Thursday, 28 October 2010

Cyrus: Movie Review

Cyrus: Movie Review

Cyrus
Rating: 8/10
Cast: John C Reilly, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener, Marisa Tomei

Director: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass

Pitched as an odd comedy in its trailer (which you can watch here),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 from his ex Catherine Keener,he thinks she could be the one.

And Molly is the same - so the pair begin an easy relationship.

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.

So the battle lines are drawn and the two begin to clash openly when Molly's not around - and make nice when she is.

Cyrus is a polished little gem of a dramedy of a film, delightfully quirky and confounds every expectation - while still delivering plenty of laughs and a good dose of heart.

The style is interesting as well - as it appears to have been shot on handheld cameras so they swoop in and out capturing every awkwardly odd moment.

The reason it works though is because of the leads - 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.

Cyrus is an unexpected treat in more ways than one and it shows that both Hill and Reilly can really reign it in when they need to on the performing front - and the end result is a real novel success.

Made In Dagenham: Movie Review

Made In Dagenham: Movie Review

Made In Dagenham
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Daniel Mays, Bob Hoskins, Richard Schiff, Jaime Winstone, Geraldine James, Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson
Director: Nigel Cole
From the director of Calendar Girls comes a new UK film with a cast that reads like a Who's Who of Brit talent.
It's 1960s Britain, where Ford (sorry Holden lovers) is at the height of its power - pumping out thousands of cars daily to the world.
But in the town of Dagenham, where one of the company's major plants is housed, trouble's a-brewing.
Well specifically in the machinist section of the plant populated by some 187 women.
Downgraded to a lower unskilled band, the women are not happy - and in one of them, shy and quiet Rita O'Grady (a wonderful Sally Hawkins) they find the voice to complain to the management at Head Office.
Spurred on by Bob Hoskins' shop steward, Albert, soon she's declaring an all out walk out for the staff and the cause begins to spread.
Initially it's about being upgraded to skilled - but soon it becomes about equal pay for women - and as the struggle to get their cause noticed increases, the tensions for all of the women (Rita's family too) escalate.
It's fair to say that Made in Dagenham is crowd pleasing in the extreme; with the usual kind of humour that pioneered the mold with The Full Monty, this Brit flick sings in terms of soundtrack, dry humorous moments and some great performances.
Every actor turns in solid performances - but it's Sally Hawkins who really impresses in this role of the mousey, put upon Rita whose voice rises up when it's most needed. She's the emotional centre of the film and she succeeds because she's never showy and immensely watchable.
The whole film's steeped in a UK nostalgia of the 1960s which is weaved in throughout - talk of colour TVs, puppet Sooty and vintage UK roadside diners will resonate more with some than others.
Sure, it's predictable in places - and you can see where the cracks will come dramatically (which may irritate the purists who feel that it's UK film making by numbers in terms of script, jokes and direction) but if the formula ain't broke, then I guess you don't need to fix it. There's nothing inherently wrong with the film and audiences will lap it up but in places, it does feel like a feel-good-film-by-numbers style flick.
The only disappointment in this empowerment flick is the end credits where you actually see the women who were the inspiration for the film - but any emotional resonance over who they are is lost due to a lack of pointing out who's who.

Chalk Made In Dagenham up to another of those barnstorming, crowd pleasing, publically adored feel good UK films which the motherland continues to churn out.

RED: Movie Review

RED: Movie Review

RED
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mary Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Karl Urban, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox, Ernest Borgnine
Director: Robert Schwentke
Call it The Grey Team.
Bruce Willis stars as retired former Black Ops CIA agent Frank Moses, who's spending his retirement days in a big house and phone flirting with pension worker Sarah (Mary Louise Parker).
One day and without warning, a hit squad breaks into his house and attempts to assassinate him - after thwarting their attempts on his life, Frank heads to Kansas to snatch Sarah from potential harm and to try and work out who's trying to kill him; and perhaps more importantly, why.
As the conspiracy begins to unwind, Moses ends up meeting up with former colleagues Joe (Freeman), Marvin (a deadpan Malkovich) and Victoria (Mirren) to try and establish what's going on.
But time's running out - and ruthless CIA Agent Cooper (a brilliant Karl Urban) edges ever closer to tracking them down.
What can you say about RED?
Adapted from a DC Comics series, the film wears its colours on its sleeve within the first 10 minutes as the hit squad goes through countless bullets and destroys Moses' house in perhaps the most explosive and destructive sequence committed to celluloid this year.
And that's where the problem arises for this film - there's nothing inherently wrong with it; Bruce Willis once again smirks his way through a film and does his action man schtick and the plot's somewhat similar to the likes of The Losers and The A Team from earlier in the year. You can't help but feel that in some form or another, you've seen this before.
Yet, there's some things to really love about RED - principally, the wonderful performance of Karl Urban, who has grit, determination, steely cool and effortless screen presence; Mary Louise Parker who is long overdue a lead; Helen Mirren with a really big gun (finally putting to bed her image as an English stage dame) and John Malkovich for just out-performing most on the screen. There's also a very cool scene where Bruce jumps out of a spiralling cop car with all guns blazing which is true to the comic book world the film inhabits.
But these are some highs which are balanced by some lows - the plot sags after a while and you may struggle to be as emotionally invested in it as perhaps you should be. However, if you love guns, explosions and a slightly off-the-wall tongue in cheek kind of action film, you'll be happy.

It's just I couldn't help but feel a sense of déjà vu from what's already been up on the big screen this year.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Glee Series One: DVD Review

Glee Series One: DVD Review

Glee Series One

Released by Roadshow Entertainment
Rating: PG


Once in a while a series comes onto TV which strikes a chord with so many.

This year's contender is Glee, an American series about a high school music club from the creator of over the top plastic surgery show Nip/Tuck.

As the series begins, the Glee Club's future is in doubt after its current leader is fired for inappropriate behaviour. Matthew Morrison's Will is given the job of taking it over and sets about bringing up the rag tag bunch to scratch - while trying to ensure its future.

The future is threatened by an Emmy award winning turn from Jane Lynch as the conniving cheerleading coach.

Throw in a sprinkling of musical numbers which capture the current pop zeitgeist and it's easy to see why this show is a success - it's feelgood fun which will continue to entertain long after you've finished all 22 episodes of Series One.

Extras:

Rating: 7/10 

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Four Lions: Movie Review

Four Lions: Movie Review

Four Lions
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak, Riz Ahmed, Arsher Ali, Adeel Akhtar
Director: Chris Morris
A comedy film about British Muslims looking to commit a terrorist act - there's already some of you out there reading this who've formed your own opinion of what this is.

Well, let me tell you - you're completely wrong.

British satirist Chris Morris turns his eye on four would be suicide bombers in this hilariously insane comedy.

The would be terror cell are so incompetent that their leader Omar (Ahmed) shows the messed up takes of their terrorist video to his son and says they could be deleted scenes for a DVD release.

This quartet wants to take their dreams of Jihadism to new levels - and plot to devastate the London Marathon. But Omar is disillusioned about the treatment of Muslims around the world and is determined to become a soldier - however, his views clash with that of white Islamic convert Barry (Lindsay) who believes a) that he's "the most al Qaeda one here" and b) that blowing up a mosque would be the best way to set the world alight.

As their ideologies and opinions clash, the group blunders ever closer to achieving their goals - despite their innate stupidity.

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).

Granted there will be debate about how the four are portrayed - and some will take offence.

However, the writers planned for that during their in depth research and talking to Muslims - every sensitivity has been taken to ensure what you see on screen is not offensive or racist.

What Morris and his team of writers have done is take logical arguments over the matter to the absolute absurd end.

There are 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 sees two policemen arguing over whether they've shot a man in a bear costume or a Wookie outfit during a fun run) - it's this kind of approach which Morris has adopted - everyone's an idiot and no-one's more superior to anyone.

It's farcical in places and yet as the final scenes roll out, it's also quite poignant and sad as you realise these four have negotiated themselves into a corner. It's the sign of an insanely smart writer and director that such an ending can be achieved.

However, be warned this film contains an infectious use of a Toploader song.

Life As We Know It: Movie Review

Life As We Know It: Movie Review

Life As We Know It
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, a baby.
Director: Greg Berlanti
Katherine Heigl, of Grey's Anatomy fame, returns to the rom-com genre (yeah, who would have seen that coming?) with this latest outing.
She stars as Holly Berenson, an uptight control freak of a bakery owner, and godparent to her best friend's daughter, Sophie.
Also along in the godfathering stakes is Josh Duhamel as Eric Messer, a slacker man-child jock who is happy with one-night stands and no form of commitment.
The pair meet at the start of the film after they're set up on a date that goes disastrously wrong - he's a biker, she drives a Smart car (as an aside who knew these cars would take off? First Waimoana in Charles Mesure's series This Is Not My Life - and now Hollywood) - but they find their lives thrust violently into collision when their mutual friends (and Sophie's parents) die in a car crash.
Holly and Messer are named as guardians to Sophie and are forced to live in a house and try the parenting game. But before long sparks are flying and Sophie's future is far from certain.
Life As We Know It is a pleasantly predictable romantic comedy with two affable leads. It won't win anything in the originality stakes but it won't leave you angry at the end of it, as some of Katherine Heigl's previous efforts are wont to do.
Sure, there's plenty of comedy to be mined from the fact these two are clearly out of their league as parents - and there's plenty of comedy to be mined from the inevitable baby pooing gags.

That's the thing with this film; you know exactly what's coming - whether it's the growing romantic tension between the leads or the problems they face, it's all fairly unoriginal fare - even though there are some amusing moments.

And yet it's going to be popular because it's recognisable - so many will feel it's their lives up on the screen in some form or another - and with two leads with a decent amount of chemistry, this piece of disposable film doesn't exactly sag in its two-hour running time or overstay its welcome.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Paranormal Activity 2: Movie Review

Paranormal Activity 2: Movie Review

Paranormal Activity 2
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Stoat, Brian Boland, Sprague Grayden
Director: Tod Williams
So how do you follow up a soaraway break out horror like Paranormal Activity?
As with the Saw franchise, the news that a sequel to the first would be in cinemas in time for Hallowe'en less than a year after the first frightened up an audience was greeted with a groan.
But I'm happy to report this sequel/ prequel is better than the first.
Once again, it's a doco style film where everything unfolds through CCTV around a house - this time, it's the home of Paranormal Activity's original victim Katie - to be specific it's sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden), a recent mother.
It begins 60 days before the death of Micah from the first film - the handheld video camera captures the return home of the new mom and her son Hunter as they begin their new life with husband Daniel and daughter Ali and their pet Alsatian.
But after the home is ransacked and despite the fact nothing's taken except a necklace, Daniel decides to get CCTV installed around to ensure the family's safety.
However, within a few days of the CCTV going up, Kristi becomes convinced that something is in the house as a series of noises, and unexplained phenomena hit.
Dismissed by her husband, Kristi confides her fears in her sister Katie (Featherston) that their family past is once again haunting them.
Things continue to get worse and daughter Ali starts to suspect something truly sinister is afoot - despite the skepticism of her parents&.
Consider this your warning - we're entering minor spoiler territory now.
Paranormal Activity 2 is sinister, creepy, and improves on the first one. Those involved could have simply once again ramped up the scares and gone for obvious horrors - but thanks to a degree of restraint, there's an ominous tone of creeping horror in this sequel (which is more prequel than anything).
The setting of a domestic bliss of a new family is disturbing and horrifying - particularly if you've seen one scene of what happens to new son Hunter in the trailer (watch that at the bottom of this review) - but it's that decision to set this within what would be a normally happy home that proves to be so freaky.
All of the cast are so ordinary and just seem to be going about their day to day business that you can't help but buy in and forget you're watching a film.
But as the film rumbles on, there's a hideous sense of foreboding and sustained tension within which this time round appears to be more effective - it's a deep rooted psychological fear and the reasons given for why what is happening may be a little hokey for some; but to others it will all be part of the experience.
And once again that's what Paranormal Activity 2 offers - one hell of a scary experience and one which grows on the first. You may find yourself sleeping with the light on when you get home - and sure, the shocks, jolts and frights aren't in every scene but thanks to the clever way you become part of their world, they're truly upsetting when the terrifying crescendo reaches its peak.
There'll be debate about the end - the way its callousness concludes the film is shocking and there's plenty of scope for a third film to wrap it all up.

It's good to see that in 2010 we can still be disturbed and frightened stupid by a mobile turning in a crib or a pan falling on the floor - the makers of this second film have done an excellent job in cranking up the fear factor and not destroying what they committed to screen in the first.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Farewell: Movie Review

Farewell: Movie Review

Farewell
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Emir Kusturica, Willem Dafoe, Fred Ward, David Soul
Director: Christian Carion
It's back to the 1980s for this espionage thriller set in events which led to the fall of the Soviet Bloc.
As it opens on a white landscape filled with snow, a lone wolf watches troops head off into a truck - and from there, the action flicks from the cold wastelands to the decadent west of the 1980s France.
Guillaume Canet is Pierre Froment, an engineer who's caught up in the world of espionage and trading secrets to the Soviets. But soon, this relatively naïve spy is making big waves in the world and powers higher up are wondering where the leaks are coming from.
And as the web is more deeply woven, both Reagan (Fred Ward) and Gorbachev, as well as President Mitterand find themselves in the line of suspicion as a cat and mouse game develops between intelligence agencies.

Farewell is a globe trotting complex and deeply rich film - it starts off slowly and builds towards the end. There's an authenticity to the film which is there from the beginning - and Fred Ward impresses as Reagan.
While it's intelligent and engrossing film making, it does at times teeter on the slightly slow side as it follows its story from beginning to end. That's not to say it's not captivating - more the case
That said though, if you fancy spending some time reliving the 80s spy paranoia, then this could be the film for you.


Monday, 18 October 2010

Clash Of The Titans: DVD Review

Clash Of The Titans: DVD Review

Clash Of The Titans
Rating: M
Released by Warner Home Video

Remade from the very much loved Ray Harryhausen version of Clash of the Titans, Avatar's Sam Worthington stars as Perseus, the son of the ancient Greek god Zeus (a bearded Liam Neeson).

Perseus finds himself right in the middle of a potential war when the gods declare war on the mortals - and with Hades about to unleash hell on earth, only Perseus can save the world.

Certain sections of the audience will be wowed by Sam Worthington's performance (the majority of which appears to be spent scowling and glowering). The rest of the cast are okay but they're simply there as window dressing (Gemma Arterton as Perseus' protector Io, particularly is not the strongest and appears to have been brought in for her dusky looks) to the creatures and the story.

Most disappointing is Ralph Fiennes' hammy Hades - he's whispering and doesn't really do much to convey menace (although the effects for Hades are pretty good).

As disposable entertainment goes on a Friday night, this is nothing earth shattering and does exactly what it sets out to - it's probably more suited to the younger end of the market.

Extras: Additional scenes add nothing to the distinctly average release

Rating: 5/10  

Dr Who S5 V4: Blu Ray Review

Dr Who S5 V4: Blu Ray Review

Dr Who Series 5: Vol 4
Released by BBC and Roadshow Home Entertainment
Rating: PG

So the final volume of the latest series of Dr Who gets a release - and once again, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan get the chance to shine.
The final set contains 4 adventures for the Doc and Amy - including the two part season finale (but more on that in a mo).
It's clearly about the guest stars and talent in this final clutch of four - Vincent and the Doctor is written by Richard Curtis of Britcom fame and starring Bill Nighy and in The Lodger James Corden of Gavin and Stacey fame stars. The two tales are ok - Vincent and the Doctor seems to have a giant style chicken as the baddie haunting Vincent Van Gogh and his dark ways and The Lodger sees the Doc stranded in the UK after Amy has mishap in the TARDIS.
The final tale (The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang) sees the Doc facing an army of baddies and River Song (Alex Kingston) back once again. It's a so-so season final and seems to spend a lot of time setting up for future series rather than providing some kind of closure after 13 eps. That said, it is worth it for Amy's great wedding speech where she manages to reconjure up the Doctor - it's a take of the something borrowed lines - and it's a moment of genius from Steven Moffat.
An excellent pixel perfect conversion for Blu Ray gives the Doc's world some sparkly HD makeover.
All in all, this year had such promise for a new Doctor - thankfully Matt Smith's never disappointed and given the performance of his life. I am just hoping for more next year from the writing team.
Extra: The Monster Files delves into the army of baddies which face off against the Doc at the end - it's ten minutes of relative fluff from behind the scenes - all the best stuff will be being saved for the complete series box set.

Rating: 6/10

Monsters: Movie Review

Monsters: Movie Review

Monsters
Rating: 5/10
Cast: Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy
Director: Gareth Edwards
With a film about aliens landing in the USA six years ago and being quarantined in one area, it's obvious you'll recall to mind one of the best films of 2009, the Peter Jackson produced District 9.
But this similar premise comprises Monsters which is more relationship drama than alien societal integration.
Set in the not too distant future, opening titles explain that a spacecraft sent to bring back alien samples broke up over Mexico in re-entry. The result of that is a series of alien life forms (which look uncannily like squid on stalks) have taken up residence throughout parts of central America and Mexico - and are spreading.
Rather than nuke them, the government's decided that they will let them be - and simply declare zones of the country in quarantine and infected areas.
Enter into this photographer Andrew (McNairy) - he's desperate to make his name in the media with a picture of a live creature - but is tasked with returning his boss' errant daughter Sam (Able) back home safe.
Through a series of mishaps, the pair find the only way they can get back to home is via the infected zone - and so their journey into danger begins&
Monsters is not what you'd expect at all - initially you're introduced to the squid creatures early on and so you're never waiting for a big alien reveal, which robs the premise of some of its tension.
Director Gareth Edwards is also a little heavy on the direction - opening shot after shot are simply about the infected zone signs or military fighter jets heading past in the skies. It's a pummeling to set up the world they inhabit rather than subtlety to get the message across. Even on a low budget, it could have achieved more.
With a lack of real script (most of this is improvised) it's left to McNairy and Able to make it believable and to have you care. The pair are both relative newcomers both have stunning chemistry together (and are now married in real life) - so while there are dips in the film and dialogue which is simply about asking where they are while navigating the grim reality of it all, it's thanks to these two and their tender relationship that you make it through to the end.

It doesn't live up to its premise and the attack which inevitably comes in the infected zone lacks any real tension. It's a disappointment which doesn't live upto its premise and you may feel a little cheated when the lights go up at the end.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine: DVD Review

Hot Tub Time Machine: DVD Review

Hot Tub Time Machine
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
Rating: R16

John Cusack stars in this story of a group of guys who've got various issues - John Cusack's Adam's just been dumped; Craig Robinson's Nick has an unfaithful wife and a job that involves him sticking his hand in dog's bottoms; Clark Duke is a teen who's going nowhere and Rob Corddry's Lou has just tried to commit suicide.

Spurred into action by the suicide attempt, the quartet head to one of their haunts from their past to live it up. But when they get there, they find the party resort has gone down the dumps - and deciding to get drunk, the guys head to the hot tub to party.

After a night's decadence - and a shoe horned in plot device, they awake to find themselves back in the 1980s and as younger versions of themselves at Winterfest 1986.

What can be said about this? The film finds its level in the first few moments as Craig Robinson's failed musician pulls out a pair of car keys from a dog's backside and throws them straight to its owner...subtle it ain't.

Funny at times, it is though - a likeable cast give a frankly insane idea a bit of life and the whole thing is just about carried off - if like the lads, you've been drinking.

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Dr Who: The Dominators: DVD Review

Dr Who: The Dominators: DVD Review

Dr Who- The Dominators
Released by BBC and Roadshow Entertainment
Rating: PG

Back to the 1960s we go and the moptop ways of the second Doctor Patrick Troughton and his faithful crew of Jamie the highlander and Zoe the genius in this five part serial which screened in 1968.
The TARDIS lands on a planet called Dulkis; one which is supposed to be quiet and relaxed; but when the TARDIS trio arrive there, they find the native race has been enslaved by the ruthless Dominators (and their large tortoise shell like jackets) and their servants, the robotic Quarks.
Can the Doctor save the race?
A fairly average serial when compared to the later efforts of the series, this is starting to show some cracks in terms of the production values; but it's worth seeing for the very first introduction of the Quarks which were mooted as the next Daleks way back when.
Sure, they lumber and seem quaint, but it's nice to see the series try something a little different with the baddies. A deeper look into the story would see some satire of the hippy ways of the 1960s but Troughton et al give it their all in this.
Extras: Commentary from the surviving main cast, a look back on the making and a piece on how the show was covered in the media are all reliably informative. What's a little odd and doesn't do much for the continuing perception of nerdiness is a hidden extra in which two Scottish sock puppets (no I don't believe I'm typing this either) discuss the labeling of the serials back in the 1960s&.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 15 October 2010

Edge of Darkness: DVD Review

Edge of Darkness: DVD Review

Edge of Darkness
Rating: R16
Released by Warner Home Video

After fraught times for Mel Gibson recently, it's nice to actually remember what he does for a living - on the screen.

Based on a BBC mini series (which was directed by NZ Martin Campbell back when it was initially broadcast in the 1980s) Gibson stars as Boston detective Tom Craven, whose daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) comes home to visit.

However, Emma becomes sick and after vomiting blood, Craven decides to take her to the hospital. But barely out of the front door, she's shot dead in a drive by.

The police are convinced he's the target of the shooter, but Craven begins his own investigation - and gradually begins to realize he's slap bang in the middle of a massive conspiracy which has wider implications than he could ever realize.

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

Gibson's strong in it though as he unleashes his steely eyed determined look and wreaks a bit of havoc - you probably wouldn't want him not on your side&

Extras: Deleted scenes, Mel's back, Profile of kiwi director Martin Campbell and a featurette on the original mini series are part of a solid package for an average film

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Home By Christmas: DVD Review

Home By Christmas: DVD Review

Home By Christmas
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
Rating: PG

It's a powerful New Zealand film memoir by Gaylene Preston based on interviews with her father Ed Preston about his time in World War 2 in Italy and North Africa.

Culled from archive material, Preston's called in the services of Goodbye Pork Pie's Tony Barry to narrate the material and essentially play her father. But as we learn early on, Ed was never too keen on sharing his experiences until one day, as a Christmas present, he decided to open up to his daughter.

What unfolds is the story of one man and how he signed up to the NZ Army back in 1940 because the rest of the rugby team were doing it for a free holiday and he didn't want to be left out.

As he remarks, they never expected to see any war - but that was the opposite from what they'd ever have hoped.

This story is interspersed with the tale of the wife he left behind (played by Chelsie Preston Crayford) and the problems she faced while they were at war. It's a nice device which off sets the archive footage used by Preston to piece together the narrative. And it's one which many Kiwis will associate with.
There's a subtlety and restrained feeling about this film which makes it engaging - Ed's tell it like it is style means Home By Christmas will strike a chord with many in the audience who've heard hints of similar stories from previous generations. It's also a humbling and haunting film - but one which is important and needs to be told.
Extras: A Solid bunch here including making of, docos, deleted scenes and Ed's original interview, this is a well thought out batch which really rounds off the release and makes it essential viewing.

Rating: 8/10

The Town: Movie Review

The Town: Movie Review

The Town
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Titus Welliver, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper
Director: Ben Affleck
Well, I think the first definite contender for Oscars 2011 just hit our cinemas.
In this flick, set in Charlestown in America, Affleck is Doug MacRay, a criminal who's found robbing banks is the only way to survive the miserable drudgery of working a construction job.
However, he along with his three co-robbers, end up abducting the manager of the latest bank they turn over - Claire, played by Rebecca Hall.
The problem is that they're not sure what Claire saw or heard so when Doug's volatile buddy Jem (a searingly jumpy turn by Jeremy Renner) suggests keeping an eye on her, Doug decides it'd be safer if he looked out for Claire.
As Doug and Claire's relationship begins to flourish into something, the police (led by Mad Men's Jon Hamm and Lost's Man in Black Titus Welliver) begin to close in on the gang - and Doug starts to wonder if he can ever escape from the life he's forged for himself.
I hadn't been expecting too much from a Ben Affleck outing to be honest - but thanks to some excellently restrained directing which allows the story to breathe and come to life, he's managed to put together a corker of a film with some brilliant ensemble performances - from the likes of Gossip Girl's Blake Lively as Jem's sister who's had an off-on-off again thing with Doug and is resentful of Claire to Jeremy Renner's nerve tingling performance as Jem, a man who can explode at any second.
That's not to say the likes of Pete Postlethwaite as a gangland kingpin who runs a florist and a cameo from Chris Cooper as Doug's dad don't shine - everyone brings their A game to this flick about desperation, hopes of escape and the promise of another life.
But it's Affleck who gives his soul to this project - action scenes, intelligent humour (one cop says at one point "You need a Venn diagram to keep all these together") and sensitive directing help the maudlin tone rise into something gripping and compelling.
It's the small dramatic moments which keep the film from the "too earnest" category which could have seen it derail as the fragile house of cards MacRay's stacked begin to fall.

Look for this to figure in the Oscars next year - and possibly someone from the Town to be heading up to the stage to pick something golden up.

Eat Pray Love: Movie Review

Eat Pray Love: Movie Review

Eat Pray Love
Rating: 4/10
Cast: Julia Roberts, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkin
Director: Ryan Murphy
From the incredibly popular book by Elizabeth Gilbert and from the director who brought us Nip/Tuck and Glee comes this cinematic version of Eat, Pray, Love.
Julia Roberts stars as magazine writer Liz Gilbert, who's quite frankly restless in her married life with Stephen (Crudup) - one day, after much agonizing and following a chance visit to a Balinese medicine man, she decides to split from hubby and head around the world for a year to find herself again.
So she starts off in Italy, before heading to India and ending the year in Bali - on each journey, there's something to help her re-build. In Italy, it's the nourishment of food; in India, it's the replenishment of the spirit and in Bali, it's finally time for her heart to re-heal.
Along the way, Liz meets different men who have varying effects on her life - there's James Franco's David, the man she rebounds to after her divorce; in India there's the ever marvellous Richard Jenkin's Richard from Texas and finally in Bali, there's Javier Bardem's Felipe who reignites something in her heart.
Eat Pray Love is going to appeal to a certain sector of the audience; those who like the bon mots like "Having a baby is like having a tattoo on your face - you have to be fully committed"; that said, Julia Roberts is good as Liz but she can't carry the film which towards the end begins to sag and feel quite long and drawn out.
It looks beautiful in Italy - all the postcard picture perfect food and scenery remind you why the country is so popular; in India, it's Richard Jenkin's brilliant turn who instils some heart into the film but the whole thing is curiously unemotional for what should be a satisfying journey.
For a film which should be about soul, there's sadly too much of this lacking and not enough passion on display.

It's a shame because Roberts does the gamut of emotions well - but the film takes too long to get to its resolution and despite jabs of humour here and there, there's not enough to sustain Eat Pray Love as the nourishing experience it clearly longs to be.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Robin Hood: Blu Ray Review

Robin Hood: Blu Ray Review

Robin Hood
Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Entertainment

Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott reteam in this retelling of the Robin Hood saga.
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 (Oscar Isaac) has started a crusade of taxation.

Also lurking in the wings is Sir Godfrey (the ever wonderful Mark Strong) who's trying to steal the crown for himself.
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 - though the action scenes which there are do stand out
Extras: An impressive 2 disc release sees the film given an extra 16 mins - and a second disc boasts an impressive 62 minute doco behind the scenes. Add onto that, a slew of deleted scenes and you've got a bunch of extras which certainly hit the bullseye.

Rating: 8/10 

Letters to Juliet: DVD Review

Letters to Juliet: DVD Review

Letters To Juliet
Released by Sony Home Pictures
Rating: PG

Amanda Seyfried stars as the soon to be married American researcher Sophie, who heads to Verona with her fiancée Victor (Gabriel 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.

Things get worse when she answers a letter written years ago - and that response brings the writer and her grandson to Verona in search of true love.

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 this latest entry into the rom com genre - high art it certainly is not. Beautifully shot though it is - still, with a canvas like Verona to work from, that's not surprising.

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.

Extras: Deleted scenes, audio with Amanda Seyfried and director, the making of, plus a look at the courtyard which is so iconic.

Rating: 4/10

The Road: DVD Review

The Road: DVD Review

The Road

Rating: R16
Released by Warner Home Video

In the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are journeying across America after the world ended in some unknown way.

(Though it appears to have been nuclear)

As they head south at the urging of the father's wife (Charlize Theron) and search for food, shelter and fuel, the duo meet all manner of problems - thieves, cannibals, and worst of all, their own paranoia and fears.

Against a backdrop of a devastated planet, survivors who are reduced to horrendous scavenging ways to get by and an ever increasing cold front, the duo find themselves unable to escape the inexorable physical and mental horrors which surround them.

To describe The Road as compellingly bleak may seem a little odd - but when you have a film which finds the worst that men can do and has a protagonist who would rather shoot his only son to avoid him being eaten alive, it's clearly not a laugh riot.

But yet, this film is intellectually stimulating watching as the events unfold - it's all wonderfully underplayed which adds to the horror -and thanks to the great performances of Mortensen and Smit-
Phee, this is riveting and terrifyingly good.

Extras: Behind the scenes featurettes and a gallery.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Buried: Movie Review

Buried: Movie Review

Buried
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Ryan Reynolds
Director: Rodrigo Cortes
Ryan Reynolds stars in this claustrophobic thriller where the clock is ticking in a deadly race against time.
Reynolds is Paul Conroy, an American truck driver in Iraq who awakes to find himself trapped in a coffin with only a cellphone, a few pens and a lighter for company.
As Conroy comes round, he begins to realize the horror of the situation; namely that he's buried alive, with no idea where he is, why he's there and perhaps most importantly, how he's going to get out.
However, as he makes a series of desperate phone calls, he begins to piece together a potential escape plan. Things get more complicated when those who put him in the box call and make demands of him..can Conroy get it together in time and get out alive with time, oxygen and hope running out?
Buried is a good old fashioned thriller with an intriguing premise and a great sense of claustrophobia.
From the moment the Saul Bass/ Hitchcock style opening credits end, you're plunged into darkness and your senses adjust at the same time Conroy's do. Every sound, every nuance is disorienting on the big screen in the dark - Conroy's frenzied panicked breathing puts you on the edge of your seat right away.
But what will keep you on the edge of that seat is Ryan Reynolds - what a performance in what is essentially a one man film. As the camera pans over Reynolds in his captivity, his every performance (whether it's the breathing or freaking out as he realizes how problematic his situation is) is pitch perfect, conveying the horror of the situation and the desperation of a man determined to get out. He goes through the gamut of emotions with ease and emerges a fully rounded character whom we empathasise with immediately - no mean feat seeing as his is the only face on the screen for 90 minutes.
The script could have so easily run out of steam but with time trickling away, it powers along with plenty of pace and deadly realism.
Director Cortes has done a good job too - with close ups, spiralling camera work in the confined space of the coffin, we get every sense of tension; every feeling of intensity is there up on the screen.
There's also some humour in there - Reynolds has issues with answerphones as he tries to get help; a clash with a sister in law is fraught with desperation - but there's also humanity as Conroy talks to those who matter most to him and thanks to the carefully handled script, the situation isn't milked for effect.

Buried is a nervy mesmerizing treat - a tensely claustrophobic affair which is vividly brought to life by a power house performance from a mightily impressive Reynolds.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Dinner For Schmucks: Movie Review

Dinner For Schmucks: Movie Review

Dinner For Schmucks
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Jay Roach
Taken from the original French film Le Diner De Cons (The Dinner Game) and Americanised, Dinner for Schmucks stars Paul Rudd as Tim, a mid level executive who's desperate to break through to the upper levels of the board room.
One day, he manages a break through by impressing his boss (Greenwood) over how to net a potential new client Mueller (David Walliams) and is invited into the upper echelons of the board room.
However, on arrival there, he's told of a monthly dinner hosted by his boss which he's duly invited to. But the crux of the dinner is that each of them has to bring an idiot along as a dinner date for their collective amusement - and it gets worse for Tim as he realises the boss picks a winning idiot to give a prize to.
That's where Steve Carell comes in - his IRS worker Barry is run over by Tim. And as Tim talks to Barry, he realises this taxidermist could be his in to win the Dinner. You see, Barry makes diorama and famous scenes with dead mice (eg the Mousea Lisa) and is clearly some kind of idiot in Tim's eyes.
But when Barry enters Tim's life, he brings a whirlwind of chaos and devastation causing Tim's girlfriend Julie to walk out on him and compound Tim's fears that Julie's having an affair with artist Kieran Vollard (a brilliant Jemaine Clement).
So Tim's life is in tatters - can it all be salvaged?
I have mixed feelings about this film (and no I've not seen the original French farce)- Paul Rudd puts in yet another good and likeable act - and Steve Carell is once again, another version of Steve Carell but starts to irritate a little as the film continues. However, it's nice they've made him a loser with a back story that's revealed near the end rather than just a goof.
Dinner For Schmucks is also slow to set up - it's all about the build up to the dinner and when it comes (very near the end), it's very very funny (probably the best part of the film) but it doesn't feel like that's the main thrust of the film. Although a running gag about Vollard knowing Nelson Mandela is funny in Carell's hands because of the idiot naif way in which he carries it out - he believes it's Morgan Freeman.
That's really the crux of this - if you find that funny, you'll like Dinner for Schmucks.
However Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement are the best in this - Galifianakis of the Hangover film plays a man who believes he has mind control - and Clement's artist Vollard (complete with lank pony tail and general artist insanity) is another strong entry into Clement's continuing line of oddball characters.

Dinner For Schmucks can be best described as a meal which promises so much - in the end it resembles a buffet which initially has you salivating but ultimately leaves you wanting.

The Insatiable Moon: Movie Review

The Insatiable Moon: Movie Review

The Insatiable Moon
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Rawiri Paratene, Sara Wiseman, Greg Johnson, Ian Mune
Director: Rosemary Riddell
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 Auckland's suburb of Ponsonby.
However, Arthur's life becomes permanently intertwined with Sara Wiseman's social worker at a time when the boarding house is threatened with closure.
With residents galvanized into trying to save their home from those who've got closed minds, the clock begins to tick - and Arthur starts to unravel.
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 Insatiable Moon - and manages to bind the whole thing together.
However, he's nearly upstaged by a simply brilliant Greg Johnson as the halfway house owner Bob and Wiseman who imbue their roles with such class, it's hard not to be swept along by this heartfelt tale which is inspired by actual characters.

While some may consider that the film looks a little cheap in places and there may be split opinions over the handling of mental illness, it's a real credit to those involved that this project got completed - and once you get over those criticisms, it's more than likely you'll find a film which may engage you in ways you'd never expected.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Johnny English Reborn: Movie Review

Johnny English Reborn: Movie Review

Johnny English Reborn

Rating: 4/10

Cast
: Rowan Atkinson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West, Gillian Anderson

Director: Oliver Parker

Rowan Atkinson returns as the special agent Johnny English in the sequel to the 2003 flick which saw disaster given a new face of bumbling ineptitude.

When we first see English, he's in a Tibetan monastery trying to recover some sense of self worth after a disastrous mission he headed up in Mozambique ended up with the death of a president.
But when a plot to assassinate the Chinese premier is revealed, MI7, realizing their contact will only talk to English, is forced to recall him into service.

And so it appears Johnny English is the only person who can save the day - if he can pull his act together.

So a strong contender for one of the worst, most predictable films of the year emerges.

Johnny English Reborn feels like a throwback in so many ways; the gags are predictable and at times cringeworthy; in the monastery, English stands the opposite way to all the other monks during a work out; in an MI7 office, he falls off an inflatable back support ball and in a hidden base, he leaps around in a body bag only to jump into a wall. If you like that kind of humour, then this is the film for you.

Granted, these kinds of jokes were the sort of thing British film used to do some 20 years ago - and while nostalgia's a good thing, the relative lack of any kind of sophistication here feels like an insult to today's audiences.

In fairness, Atkinson, channeling his deadpan rubbery face, gives it his all and even manages a few laughs here and there - but even he can't save the averageness of the script from rising up and swamping everything on screen. However, I will concede there will be some who will enjoy this film - the awkwardness and deadpan is worked to maximum effect here but after a while, it starts to grate.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: Movie Review

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: Movie Review

Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
Rating: See below
Vocal cast: Jim Sturgess, Emily Barclay, Ryan Kwanten, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Joel Edgerton
Director: Zack Snyder
So the second week of the school holidays are here and it's almost as if the film distribution gods know you've got a problem keeping the kids entertained.
To that end, releasing four days ahead of the usual date comes computer animated fare, Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, loosely based on the books The Guardians of Gahoole.
Sturgess plays Soren a young barn owl whose life is full of the tales of the Guardians of GaHoole who legend says are there to protect the kingdom. But his brother Kludd (True Blood's Ryan Kwanten) isn't so impressed and is a little jealous of the way their father spends more time with Soren.
One day while the pair are learning how to fly, they're captured by two minions of the evil MetalBeak (Animal Kingdom's Joel Edgerton) who swoop them off to a dark far away part of the kingdom.
When the pair arrive, they find MetalBeak's preparing to raise an army of soldiers to take over the kingdom. Soren vows to escape, find the legendary Guardians and stop the attack but his brother Kludd finds that he has an allegiance to the cause...
And so the sides are drawn and the battle lines are put in place...
Firstly, let's just say Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is worthy of your time for several reasons; one, the fact the film is prefaced by a short called Fur of Flying starring Wile E Coyote and Road Runner (a real 3D treat) and two, the main film heralds the next level of animation.
Beautiful, sumptuous kingdoms are brought to life by stunning use of CGI; the owls themselves are given such depth and detail that they stand out. The landscapes and scenery are so wonderful that you're drawn into the kingdom of Gahoole with ease.

Coupled with a soaring soundtrack that evocatively captures every mood (from learning to fly to the final attack), it's clear the film makers have spared no expense.
And yet, to this adult's eye, it doesn't quite achieve as much as its potential would promise the story's somewhat light in terms of narrative and I'm still not 100% clear MetalBeak was doing with "owl flecks from owl pellets" and how their power could bring down the warriors and guardians.
That said, what Zack Snyder's achieved with this has really raised the bar even though scenes looked reminiscent of outtakes from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in terms of look and feel of the warriors, his at times nightmarish world is an astonishing visual achievement.
(A word of warning: the tone overall is somewhat dark and frightening; so much so that the very young may be a little terrified by everything unfolding on the big screen)
But the panel of young reviewers enjoyed it heartily: Connor (17) thought "the whole thing was very good, very real although the story was a little muddled" and it made him "think twice about seeing another movie" (There's hints of a sequel at the end.) He thought the battle scenes and fight scenes were good (they're reminiscent of the 300 style of fighting; a sort of speedy, stop slow mo then speed up of clashing.) Overall 7/10
Jackson was a lot more enthusiastic giving it a 9 1/2 out of 10 - in fact, he hardly moved through the whole film he thought "the fight scenes were really good, the special effects were amazing" but he left the film pondering on how the owl blacksmith could make so many metal helmets for the fighter birds. Still it may have kept him quiet on the way home...

Rating from the kids overall: 8/10

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Dr Who: Kamelion Tales: DVD Review

Dr Who: Kamelion Tales: DVD Review

Dr Who: Kamelion Tales
Released by BBC and Roadshow Home Entertainment
Rating: PG

The King's Demons and Planet of Fire star Peter Davison as the fifth Doctor and mark the arrival of new companions in many ways.
The latest set collects this two stories together which mark the move to give the Doc a metal companion, Kamelion - who didn't quite work out in the way the creators had envisaged.
In the King's Demons, a four part adventure, the Doctor's brought face to face with Anthony Ainley's Master once again amid a plan to change history at the point the Magna Carta was signed; as the Doc investigates further, he comes across the robotic Kamelion who's been trapped by the Master.
In Planet of Fire, a four part adventure, it's all change in the TARDIS as the Doctor says goodbye to Turlough and discovers that the Master's been manipulating Kamelion from afar. Once again, it leads to a confrontation with the Master - and this time, it ends with the Doctor losing Kamelion in a way he never would have expected.
As the end nears for the release of the classic Dr Who series range (with rumour having it that every story will be out on DVD by the show's 50th anniversary in 2013), it's always the case that not all the best stuff is what's waiting in the vaults to be unleashed.
Sadly that's the case with these two releases - wonderfully remastered and restored (and in Planet of Fire's case, digitally given new effects) they may be but they can't polish the overall show's sagging quality.
However, it's the extras which once again save this set - and this time docos on the Kamelion idea with the original designers prove to be the saving grace. With a little bit of tongue in cheek pulled from hindsight, they reveal that the robot didn't quite go to plan and was prone to holding up filming.
It's a real eye opener to how the show was held back by the comparative lack of technology at the time - and how it shaped people's perceptions of the show (ultimately leading to its wobbly sets reputation.)
Add in decent commentaries from the main cast and a wealth of extra material and you've got a set which while it doesn't sparkle, it certainly provides enough bang for your buck.

Special Features include: The King's Demons: Audio Commentary; Kamelion: Metal Man - the history of the Doctor's robotic companion; Magna Carta - What exactly is the Magna Carta and what is its relevance throughout history and today?; Planet of Fire: Audio Commentary; The Flames of Sarn - cast and crew recall the production; Return to the Planet of Fire - director Fiona Cumming and designer Malcolm Thornton return to Lanzarote to revisit some of the filming locations; Designs on Sarn - designer Malcolm Thornton talks about his inspirations for the design of Planet of Fire - many more also exclusive features.

Rating: 5/10