan puts in (filing cabinets full of jokes, trying out material over Obama), you just can't look away. Highly recommended

There Once Was An Island

A NZ doco about a small Papuan island, 1/2km long and with 400 inhabitants -and their fight against global warming which is literally washing away their home. Captivating and heart breaking from the start, this doco doesn't milk their situation for effect -after all, these guys and gals have done nothing to create a carbon footprint or exacerbate the crisis. But in a truly engaging and non-sensational way, this doco from NZer Briar March shows the horrifying reality of the world we live in today - Islanders build walls to keep the sea out of their homes but when a scientist visits, he tells them what they've done hasn't helped -the shock on their faces says it all. What's even worse is this doco shows that after 3 years of dealing with these problems, there's still no sign of a solution and soon a way of life, an island and a culture will be gone forever. That said, this remains uplifting because of the islanders' inspirational attitude - a compelling must see.

Exit Through The Gift Shop

I don't think you'll find a more morally complex and riotously funny doco this year. Exit Through The Gift Shop is a Banksy film (Banksy is a street artist who gained notoriety in the UK) which centres on French filmmaker Thierry Guetta, who somehow manages to capture the explosive birth of street art. Guetta is described by Banksy as looking like something from the 1800s with his sideburns and general demeanour. Guetta finds himself intoxicated with the art world around him and sets out to interview all of those involved under the idea of making a doco -but Guetta's quest becomes about getting the elusive Banksy and then he somehow finds himself as an artist. Laugh out loud funny in places, ETTGS will suck you in with its smart style but you may wonder if this is a prank initiated by Banksy who's famed for duping the world. Is this the dawn of the prankumentary? Either way it's tremendous fun - after alll, isn't art about provoking discussion?


Thursday, 22 July 2010

Inception: Movie Review

Inception: Movie Review

Inception
Rating: 9/10
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cottilard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger
Director: Christopher Nolan
It's here.
The first quintessential winter blockbuster - and quite possibly a contender for one of the films of the year.
Inception stars DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, who works in subconscious security and steals ideas from people's minds while they're sleeping - via a shared consciousness.
He's approached by Ken Watanabe's Saito who wants to bring down a rival company and its head Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) using corporate espionage by getting Cobb and a team to plant an idea into a rival's brain. However, inception of an idea isn't the easiest thing to carry out...
So Cobb starts pulling together a dream weaving team who can create worlds and carry out the perfect crime.
But when the team gets into Fischer's head, things don't go exactly as planned.
Well, let's be honest - following that description and a tease campaign which has had the internet ablaze with speculation, you'll either be a) rolling your eyes or b) queueing up to get a ticket with rabid fanboy excitement.
But if you're not sure about this let me say that along with some truly amazing eye popping visuals (worlds folding over on themselves and a café exploding around DiCaprio and Page) there's actually a love story in there too about Cobb seeking redemption and forgiveness over his marriage and the ultimate fate of his wife Mal (Cottilard). It's that which keeps Inception from being far too sci-fi that a wider audience can't appreciate it.
And thanks to the brilliant performances of DiCaprio as the tortured soul (once again building on his role in Shutter Island) and a great supporting cast (including the ever under appreciated Tom Hardy as the wise cracking helper) this is never short of smart, intelligent watching.
There's plenty to puzzle on here - you really do need to keep up with the plot and try not to lose too many of the strands. It's smart, slick film making which looks great on the screen but requires a depth of intelligence and smarts from its audience to get the most out of it as the enigmatic puzzle pieces begin to fall into place. That, coupled with visuals which are extremely original in places, will ensure this film's got more than enough to keep people hooked during its 150 minute running time.
Quite frankly though, Inception is mind blowing, mind bending kind of stuff.
You really need to see it twice to take it all in and to work it all out - and even then I suspect there will be fervent discussion about the final shots.
Once again, Christopher Nolan's demonstrated he's one of the smartest, intelligent and original directors and writers in Hollywood.

Just simply - stunning.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Balibo: DVD Review

Balibo: DVD Review

Balibo

Rating: M
Released by Madman


The ever reliable Anthony LaPaglia stars as war journalist Roger East in Balibo - he's called to investigate the disappearance of five Australian journalists in the township of Balibo by Jose Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac).

The quintet was looking into the invasion of East Timor by Indonesian forces when they disappeared - and despite East's initial reluctance to get involved, Ramos-Horta piques his journalistic fancy.

East's been promised the job of running the News agency in East Timor as the invasion got underway in 1975 - but he's more concerned about what actually happened to the journalists and why the Australian government - and the world - didn't seem to care.

However, as East heads closer into dangerous territory he soon realises the country's on tipping point and atrocities are being committed which no-one's being told about - can he get to the truth and survive?

Political thriller Balibo is, by turns heartbreaking, horrific and dramatic - the central story of the missing five is book ended by a journalist interviewing a girl who was in Balibo in 1975. He's trying to establish exactly what went on so that those whose lives were lost can get some form of justice. Throughout, the film is interspersed with footage of the journalists and their journey deeper into the heart of East Timor. By initially only using snippets of the journalists' actions, director Robert Connolly very cleverly pieces together a narrative framework which is rich in content and throws you right into the middle of the story.

Extras: This 2 disc set has a wealth of extras for those wanting to know more about the real life situation - a respectable package for an important film

Rating: 7/10

Friday, 16 July 2010

Max Manus: DVD Review

Max Manus: DVD Review

Max Manus - Man of War

Released by Vendetta Films
Rating: R13


Released in the cinemas as simply Max Manus, this is the tale of one man's life in the resistance and his battle to conquer his own inner demons.

Having fought the Soviets in Finland, Manus (played by Norwegian Aksel Hennie) finds himself back in Norway just as the German occupation is underway.

Joining the growing resistance movement, he quickly manages to garner himself a reputation as a rebel fighting against censorship and spreading propaganda.

He then joins an elite squad who try to free the world from the Nazis and pretty soon, Manus is ensconced in a battle which has extremely high personal stakes.

Max Manus is a film of boys own war and to a degree, derring do. It's unflinching in its gritty portrayal of the Norwegian fight against the Nazis - and scenes of street side gun battles are bloody, violent and bleak.

There's a palpable sense of dread as Manus and his team take on saboteur missions - because of their initial lack of training and degrees of incompetence, you're never quite sure whether they'll survive or not.

There's a real emotional end too - and one which may shock you a little more than you had expected.

Rating: 6/10

This Way Of Life: DVD Review

This Way Of Life: DVD Review

This Way Of Life

Rating: PG
Released by Vendetta Films


A New Zealand doco about a family who live life to the full in the wilds of the countryside, This Way of Life is the story of the Karena family - husband Peter and wife Colleen and their six children, and their horses.

But it's also about more than that - it's about a simplicity of life and a recognition of one's place in the world.

Peter works as a horse whisperer and lives off the land - when we first meet him, he's skinning a deer in front of his son Malachi and educating him on how the animal died so they can live.

Although Peter appears to have a philosophy about the world, it's clear not everyone shares his views - within moments of meeting them, we learn that Peter's father is evicting them from the family home because he's selling up. Things get worse for the ever growing Karena family - but over the course of 85 minutes you won't find your spirit crushed at all.

In fact it's just the opposite.

Simply shot and presented in a restrained way, This Way Of Life will win you over and may make you think about moving on and abandoning the rat race.

This Way Of Life is a celebration of the family codes and morals; beautifully shot, it shows what's great about the New Zealand countryside and showcases a side of life - and an attitude - which makes your heart sing.

While some of the story's narrative leaves you wanting more information and you may get a little frustrated with a lack of context over family rows, overall it's easy to see why the film has been so lauded.

Extras: Massively disappointing this only includes trailers for other releases - surely a follow up interview with the family or something else would have helped? A major missed opportunity.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Knight And Day: Movie Review

Knight And Day: Movie Review

Knight and Day
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano
Director: James Mangold
It's rare these days to get a seasonal blockbuster film which takes a fresh look at the tired action genre.
Knight And Day is that film - Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz reteam in this action comedy.
Diaz is a ditzyish June Havens who's on the way to her sister's for wedding duties; while at the airport, she literally bumps into Tom Cruise's enigmatic, beaming and slightly cocky Roy Miller.
There's an instant attraction and spark between them - and soon June finds she's on the same flight as Roy as the plane takes off.
But then things get a bit weird. As June freshens up in the bathroom, Miller becomes an action hero and despatches all of those on the plane who're trying to kill him.
After the plane's set down, Miller explains to June that the FBI (in the form of Peter Sarsgaard) will come looking for her and she's not to trust anyone.
So, June finds herself thrust into Miller's world and sent on a globetrotting quest&.in more ways than she could have expected.
Part of the joy of Knight and Day is how the plot unfolds (hence very little spoilers here) because it doesn't conform initially to your expectations. The mystery remains well until half way through the film - Mangold and the writers seem to have subverted the expectations of the traditional winter time blockbuster - while there's an action sequence at the start on the plane, a lot of it's broken up by the quick dialogue and interaction between the beaming Cruise and wide grin Diaz.
It's their sparky relationship which powers the majority of the film (although it lapses into a few stock action scenes later on) and peppered with some great one liners and funny moments, it makes for an entertaining mix and a refreshing piece of cinema.
Once the full extent of the plot is revealed, there is a bit of a lull, but thanks to good solid supporting performances of Paul Dano as a boy genius and Peter Sarsgaard as an FBI agent, it's no drag to get to the end.
There's also the clever way that while June is drugged, there's still plenty of action going on around her - but as she drifts in and out of consciousness, we see snippets of Miller on a boat with June as the passenger or being pushed out of a plane and sky diving. It's a very smart and astute way to offer something different.
But it's Tom Cruise who impresses most in this - with his continual 10,000 mega watt smile and cockiness throughout (and a lot of white grinning teeth), it's a reminder of how well he can command the screen when he's really on form.

Knight and Day is a welcome entrant into the sometimes tired comedy action thriller genre - and a welcome distraction from the school holiday movie fodder.

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus: Blu Ray Review

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus: Blu Ray Review

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

Rating: PG
Released by Sony Home Pictures


Forever determined to be known as Heath Ledger's final film this is the fantasy tale of Dr Parnassus (a wonderfully world weary Christopher Plummer) who travels the land with his carnival troupe (including Verne Troyer of Austin Powers fame) and his daughter Valentina (a porcelain doll like Lily Cole).

Granted immortality, Parnassus is locked in an ongoing battle with Tom Waits' Devil - and the Devil has arrived to collect his due. You see, years ago, Parnassus wagered his first born and now to stop the Devil taking what's his, he bets he can win over five souls.

Into this mélange of madness in modern day London, arrives Heath Ledger's shyster Tony. Mysteriously left for dead, he's taken in by the troupe - and could be the tipping point in Parnassus' quest to finally beat the Devil.

Yes, it's sprawling and a bit unfocussed at times, but The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is perhaps one of the most visually original pieces of cinema you'll ever see - even on the small screen (and particularly in Blu Ray).

There are flashes of pure genius from director Terry Gilliam as he weaves his surreal web. It's a wonderfully talented ensemble cast who make this film work - and a real tribute to Gilliam's genius that the film continued with the likes of Jude Law and Colin Farrell coming onboard.

Recommended without a shadow of a doubt.

Extras: The disc is really a tribute to the Ledger legacy with exclusive featurettes forming the majority of the extras and a packed disc it is too.

Rating: 9/10 

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Zombieland: DVD Review

Zombieland: DVD Review

Zombieland
Rating: MA15
Released by Sony Home Entertainment


From the opening slow mo titles which see zombies taking people out in very drawn out fashion to the final showdown at the end, Zombieland is one hell of a lot of fun.

Basically, thanks to a diseased burger, the entire US of A has been overrun with zombies, leaving just a few survivors determined to avoid being bitten.

The hero is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy student who encounters Woody Harrelson's red neck Tallahassee one day as he tries to find out if his family's survived the apocalypse.

So teaming up, the duo head across America - however, on the way they encounter Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) who manage to con them out of their car, guns and belongings. It appears the end of the world has still brought out the worst in some people -as well as that whole zombie flesh eating issue.

Zombieland is not your average undead film flick - for one thing, it's a terrifically fun ride, chock full of unexpected madness and laugh out loud moments.

But there's one defining moment to Zombieland which makes it so great - and that's the cameo appearance of a certain person (hint - who you gonna call) - it's a rare unexpected moment which helps the film sparkle, crackle and makes it a great night's entertainment.

Extras: Commentary with Woody and Jesse, behind the scenes, trailers and a feature about the zombification of the USA

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Predators: Movie Review

Predators: Movie Review

Predators
Rating: See below
Cast: Adrien Brody, Predators, Alice Braga, Danny Trejo, Topher Grace, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Nimord Antal
Back into the jungle we go...
Adrien Brody stars in this latest film in the Predators franchise which to be honest has taken quite a knocking since the Aliens vs Predators.
Brody's one of a group of 8 who wake up in freefall and just before landing in a jungle - as they come to, suspicions and mistrust arises as they try to work out where they are, why they're there and how to get away.
But the group - which includes a yakuza Japanese warrior, the FBI's most wanted, a Mexican hardman, a Sierra Leone soldier (to name but four) - soon finds out they're not alone on this planet - but are rather part of a game preserve and are being hunted by the Predators...
Produced by Robert Rodriguez, there was a lot riding on Predators to relaunch the series and revitalise what had been mocked for a while.
And it's unfortunate to say that this won't do much to help the series - but may actually put the final nail in the coffin.
Basicall,y this film is essentially another version of the very first one with Arnie in - even down to the ending; the guys in the jungle are picked off one by one by the Predators and soon realise they've got little chance of survival.
The biggest problem with this film is that it offers nothing new to the franchise or genre (aside from the idea that the Predators are divided into clans and hunting themselves) and really doesn't give them anywhere to go for the future.
There's hardly any tension as the 8 are hunted - aside from the obligatory rising crescendo of music and there's more clichés around than originality.
However, there are some pluses in this.
Chiefly it's one human element - Adrien Brody makes a good atypical lead; more of a thinking man's action hero who's immoral and will use people to draw the creatures out; Laurence Fishburne's role is more an extended cameo which sees him playing deranged quite well.
And there's some loose morals at work here as the gang of eight do what they can to try and survive - you're never quite sure who's going to stab who in the back.

Personally I feel this film was a missed opportunity to reinvent the Predator - but having said that, the two people who accompanied me to this (who are big Predator fans and male) loved seeing them back up on the screen again and enjoyed the whole affair. Their ratings were 7/10, 6/10 and mine was 3 /10 - so overall - 5/10

The Karate Kid: Movie Review

The Karate Kid: Movie Review

The Karate Kid
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan
Director: Harald Zwart
When you remake a classic, you're almost faced with an impossible task - improving an original respectfully and updating it for a new generation.
This version of the Karate Kid begins with Jaden Smith's 12 year old Dre Parker packing to leave Detroit as he and his widowed mum ( ) get ready to move to China for her new job.
But no sooner does Dre get to China and tries to settle into a life there, he finds himself squarely in trouble of the bullying kind after making googly eyes at a local girl.
When the bullies batter him, he ends up being saved by Jackie Chan's Mr Han - and determined to make sure he gets his revenge, he asks Han to teach him the kung fu ways after seeing a local academy in action.
So begins Little Dre's initiation into the martial arts - and on a collision course in a karate tournament with the bullies who blight his daily life&.
This new version of The Karate Kid isn't a bad attempt at revitalizing the franchise. Jackie Chan's dour Mr Han is in keeping with Chan's more recent roles as the sad underdog; his Mr Han is a damaged man who has a secret which is ripping his life apart.
And Jaden Smith is a surprise as Dre - the kid's got charisma (which is blown in some scenes) and presence worthy of his father Will; he's also got that cheeky way with a role which clearly runs in the family. He also shows a great degree of vulnerability in the role for one so young.
It's a little overlong in parts - and with a fair few slow mo shots of the training coupled with a crescendo of music to ensure the point is hammered home, it does lose its way at times when a bit of subtlety would have sufficed.
And the bullies' predilection for "No mercy" kung fu is clearly at odds with Dre and Han's approach which doesn't make the ultimate showdown as morally engaging as it could have been.
Yet, there's a genuine affection between the pair in their training partnership and the writers of this film have shied away from directly copying the infamous Wax On, Wax Off scene preferring shots of Dre hanging up a coat, dropping it on the floor and putting it on under Han's tutelage to teach him what he needs to know.
I have to admit to being quite partial to Chan's underacting - his sombre tone lends a credibility to this film and makes the scenes when he busts out the kung fu more thrilling.

Ultimately this Karate Kid just falls just a little short when compared to the original but thanks to the bond between the two, it's reasonable enough family entertainment

Monday, 5 July 2010

Welcome: Movie Review

Welcome: Movie Review

Welcome
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Firat Ayverdi
Director: Philippe Loiret
Welcome is a film which will have you thinking long after the credits roll.
It's the story of Kurdish refugee Bilal (underplayed with quiet resolve by Firat Ayverdi) who is determined to make it to England to see his recently emigrated girlfriend and to get a better life.
So, initially he tries to get through the French border in a lorry along with a group of fellow refugees - and it's all going well until they hit Calais and Bilal, wearing a plastic bag on his head, has a panic attack and they're all busted.
Suddenly Bilal finds himself in France and one day upon seeing the white cliffs of Dover decides that he can swim for freedom and for a new life.
And that's how he meets Simon (a gruff Vincent Lindon) as he seeks swimming lessons from him.
Gradually a friendship is formed and Simon tries to do what he can to help Bilal...but will it be enough?
Welcome is an at times gritty and desperate affair, accurately recording the routine degradations and desperations of the refugee community. The sight of them with bags on their heads in the lorry as they head to Calais is depressing and claustrophobic; and as they converge on Bilal's swimming pool to shower and get thrown out of supermarkets it's a sad indictment of what our world's coming to.
Lindon's Simon undergoes a subtle change of character - initially gruff and with his head in the sand to the plight of the refugees, he gradually warms to the very quiet and determined Bilal and risks everything to help - including the wrath of the police who are hunting clandestines.

Welcome is a film about humanity and hope - and you may leave the cinema feeling initially depressed and saddened, but ultimately it's a provocatively underplayed affair which will haunt you.

Shutter Island: DVD Review

Shutter Island: DVD Review

Shutter Island

Rating: R16
Released by Universal Home Entertainment


Scorsese and di Caprio reteam for this spooky mystery thriller adapted from the book by Dennis Lehane (who wrote Mystic River).

Di Caprio stars as US Marshall Teddy Daniels who's sent to a mental asylum on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of an inmate who is believed to still be somewhere on the island.

However, along with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), he finds his investigation blocked at every turn by the doctors in charge of the facility (chiefly Ben Kingsley's Dr Cawley).

As the pair find themselves stranded on the island by a storm, Teddy starts to suffer from flashbacks to the murder of his wife (Michelle Williams) and unsure of exactly who to trust.

Shutter Island is a heady mix of spooky, creepy and generally unsettling images, it's a real masterclass in film making. It also looks wonderful on Blu Ray and is really quite disturbing.

Once again Martin Scorsese's created a cinematic experience which is full of his trademark camera work and vision which builds a claustrophobic world where you're never quite sure what's going on.
Along with a great use of soundtrack and silence, the overall atmosphere is one of menace and uncertainty.

Sure, you may work out what's going on but you won't understand all of it until the end - and then you may be a little creeped out.

Extras: Behind the shutters and into the Lighthouse featurettes - not much given the wealth of talent involved in this project.

Rating: 8/10

Bronson: DVD Review

Bronson: DVD Review

Bronson

Rating: R18
Released by Madman

Described on the cover as A Clockwork Orange for the 21st Century, this is an unforgiving biographical pic of the UK's most notorious criminal, Charles Bronson.

Played with a wonderful theatrical feel by Tom Hardy, this takes a look back at what shaped the man behind bars - and how one of the UK's most vicious criminals was created.

The story is told in a rather unusual and visually captivating way - in front of an audience, Bronson tells us he always wanted to be famous; with his bald head, polished dome and large handlebar moustache, he cuts a comical figure; almost clown-like in his mannerisms and speech - but heaven help you if you mock him - because there's also an explosion of violence around the corner.

And it's merely minutes before the fighting begins; Refn cuts directly back and forth from Bronson's speech on the stage to his taking on a series of guards and battering them black and blue.

It's jail where Bronson blooms gleefully cementing his title as a violent uncontrolled offender - and it's here the film becomes a little confrontational as it shows there's no hope of reform for this character.

However, it succeeds, thanks to the stunning and towering performance from Hardy himself; while Bronson's never going to be a likeable character, it's Hardy's performance which makes him so compelling to watch.

There's some great visual touches and an extension of the performance of a clown sees Bronson at his peak - Hardy's mesmerizing turn never sees you off guard; you're 100% sure of his propensity for explosive violence but yet you can't help but watch this portrayal.

Extras: Teaser trailers, commentary and interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn

Rating: 7/10 

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Me And Orson Welles: Movie Review

Me And Orson Welles: Movie Review

Me And Orson Welles
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Eddie Marsan, Christian McKay
Director: Richard Linklater
1930s New York and young teen wannabe actor Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) finds himself on the steps of the Mercury Theatre.
Samuels is a dreamer and wants to tread the boards - and thanks to a chance meeting with soon to be legendary Orson Welles (a brilliant and stellar performance from Christian McKay), he finds himself cast in a minor role in Welles' Julius Caesar.
But from there, Samuels begins to learn the reality of the life backstage isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Particularly not when the director is Orson Welles, a brilliant, impetuous, temperamental and arrogant man who firmly believes the play's the thing.
Me and Orson Welles surprises on a few levels - it's a spot on recreation of 1930s New York (complete with a spry soundtrack) but it's the acting talent and the story which really shine.
While Zac Efron's better than you'd expect given his High School Musical pedigree, it's really Christian McKay who excels in his role as Orson. From the vocal performance and the perfect encapsulation of the volatile Welles, to the characteristics of the man who polarised many, McKay is spot on and emerges as the real winner of this film.
His Orson is a sleaze, the kind of man who takes ambulances to appointments to beat traffic, a real cad and bounder whose passion for performance eclipses everything else. And it's McKay's performance which eclipses everyone else - he steals every scene he's in and is scarily impressive.

Combined with a sweet central romance between Efron's character and Claire Danes' manager, Me And Orson Welles is an unexpected treat, well worth two hours of your time.

Marmaduke: Movie Review

Marmaduke: Movie Review

Marmaduke
Rating: 4/10
Cast: Owen Wilson, Lee Pace, Keifer Sutherland, Steve Coogan, Emma Stone
Director: Tom Dey
School holidays are upon us once again - what with the choice of Shrek 4,Toy Story 3 or this latest Marmaduke, it's clear the fight is on for the family dollar.
Owen Wilson voices the great Dane Marmaduke (once a staple of American cartoons) in this mix of live action and CGI - the kind of dog who wreaks a bit of havoc around the family household in the midwest America- digging the lawn for bones, stealing food from the counter, the usual stuff.
But Marmaduke is loved by his family and so he can get away with it - his life is that of the top dog.
Until one day, his uptight owner Phil (Lee Pace) comes home and announces that the entire family are moving to California to work for William H Macy's organic dog food company.
With the rug pulled from under him, Marmaduke's plunged back into a world akin to high school as he tries to fit in with the new crowd out west. It's even worse when the Dog Park is like a playground - ruled by Kiefer Sutherland's wonderfully snarling Bosco and Marmaduke finds he's the odd pooch out.
It's not much better for Phil either and soon the entire family is facing some hard choices.
When a main character, animated or otherwise, looks directly at the camera and makes a farting noise, and then follows it with "I know it's juvenile but it's all I have" then you know you're not in for rocket science for 90 minutes.
The problem with Marmaduke is it plays too far to the younger end of the audience and is a little hard going for anyone over the age of 7 years old. While the talking animals work well, the makers of the film throw the spanner in the works by dropping some quite obvious CGI into the mix. While I'm not expecting miracles (it is after all a film about a dog who talks), it's a shame because the world they've created worked really well until that point.

Owen Wilson brings his laconic laidback tones to the pooch - and Sutherland does menacing well, but it's an unoriginal story which doesn't offer much into the mix.

Marmaduke may be a difficult watch for families - but it does impart some messages about family and priorities and what's important - which I guess is useful for the younger end of the spectrum. It's just that the older end of the family group may find it a little hard going and a real case of deja vu.

Toy Story 3: Movie Review

Toy Story 3: Movie Review

Toy Story 3
Rating: 9/10
Cast: Woody, Buzz, Mr and Mrs Potato Head, Hamm, Rex, Andy, Jessie, Bullseye, Ken, Barbie - and many more
Director: Lee Unkrich
It's taken over a decade for the third Toy Story film to hit the screens - and man, was it worth the wait.
In this outing, Woody (Tom Hanks) and the rest of the Toy Gang (including Tim Allen's Buzz Lightyear) are worried they'll be left behind as their beloved owner Andy is about to leave home and head for college.
Faced with the option of being put in a bag in the attic, donated, binned or taken to college, reality hits hard for the group when Andy selects only Woody for a college toy buddy.
It gets even worse when a mix up sees the toys -along with Woody- accidentally donated to the local daycare, Sunnyside.
But the toys see it as a new lease on post Andy life - being played with daily is their view of a heaven.
How wrong they are.
Within moments of being there, they're mauled, smashed, vandalised and generally brutalised - and as they try to escape, they find their quest to get back to Andy's house hampered at every turn by Lotso Hugging Bear (voiced by Ned Beatty) who despite smelling of strawberries, has a bitter attitude on a toy's life..
It's upto Woody to once again save the day.
Toy Story 3 is an emotional blast - from the moment the lights went down in the IMAX theatre (you must see it on the biggest screen possible) to the moment someone utters the words "So long partner", this is epic, funny, heart warming stuff.
It starts off in the best possible way with an audacious scene which shows Woody as an action hero as he races to save a train load full of orphans from dying at the hands of the Evil Dr Pork Chop aka Hamm (aka John Ratzenberger). Quite simply it's a brilliant opening which showcases everything great about the Pixar animation fold - witty dialogue, ambitious scope coupled with child like imaginations.
Throughout the film, there's loads of great throwaway lines from various characters which pay homage to the fact they're now past it - "Let's see how much we're going for on eBay" being one of the best. And Pixar's even updated the world they live in - with Andy's sister wearing an iPod - how much the generation's changed in that decade.
(Although I have to admit, there's probably some who will say that it follows a similar pattern to other Toy Story films in that Woody, Buzz and the gang are all separated from Andy and have to return to him - so there's little else for them to explore story wise.)
But what hasn't changed is the story telling - warmth and heart and big adult issues like abandonment and facing your fate are in plentiful supply here. Along with new characters (the likes of Ken, Timothy Dalton's thespian hedgehog, Chuckles the Clown to name but a few), there's so much to love here. Ken in particular is one of the highlights - check out an exclusive scene which never made it to Toy Story 3's cinema release here to get some idea of his character!
Be aware though that parts of this film are like a nightmare for the younger end of the audience as they bubble with dark visions of life. A climactic final sequence which sees Woody and the gang facing the perils of the landfill is brooding, moody and full of adult angst - and even made one child in this preview start screaming.

All in all, Toy Story 3 is a delight; a real crowd pleasing treat to end perhaps one of the best trilogies of all time. Chocked full of gorgeous animation and genuinely funny lines, you may find yourself leaving the cinema wiping away tears of joy.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse - Movie Review

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse - Movie Review

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Dakota Fanning, Xavier Samuel, Bryce Dallas Howard, Peter Facinelli
Director: David Slade
Consequences of choice and yet more teen angst.
That's the two chief ingredients of this latest Twilight film to hit the cinema.
It's been 220 days since The Twilight Saga: New Moon fever swept the world - and the debate began over Team Jacob and Team Edward. Well, that and the swooning and lusty cat calls thanks to the gratuitous flesh on display in the Wolf Pack.
New Moon ended with Robert Pattinson's Edward asking Kristen Stewart's Bella to marry him - and this one follows on a short time after that initial proposal. Back in her home town of Forks, Bella's turning Edward down because he won't make her a vampire like she wants so that they can be together forever.
However, Bella's dad Charlie (a welcome infusion of humanity and humour amid the teenage angst) is keen for Bella to spend less time with Edward and a little more time with Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and her friends ahead of her graduation. But unknown to them, that's when Bella's decided she wants to become a vampire and part of the Cullen clan.
Things though are moving apace elsewhere with vamp Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) working on exacting her revenge on the Cullens following the death of her beau back in the first film. And as she forms her plan, Seattle is ravaged by a series of deaths which seem to be tied in with Bella and Edward's destiny...
Soon, an army of vampires is descending on Forks - and the choices Edward, Jacob and Bella make will have consequences for all those involved.
The third film in franchise is a marked change from the previous two - it's a slower more evenly paced kind of film with a lot more dialogue and bursts of action throughout. Consequently - and this is where divisions will form, my Twihard friends - some of the acting feels a little more stilted and the dialogue a bit cornier as the romance plays out (sample lines - 'I will fight for you until your heart stops beating' and ' Edward is my life.'). But to be fair, you expect that - and the audience which loves this film, won't care a jot for corniness and lines like those.
However, if you can get past that, this is actually a more mature film than the previous ones - with plenty of discussion about sex before marriage, consequences of Bella's choices and a fair degree of menace early on as the storm clouds begin to gather over Forks and its lovestruck inhabitants.
It's also richer in emotion and character - two of the Cullen clan get their back stories fleshed out immensely and there's quite the whiff of tragedy about their previous lives. And it's finally nice to acknowledge the fact that vampires are predators; the additional creatures we see in Eclipse (including fan fave Bree Tanner - who's got her own story - read a review of The Second Short Life of Bree Tanner here) are dangerous, evil creatures whose only desire is to satiate their blood lust.
That's not to say this isn't without its flaws - the final fight scenes between the Cullen clan, the wolves (whose CGI this time round is markedly improved) and the new born vampire army - as well as the Volturi's entrance (including the ethereal and sneering Jane) - feel a little rushed and end too quickly. Having had this level of menace hinted at throughout the film, it does feel like it's wrapped up a little too conveniently.
But ultimately, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is once again about Bella, Jake and Edward (as well as the continuing antagonism between the vamps and the wolves) - and all the rest of the film is merely padding around that relentless triangular relationship. The characters this time have been given more grey edges. Edward is now more jealous and petty; Jacob continues his unrelenting quest to get Bella to admit she loves him and not the vamp, and Bella loses a lot of sympathy she gained from New Moon by being completely unsure of her choices.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse may not win many new fans or converts to the cause thanks to some of its corny, aching angst - but with a richer story, stronger writing and more solid direction, it's one of the better Twilight films and one which the Twihards will once again covet. This series continues to be a phenomenon and Eclipse is a more measured entry into the genre.

Oh, and for the cougars out there, don't worry. Jake-Abs is back again (even giving birth to Edward's great line -'Does he not have a shirt?') so prepare your lustiest wolf whistle.