Monday, 28 February 2011

Ashes to Ashes Season two: DVD Review

Ashes to Ashes Season two: DVD Review

Ashes To Ashes
Season Two

Rating: M
Released by BBC and Roadshow
It's back to the 80s (1982 to be precise) for this second series of the sequel to the truly brilliant Life On Mars.
Keeley Hawes reprises her role as DCI Alex Drake, a present day copper apparently shot in the line of duty who wakes in 1982 - and in sexist pig DCI Gene Hunt's (Philip Glenister) world.
Desperately trying to make her way back to her daughter, Drake and the rest of the permed hair team take on a series of cases as she tries to piece together how she can get home.
Animal rights, murder, loan sharks - the entire seedy underbelly of the 80s is played out on screen again - but don't let that give you reason to dismiss Ashes To Ashes.
Brilliantly acted (Hawes and Glenister shine in their leading roles) and with a superb ensemble cast, this BBC drama is one of the contemporary best. The writers revel in their chance to vent their non PC script spleens and the result is hilarious, engrossing and compelling drama.
Throw in a confounding cliffhanger and I for one can't wait to see how the final series plays out.

Rating: 8/10

Dr Who: Meglos DVD Review

Dr Who: Meglos DVD Review

Dr Who Meglos
Rating: PG
Released by BBC

Essentially remembered as that serial with Dr Who as a cactus, this tale from 1980s and Tom Baker's final stint as the fourth Doctor remains more scorned for what it didn't achieve than what it did.
The Doc and Romana land on the planet Tigella, where two sides are fighting over an energy source. Trapped in a time loop by the evil cactus like creature Meglos (yes I know how that sounds) the floppy haired Doctor is stuck in the middle as he tries to ensure his own survival as well as that of his companions.
Meglos isn't a bad romp for Who - sure, it creaks at times with some dodgy acting but there's an attempt at some serious science too. It doesn't work as well as it could - as the doco with the writers attests to but it still remains an iconic piece of Who with Jacqueline Hill (aka Barbara from 1960s Who) appearing as one of the main players. With some reasonable production values, this four parter zips along (with a few groans here and there) amiably enough.
Extras: Commentary, docos on the writers as well as a very tasteful tribute to Jacqueline Hill who appeared in this and in the first ever series of Who

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 27 February 2011

A Prophet: DVD Review

A Prophet: DVD Review

A Prophet

Released by Sony
Rating: R18

Winner of the Grand Jury prize in 2009 at Cannes,A Prophet clearly deserves its accolades.

This is the tale of Malik, (Tahar Rahim) a 19 year old French Arab sentenced to 6 years in jail.

Finding himself in over his head initially, Malik is ordered to kill a Mafia informant by the Mob inside the prison - or forfeit his own life.

With no choice, Malik carries out the crime and subsequently finds he rises through thr ranks of the Mafia inside the jail. Pretty soon, Malik is a pivotal part of life behind bars - but soon realizes that there will come a time when he's leaving jail to embark on the next stage of his life.

A Prophet is a sophisticated, restrained and sensitive drama with a wonderful central performance from Tahar Rahim.

It's deeply compelling, richly rewarding and gripping from beginning to end.

This is a film to be treasured.

Extras: Deleted scenes, commentary and rehearsal footage.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: DVD Review

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: DVD Review

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Entertainment

23 years since Gordon Gekko headed to prison at the end of Wall Street, he's back.

And in the meantime, the real financial world has seen major changes.

At the same time as Gekko exits jail, Shia LaBeouf's Jacob Moore is an investment banker who's looking into the death of his mentor Lewis Zabel (Frank Langella).

Moore begins to suspect Josh Brolin's Bretton James may have been involved - and he vows revenge.

And Gekko sees - and seizes - the opportunity to exert his power...

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a curious film - there are splashes of the usual Oliver Stone extravagance on the directing front but there's also flashes of genius too.

One particular trick sees Stone outlining the skylines of New York and London with the share market ups and downs; it's a clever visual touch which stands out - even if it is over used.

Sadly there's too little Michael Douglas and as a result, the film feels somewhat redundant in parts.
It's clear a financial expert's had a hand on the script. The problem is that it goes a little too far into financial speak and despite the drama's being there, it's as if Stone's unveiling yet another conspiracy (though this time it's factual) and the film suffers a little because of it.
But it's the treatment of Gekko which is the most disappointing - the character changes so much in the final reel that you almost feel cheated at the end.

Extras: Commentary by Oliver Stone and doco on the return of Gekko.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Runaways: DVD Review

The Runaways: DVD Review

The Runaways

Rating: R16
Released by Sony Home Entertainment

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 true life coming of age tale of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, how their rock and roll lives collided and they blazed the trail for women in rawk music.

But while Jett was always determined to be a rock star, Currie was more saddled with the problems of family life which seem to cause conflict within her - and unleash her inner demons.

This film belongs to Fanning as drug addled Currie and Michael Shannon as the maestro Kim Fowley who sees the potential of the female band-it's their relationship with everyone else which eclipses most of the film itself.

Punky and spunky, The Runaways is a hedonistic trip, fizzing with energy and humanity.

Extras: Commentary with Joan Jett, KStew and Dakota Fanning; featurette - nice touch on the commentary to keep the interest going. Blu ray offers exactly the same.

Rating: 7/10 

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: DVD Review

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: DVD Review

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Released by Disney
Rating: PG
In the latest from Disney, Nicolas Cage stars as Balthazar Blake, a sorcerer who's fought his arch nemesis, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina complete with requisite English bad guy accent and goatee beard) throughout time - and since the time of Arthur and Merlin.

But Blake needs to find the Prime Merlinian, a sorcerer who has so much power that they can wield the power of Merlin and help vanquish Horvath.

Enter Jay Baruchel's Dave, a nerdy physics major who ten years ago met Blake, was told of his destiny and then watched Blake disappear into thin air.

However, when Blake reappears, Dave finds he is slap bang in the middle of Maxim's plans to use an ancient power to raise an army of the dead and take over the world&can Dave help Blake save the day?
The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a fresh, fun take on the world of sorcery and magic; it's fantastical family fun complete with its everyman central character played with humour and likeability by Jay Baruchel.
With some eye popping special effects (some of which hark back to the Mummy) and a script which is smart enough to throw cinematic nods to the older end of the audience (Star Wars and Indy are just two of them), the team behind this know how to keep all sections of the audience engaged.
Extras: A whole heap of behind the scenes stuff, deleted scenes and outtakes make this a reasonable, good looking package on Blu Ray.

Rating: 7/10 

Legends of The Guardians: DVD Review

Legends of The Guardians: DVD Review

Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Rating: PG
Released by Roadshow Entertainment

In the latest animated fare to hit, Jim Sturgess plays Soren a young barn owl whose life is full of the tales of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, 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 - and the brothers find their allegiances split as they take opposing sides in a battle against the owls.

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.

Narratively though, it's a little lacking with some parts of the story slightly muddy in places and it's only thanks to the fact it looks so good and is well animated, that it's a success.

Extras: The new Wile E Coyote short which was on in cinemas and a doco about how important owls are.

Rating: 7/10 

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Curry Munchers: Movie Review

Curry Munchers: Movie Review

Curry Munchers

Rating: 4/10

Cast:
Anand Naidu, Alison Titulaer, Ajay Vasisht, Leela Patel, Ben Mitchell, Rajeev Varma, Tarun Mohanbhai

Director: Cristobal Araus Lobos

A New Zealand film about love, hope and some curry is how those behind Curry Munchers are advertising it.

Anand Naidu (who wrote) stars as Sid, who's forced (along with his sister and mother) to follow his father to Auckland and ditch his life in Delhi.

But when Sid gets there, he finds the house they're living in is a disappointment - and life's not what he'd expected for the promised new country.

Sid ends up working at Sargeet, the local curry house - where he forms a friendship with maitre d' Mary (Titulaer) and the kitchen workers (Varma and Mohanbhai). Sid doesn't want his parents to know about the job - and he's not the only one hiding a secret. Sid's dad isn't actually working as an accountant - he's a forecourt attendant.
The problem is all of these secrets threaten to come to light when Sargeet enters into Cook Off New Zealand and suddenly Sid finds his loyalties torn in many directions.
Curry Munchers has an admirable heart and a nice idea about how migration actually affects those involved.
But the execution is fudged and the end result is bitterly disappointing and slightly amateur in places. Every twist is signposted early on and plays out as predictably as you'd expect. This is also the kind of script where people get hit by a door opening and end up knocked out - the, at times, over the top antics mean that the script heads more to the puerile and silly which would alienate a certain section of the audience.

It's a shame because Anand Naidu actually offers up an engagaing and affable performance as Sid - and the story is earnest in places but it can't quite decide whether to break away from its Indian roots and occasional silliness and because of that, it's likely to not find the wide audience it craves.

Conviction: Movie Review

Conviction: Movie Review

Conviction
Rating: 4/10
Cast: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Peter Gallagher, Melissa Leo
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Hilary Swank stars as Betty Ann Waters in this film which is based on a true story.
Waters is a drop out who's formed a close bond with her brother Kenny (the ever great Sam Rockwell) as they've been shunted from foster home to foster home in their childhoods.
But when Kenny's arrested for murder by Nancy Taylor (Melissa Leo)- and convicted two years after the crime's been committed- Betty Ann feels her life ripped from her.
So, she resolves to put herself through law school with the sole aim of doing whatever it takes to exonerate her brother.
Spurred on by her friend Abra (Driver), Waters contacts the Innocence project, determined to use DNA evidence to get her brother out of jail, despite overwhelming evidence.
Conviction would work better as a TV movie, rather than a big screen outing.
All involved give great performances and it seems unfair to diminish the true story nature of this, but the problem is the film offers nothing new or original to many other similar stories of their ilk.
Granted, it's made perfectly adequately and sees the main duo of Swank and Rockwell acquit themselves decently - but the emotional core of the film appears to have gone AWOL from script to screen.
The moments where you'd expect your heart to leap are curiously flat and presented in a very matter of fact way; and some of the most potentially engaging drama (Waters' marriage falling apart being one) takes place off screen, robbing you of any real involvement. That and the fact that it's not explored that this woman's spent her entire life trying to save her brother and it's cost her everything and you just feel nothing but detachment from what transpires in front of you.

At the end of the day, Conviction has plenty of its own title in it, but it really could have done with a little more courage of its convictions to have soared above the usual fare.

Love Birds: Movie Review

Love Birds: Movie Review

Love Birds
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Rhys Darby, Sally Hawkins, Emily Barclay, Bryan Brown, Faye Smythe, Craig Hall, Pierre the duck
Director: Paul Murphy
From the director of the Kiwi smash hit Second Hand Wedding, comes this new film aimed at showing us another side of Rhys Darby.
Darby stars as Doug, a council worker who's happy with his life, living at his parents' place and cruising along. One day, though, his long term girlfriend Susan (Smythe) decides enough is enough and takes flight.
Within moments of that, Doug suddenly finds an injured Paradise Shelduck dumped on his roof.
With no-one to care for the duck, Doug takes on the job - and his adventure brings him into contact with Sally Hawkins' zoo worker Holly.
Gradually, the injured animal learns to live and love again - and so does the duck....
To be honest, Love Birds is your fairly conventional rom com fare - guy meets girl, complications and problems follow.
But what sets this above from the rest is Rhys Darby.
This is a career redefining moment from the guy who's prone to playing (in his words I might add) a bit of a dick.
In Love Birds, Darby is a revelation - he's a forlorn, lost, vulnerable and romantic lead who proves to be very watchable in what is a traditional tale. Darby has to straddle that line of acting with animals too - as the majority of his scenes are with Pierre the duck. But with laughs thrown in and a generally charming tone, he manages to more than adequately get by.
The unexpectedly humourous moments are underplayed as well - and are a lot more enjoyable because of that.
Special mention needs to go to the cinematography as well - every shot of Auckland (from the swooping harbour bridge shots through to the night time street shots, once again, the City of Sails looks simply amazing.
A little disappointing is the underuse of the great Bryan Brown as a vet and narratively, it has to be said, Craig Hall adds little to the proceedings.
In all honesty, Love Birds won't win for originality of script; it's sweet and charming (but never overly so).
However, what it will win for is making you think twice about Rhys Darby.

He's an affable, believable and extremely convincing lead - and based on this alone, he's destined for even greater things.

Tamara Drewe: Movie Review

Tamara Drewe: Movie Review

Tamara Drewe
Rating: 5/10
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Tamsin Greig, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans, Roger Allam
Director: Stephen Frears
Taken from a weekly UK comic strip in the Guardian newspaper, the big screen adaptation of Tamara Drewe finally hits New Zealand screens.
Gemma Arterton is Drewe, a journalist forced back into her sleepy English home town to sell the family home after the death of her mother. Tamara fled years ago after realizing there was life outside of the dull boring backwater she grew up in.
But not only has Tamara returned home, she's returned a different girl following cosmetic surgery for a gigantic nose issue.
Her arrival stirs up many feelings - a long dormant relationship with local handyman Andy (Luke Evans), a jealousy among the writers who frequent a retreat, as well as hatred from two of the local school girls after Drewe begins a relationship with a rocker (Dominic Cooper) adored by many the teen girl.
And things come to a head with the return - not all of them in a good way.
Tamara Drewe is a mixed film.
On the one hand, it's obvious that this version sticks very closely to the source material (with many of the characters looking incredibly close to what was inked on the page) and on the other, it's such a mish mash of so many different kinds of films with a central character whom you're kind of loathe to really route for. Plus throw in a mix of themes - romance, drama, kitchen sink dramas et al and it's an odd hotpot of narrative you end up with.
Arterton is good as Drewe - but the role calls for her to be alluring seductress, lost little girl and victim as well - and it's a lot which means you don't really end up routing for the heroine of the piece.
There's little real edge to the story with every character having a facet of their life which makes them unlikeable to varying - Andy the local handyman is weak-willed; Beth (the wonderful Tamsin Greig coming soon in TV ONE's new comedy Episodes) is spineless for not standing upto her crime writer husband's affairs; Ben (Dominic Cooper) is self centred as the rocker.
All in all, they're a fairly feckless bunch of characters and ones whom you don't really care about.

Tamara Drewe brilliantly captures the small countryside mentality as well as the simmering resentments, but there's something uniquely English about the portrayal which means some of the subtleties may be lost on other audiences.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

In A Better World: Movie Review

In A Better World: Movie Review

In A Better World
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen
Director: Susanne Bier
After snagging a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and with an Oscar nomination in tow, it would appear In a Better World can do no wrong.
It opens in Africa with Persbrandt's Anton working as a doctor in a field hospital and dealing with the fall out of a warlord and combat.
Anton is the pacifist, preferring to take the moral high ground rather than strike the first blow - but it's more difficult for his son Elias back in Denmark. He's bullied by the school kids and a bit of a loner.
One day, new kid on the block, Christian defends him - and a friendship forms. But as the friendship grows, Christian, who's recently lost his mother to cancer and is full of anger plots revenge on those who would do him and his friends wrong.
And it all escalates with devastating consequences.

In a Better World is a powerhouse, slow burning drama.

With evocative cutaways (either in Africa or Denmark), there's a real brooding intensity throughout - and while Persbrandt is good as Anton, the film belongs to the kids - William Jøhnk Nielsen as Christian and Markus Rygaard as Elias.

Both bring a real intensity to their brooding - Nielsen's particularly subtle in his role as a kid who's experienced loss and grief and doesn't know where to channel it.

Expect to become quickly engrossed in this drama - it's multi-layered, subtle and deeply rewarding. As the emotional tense pressure cooker boils up, you will be moved by the powerful punch it packs at the end.

And it will probably be clearing some space for Oscar very soon.

City Island: DVD Review

City Island: DVD Review

City Island
Released by Madman
Rating: M

City Island sees the welcome return of Andy Garcia to the big screen.

He's Vincent Rizzo, a corrections officer and the head of the Rizzo family who live in City Island just over from New York's Bronx district.

Married to his beautiful wife Joyce (ER's Margulies) and with two kids, the Rizzos are dysfunctional in the extreme.

One day at work, Vince finds out one of the inmates is his son Tony from a previous relationship - and upon learning of Tony's mother's death, and without telling him why, Vince brings Tony back to the Rizzo home.

But this generous action serves only as a catalyst to bring the carefully spun web of lies crashing down.

City Island is a delightful treat - primarily because of Garcia. He's so solid in everything he does that when he gets a chance to lead a film you almost forget what a wonderful character actor he is. As the head of the household, he personifies charm and despite the melodramatic nature of the plot, he keeps it all together.

Along with Julianna Margulies, this film has a wonderful cast - including Alan Arkin as Vince's acting class teacher - and a script which is grounded in a degree of reality. It's also a lot funnier than expected.

Extras: Commentary, mini featurette and deleted scenes - a reasonable offering

Rating: 7/10 

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Sanctum 3D: Movie Review

Sanctum 3D: Movie Review

Sanctum 3D
Rating: 3/10
Cast: Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield
Director: Alister Grierson
Inspired by a true story, Sanctum 3D is the tale of a group of explorers in Papua New Guinea who are checking out one of the biggest caves in the world.
They've been at it for a while - and are determined to find out how the water in the Esa-Ala cave system makes its way to the sea.
But a group of five of them - a playboy millionaire and his girlfriend, a father and son (who have a strained relationship) and a former diver who doesn't dive anymore - are in deep water when a cyclone unexpectedly blows in, trapping them below ground.
With no other option but to find a way out, the gang find tempers fraying and obstacles in their path as they try to make it out alive....
Firstly, let's get this out of the way - the film comes emblazoned with the words James Cameron and 3D, giving you a sense of expectation before you go in.
My advice - forget that - because Cameron only executive produced the flick and helped with some of the technology.
This thriller may have some good tense moments here and there - but with cheesy, clunky dialogue such as: "This cave's not gonna beat me" and "Life's not a dress rehearsal", you know you're clearly in C list disaster movie territory.
Richard Roxburgh is suitably gruff as Frank, the leader of the expedition whose failed relationship with his son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) doesn't quite provide some of the requisite tension throughout. It's far too obvious what's going to happen between them and there's little to leave you rooting for their survival.
Perhaps worse though is over the top Ioan Gruffudd who seems to spend most of the film simply SHOUTING his dialogue to try and convey frustration and emotion - goodness knows what they were thinking on that front.
Coupled with characters who don't listen to the experts (and is therefore marked for death early on), the script really needed an overhaul before it went into commission.
I will concede though that the underwater sequences are beautifully shot, with the 3D bringing to life the aquatic habitat - and early on, there's a certain amount of nervy claustrophobic moments as the mainly inexperienced divers go deeper.

The problem is that Sanctum becomes as much of an ordeal for the audience as it does for the characters - and with a lack of compassion or sympathy for any of them, you're really denied the chance to care about whether they survive or not.

Going The Distance: DVD Review

Going The Distance: DVD Review

Going The Distance
Released by Warner Home Video
Rating: R16
So here it is - another rom com tale of boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love and obstacle in their way.

In Going The Distance, Justin Long is Garrett, who's just split up with his girlfriend on her birthday - heading out with his mates Box and Dan (a very funny duo who bring the comedy), Garrett meets up with Drew Barrymore's Erin, an intern who's only in town for six weeks.

Despite that, the pair start seeing each other and fall in love - however, when it comes time for Erin to move back to the other side of the States, they decide they'll continue the relationship in spite of the distance.

Fresh, funny and grounded in reality, Going The Distance is a welcome addition to the rom com genre, one which has become synonymous with light fluff which is mawkish and sentimental.

With a witty script delivered by two very amiable leads who have great chemistry, all of the characters in this - including Erin's uptight and anally retentive sister (played by Christina Applegate) feel real and grounded in truth. Sure there's a hint of more adult material in the script but it's that kind of banter and humour which gives the script its sparkle and helps it retain its sense of reality.

Going the Distance is a welcome tonic to the romcom genre - and one which will be enjoyed by both male and female.
Extras: Only a few additional scenes. Disappointing.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Other Guys: DVD Review

The Other Guys: DVD Review

The Other Guys

Rating: M
Released by Sony

Will Ferrell reteams with director Adam McKay (who made Ferrell famous in Anchorman, Talladega nights and Step Brothers) for this buddy cop comedy.

Ferrell plays Detective Allen Gamble, a mild mannered desk bound cop whose partner Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) is an uptight ready for action, desperate to impress cop.

The pair suddenly find themselves thrust into the limelight and into a major job when their department hot shots (excellently played by Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) are taken off an investigation (to say why would spoil one of the film's best gags).

But when these "other guys" are given the chance to step up and impress the department captain (played with great comic chops by Michael Keaton) by looking into the case of billionaire David Ershon (Coogan), not everything goes to plan.

It's another case of check your brain at the door and get ready for some silly chuckles with The Other Guys. If you do that, you'll be guaranteed a great time in the company of the hilariously deadpan Will Ferrell.

If you want to just laugh stupidly for reasons that you don't always know why, then The Other Guys is another good solid addition to Ferrell's comic contribution.

Extras: An extended cut.

Rating: 6/10

Eat Pray Love: DVD Review

Eat Pray Love: DVD Review

Eat Pray Love
Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Entertainment

From the incredibly popular book by Elizabeth Gilbert and from the director who brought us Nip/Tuck and Glee, Ryan Murphy, 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 and decides to split from hubby and head around the world for a year to find herself again.
Stopping off in Italy, India and Bali, Gilbert seeks nourishment of the physical and spiritual kind - as well as emotional healing too.

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.

But 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 particularly more so in an extended cut found on this release.

Extras: Directors Cut and Theatrical version.

Rating: 4/10 

Friday, 11 February 2011

No Strings Attached: Movie Review

No Strings Attached: Movie Review

No Strings Attached
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline
Director: Ivan Reitman
Following on from the drama of Black Swan, Natalie Portman heads into lighter territory with this sex buddy romcom.
She stars as Emma, a girl who's known Kutcher's Adam for several years. Adam has always liked her but the pair never quite got together.
But years later, the pair meet up again and decide to embark on a "friends with benefits" relationship.
However, the inevitable rears its head and Adam wants more but Emma is happier in her no strings attached lifestyle....are they destined to never be a couple?
No Strings Attached isn't half bad - given you already know the ending - and most of it is due to the humour and performance of Portman.
With occasionally crude moments, but plenty of laughs and a script which sparkles with one liners throughout, there's certainly enough to get you engaged - and keep you there.
Portman is great dealing with what was that inevitable twist at end but she shows a great light touch for laughs (no doubt after all her work on us comedy Saturday Night Live) and really brings life to the emotionally repressed medic who puts everything ahead of her own lifestyle and heart.
For once, Kutcher isn't bad either giving a bit of depth to Adam and a vulnerability which sees him finally playing someone you can sympathise with.
The rest of the supporting cast - including Kevin Kline as a monstrous showbiz father, give the film a well rounded feel.



Perfectly titled, No Strings Attached is a light romcom which, you too can have a friends with benefits relationship with too - just perfect in time for Valentine's Day.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

127 Hours: Movie Review

127 Hours: Movie Review

127 Hours
Rating: 8/10
Cast: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn
Director: Danny Boyle
So another Oscar contender heads for the big screen.
This time, James Franco gives an Oscar-nominated performance as Aron Ralston, an American climber whose trip into the wild in 2003 changed his life forever when he became trapped down a canyon, with his arm crushed against a wall with a boulder.
Ralston heads out to the canyons on a Friday night in April 2003, not telling family or friends where he's going but simply out on the quest for adrenaline.
He meets two girls (Mara and Tamblyn) before his life changes when he falls down a Utah canyon and is trapped by a boulder.
Over five days, his mental and physical health take their toll as Ralston reflects back on his life and faces the ultimate look at his own mortality.
127 Hours is claustrophobic, uncomfortable viewing in the extreme - thanks to one scene (more on that later).
But it's also terrific, with an undeniable energy and a mesmerising performance from Franco as Ralston.
Given Franco's on screen for most of the film solo, he really needed to pull out all the stops to chart the mental decline, hallucinations, guilt, and memories that Ralston goes through, and he delivers in spades in this total sensory experience of a film.
Every moment, as the camera tracks his wearying expressions, you can't tear your eyes away from Franco; partially that's because of the inevitability of knowing (slight spoiler ahead) he hacks off his own arm with a blunt knife to escape.
Yet it's also a career best for Franco, who has presence aplenty and makes Ralston a multi-faceted character who you care about - despite the guy's fallacies, arrogance and cockiness. If Franco's great, the other star is director Danny Boyle; his visual touches, the simply brilliant soundtrack, the use of flashbacks and memories (as well as premonitions) just means you really can't stop watching what's unfolding in front of you. It's a mightily impressive look into the mind of someone who's falling apart and facing an horrific future.
So to that scene - the one which this film will become known for; the removal of Ralston's arm at his own hand.
It's uncomfortable viewing but it's compelling too - I don't remember the last time I sat in a cinema seat squirming and with nowhere to go, but it's so well done (thanks to bone-crunching sound effects) that it delivers the shock it needs and gives you the emotional and physical release you need after 80 minutes' worth of waiting.
The only real criticism is the jarring final shot of the real Ralston sat on a couch with his wife - it's a real clunker and is becoming this year's fad for true stories. It's really disappointing because it's almost as if the director's saying: "Look we told you this was a true story - and here's the proof." It's narratively flawed and really detracts from what Franco's delivered over the past 90 minutes.

Despite this one flaw, 127 Hours is gut-wrenchingly good, a compelling watch and an unbelievable performance from Franco.

Gnomeo and Juliet: Movie Review

Gnomeo and Juliet: Movie Review

Gnomeo and Juliet
Rating: 7/10
Voice Cast: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, Ashley Jensen, Michael Caine, Matt Lucas
Director: Kelly Asbury
Romeo and Juliet - told in a gnomes' setting - with music (essentially his greatest hits) by Elton John.
I can tell you've already decided to divert your attention away but wait, come back.
Set in the back gardens of two rival neighbours, the gnomes have been at war with each other since forever. On the one side, the blue-hatted gnomes and on the other, the reds.
But when Gnomeo (McAvoy) bumps into Juliet (Blunt), the pair fall in love and decide to carry on regardless of the ramifications of their relationship.
However, as the feud between the two sides intensifies, Gnomeo and Juliet find themselves right in the middle of it.
Gnomeo and Juliet is a colourfully garish diversion.
It's also a little bit smart too - with the opening packing in a few adult jokes or nods only Shakespeare fans may get, there are signs the humour is aimed at all the family. Visual gags like a banana on a laptop, as opposed to an apple, are prevalent - and they're used as much as a few lines of Shakespeare here and there to provide homage to the source material.
With a flighty, zesty script and an infinitely top-notch vocal cast (Ashley Jensen as Juliet's frog is an insane stand-out), the film crackles along apace and with an eye on the lunatic.
Throw in Elton John's best songs (I'll even forgive the Saturday chorus refrain being changed to "Gnomeo" during Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting) and this is a relative joy, which only dips a little towards the end.
Kids will love it; parents won't find their patience too sorely tested - and even purists of Romeo and Juliet will appreciate the respect with which the writers have treated the story.

Gnomeo and Juliet is great lightweight family fodder - with completely nutty moments, it's good fun all round.

Fair Game: Movie Review

Fair Game: Movie Review

Fair Game
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, David Andrews
Director: Doug Liman
Naomi Watts and Sean Penn reteam for a third time in this movie based on a true story.
Watts stars as CIA agent Valerie Plame, who works at the highest level within the government. The film begins in the aftermath of September the 11th, with the CIA trying to substantiate claims over who's behind the terror attacks and get the evidence needed to support the US government's stance on a war with Iraq.
But when Plame's husband, Joe Wilson (a fiery and defiant Sean Penn) writes an opinion piece in the New York Times in 2003 that the intelligence was manipulated to fit the White House, Plame's cover is blown.
She's revealed to the world as a CIA agent, endangering operations she has in play and lives she has promised to protect.
Not only does it endanger everything she's worked for, but the personal cost on the duo and their young family is crippling.
Fair Game is intelligent film-making, blessed with strong central performances.
While it takes a while to get going, the clever use of archival news footage from that time within the film sees a taut political drama start to unfold. The shaky camera work adds a grittiness (and at times, it must be said, a distraction) but it's really Watts and Penn who shine here. Penn, in particular, gets to vent his spleen well in the character who rages against the injustice - but a more quiet and restrained Watts brings the emotional intensity needed to balance that.
The initial humour ends very quickly as the story changes (on returning from a fact-finding mission to Niger, Wilson's character says he "doesn't feel very 007 right now") and soon, the drama has taken the front stage.

Engrossing and with an ending that certainly packs a powerful emotional punch, Fair Game is an interesting and gripping look into the old David and Goliath argument - and the personal toll beliefs can actually have on those involved.

Me and Orson Welles: DVD Review

Me and Orson Welles: DVD Review

Me and Orson Welles
Released by Madman Entertainment

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.

Extras: Interview with original theatre players, star interviews, trailers and obligatory deleted scenes

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Being Human Series One and Two: DVD Review

Being Human Series One and Two: DVD Review

Being Human
Series One and Series Two
Released by Roadshow Entertainment
Rating: R16
A story about three housemates, trying to live their lives as normally as possible sounds particularly dull.
But in this series, the trio involved are a werewolf, a ghost and a vampire.
And these two series are examples of the very best of British.
Series one introduces the gang; George, a werewolf who's struggling to get by and find his place in the world - as well as love; Annie, a ghost, whose death is the result of a shocking twist in her relationship and Mitchell, a brooding vampire, who's lost the taste for blood.
Series two ups the ante dramatically as George battles with his demons and guilt over infecting his girlfriend with the werewolf gene; Mitchell has problems with the vampire community and poor Annie finds life in the spirit world can be very very tough.
Throw in a battle for vampire supremacy, hints of a centuries old fight between werewolves and the vamps, as well as worries over what the neighbours think and you may be wondering what the appeal of this series is.
Well, quite simply it's in the masterful writing, wonderful acting and clever characterization. It's an appealing premise which just works from the get-go; there's no clever set up and it feels real because of it. You really do root for the trio as they face what seem insurmountable odds because of who they are - and their desire to just get by.
The ending of Series two is particularly heart wrenching and fans will be clamouring for more - be warned though; once you start Being Human, you may find the compulsive side of your nature coming out - and you'll have to watch it all in one go.
Extras: Series one has profiles, interviews and behind the scenes stuff - nothing on series two.

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

American Dad Volume Five: DVD Review

American Dad Volume Five: DVD Review

American Dad - Volume 5
Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Entertainment


So the over the top animated adventures of CIA Agent Stan Smith continues in this latest release which collects together some eight hours of entertainment.

A little more cohesive than Family Guy even though it's from the same creative team, American Dad is nonetheless equally as entertaining.

Episodes include Steve, the son, running amok at a bar mitzvah; Francine discovering she was a second choice for wife, and Stan building a DeLorean (the car from Back To The Future).

It's insanity and hilarity in equal doses although after a while, the humour does veer toward the predictable.

Extras: Deleted scenes (numbering over a 100) and commentaries - a reasonable if unspectacular bunch.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Wild Target: Movie Review

Wild Target: Movie Review

Wild Target
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint, Eileen Atkins, Martin Freeman, Rupert Everett
Director: Jonathan Lynn
The tone for this film is set with the opening sequence.
Bill Nighy, dressed in a suit and sporting a dodgy looking mo, walks into a building. Seconds later as a man falls from a great height, Nighy briskly walks off.
Nighy is Victor Maynard, a 54 year old life long assassin, who's hired to take out Emily Blunt's Rose, a con artist who rips off a local gangster played by Rupert Everett.
But after Maynard fluffs the initial attempt on Rose's life, the gangster sends in his goons to finish the job - and Maynard.
Things get even more complicated when Maynard runs into Rupert Grint's orphan Tony as he's about to kill Rose. Terry ends up saving all of their lives and the trio's forced on the run until it all blows over.
Wild Target is a quirky style farce which channels early Ealing comedies. There's dry humour aplenty to begin with and clearly something a little different to start off with.
Nighy is mightily impressive as Maynard; his unmoving expression and poker face give some of his actions a more comedic feel. Along with his tall slender frame and suit, at times, he feels like John Cleese about to launch into the Ministry of Silly Walks. He's starchy and stiff which makes his eventual thawing a little more plausible - although once again, Nighy gets to dance (it seems to be the law that in most of his films, he gets to boogie.)
Emily Blunt and Rupert Grint offer good solid support - Blunt's Rose is a mischievous impish thief who doesn't realize until too late the trouble she's in. And Grint brings a bit of humanity to the orphan who's taken under Victor's wing.

The problem with Wild Target is that despite the talented cast, this feels a little too farcical (albeit very funny in places) to be completely successful. It doesn't offer anything radically new in terms of story and gags (an intelligence lacking hitman eats pot pourri mistaking it for a snack) and because of that, it doesn't soar as much as it could.

True Grit: Movie Review

True Grit: Movie Review

True Grit
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin
Director: The Coen Brothers
Jeff Bridges stars as Rooster Cogburn in this remake of the 1969 Western which originally starred John Wayne.
Cogburn's a one-eyed US Marshall who's charged by Hailee Steinfeld's teenaged Mattie Ross to bring her father's killer, Tom Chaney (Brolin) to justice.
Initially reticent, Cogburn takes on the job - and ends up teaming up with Texas Ranger La Beouf (Damon) who's also tracking Chaney.
The three of them head out on the trail - with Ross determined to make sure Cogburn brings her father's killer home to face justice rather than see him swing in Texas (La Beouf's wishes).
But when Mattie accidentally stumbles across Chaney, the quest suddenly becomes deadly.
True Grit is a straight forward Western, which while sublime in places, in my humble opinion, is nowhere as outstanding as it's been made out to be. (Although I'm probably against the tide on this given the Academy's bestowed it with seven nominations).
Bridges and Damon are good but all in honesty, they're acted off the screen by Steinfeld, whose performance is astoundingly star making. Her Mattie is precocious, head strong and described by one character as "hard as nails". And yet once or twice, when the bravado slips, Steinfeld brings to the role a steely vulnerability and a humanity which it's hard not to warm to - or be impressed by.
Ethan Coen's said that if the kid didn't work in this film, there'd be no film - and he's completely right. Possibly that's some of the division I felt over this - Steinfeld's so good that Bridges and Damon seem merely adequate.
There's some of the usual Coen imagery here in the unexpected - a man wearing a bear skin walks up on a horse, a dead man swings from the trees in a misty forest; it's a film redolent of lasting imagery and sly humour.
And yet, this straight laced, at times slow, tale of 3 people searching for something didn't quite move me as much as I was expecting.

The reason to see True Grit is Steinfeld - she's a star in the making and her part in this film will be the best teen performance you see this year.