Wednesday, 31 March 2010


Icon Home Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

Props to Charlize Theron who continues to avoid trading on her good looks - which she could have so easily done after winning an Oscar in 2003 for uglying up in Monster - by chasing edgier, less attractive roles. She's also one of the producers of Sleepwalking where, as Joleen, a monster of another kind, she graciously plays support to Nick Stahl, as her brother, James, and AnnaSophia Robb as her daughter, Tara.

These three aren't exactly trailer trash but they're on the lower rungs of America's socio-economic ladder. And when James is saddled with Tara after Joleen skips town with her latest lover, things go from bad to worse. James struggles with the new found role of parenting and soon finds himself out of work, out of a home, and having to place Tara in foster care.

That situation doesn't last long, with James springing Tara from detention and the two taking to the open road. But with funds running low and police on their trail, they don't have many options. That's why James heads for the family farm, where he and Joleen grew up and couldn't get away from fast enough. Given that their father is played by Dennis Hopper, you just know things aren't going to get any better for the runaways.

For me, Sleepwalking suffers for not knowing exactly what it wants to be, starting out as the American version of a kitchen sink drama – the travails of the down-and-out – before taking another route when James and Tara hit the road, and yet another when we meet up with mad-eye Hopper.

The performances are all fine (Woody Harrelson and Deborra Lee Furness aka Mrs Hugh Jackman, feature in small roles) but for what end purpose I'm not entirely sure. It was obviously a project close to Theron's heart but I'm a stickler for a point and with Sleepwalking, I just don't see what she so obviously did.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010


Becker Film Group
Now Showing

In my Oscars 09 Report previewing possible Supporting Actor contenders, I pondered how Christopher Plummer, playing the role of Leo Tolstoy, could be a supporting character in his own biopic. The answer: Helen Mirren. As Tolstoy's wife, Countess Sofya, Mirren gives a towering, scene stealing performance, one that earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination this year, and deservedly so. It understandably renders Plummer (also an Oscar nominee, the first time in a long career) a mere supporting player.

But The Last Station, directed by Michael Hoffman and adapted from the novel by Jay Parini, isn't so much a biopic about the great Russian author but a look at events in 1910, towards the end of his life, when interested parties were arguing over how best to carry on his legacy.

Sofya, Tolstoy's wife of 48 years, very much believes that her husband's literary estate should fall to her and their children; Tolstoy himself wishes to bequeath it to the Russian people. This view is shared by ardent Tolstoy disciple, Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), who uses the young and impressionable Valentin (James McAvoy), assigned to the author as secretary, as a spy in the house of Tolstoy. Chertkov wants the Tolstoyan movement to succeed long after the great man's death.

Valentin is in awe of his employer, although admittedly, a better Tolstoyan than the man himself. He's adopted both the tenets of vegetarianism and celibacy, the latter of which is sorely tested by Masha (Kerry Condon), a fellow follower and resident of the commune nearby to the Tolstoy residence. It's not long before Valentin begins to question his own beliefs, including the portrayal of Sofya, mostly by Chertkov, as an enemy of the movement.

Hoffman's film is played out in a theatrical manner with Mirren front and centre. But Plummer is equal to the task, his Tolstoy the perfect foil for Sofya's mood swings. “You don't need a husband, you need a Greek chorus!” he bellows at her. But there's love there, too. The scene with Sofya coaxing Leo to bed (with clucking noises, no less) reveals a romantic history spanning half a century.

And in spite of her histrionics (whatever the Russian equivalent of 'drama queen' is, Sofya is its embodiment), you can't help but feel the Countess is being hard done by. I would think that anyone, but especially her husband, would be somewhat more forgiving of a wife who not only bore you 13 children (this was long before TV and the internet, people), but also transcribed, by hand, your literary masterpiece - that doorstop of a book, War and Peace - six times.

For those accomplishments, Sofya deserves compensation. For making the Countess a melodramatic whirlwind of passions and yet a believable woman, Mirren deserves our praise.


Paramount Home Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

The three Oscar nominations for An Education (Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actress) perhaps came too late for Australian audiences who, judging by box office receipts, stayed away from Lone Scherfig's wonderful coming of age film, An Education.

The DVD release in the wake of that Oscar acknowledgement should encourage more people to seek the film out, if for no other reason than the star making performance by Carey Mulligan.

Mulligan plays Jenny, a 16-year-old girl living in a London yet to find its swing (it's 1961) or be introduced to the Beatles. Like most 16 year olds, Jenny believes she is smarter than the adults in her life, including her parents, played by Cara Seymour and a wonderfully comic Alfred Molina.

Her plans for studying at Oxford are waylaid when she meets the much older David (Peter Sarsgaard), who introduces her to a more exciting life than she could ever have imagined and an education of a different kind.

Penned by author Nick Hornby, from a slim memoir by journalist Lynn Barber, An Education is a gem of a film, filled with wonderful performances by the likes of Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson.

But the film belongs to Carey Mulligan who perfectly captures every nuance of Jenny's transition from school girl to woman. Before Sandra Bullock's late entry into last year's Oscars race, the Best Actress category was a two-horse event between Mulligan and Streep (Julie & Julia), and either would have been a more worthy winner.

Just like Streep, I'm sure it's not the last time Mulligan will be up for such honours. I'm a card carrying Carey Mulligan fan; I'd advise you to get on the bandwagon now while there's still room.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


Paramount Pictures
Now Showing

Kirk (Jay Baruchel) suffers from low self esteem and it's not hard to see why. His family regularly invites his ex-girlfriend around for dinner, and along for the family movie night, with her new boyfriend in tow. That's probably why, when Kirk attracts the attentions of Molly (Alice Eve), a pretty but not silly blonde, he can't quite believe his luck, and is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So, too, are his friends who tell Kirk that Molly is a “hard 10” and he is a mere 5. Apparently guys have a rating system, who knew? According to this rating system, you can't jump more than two points, so Kirk's budding romance is doomed to failure from the get-go, not helped by his friends' continual chorus of disbelief and Kirk's own issues.

Molly, who has a history of dating much hotter, manly men such as pilots, has decided that a guy like Kirk is the safer option. Again, not the best way to start a relationship, and not helped by best friend, Patty (Krysten Ritter), who believes that, while Kirk is a nice guy, Molly is certainly slumming.

I'm not sure if John Field Smith's rom com, penned by Sean Anders and John Morris, is trying to say anything deep and meaningful – that we're all 10's in the eyes of those who love us? – but it's just as false and misleading as all those rom-coms aimed at women that suggest someday their prince will indeed come along. Not that many men will be insulted by the premise here. Only in the movies can a guy like Kirk, a 6 on a good day (and this from someone who can relate), attract and keep a 10, although Alice Eve, with all due respect, is a 7.5 at best.

Still, Baruchel and Eve make for a sweet couple. And the film's kind of sweet, too, despite the genital and ejaculation sight gags, the cornerstones of these boy's own films. They're here no doubt to placate the teenage male who is going to be rocking up to She's Out of My League more for the com than the rom. Will they learn something in the process? Maybe, and if not about love than perhaps basic manscaping, so either way their girlfriends will benefit.

Thursday, 25 March 2010


Palace Films
Now Showing

I've always thought of France as one of the world's most liberal countries, after all, the French revolution was all about liberty, equality and fraternity, no? But in recent years, no doubt led by a post 9-11 mindset, French politicians have been calling for a ban on hijabs, the headscarves worn by Muslim women; first in schools and, more recently, on public transport.

This fear of the other is at the heart of Welcome, the political and quietly angry new film by Philippe Lioret. In the seaside town of Calais, illegal immigrants congregate on the docks, hoping to pay for passage to England or other parts of Europe, either by boat or, more precariously, hidden in the cargo holds of trucks which involves the risk of asphyxiating on carbon fumes.

It is in this milieu that 17-year-old Bilal (Firat Ayverdi) finds himself. Having travelled from Iraq, mostly by foot, he is headed for England. Why? The reason any 17-year-old does anything – for love. The state of his home country also has something to do with it. Apprehended trying to cross into England via truck, Bilal soon hits on the idea of crossing via the Channel – swimming the Channel, that is.

While practising at a local pool, Bilal strikes up a friendship with Simon (Vincent Lindon), the swim centre manager. Simon is separated from his wife Marion (Audrey Dana), a school teacher who volunteers at a make shift soup kitchen feeding the immigrants. This may be the reason why Simon decides to help Bilal – to win her back – inviting him into his home while also providing swimming lessons. This is also where his troubles begin.

I'm not sure how accurate the film's depiction of the French laws are but it seems that merely helping an illegal immigrant – with food, a place to stay, even a ride in your car – will bring you to the attention of the authorities. A fine, even prison could follow. It's not too long before Simon's neighbours are complaining to the police and both he and Bilal are under surveillance.

That doesn't stop Bilal from attempting his crossing, the first of which is unsuccessful; French authorities fishing Bilal out of the water not too far off the Calais coast. His second attempt has a different result entirely.

Lioret made Welcome as a specific response to the Sarkozy government's policy on illegal immigrants but it's neither an issue or a film that is specifically French. Australian audiences may find much to identify with, and feel a little ashamed of, watching Welcome.

But I don't want to dissuade people from seeing the film by giving the impression it's a “message film”. Loiret gets his point across not by hammering but by slowly exposing the humanity at risk: that of those in need of help and those who lose a little by denying them.


Universal Pictures
Now Showing

There is a moment towards the end of Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang when a character demands “Quiet, please!” and not a moment too soon. Or rather, too little too late, for by this time, unless you're one of the under-10 demographic the film is aimed at, or someone used to hosting children's birthday parties, the raucous assault of sound emanating from the screen will either have driven you from the cinema or into the foetal position.

Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal, she who called for silence) has been left to run her English countryside farm with the help of her three children, while her husband (a token Ewan McGregor) is off fighting, presumably in WWII (the film is not time specific). She's already struggling, with parenting and finances, when her well-heeled nephew and niece arrive from London to escape the bombing.

The country kids take an instant dislike to their pampered cousins with all hell breaking loose. That's when Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) arrives. Nanny McPhee (small 'c', big 'P') is like Mary Poppins' ugly step sister, her witch-like black wardrobe complemented by a couple of hairy moles, a bulbous nose and a rogue buck tooth. She weaves her own brand of magic in having the children learn to live and work together, with each lesson achieved – there are five in total – reducing the au pair's facial, uh-hum, imperfections one by one.

All of this will be familiar to those who saw the first Nanny McPhee. I didn't and, no, it's not going on the list. Both films were penned by Emma Thompson and in this second installment she seems intent on giving herself as little to do as possible; Nanny McPhee seems only to intervene in the Green family troubles when it is absolutely necessary. She's the child minding equivalent of the UN; at one point casually looking on while the children disarm a German bomb in a wheat field.

Still, there's enough mayhem and cute little piggies in Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang to keep youngsters entertained. But there's not nearly enough magic to cast a spell on adults, especially those without children – or earplugs.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


Icon Home Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

For those of you who proved immune to the hype surrounding last year's little horror film that could, Paranormal Activity – and that's not many given its almost $10 million take here in Oz and more than $100 million in the US – the DVD release provides your chance to give in to curiosity without publicly outing yourself as a victim of canny marketing.

A young couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) have moved into an apartment that may or may not be haunted. So like any self-respecting members of Gen-Y, they decide to film the nocturnal goings-on in the hopes of capturing a ghost on tape, or, at the very least, something amusing to post on YouTube.

Paranormal Activity is essentially a bump-in-the-night horror film shot on a shoe string budget, and the gumption of writer-director Oren Peli should be applauded; a clever marketing campaign generating word-of-mouth buzz for his little film and resulting in the above box office figures and then some. Not surprisingly, a sequel is already slated for release this year and it will be interesting to see how, with a bigger budget and no element of surprise, PA2 will fare.

In the meantime, I'm guessing Paranormal Activity will lose nothing in its translation to the small screen. Indeed, I'd suggest that the intimate setting of a home theatre could wield even bigger scares than in a cinema, particularly for those who are coming to it for the first time or happen to be watching it alone.


Paramount Pictures
Now Showing

It's not easy being the son of the chief of a Viking village, especially when dad, Stoick the Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler in full Scottish brogue), is a giant of a man and hero to all, and you are, well, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), an accident prone weed of a boy whose dreams of being a dragon slayer are, at best, of the pipe variety.

Dragons are the bane of Hiccup's village on the Isle of Berk, stealing their livestock and damaging their homes in the process. It is during the most recent attack which opens the film, that Hiccup brings down the elusive and hitherto unseen Night Fury dragon. No one believes him, of course, so Hiccup sets out into the forest and discovers he has indeed brought down the reptile.

But unable to bring himself to kill the creature, his dismay is soon eclipsed by the amazement of discovering that the dragon, which was injured and cannot fly, can be befriended and trained, if not completely tamed. These scenes of tentative friendship are wonderfully played, with Toothless, the name Hiccup bestows on the Night Fury, resembling a giant puppy who doesn't entirely trust his new master.

Hiccup and Toothless are soon flying over the oceans and forests thanks to a contraption of Hiccup's design, and while not a fan of 3D, I will admit that the flying scenes in How To Train Your Dragon are quite impressive and perfectly utilized. And at the risk of incurring the wrath of nerds and geeks everywhere, they are almost the equal of those in Avatar.

All of this dragon training is carried out clandestinely while Hiccup also attends dragon slaying training, employing his new found knowledge of the giant reptiles to impress his teacher. But he also manages to annoy fellow student, and secret crush, Astrid (Ugly Betty's America Ferrera), the blonde beauty who possesses the warrior spirit Hiccup sorely lacks.

That Astrid, Stoick and the rest of the Isle of Berk will be won over by Hiccup and Toothless by film's end is a given but How To Train Your Dragon is no less enjoyable for that, and a flight of fancy worth taking these school holidays.

Monday, 22 March 2010


Rialto Distribution
Now Showing

The late Swedish author Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy has been selling in the millions over the past few years, so it's no surprise there is a film version of the first book. It is a surprise to learn that it was released in Europe more than a year ago and the two sequels have since been released there. (No surprises either that there will be an American remake, with David Fincher of Seven (1995) and Zodiac (2007) fame tipped to direct.)

The delay shouldn't prevent Australian fans of the books heading to the cinema, eager to see if the weighty tomes are faithfully translated to the screen. On that matter I cannot say, having never read the books, although now having seen The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I do feel tempted to read the sequels.

When journalist Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) loses a libel case brought about by a wealthy businessman he accused of gunrunning, he decides to take time away from his independent newspaper, Millennium, before he is expected to serve a brief prison term. But he is soon approached by millionaire Henrik Vanger to investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of his niece, Harriet. The old man suspects one of his family members murdered the 16-year-old: he wants to know who and why.

Blomqvist is soon uncovering Vanger family secrets, including several members' links to the Nazis, but it is not until an anonymous source deciphers a clue from the diary of the missing girl that the case takes on an even more sinister tone.

The anonymous tipster is Lisbeth Salander (an excellent Noomi Rapace), the eponymous inked lady. An ace computer hacker hired by Vanger's lawyers to look into Blomqvist before hiring him, Lisbeth has continued hacking into the journalist's computer, hence the tip-off. Soon enlisted by Blomqvist, the pair uncover brutal deaths in the years leading up to Harriet Vanger's disappearance, revealing the handy work of a serial killer.

Yes it's a violent film and the book's original Swedish title, Men Who Hate Women, couldn't be more apt: the murders are grisly and hate-filled. Lisbeth herself is dealing with a parole officer who views her as nothing more than a sex object, and there are a couple of graphic scenes depicting his abuse of power. But Lisbeth's payback is just as brutal.

At 150 minutes, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is long but I was never bored. Once Blomqvist and Lisbeth team up the film kicks up a gear. The one too many false endings in the final stretch, however, did test my patience. But the real mystery for me: for a film set in Sweden, mostly in a snowy winter, why use white subtitles? Why?

Thursday, 18 March 2010


Sony Pictures
Now Showing

The Bounty Hunter is pitched as a romantic comedy but I can think of at least two things wrong with that description. It's almost painfully unfunny, and Andy Tennant's film could only be labeled romantic if your idea of being wooed involves handcuffs (well . . . ) or being locked in the boot of a car.
That's where we first meet Nicole (Jennifer Aniston), a newspaper journalist who has skipped bail but been caught by ex-husband Milo (Gerard Butler), the eponymous bounty hunter. The film then flashes back 24 hours to reveal how the pair came to be here but it should only take 24 minutes (maximum) before you're asking yourself 'what the hell am I doing here?'.
Nicole is actually in the middle of investigating a story involving a suspect suicide and possible police cover-up so has no time to appear in court for allegedly assaulting a police officer, hence the bail jumping. Milo, an ex-cop cum bounty hunter who needs money to pay off a loan shark, sees the possibility of scoring an easy $5000 for bringing Nicole in, and embarrassing her big time in the process, as too delicious to pass up.

So ensues a game of cat and mouse, said handcuffs and car boots, and some gun play by both them and some other shady characters in pursuit of them. Indeed, there's a lot of running involved for a romantic comedy where neither main character is a track athlete.
My friend and I both remarked before The Bounty Hunter that we weren't expecting great things because it was a 'Jennifer Aniston film'. It's not that she's untalented but rather extremely limited, and that would be within one or two degrees of her Rachel Green character on the long-running sitcom, Friends. Butler seems to have found himself typecast, too, as the unreconstructed male chauvinist who women can't help but love (see last year's The Ugly Truth).

Apparently the pair may have become an item off screen, which is neither here nor there, but that chemistry, along with any sense of fun, is sorely lacking on screen.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


Roadshow Films
Now Showing

The term 'cougar', referring to a woman's pursuit of a younger man, has made its way into the lexicon in recent years. Hell, there's even a TV show devoted to it. Whether or not the term is sexist – I'm guessing the male equivalent would be 'dirty old man' which has been is use ad infinitum – depends very much on your use of the term: do you use it to mock these women or more of a 'you go, girlfriend!'?

Sandy (Catherine Zeta-Jones, who knows a little something about dirty old men) could be described as a cougar but I don't recall the term being used in The Rebound. That's perhaps to avoid undermining the wish fulfillment storyline of the film – newly separated mother of two finds a new life and love in New York city with a younger man – or alienating the female demographic it is so squarely aimed at. Note: this is definitely a 'girls' night out' flick.

The younger man is Aram, played by Justin Bartha, the bridegroom who went MIA in Vegas in 2009's comedy hit, The Hangover. He's a sensitive fellow who has also just come through a divorce, his French wife having left him for her “brother”. Sandy moves in to the apartment above the coffee shop where Aram works and he's instantly smitten. But Sandy sees only a babysitter and one of the film's funniest sequences sees Aram at home with the kids while Sandy goes on what must be one of the worst (and funniest) blind dates ever committed to celluloid.

Surprisingly for a female-centric rom-com, the humour in writer-director Bart Freundlich's film often runs a little blue; cougar may not get a run but MILF certainly does. And if you don't know what MILF is an acronym for, might I suggest you not Google it on the office computer.

Freundlich also attempts to get at some emotional truths in The Rebound – the age difference, the value of life experience, Aram's parents' disapproval - though I'd suggest it remains more of a romantic comedy than either a romantic or comic drama. And as far as romantic comedies go, The Rebound is one of the more enjoyable and least insulting to hit cinemas in the first quarter of 2010.


Roadshow Films
Now Showing

Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the Cahill family black sheep and not surprising given we meet him upon his release from a prison stint for armed robbery. But Tommy has always played second fiddle to his older brother, Sam (Tobey Maguire), the high school footballer who is now a Marine captain and about to be deployed to Afghanistan. He's a hero, as their father (Sam Shepard) keeps reminding Tommy, the implication being that the younger brother is the polar opposite.

But when Sam's helicopter is gunned down and he and a fellow marine are taken prisoner by the Taliban, and his family believe him to be dead, Tommy's long dormant sense of responsibility kicks in. He rebuilds the kitchen of Sam's wife, Grace (Portman), and becomes a strong male presence in his two young nieces lives.

Of course, we know that Sam is alive. We also know what he has to endure in order to make it home, so his strange behaviour – he pulls a gun at the slightest sound, patrolling the backyard at night – upon his return comes as no surprise to us but understandably unnerves his family. Then he accuses Tommy and Grace of having an affair, unable to accept any truth but the one he's constructed in his mind.

A remake of a 2004 Danish film directed by Susanne Bier, which I haven't seen (add it to the list!), Brothers feels like an indie film with too much high-end talent preventing it from being the gritty, psychological drama it aims to be. Not that Gyllenhaal, Maguire and Portman don't give it their best. But I felt something missing from director Jim Sheridan's film which left me slightly underwhelmed.

Still, as an examination of the effects of war on those who experience it first hand and those who have to live with its consequences, Sheridan's Brothers is an admirable effort.

But if there is one thing Sheridan does perfectly, it is cast his child actors. Much like he did with In America (2003), a gem of a film, he has found two little girls (Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare) who perfectly capture the relationship between young sisters and how they relate to the adults in their world. Even if the torment experienced by Maguire's Sam didn't break my heart, these two did.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


Universal Pictures
Now Showing

In one of those quirks of fate, the week that The Hurt Locker wins the Oscar for Best Picture sees another Iraq themed film open in cinemas. The Iraq setting is the only commonality between the two films, for while Kathryn Bigelow's examination of men in war was very much apolitical, in the sense that The Hurt Locker doesn't condone or condemn the US invasion of Iraq, Paul Greengrass's Green Zone has an undeniable political agenda: the President Bush led US invaded Iraq under false pretenses.

Getting audiences to watch an Iraq war movie is a hard enough sell and American(Republican, or pro-Bush) audiences may not enjoy being reminded of the monumental stuff up given that their troops are still their (Australian audiences, I suspect, will be less concerned with the political finger pointing). That's probably why Greengrass has framed the film as a political-action thriller and cast his Bourne trilogy leading man Matt Damon, the dangling carrot guaranteed to get bums on seats.

Damon is Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, head of a US military team on the ground in Baghdad in the early days of the 2003 invasion. They're searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), the initial reason for the invasion, but – surprise, surprise – continue to come up empty handed. Miller begins to suspect a rat which is soon confirmed by CIA veteran Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) who becomes his ally in the search for the source, codenamed Magellan, which precipitated the invasion.

It's in this sequence of the film – the third act, if you will – when Miller goes “off reservation” in pursuit of the source that it somewhat resembles the Bourne films. Greengrass directed the second and third entries in the Bourne trilogy and he certainly knows how to shoot an action sequence; his use of the handy-cam (which riles some) lets you feel as though you are indeed running the backstreets of Baghdad with Miller.

Strangely, I was never on the edge of my seat watching Green Zone. While certainly not bored, I was never fully engaged, either. Greengrass doesn't deliver the same level of tension he did with United 93 (2006), one of the best films of the past decade.

That won't stop Green Zone reaching a wide audience; it will gross more money on its opening weekend than The Hurt Locker did during its entire US theatrical run. Might I suggest to Australian audiences that if you see one Iraq war movie this weekend, make it the superior The Hurt Locker? Green Zone is definitely worth catching, and more for its political bravado than its machismo, but it will also be in cinemas much longer.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


Hoyts Distribution
Now Showing

Ironically, given the film's title, the most memorable thing about Remember Me was the mishap at the media screening I attended. The audio wasn't working for the first 10 or so minutes, so we had to wait for the problem to be fixed and when it was, had to watch the movie from the beginning again.

On a more positive note, and good news for fans of Robert Pattinson, the Brit actor who shot to super stardom and heart throb status thanks to his role in the Twilight series of films, he can act. He certainly gets to display a far greater emotional range than he does as Edward Cullen, albeit somewhat channelling James Dean.

You could say Pattinson's Tyler is a rebel without a cause, acting out against a world in which his older brother has committed suicide and his businessman father (Pierce Brosnan) is distant at best. Then Tyler meets Allie (Emilie de Ravin) who has the reverse problem: a policeman father (Chris Cooper) who has been over-protective since Allie witnessed the murder of her mother ten years earlier.

Allen Coulter's film, penned by Will Fetters, could be seen as either the story of two lost souls finding each other, or the sins of the fathers given the strained relations between the young lovers and their male parentals. But the film's ending – without giving it away, the story unfolds in New York in the summer-autumn of 2001 – suggests that, despite all the troubles with the people in your life, always let them know how you feel for life is short.

That same ending, however, aims to give the film more weight and significance than it deserves. For the most part, Remember Me is a film about an angry young man dealing with grief and finding love and as such, it is a minor success, and not entirely forgettable.


Hopscotch Films
Now Showing

Renee Zellweger appears to be one of those actresses whom people either really like or really don't. That may have something to do with her seemingly permanent squint and pout, both of which are in evidence in My One and Only. But also in evidence is Zellweger's flair for comedy, perhaps her best comedic role since Bridget Jones (the first film and not the sequel, where poor Bridget seemed to have suffered a brain impairment).

Ann Devereaux, Zellweger's character here, also shares Bridget's desire for a significant male other, not so much as a soul mate but as a meal ticket. It's 1952 after all and what is a mother of two teenage sons supposed to do when she takes to the road after finding her band leader husband (Kevin Bacon) in bed with another woman?

One of those sons is George, who will grow up to be George Hamilton, the barely B-grade actor better known for his perennial suntan than his acting chops. Based on Hamilton's memoir, young George (Logan Lerman) narrates this cross-country trip from New York to Los Angeles; he and effete half brother, Robbie (Mark Rendall), at the whim of their mother's success or failure with ex-beaus and potential new husbands along the way.

Richard Loncraine's film is a light, breezy affair, both amusing and entertaining if only mildly so. Those who are fans of Zellweger should be well pleased with her return to form. And for those with a penchant for period costumes or amusing little road movies, you could do a lot worse than My One and Only.


Universal Pictures
Now Showing

Whether it's a case of reading the zeitgeist or sibling rivalry, filmmaking brothers Chris and Paul Weitz (of American Pie fame) have both opted to make their latest films vampire ones. Chris directed the second in the Twilight saga, New Moon, while brother Paul has made Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant.

Based on a bestselling series of books (and aren't they all?), The Vampire's Assistant is a rather uneven film, trying to maintain a PG-rating for its key demographic while skating around some much darker and subversive subjects. It's material a young Tim Burton may have happily cut his teeth on, although with much more bite.

Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) is your average teen boy: a pretty cushy home life despite somewhat pushy but well meaning parents, a fascination with spiders and a best friend Stephen (Josh Hutcherson) who brings brawn and rebellion to the friendship. Stephen also has a fascination with vampires and wants to become one; his home life makes being undead a viable alternate life choice.

But Stephen's rejection by Mr Crepsley (John C. Reilly), a vampire and performer in a travelling freak show, the Cirque du Freak, sets events in motion, pitting best buds on opposing sides of a battle of good and evil.

This battle is gleefully orchestrated by Mr Tiny (Michael Cerveris), a boiled egg of a man who's as camp as Christmas and has knowledge of a destructive prophecy which he hopes to bring about. Crepsley is reluctantly drawn into the battle, precipitated somewhat by his making Chris a half vampire and his assistant.

All of this may give the impression of an epic but The Vampire's Assistant is not. The books upon which it has been adapted (authored by Darren Shan, who obviously has his ego in check!) may very well be but Weitz's film is hardly in the same realm as Harry Potter. And the box office failure of the film in the US probably means there will be no sequel.

Still, for all its shortcomings there is some fun to be had here. Reilly makes a very droll vampire in his against-type casting – and pleasantly bucking the recent trend of sulky, posing vamps – while Selma Hayek, as a bearded lady with psychic premonitions, is also fun, despite her limited screen time, most of which is devoted to her ample bosom.

Monday, 8 March 2010


For the most part, the 2010 Oscars (for the films of 2009) followed the script. Ironically, Best Adapted Screenplay produced the first of very few upsets; Precious beating out favourite Up in the Air in that category.

Argentinian film The Secret in their Eyes trumping The White Ribbon (Germany) and A Prophet (France), both critical darlings, was the only other real upset.

As expected, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director, and the Academy are no doubt patting themselves on the back for doing so. “It may have taken us 82 years, but by God we're progressive!” And David slew Goliath with The Hurt Locker, one of the least commercially successful films ever nominated for Best Picture, beating out the highest grossing film of all time. Amen!

The only disappointment (other than the rather lifeless ceremony) was the win by Sandra Bullock. Not an upset as it was expected but the Academy, I feel, have made another grave error of judgement, on a par with 2005 where they awarded Best Picture to Crash instead of Brokeback Mountain (or any of the other contenders).

Bullock may be popular and successful, and she may have stepped outside her comfort zone to perform a dramatic role in which she is perfectly adequate, but adequate shouldn't get you a nomination let alone a statuette. But it makes for a good story and the Academy can feel good that they've recognised the career success of an actress who is unlikely to come this way again.

But seriously, it's a slap in the face, not just to Bullock's fellow nominees – Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe (I've yet to see Helen Mirren's performance but I feel safe in assuming it's better than Bullock's) – but to the other actresses who missed out this year; Abbie Cornish has good reason to be kicking her cat.

So, too, actors from previous years who weren't even nominated for far superior performances; Paul Giamatti for Sideways (2004) immediately springs to mind. But enough of the negative rant, here is the Class of 2009.

Note: I have only listed the major categories, the ones I included in my final predictions.

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique - Precious
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side
Original Screenplay – The Hurt Locker
Adapted Screenplay – Precious
Best Animated Feature – Up
Best Foreign Language Film – The Secret in their Eyes
Best Documentary – The Cove


Icon Home Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

The mother-child bond – sometimes loving, sometimes fractious – is the central theme of this turgid Australian drama from director Ana Kokkinos, structured in the multi-narrative, inter-locking style that has become popular this past decade, most notably in films such as 21 Grams, Crash and Babel.

Blessed is not as good as any of those films though it gives them a good run for their money in the emotional anguish stakes, or at least it attempts to. I was unmoved by Kokkinos's depiction of lost, abandoned and neglected children and their lost, preoccupied or neglectful mothers whose storylines are played out over a single day in Melbourne.

This is a feel bad movie with the only ray of hope coming with the realisation that you're not these people. Viewers certainly aren't expected to identify with the characters and why would they? Lower working class at best, these people are on the fringes of society and I for one couldn't help but be riled by the implied 'look how the other half live' approach.

But then again, most Australian critics loved it and with a cast that includes Debra-Lee Furness, Frances O'Connor and Miranda Otto, I'm sure there will be much appeal for those who didn't catch it at the cinema. As a film, I was unimpressed with Blessed but with its depressing view of parenthood, it should work wonders as a contraceptive.

Saturday, 6 March 2010


Sony Pictures
Now Showing

Truth is often stranger than fiction but the events detailed in this intriguingly absurd film, the directorial debut of Grant Heslov, beggar belief. Early in the post Vietnam era during the Cold War, US intelligence were supposedly investigating the possibility of producing psychic warriors. The aim? To be the first super power to possess actual super powers.

This is the far fetched tale journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) stumbles upon whilst in Iraq in the early days of the US invasion. There to prove to his recent ex-wife that he has balls, Bob meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney in goof mode), one of the members of the clandestine psychic unit known as the New Earth Army.

The New Earth Army was the brainchild of Sgt Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), who in his post Vietnam disillusionment, experimented with every New Age theory available to develop the means for enhancing soldiers' psychic powers, and preparing them to engage in ethical combat. Cassady was one of Django's star pupils before another ambitious but spiteful soldier, Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), joined the ranks and brought all of Django's work undone.

All of this is revealed in flashback as Bob and Cassady travel the deserts of Iraq, going from one disaster to another before stumbling upon a secret army base where the research of the New Earth Army seems to have been re-employed for the 21st century.

How much of the film, based on journalist Jon Ronson's book of the same name, is true or not I can not say but it certainly puts a new spin on the already oxymoronic term 'military intelligence'. Heslov, who co-wrote Clooney's Oscar-nominated Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), has fun with the material as do the actors. Clooney, Bridges and Spacey give good silly, while McGregor, essentially the straight man, pales in comparison.

Ultimately, it may not amount to much more than an absurdly tantalising anecdote of dubious merit but at 93 minutes, it finishes before the joke wears too thin.


Roadshow Films
Now Showing

It this were a letter – the communication modus operandi of this and seemingly every other Nicholas Sparks adaptation – then you may very well scribble 'return to sender' across it, for certainly Dear John is not worth the price of a postage stamp.

Indeed, you could write the synopsis of the film on the back of a stamp: Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl have to part, fate and misunderstandings force the pair to break-up, boy and girl come together for emotional finale. That's pretty much the plot for another Sparks adaptation, The Notebook, which has a very large (female) fan base, with characters roughly the same age as those here.

But compared to Dear John, The Notebook is virtually on a par with The Englsih Patient for literary romance set in war time. John (Channing Tatum) and Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) meet during the summer of 2001, while John is on leave from the US Army's Special Forces and Savannah's home from college. Over the course of two weeks they fall in love. When summer ends they promise to write to each other until they can be together again.

But in September the world is changed forever and John re-enlists. The wait, and the fear of losing John, seems too great for Savannah and she eventually sends him a real 'Dear John' letter, ending their affair. Much emotional hand wringing ensues, or it would if the film had been invested with any real passion, for as photogenic as Tatum and Seyfried are, they're rather bland. And so is the film.

Dear John was directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who came to the world's attention with the Swedish film, My Life As A Dog (1985), and made one of my favourite films of the '90s, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993). He's had a mixed bag of films since then, The Cider House Rules (1999) and Chocolat (2000) his most successful, both nominated for Best Picture Oscars. Hallstrom should know better, as should the people who willingly go to see Dear John.

Thursday, 4 March 2010


Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Now Showing

On paper it must have seemed like the perfect union: the writings of Lewis Carroll and the particular filmmaking style of Tim Burton. And certainly from a visual perspective, Burton brings Carroll's classic tales of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass to 3D life.

With the trailer and film stills over the past few months, not to mention Burton's proven ability to create parallel worlds of gothic beauty and menace, that the film would look great was a given. What is surprising, and disappointing, is that dramatically, the story of Alice and her return to Underland (to give it its real name) is less successful, certainly not as engaging as one would have hoped for. And, at the risk of sounding unpatriotic, that is partly due to Alice herself.

I found Alice, as portrayed by Australian actress, Mia Wasikowska, to be rather bland. That's not surprising given the eccentric and eclectic characters with whom she has to share the screen, but given that Alice has been cast here as some sort of pre-feminist saviour of Underland, she's rather anemic, although not the heroin addict that one British witic dubbed her.

Now 19 and seemingly headed for an arranged marriage, Alice seems resigned to her fate, one expected of the women of her class in late 1800s England. But she is easily distracted by thoughts of the impossible, a trait encouraged by her deceased father, so it is of little surprise that she abandons her garden engagement party in pursuit of a rabbit in a waistcoat. When she tumbles down a rabbit hole and finds herself in 'Wonderland', she believes herself to be experiencing another dream similar to the ones she's had most every night since childhood.

Alice believes her first visit to this strange land was indeed a dream. But everyone else – the white rabbit, the Cheshire cat, and the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, predictably kooky) – have been awaiting her return as foretold; she is to be the champion who will slay the Jabberwocky and end the reign of the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter).

That inevitable battle is the climax to the film and seems more of a concession to the (teenage) male demographic rather than in the spirit of Lewis Carroll, or even Tim Burton. I suppose you have to give the boys a reason to follow a girl who isn't Megan Fox for 105 minutes? The 3D helps, too, but I'm finding I'm less and less of a fan of this “new” technology the more I witness it – and it's not just the imposition of the glasses.

Granted the use of 3D gives a whole new dimension to Burton's vision but it doesn't do much for the story, or poor old Alice, and that's really the point of the film in the first place, isn't it? Burton has always been about expressing his particular style, and amen to that, but never at the expense of substance.

Alice In Wonderland is not soulless filmmaking by any means, and I'd recommend you see it on the big screen. Don't go in expecting a masterpiece and your journey down the rabbit hole should prove adventurous enough.


In what seems like the longest Oscars season ever, we are now in the final stretch, with the gold statuettes handed out from midday Monday March 8,Sydney time (Channel 9, blessthem, is screening them live). And while the precursors have rendered some categories forgone conclusions, it has been one of the most exciting seasons in memory, especially given two major categories - Best Actress and Best Picture – still seem undecided. So here then are my final predictions for this year's Oscars, naming who I think will win and who might cause an upset.

Best Supporting Actress:
Winner: Mo'Nique - Precious: A virtual lock all season, the comedienne turned dramatic actress should be victorious.

Upset: I think an upset is highly unlikely so I'm going to pick a dark horse and say surprise nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart).

Best Supporting Actor:
Winner: Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds: Again, another contender who has won everything in the lead-up. Definitely the most deserving.

Upset: Again, highly unlikely but if it happens I think the Academy will go with veteran Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), who is nominated for the first time.

Best Actor:
Winner: Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart: As much a career award as for his excellent performance, Bridges will be the overwhelming favourite, in every way, to win this.

Upset: If there were no Bridges, which could easily have been the case had Crazy Heart gone direct to DVD as planned, then Colin Firth (A Single Man) would most likely have won for his career-best performance.

Best Actress:
Winner: It will either be Meryl Streep (god willing) for Julie & Julia or Sandra Bullock (god forbid) for The Blind Side.

Upset: Carey Mulligan – An Education. I've been championing Mulligan since I first saw this film back in July. Perhaps a split in votes between Streep and Bullock could see Mulligan through.

Animated Feature;
Winner: UP. Pixar win almost every year and as this is also up for Best Pic, how could that not be the case this year?

Upset: Fantastic Mr Fox or Disney's The Princess and Frog (but I love all three!).

Foreign Language Film:
Winner: Either The White Ribbon (Germany) or Un Prophete (France).

Upset: El Secreto de Sus Ojos (Argentina).

Original Screenplay:
Winner: It will either be The Hurt Locker or Inglourious Basterds.

Adapted Screenplay:
Winner: Up In The Air.

Upset: An Education (penned by author Nick Hornby).

Best Director:
Winner: Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker: Statement or not – the first woman to win this award – Bigelow deserves it.

Upset: James Cameron – Avatar: It would be a shame if Bigelow was trumped by her ex, mostly because her film is far superior.

Best Picture:
Winner: It will be either The Hurt Locker or Avatar. I hope art trumps commerce and The Hurt Locker wins.

Upset: 10 nominees means a preferential voting system, so Academy members have to number them 1 through 10. This could result in an upset, in which case I tip Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


Hoyts Distribution
Now Showing in Limited Release

This New Zealand comic-drama about the sexual and domestic entanglements of a group of 30-somethings, mostly ex-pats, living and working in Wellington will have audiences charmed and frustrated in equal measure. That's due partly to its depiction of supposedly smart people doing silly but amusing things. But mostly its the he said-she said structure, which ultimately favours the male point of view, which had me annoyed more than amused.

The He is Simon (Joel Edgerton), a speechwriter for a NZ politician. Simon is experiencing a marital rut: his wife, Pam (Danielle Cormack), is disinterested in sex and when they do manage to do it, he can barely keep from finishing early. The She is Katrien (Rhona Mitra), a German cellist who followed her husband, Klaus (Thomas Kretschmann), to New Zealand. But Klaus, an artist, is incapable of not following his penis wherever it wants to go, and Katrien, catching him in the act, decides to separate.

Katrien is friends with Pam and her sudden separation has a two-fold effect: Simon suddenly realizes that Katrien is an attractive woman who may be open to an affair, while Katrien thinks a sensitive, quiet man like Simon may be just what she needs. And this was my major problem with Paul Middleditch's film: why would a woman who has just been devastated by a cheating husband choose as her lover the husband of her best friend?

As stated, Tom Scott's screenplay features voice-over monologues throughout by both Simon and Katrien but it is Simon who gets the majority of it. We're never really told why Katrien would pursue her best friend's husband nor why she seems oblivious to the consequences. Nor is it explained why Simon, who is also fancied by a work colleague, is so appealing to the women folk.

Not that Edgerton is unattractive but Simon's a bit of a soft cock. His friend Harry (Les Hill), a political journalist, however, may be a sexist pig but he's also funny. He's a bad boy but he knows it, and tellingly, he advises Simon against pursuing his desire for Katrien.

Many complications and misunderstandings ensue before the potential affair does or does not happen, inducing both laughter and cringes. Like I said, you'll be charmed as well as frustrated. And for all that it gets right, I still couldn't shake my dismay at the film's seemingly 'boys will be boys' attitude.


Madman DVD
Available now on DVD

This Japanese film was the surprise winner of the 2009 Foreign Language Film Oscar. The surprise winner as most pundits and critics had expected the Israeli animated docu-drama, Waltz With Bashir, or the French film, The Class, to claim the prize.

Its win may have placed it under greater scrutiny and expectation at the time, but now on DVD Yojiro Takita’s film may find a more open minded and appreciative audience, one prepared to approach it on its own terms, that of a quasi-profound drama and comedy of manners.

Daigo is a cellist with an orchestra but when economic pressures sees it disbanded, he decides to uproot he and his surprisingly compliant young wife, Mika (Ryoko Hirosue), to his childhood home in a seaside village. In the course of looking for new employment, he mistakenly applies for a job which involves preparing deceased bodies for cremation.

Handling the deceased is not considered an honourable job in Japan, and although too ashamed to confide in his wife, Daigo slowly begins to admire and excel in his new career. The encoffinating ceremony, which involves cleaning and dressing the deceased in front of their loved ones, appeals to the artist in Daigo, treating it with the respect and attention to detail it deserves.

At just over two hours, Departures does outstay its welcome with one too many classical music interludes straining for effect, which is really unnecessary as the emotions come through on their own. Is it a masterpiece? No. Is it an engaging and emotional viewing experience. Yes, and well worth the watch.