Coming soon...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

AUSTRALIA (2008) - Baz Luhrmann

If Baz Luhrmann will be remembered for one thing, it will be for the striking visual style he injects into his films. While Luhrmann has only so far directed four films, he has become known as a director of big, epic, romantic films. Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! were highly successful films that pitted two people from opposite backgrounds who find love despite the odds. Not much has changed with Luhrmann’s latest, an epic tale of romance set against the backdrop of World War 2 and how it affected Darwin and the nation of Australia.

Lady Sarah Ashley is married to a wealthy landowner who is living in Australia looking after his cattle ranch. Lady Ashley travels to Australia to oversee the sale of Faraway Downs. She is met in Darwin by Drover, a tough Australia cattle drover who will escort Lady Ashley to Faraway Downs. When Lady Ashley arrives at Faraway Downs, she finds her husband murdered, supposedly at the hands of an Aboriginal man named King George. Her land is under threat from Neil Fletcher, a man once employed by her husband. Fletcher wants the land for himself. Lady Ashley has little choice but to drive 2000 cattle across the Northern Territory to Darwin. She takes with her a half-Aboriginal boy named Nullah and enlists the help of a reluctant Drover.

When I was sitting watching the opening scenes of Australia, I found myself watching a film I wasn’t really prepared for. I had prepared myself for something more... serious. But having thought about it, the film fits in exactly with Baz Luhrmann’s style. While the film deals with serious matters, the film feels like it belongs to another era. It feels like it’s a film that was made in the forties or fifties, but with today’s technology and budgets. Which is what I guess Luhrmann was going for. The film does have the feel of a John Huston epic. There are huge, open vistas, a rich romantic plot and clearly defined heroes and villains. There’s no room for ambiguity here.

However, Australia is quite a flawed epic. While Romeo + Juliet and in particular, Moulin Rouge! were quite solid films, Australia falls down a few areas. It’s a long film. Very long. And in areas, you can’t help feeling that the film would have benefited from a bit of editing in the script stage. One thing that Luhrmann could really have cut back on is cliché. The film lathers on the schmaltz very thickly and thus, falls into a few obvious cheese traps. From the opening few scenes, you pretty much know exactly where the story is going, and surprises are few and far between. Having said that, the film doesn’t suffer really badly from these faults. If you can overlook these problems, the epic nature of the film will suck you in.

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman are cast as the two lovers from opposite worlds, Lady Ashley and the man known only as Drover. Each of them are suitably different that it’s believable they’re from opposite worlds. Nicole Kidman’s not an actress I’d rush to see. It seems the woman has no soul. It was hard to see her as a romantic lead since her last few films have required her to be cold. However here, she’s a lot easier to warm to. Jackman, on the other hand, once again delivers a great performance. While the film doesn’t require the depth Jackman has shown in The Prestige or The Fountain, Jackman can play tough and he does so here. But the real heart and soul of the film lies in the character Nullah, played by newcomer, Brandon Walters. Walters is the incredibly optimistic and playful Aboriginal child who brings and ties Lady Ashley and Drover together. It’s a great performance from the kid and is the soul of the film.

While Australia is flawed, it’s still very entertaining. It’s huge, epic and hopelessly romantic. And while some of the special effects are a little poor, this is due to the constraints of making a film outside the Hollywood studio system. We’re too used to spit and polish and poor story, but Australia overcomes these minor flaws to remain faithful to it’s goal. Australia looks gorgeous and it’s full of compelling if somewhat clichéd characters. It’s not quite as good as Luhrmann’s other work. But it’s still great to watch.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

YES MAN (2008) - Peyton Reed

Jim Carrey is one of those actors that polarises audiences. Some hate his frantic limb-flailing schtick, while others love him for it. I have to say, I fall into the later category. But I think Carrey’s done his best work when playing against type in films such as Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, The Majestic or Man On The Moon. I haven’t really enjoyed a Carrey film since Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events. But this month Carrey’s back to comedy with Yes Man.

Carl Allen’s a pretty miserable guy. His wife left him. He can’t get a girlfriend. He hates his job. And his relationship with his friends is at breaking point. His misery comes from his unwillingness to get out of his routine and try something new. Allen runs into an old friend who has changed his life due to a self-improvement program that teaches that ‘yes’ is the key to happiness in life. Allen is challenged by Yes guru Terrence Bundley to say yes to every single request presented to him. At first Allen is dubious, but as he agrees to everything asked of him, he starts to see a real change in his life.

This is a Carrey comedy that doesn’t fit in with the mad-cap films he’s done like Dumb And Dumber or The Cable Guy. It doesn’t really feel like a Carrey vehicle. Instead, it’s a romantic comedy (but not really) that features Carrey. Which will be a relief for some. Sure, there are moments of classic Carrey. One particularly funny scene features a very drunk Allen getting into a fight with another bar patron. But overall, this is a comedy that really could have starred Carrey, Steve Carrell or Jack Black. It’s pretty generic. But the writing is pretty good so it’s not awful.

Carrey is his usual great self. Carrey’s a very good actor. He proved he has the chops in his more serious roles. When he’s required to be dull and dour, he can pull it off just as much as the more mad-cap moments. What makes his character work is that Carrey and Zooey Deschanel have a lot of chemistry. She plays the love interest, Allison, a woman who is every bit the opposite of Allen. Deschanel was awful earlier in the year in The Happening. But that really seems to be down to M. Night Shyamalan’s direction. Here, she’s a lot better. One of the highlights is Rhys Darby who plays Allen’s boss, Norman. Darby’s one of the stars of HBO’s Flight Of The Conchords. And while Norman is essentially a more optimistic version of Murray Hewitt, Darby’s character from the show, it’s still great to see Darby get some big screen exposure.

Yes Man isn’t the greatest comedy in the world. And it certainly isn’t Carrey’s best. But it’s a funny movie with a quite optimistic and uplifting message. Probably more suited for DVD than cinema, Yes Man is entertaining, funny and unoffensive.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Tis the season, and all that, so I thought I'd present my own personal top 5 Christmas or Christmas related movies. These are the five movies that must be watched during the season, and while they don't necessarily feature Santa or the other fella who's associated with Christmas... what's his name... Jesus, they are set during the holidays and are strictly reserved for December. Well, except for one particular movie.

1. It's A Wonderful Life (1946) - Frank Capra.

Come on, was it ever going to be anything else?! The quintessential movie for restoring faith in humanity and joy to all men. If you aren't moved by this movie, you have no soul. Fact.

2. Die Hard (1988) - John McTiernan.

A bunch of hi-tech Eurotrash thieves want to steal millions in bearer bonds. But the monkey in the wrench, the fly in the ointment, John McClane is on hand to stop them. Unfortunately for McClane, he just wanted to spend Christmas patching up his marriage.

3. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) - Henry Selick.

A twisted, wonderfully idiosyncratic Christmas movie, Burton's story of the king of Halloween wanting a piece of Christmas is unlike any other movie for the period.

4. The Snowman (1982) - Dianne Jackson.

I work in animation. I know how difficult paper animation is. The Snowman is a brilliantly written and made. A very underrated achievement. And David Bowie in a sweater.

5. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) - Jeremiah S. Chechik.

Guilty pleasure. I make no apologies for it. Hilarious in every way.

Monday, December 22, 2008

LAKEVIEW TERRACE (2008) - Neil LaBute

Neil LaBute was once known as a director who made gritty, misogynistic films that definitely weren’t family fare. His films were dark and menacing. So when it came to an unnecessary remake of the classic Wicker Man, LaBute seemed like a choice that may bring that menace to the film. Unfortunately for all involved, The Wicker Man remake was a complete disaster, widely derided for it’s unintentionally hilarious moments and ridiculously over the top performance by Nicholas Cage. LaBute needed a film to redeem him, and thus, we have Lakeview Terrace.

Chris and Lisa Mattson are a recently married couple. They buy a house in a part of Los Angeles that is well-off but infamous for the Rodney King incident of 1991. The couple move in next door to Abel Turner, widower and father of two. Turner is a Los Angeles cop by day and neighbourhood watchman and less than ideal neighbour by night. Turner is incensed when he oversees Chris and Lisa having sex in their backyard pool. He’s not angry at their antics. It’s the fact that Chris and Lisa are an interracial couple that causes his consternation. And so Turner embarks on a campaign of intimidation in an attempt to drive the couple away from the neighbourhood he has lived in for twenty years.

Lakeview Terrace could easily be seen as a pretty average thriller. The premise has been done before and is pretty familiar. However, the protagonists and their motivations are different here and that’s what sets the film apart from other similar films. In Lakeview Terrace, the antagonist is Samuel L. Jackson. And thus, the film raises questions that wouldn’t have been too easily derided had Turner been a white man. We now live in a world where the United States has it’s first elected black president, so Lakeview Terrace’s timing couldn’t be better. It’s just a shame for the film that it isn’t a widely-seen film. The film plays on the notion of white man’s guilt, which really emasculates Chris’ character, played by Patrick Wilson. He’s almost helpless to defend his home against Turner, who sees his anger not as intimidation but as righteous indignation.

The film draws it’s strength from a wonderfully creepy performance by Samuel L. Jackson. When it comes to roles, Jackson is bit like the man from Del Monte. He say yes... to literally every role. His performances can sometimes be flat and dull. But when a film requires more, Jackson can deliver. And he does so here. Turner’s definitely not someone I’d like to mess with. He’s creepy, intimidating and cold, and has the muscle to back it up. Jackson literally seethes with anger and looks like he’s ready to explode at any given moment. Compared to Turner, Wilson’s Chris Mattson is even meeker than he would seem against a regular guy. But Wilson’s got the meekness maintained at the right level. You know he’ll stand up to you. However, he won’t get violent. It’s something that Turner exploits throughout the entire film. Kerry Washington plays Lisa Mattson. It’s not an exceptional role, but Washington does enough to play the wife who loves her husband, but still recognises the difference in their cultures.

The film isn’t perfect. In the last act, it does resort to the conclusion you’d expect from a thriller like this. It’s a shame because you hope throughout the film that it won’t go down that road. Having said that, it’s not a bad thriller. Had it been another actor in the role of Abel Turner, I don’t think the film would have worked. Jackson does elevate it to something more than it should be. For LaBute, it almost makes up for the incredible disaster that was The Wicker Man. Almost.


Monday, December 15, 2008

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008) - Scott Derrickson

I saw the original The Day The Earth Stood Still years ago. I was a young teenager, and while I had the whole ‘that looks so fake’ attitude, I still enjoyed the film for what it was. The story was great and it had that whole 1950’s innocent attitude to it. It’s a sci-fi classic and remains so to this day. So why remake it? Why indeed. With the disappointing invasion movies of the reprehensible Independence Day and the strictly average War Of The Worlds, it seems that the invasion movie really isn't that viable an idea. But that’s what we have in Scott Derrickson’s remake, released this week.

Helen Benson is a molecular biologist. One evening, she is called upon by the US government to come to a gathering of great scientific minds. Being an emergency, she is told nothing. However, it seems that something on the outskirts of the solar system is on a collision course with the Earth. The scientists are drafted to organise the aftermath of the impact. The unfortunate thing for the scientists, and the citizens of Manhattan (the impact site) is, there is only 78 minutes to impact. The object doesn’t smash into the Earth, but lands in Central Park. From the object, a humanoid emerges. He is shot, grabbed and experimented on in order to see what he wants. But this stranger is a harbinger of doom. Humans have damaged the earth almost to the point of no return and the aliens are here to wipe out the human race and save the Earth from her most advanced species. Benson does her best to convince Klaatu not to destroy the human race, but the time of destruction is rapidly approaching.

The original The Day The Earth Stood Still is a pretty iconic movie. The image of the robotic Gort standing guard over the ship he and Klaatu arrived on Earth in is a classic sci-fi image. So why bother remaking a film which is essentially a classic? There are some ideas in the updated version that are relevant to today. The film raises some points about the environment that are relevant to today. We’re poisoning the Earth and wiping out species at an alarming rate. Yet if even something as seemingly irrelevant as the bee were wiped out, we’d die off as a species. But could the world survive without humans? Absolutely. So we’re privileged to have this planet as our home. This is the message that is peppered throughout the screenplay.

Central to the film is the role of Klaatu. This character is an alien living in a human body, existing in a world that to it, is alien. To achieve this unworldly performance, Derrickson cast the similarly alien-named Keanu Reeves to play Klaatu. And it’s a brilliant casting choice. Reeves, while never destined to achieve Lawrence Olivier-levels of acting prowess, does have a talent to play characters who are out of their comfort zone. Reeves proved this with The Matrix, where he was required to stand around looking like he was struggling to comprehend what’s going on around him. And he did it brilliantly. Here, he plays a character seemingly bored and unfazed by human beings. And this he yet again achieves without much effort. Jennifer Connelly does a serviceable job as Helen Benson. She leads Klaatu about the place and fears for her adopted son. Her son, played by Will Smith’s son, Jaden Smith, is by far the most irritating element of the film. He gets everyone into trouble and yet prances about on his high-horse demanding death to the outsider. I found myself praying for his untimely and painfully drawn-out death. Kathy Bates and John Cleese also pop up for two roles that are essentially cameos, playing conscience of the military and thoughtful wisdom, respectfully.

The special effects in the film are suitably special. Gort, who this time is G.O.R.T., looks pretty spiffy. Less clunky than his 1950’s counterpart, and technologically organic for the 21st Century. The film’s trailer is cut as a big special-effects blockbuster, but this is something of a misnomer. There are only a few big sequences. This is more of a drama than a blockbuster, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some will want more action. But it would seem contrived.

While The Day The Earth Stood Still won’t set the world on fire, it’s a pretty entertaining 104 minutes. While purists will balk at the desecration of their classic, this remake isn’t as terrible as some remakes in the past have been (Hallowe’en and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, I’m looking at you), but it’s nowhere near as good a remake as John Carpenter’s The Thing. The strength of the film really comes from Keanu Reeves who’s performance is ironically devoid of emotion. Sure, it’s throw-away. But the Day The Earth Stood Still is at least worth a look if you’ve nothing else left to see at the cinema.


BODY OF LIES (2008) - Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott was once, and still is to some respect, one of the greatest directors working in the industry. In the seventies and eighties, he created some of cinema’s most iconic worlds and directed some classic films. They were few and far between, but when a Ridley Scott film arrived in the cinemas, people sat up and paid attention. However, in recent times, Scott’s output hasn’t really matched his earlier work. In between some pretty decent films (Black Hawk Down, American Gangster), Scott’s films just weren’t didn’t seem to live up to his status. The films became more frequent, but the quality was up and down. Body Of Lies, released this month unfortunately follows this trend.

Roger Ferris is a CIA agent stationed in Iraq. While on assignment, Ferris uncovers evidence linking terrorist leader Al-Saleem with a series of bombings in London. Ferris devises a plan to infiltrate Al-Saleem’s network using contacts under his superior Ed Hoffman, stationed in CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and Jordanian Chief of Security, Hani Salaam. However, as Ferris gets drawn into the case, he finds his loyalties divided, and his life at risk. Things go from bad to worse as Ferris finds himself falling in love with Iranian nurse Aisha and his case puts her too at risk.

A thick and politically-charged plot, two stellar leads in Leonardo Di Caprio and Russell Crowe, and director Ridley Scott at the helm, Body Of Lies has all the elements for something great. So why does the film feel totally underwhelming? Firstly, Ridley Scott is a master of creating worlds. Alien and Blade Runner are so visually unique and have rarely been matched in terms of style and production. And yet, here in Body Of Lies, it feels like the Ridley Scott who created these worlds is nowhere to be seen. Sure, it’s a slick movie. But films with high production values and a talented director are always going to be slick. Comes with the freedom of cash. There’s nothing outstanding about the film and even the action scenes, which are few and far between aren’t that outstanding.

The performances are rock solid. You can’t really fault them. DiCaprio separates himself even more from the teen icon status he achieved with the truly awful Titanic. Despite his youthful looks, DiCaprio can pull badass off, and he does so here. Russell Crowe does that thing he does every so often to get into a different, non-butch role. He piles on weight. Fat Crowe is just as good as trim Crowe, so it baffles why he feels this is necessary. His Ed Hoffman is a pretty unlikable guy. And I suppose if Crowe feels the belly helped him get into this role, so be it. But the stand out performance is by Mark Strong as Hani Salaam. Strong’s been making quite a name for himself recently, and he excels here. His Salaam is slick and charismatic. But you know underneath his slick exterior brews a creature of real danger. We rarely see this side of him, but we don’t need to. Strong makes sure we know how dangerous a guy he is without needing to resort to stereotypical evil twitches.

The story in Body Of Lies is pretty intricate. There’s a lot going on, and plenty to keep your brain ticking over. Yet at the same time, it’s nothing outstanding. If you took out the stars, and took away Scott’s slick direction, it’d just be a pretty standard thriller. It just feels like an average film with really big names attached. And a huge let-down is the ending. The film seemed to be going in a bold direction, setting up something quite shocking. But at the last moment, it took a u-turn, letting what had just happened down and confusing plot elements that had taken place earlier in the film.

It’s not a terrible film, but I do feel Body Of Lies could have been a lot more. Take out the stars and there wouldn’t be much. Ridley Scott’s recent output hasn’t been groundbreaking, and this film certainly doesn’t buck the trend. Nothing terrible, but nothing particularly special either. Letter to Ridley Scott’s parents- Ridley must do better apply himself more.


Claws are out...

After the awful conclusion to the X-Men trilogy, the franchise seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. However, taking the character everybody wanted to see, the powers that be saw fit to give Logan his own film. Thus, we have X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The film gives us the back story to Wolverine, glimpses of which were seen in the X-Men films. The hotly-awaited film hits screens next summer.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Arnie-less Terminator trailer

We finally get our first proper glimpse of one of the most hotly debated films of 2009, Terminator Salvation. The trailer was released last night and, I must admit, it doesn't look as bad as I thought it would. Despite Terminator 3, the comedy Terminator being a god-awful steaming turd, and without Arnie, Cameron and with McG on board, it seems that T4 might actually resurrect the franchise. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have Christian Bale on board. He's notoriously picky about his projects, so his involvement is encouraging. After all, he told McG the only way he'd do it is if the characters worked. He wanted the script to be able to be acted on stage... which would be quite a play. Anyway, enough talk-

Monday, December 1, 2008

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (2008) - Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith’s career took a knock when he released the pretty awful Jersey Girl. It became clear that outside his Jersey saga, Smith seemed to flounder. After the lukewarm reception for that film, Smith went back and wrote a sequel to his massive first time success, Clerks. Now, his follow up film once again abandons the safety of his home state, as Smith jumps on that wagon that carries many a band- Judd Apatow’s. And the result is the controversially titled Zack And Miri Make A Porno.

Zack and Miri are friends from childhood. They live together in a pretty dire flat, scraping a living and barely paying their bills. When their last utilities payment goes unpaid, their electricity and water is shut off. Looking for a quick way to make a buck, the friends turn to porno. It’s quick, easy and will sell enough videos to make them money to pay their bills. But sex is never just sex and they find their relationship pushed when they have to bump uglies for money.

Smith’s main ability over the years has been his ability to write pop-culture thick dialogue. His Jersey films, filled with nerds and comic-fans has thrived on this ability. Yet when Smith steps away from this, he finds himself floundering somewhat. The same applies here. By no means is Zack and Miri as bad as the reprehensible Jersey Girl. But is shows little of the ability Smith once had.

One of the main things that puts people off the film is the starring role for Seth Rogen. But I don’t really have a problem with the guy. Sure, he plays pretty much the same role in every film. And maybe he’s running out of steam. But in this film he does his schtick well. Elizabeth Banks, the actress who is appearing everywhere is once again very solid. She’s the heart of the film and plays off Rogen surprisingly well. The real star of the show is Craig Robinson. The actor, who’s become a familiar face thanks to The Office (US) has real comedy talent and shows it here. Also pretty good are Smith regular Jason Mewes and real life porn star Katie Morgan.

While Zack And Miri Make A Porno isn’t terrible, it will piss off some people. The majority of the laughs are in the first 45 minutes and there is one surprisingly funny moment in the second half of the film. But it’s nowhere near as good as Smith’s Chasing Amy. Though it does show he can do something outside Jersey.


MAX PAYNE (2008) - John Moore

Video games. They don’t really make for good movies. Super Mario Brothers, Silent Hill, Resident Evil... the list doesn’t really read like a list of cinema greats. And now another addition to that list; Max Payne.

Max Payne is a cop on a revenge mission. His wife and baby are murdered and Payne spends his days going through cold case files, searching for clues as to who murdered his young family. While investigating their murder, Payne uncovers a drug ring that causes people to behave incredibly violent, or else causes them to have horrific hallucinations.

Well, Max Payne does the video game movie no favours what so ever. It’s pretty awful. Director John Moore has watched Sin City one time too many and really longs for Max Payne to be a film that could fit right in with Robert Rodriguez’ vision. The film just looks like a Sin City rip-off. The action sequences are surprisingly rare in an action film, and while it strives to be something more than a video game adaptation, it just ends up getting bogged down in it’s own desire to be more than it is.

Mark Wahlberg needs a good director to coax a good performance out of him. And unfortunately John Moore is not the man. Wahlberg mumbles and gurns his way throughout the entire film. Mila Kunis is woefully miscast as the femme fatale, who also only appears rarely throughout the film. And Chris Bridges’ wardrobe just makes him look like a comedy character rather than a gritty internal affairs cop.

Derivative, silly and woefully dull, Max Payne has little going for it. Avoid. Seriously.