Tuesday, 30 November 2010


Madman Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

Fatih Akin is better known for his heavier, more political films Head On and The Edge of Heaven, so SOUL KICTHEN, a lightweight concoction, is perhaps a misleading introduction to the director's work. Set in the German city of Hamburg, the story is concerned with Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos), owner-manager of the eponymous restaurant which serves reliable if uninspired food (chicken schnitzel, anyone?) to the regular clientele. But when his girlfriend leaves for work in China, his life begins to unravel.

First he he hires a temperamental and recently-fired 5-star chef (Birol Unel) who proceeds to change the menu and alienate said regulars. Then he vouches for his incarcerated brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu) who comes to perform day release work at the restaurant and brings his old habits with him. And he reunites with an old school friend who works in real estate and sees an excellent development opportunity that he must have – one way or another.

Soul Kitchen unfolds like a comedy of errors as the hardships of Zinos's lot seem to pile up (no wonder he throws his back out) while all he wants to do is be with his girlfriend. That all these narrative strands are tied up rather too neatly at film's end seems to be a rather superfluous complaint given the lightness of the proceedings. It may not be deep, or political, but Soul Kitchen is fun; no three course meal but a pleasing enough appetizer just the same.

2010's been a good year for French releases in Australia; Welcome, Gainsbourg and the bravura Un Prophet specifically. I missed THE HEDGEHOG on its cinema release but am surprised how much I enjoyed it on DVD. I certainly don't recall Australian critics being overly enthusiastic about it.

11-year-old Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) plans to commit suicide on her 12th birthday. It's not that she's unhappy, she'd just rather not end up like her parents or any of the other adults she encounters in her Parisian apartment building. But then a new tenant moves in, the refined Mr. Ozu (Togo Igawa), and his interest in both Paloma and Renee (Josiane Balasko), the building's concierge, and the hedgehog of the title, has the youngster reevaluating her position.

Guillermic's Paloma makes for a refreshing screen child. She's not sweet or particularly endearing but you engage with her intelligence and her openmindedness. But the real pleasure in Mona Achache's film, based on a novel by Muriel Barbery, is the tentative relationship between Ozu and Renee, the latter virtually invisible to her employees but whom Ozu rightly suspects is far more literate and intriguing than any of his neighbours. I'd recommend you find out for yourself.


Paramount Pictures
Now Showing

Super heroes have long been the centrepieces of action movies and comic book adaptations. But as anyone will tell you, it's the bad guys, the villains and the super villains who more often than not steal the show. Truth and justice are all well and good, but bad is better. Heath Ledger's now iconic turn as Batman's nemisis, The Joker, in The Dark Knight the ultimate example.

Two studios - Universal and Dreamworks - have seized on this idea, both using the super villain as the anti-hero of their major animation releases of 2010. Universal's Despicable Me had Gru, who tried to prove his evil genius with one wicked invention and scheme after another, culminating with the theft of the moon.

Paramount's Megamind, borrowing from Superman, sees its villain crash land on Earth the same time as another alien baby: one growing up to be Metro City's golden child super hero, Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt, no less), the other, with his blue skin and giant bulbous head (and voiced by Will Ferrell), inevitably cast in the role of arch nemesis.

Both Despicable Me and Megamind films follow a similar character trajectory: evil, to not-so-evil, to good and finally downright heroic, with the realisation that it's better to be loved than loathed. And both are rather chaotically structured, as schizophrenic as their protagonists. But they're fun in spite of their flaws, rather like the anti-heroes themselves.

Megamind has established a pattern over the years of escaping from prison, kidnapping TV news journalist, Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey), and waiting to have his plans foiled by Metro Man. But on this occasion things don't go according to plan, or rather, they do: Metro Man is killed and Megamind assumes control of the city.

But he soon discovers that life without a rival – no noble ying to his evil yang – makes for a dull old time. He also realises that he's in love with Roxanne and the only way to win her over, and get him out of his funk (his melonk-olly, if you will), is to create a new super hero to rival him.

The film goes off on some tangents here, involving Roxanne's cameraman (Jonah Hill) who, also secretly in love with her, becomes the focus of Megamind's plan and Titan is created. It's also where we witness one of the film's comic highlights, an hilarious take-off of Marlon Brando's role as Superman's father from the first Superman film. Titan, however, is not familiar with the superhero refrain, with great power comes great responsibility, and, well, chaos ensues before the inevitable showdown finale.

Creatively speaking, Megamind perhaps falls closer to DreamWorks' Madagascar and latter Shrek films, but with the very impressive early 2010 release, How To Train Your Dragon, they have shown they are making ground on their own arch nemesis, Pixar; the Metro Man (or Buzz Lightyear) to their own Megamind, if you will. Like the best rivalries, it can only encourage them to aim higher.



With the awards season kicking off this past week with the US National Board of Review announcing their 2010 winners, some things have changed. It looks as though Lesley Manville (Another Year) will go Lead even though she could have won Support. And Jacki Weaver is well and truly in the race.

If Adams, as the plucky girlfriend of Mark Wahlberg's boxer, gets a nod it will be her third in six years (all in this category). Not necessarily overdue but hard to ignore.

A good if not great performance, but if The King's Speech gets a swag of nods (and it will), Bonham Carter, last nominated in 1997, could be swept along for the ride.

Last nominated in 1996 (Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady), Hershey here plays the overbearing stage mother to Portman's ballerina. With voters watching for Portman, Hershey could get noticed.

Received her first nomination two years ago for Frozen River so is fresh in voters' minds. However, she will be splitting votes with co-star Adams, who is said to give the better performance.

It's 16 years since this respected Brit actress was last nominated. Trying hard not to chew the scenery in this rousing 1960s-set women's fight for equal pay drama, could definitely get her noticed.

The veteran actress has the advantage of starring opposite Robert Duvall, whom voters will be watching for Best Actor (much like Maggie Gyllenhaal last year in Crazy Heart). That and her long, dignified career could see her in.

Now that True Grit has been seen and reviewed, we know that Steinfeld impresses and hold her own against Bridges and Damon. And the Academy has a soft spot for young actors in quasi-lead roles.

Wouldn't we all love to hear Weaver's name read out on nominations day? With the NBR win and a Washington Critics nomination, that could happen. The screener for Animal Kingdom was one of the first sent out to Academy members this year so they have no excuse.

Two wins from three nominations is a double-edged sword for Wiest, who apparently provides some light relief in this child loss drama. While she's no stranger to voters, they may also feel she's been well enough rewarded.

Sadly, Roman Polanski's thriller looks set to be overlooked come awards time, but the studio behind it has mounted a campaign for Williams, who is excellent as the icy cool wife of a former Brit PM.


20th Century Fox Films
Now Showing

A lot has changed since we were last in Narnia, least of all the stewardship of C.S. Lewis's series of fantasy novels to the big screen passing from Disney to 20th Century Fox. Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) is now King and seems to have lost his Spanish accent in the ascension; Reepicheep, the talking mouse, has also had a vocal makeover with Simon Pegg replacing Eddie Izzard; and the magical kingdom is now in 3D.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite Michael Apted replacing Andrew Adamson in the director's chair, Walden Media are still a producing partner which means Lewis's Christian symbolism is still employed as obviously as the flowing mane on Jesus, I mean, Aslan the lion.

Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), the youngest of the Pevensie siblings, return to Narnia whilst staying in the country home of their cousin, Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter), a snivelling, pompous git and annoying as all hell (he could well prove to be this series' Jar Jar Binks). He's swept along, too, more's the pity, when a painting of the ocean comes to life, flooding the room and positing them in Narnia's East Ocean.

The trio are rescued by King Caspain who has set sail on the Dawn Treader in search of the seven lords who were banished from Narnia following his father's murder prior to (or early on in, I can't remember which) Prince Caspian (2008), the previous Narnia installment. It's when Caspian, Lucy and Edmund are called on to locate the seven swords of Narnia (in possession of the lords) and place them at the table of Aslan in order to prevent a mysterious force of evil rising up, that the plot resembles less the work of C.S. Lewis and more a computer game.

Despite a shorter running time than the previous films, Dawn Treader is the most tedious of the three Narnia installments, all of which have been workmanlike rather than inspired flights of fantasy. Unlike the Harry Potter films, where the world of magic is believable, wondrous and seemingly possible, the world of Narnia – talking animals, centaurs, minotaurs, and in this film, dragons – is effectively rendered but lifeless. And the 3D in this outing does nothing to help matters.

With the Harry Potter series set to end in July 2011, there will be a void for large-scale fantasy-action films for the family. With only two Narnia books left to film (chronologically speaking; there are 7 in total), time is running out for Walden Media and 20th Century Fox to rise to the challenge and successfully fill that void.


Rialto Distribution
Now Showing

If Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker put us in the thick of the theatre of war, seriously fraying our nerves in the process, than Samuel Maoz's Lebanon further concentrates the hellish experience of battle: his film is set entirely within the confines of an Israeli military tank; recollections of his own experiences having fought in the very war he depicts.

It is day one of the 1982 war between Israel and Lebanon and four men, all conscripts, have been assigned to a tank called on to search an enemy town. They are under the orders of a paratrooper commander who has no time for their fears, hesitations or inexperience.

Lebanon is not for the claustrophobic but unlike the recent Buried, where Ryan Reynolds spent 90 minutes buried in a box, Maoz is not conducting an exercise in logistics or style. Or lack thereof, though the production designer's gone all out for authenticity: you can smell the oil that runs down the walls of the tank and the urine, which the soldiers have to 'empty' into a container.

The film, like the best war films, is an anti-war statement, highlighting the madness and futility of the exercise and the collateral damage, physical and mental, it amasses. Much like Bigelow's Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, Maoz's Lebanon wowed critics, taking out the Golden Lion for Best Film at the 2009 Venice Film Festival (yes, it's taken over a year to get here). But will that be enough to attract an audience given the notoriously hard sell of war films?


Icon Film Distribution
Now Showing

I'll admit I find the idea of a Christmas themed film about as inviting as having surgery to remove reindeer antlers from my butt, sans morphine: I'm very much of the 'bah humbug' school of thought. Despite the second half of its title, Rare Exports is anything but a saccharine-laden yuletide treat.

Finnish director Jalmari Helander made a series of short films (which can be found on YouTube), exploring the not-so-nice origins of Santa Claus. He has expanded on those ideas in Rare Exports, a film with a wicked sense of humour; a kid's film with more than a few grown up scares and refreshingly schmaltz free.

When drilling in a nearby mountain coincides with strange events in the nearby village – the theft of heating appliances, potato sacks but not their contents, and soon enough the local kids – and on Christmas eve no less, Pietari, a mere boy himself, begins to suspect that the real (i.e. evil) Santa Claus has been released from his centuries old icy prison.

I'll say no more of the plot; Rare Exports is best enjoyed as that surprise gift you find under the tree, not quite sure what you'll discover as it unfolds. What I will say – and it's something I rarely, if ever, say – is that the film could have been longer, if only to flesh out some of the elements of the story, Santa's helpers for one. But that's a minor complaint for this Christmas film for people who don't like Christmas films.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


Universal Pictures
Now Showing

When Universal stamps the imprimatur of M. Night Shyamalan on their pre-Christmas release, you have to assume that their (American) publicity department is either very naïve or supremely confident. The director hasn't had a good run of late (well, since The Sixth Sense to be honest), and his most recent film, The Last Airbender, is easily one of the worst films of 2010.

But Devil, the first in the proposed The Night Chronicles series of films, is not directed by Shyamalan. He is a producer here and originated and developed each of the stories that will comprise the films, but The Night Chronicles are envisioned as projects for up-and-coming filmmakers to cut their teeth on.

John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) is in the director's chair on Devil and he displays a confidant hand from the outset; his camera sweeps in to Philadelphia across the harbour (or river? My Philly geography is a little lax), the city introduced upside down.

Following a suicide, the Devil has come to town ready to claim the souls of five sinners who, as luck would have it are all passengers on an elevator in a downtown skyscraper. Luck also has Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) nearby to take the call when the five become trapped on the 21st floor and weird shit ensues i.e. the passengers are picked off one-by-one.

Casting relatively unknown actors as the victims (including Australian actress Bojana Novacovic) circumvents audience expectations about who will die and when, who will survive, and also who, if any, may be the killer.

Most of those murders occur off-screen when the lights in the elevator go out: we witness the results rather than the act. Dowdle, and by extension Shyamalan, isn't necessarily interested in the horror. Devil is a morality tale: no bad deed goes unpunished and karma's a bitch. That said, the dialogue is hokey rather than preachy. But it's entertaining, too, something a Shyamalan film hasn't been for quite some time.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


Roadshow/Warner Bros.
Now Showing

The Hangover was one of the surprise breakout hits of 2009: boffo box office, critical acclaim and, with an expanded Best Picture field, there was even talk of Oscar nominations. That scenario didn't eventuate but the film, and writer-director Todd Phillips, earned a certain cache to go along with its shit load of cash.

Not surprisingly, Warner Bros are billing their new comedy, Due Date, as 'from the creators of The Hangover'. And even if the films share some similarities – unlikely buddies, escalating mayhem, Phillips and Zack Galifiniakis – the new film is nowhere near the comic goldmine of its predecessor. But it has its moments, all of them involving Robert Downey Jr and Galifianakis.

They're the odd couple thrown together when Ethan Tremblay (Galifinaikis) has himself and Peter Highman (Downey) thrown off their plane to LA and onto the 'no fly' list. Without money or ID (his wallet was left on the plane), Peter begrudgingly accepts a ride with Ethan in his rental car. Cue cross country road trip and hilarity.

Although for fans of The Hangover, and comedy generally, there's not as many laughs as you'd hope for. There's a lot of cringe-inducing comedy, most of it a result of Galifiniakis' portrayal of one of the most annoying and stupidest travel companions ever. Ethan, who hopes to go to Hollywood and become an actor, inspired by his favourite TV show, Two and a Half Men (so you get a sense of his IQ right there), is seemingly oblivious to his infuriating nature.

Downey's character is given a history of anger issues to help explain his 'over-the-top' response to Ethan, but I felt Peter was perfectly justified in his behaviour. Okay, not so much when he's spitting on Ethan's self-pleasuring dog or gut-punching the brattish kid of a dope dealing Juliette Lewis (is it wrong that I found the former more upsetting than the latter?), but for the most part Downey's Peter deserves some kind of medal for not killing his companion right there in the airport parking lot.

Like any road trip, the film has its up and downs; some memorable moments and those you'd rather forget or never speak of again (see self-pleasuring dog above). At the very least, it should whet one's appetite for next year's The Hangover 2, which also goes on the road – or more accurately, abroad – to Thailand.


Madman Entertainment
Now Showing

The title is, of course, a misnomer; the monsters are in fact aliens. But that film title was taken a while back and [Spoiler Alert!] Attack of the Giant Alien Octopus just sounds too much like something from the oeuvre of Ed Wood. And Gareth Edwards is no Ed Wood*.

He makes his directorial debut with Monsters (which he also penned) and displays a confident command of the medium, a command made more impressive given the on-location shooting in South America, two unknown if not amateur actors carrying the film (all other cast are locals), and a budget reportedly no higher than $500k.

That budget is perhaps part of the reason Edwards prefers to provide only teasing glimpses of the aliens throughout the film. Edwards comes from a special effects background so knows what he's doing, but half a million and the best computer software will only get you so much. So he improvises, and like the best horror (although I'm not sure I'd label Monsters 'horror', or even sci-fi, for that matter), he discovers that the idea of something can be just as effective, if not more so, than showing it.

Photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy, my new favourite name!) is asked to escort Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), the daughter of his publisher, out of Central America where she was holidaying, and back to the United States. Samantha has just survived an attack on her hotel by the aliens but when they miss the last connecting ferry to the States, the pair decide to trek through the 'infected zone' to the US border.

We are told in an opening prologue the monsters arrived on Earth six years ago following a NASA discovery probe was sent to Jupiter. That probe crash landed in Central America where the aliens have since roamed. The creatures are nocturnal and are only really active during their mating season. They are destructive but not intentionally so; kind of like elephants that trample Indian villages. But that hasn't stopped the US responding to the threat by building a giant wall along the Mexican border and providing 24-7 military patrols.

Of course, there's a political allegory there but I don't think that was Edwards' main intention. It's certainly not as obvious as the apartheid themes in last year's surprise hit, District 9, which Monsters could draw easy comparison with. But Neill Blomkamp had a budget of $30 million and the backing of Peter Jackson; Edwards' is more guerilla filmmaking. But a comparatively miniscule budget can go a long way when you combine it with a really strong idea and undeniable talent.

*Ed Wood was a film director in the 1960s who is hailed as making some of the worst films of all time, including Plan 9 From Outer Space. You should check out the wonderful 1994 Tim Burton film, Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp (of course!) as the filmmaker.


Hoyts Distribution
Now Showing

Of all the crimes and atrocities committed by the Bush administration during its eight year tenure of the White House, the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent was not the worst. But by making the political personal, and by turning on its own, Bush, or more specifically Vice President Dick Cheney, proved that nothing was above, or beneath them.

In the wake of 9-11 and its failure to capture Osama Bin Laden, the White House turned its attentions to Iraq. Falsifying a report written ex-diplomat Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), the US government claimed Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction and, well, you know how that played out.

But when Wilson, outraged that his information had been falsified, outlines the truth of his report in The New York Times, the Bush Administration retaliates by naming Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), as a CIA agent, effectively ending her career as an undercover operative (not to mention endangering the lives of her contacts around the world), and throwing the Plame-Wilson home into crisis.

Thus Fair Game is a political thriller cum domestic drama, as director Liman focuses very much on the private lives of Plame and Wilson, whose relationship will either solidify or implode under the political and media pressure brought to bear on their marriage.

The Valerie Plame story has already been covered in Nothing But The Truth, the 2008 film starring Kate Beckinsale and Vera Farmiga, which didn't receive an Australian theatrical release. The names in that film were changed but not so here. Liman, writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, and the producers pull no punches, very much putting their money (and political colours) where their mouths are by naming names: none are changed to 'protect' or prevent litigation.

Watts and Penn, so good together in 21 Grams (2003), once again prove to be a perfect fit. While Penn gets the showier role as the media savvy Wilson who'd rather fight fire with fire, Watts has the harder task. She plays Plame like the CIA agent she must have been: controlled, reserved, a thinker. It may give the impression that her performance is low key but like the best actors, Watts excels in seemingly doing little.

There's a sense that Fair Game is somewhat 'too little, too late', and not just as a second film on the subject or fourth Iraq-themed film this year. But while it may almost be two years since Bush and Cheney left office, the aftershocks of the invasion of Iraq continue to reverberate, providing legitimacy enough for its existence.


Hopscotch Films
Now Showing
By Guest Reviewer A.J. Smith

The Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) has made a modest living, and a name for himself, performing placebo exorcisms on religious fanatics who believe they have been possessed by demons. Hoping to clear his conscience, Cotton agrees to perform one last holy grift, to be filmed by a documentary crew, in Louisiana, where Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum), wants to rid his sweet, innocent daughter, Nell (Ashley Bell), of the evil inhabiting her.

Some clever satire during the first act of The Last Exorcism amuses, especially as we know what the arrogant Cotton will soon be facing, and the spooky Louisiana locales assist in setting an uneasy tone. There are some genuine scares amongst the suspense, but the plot suffers from too many competing ideas, none of which we haven’t seen before. And the less said about the climax, the better.

Sometimes it’s best not to know anything about a film before you see it. In this case, I avoided everything but the trailer, which would have one believe that it adds something new to the ‘found footage’ horror movie genre. (It also contains a seemingly important scene that has been exorcised from the final cut; what's up with that?)

But this type of storytelling is starting to grow thin (it's been 11 years since The Blair Witch Project), so it’s necessary each new foray will need some novel idea or satisfying pay-off to keep audiences interested. Unfortunately, obvious intentional shaky camera work, and a jolting, intrusive score detract from the 'reality' the filmmakers were aiming for.

But to the credit of all the actors involved, performances rise above the material, in particular Caleb Landry Jones as Nell’s fiery brother. Ashley Bell, though fine, would have impressed more had Jennifer Carpenter not outdone her (or more accurately, out-screamed and out-flexed her) in The Exorcism Of Emily Rose a few years earlier.

Daniel Hamm, directing on a US$1.8 million budget, has recently scored the job of remaking Martyrs, one of my favourite recent French horror/shockers. I'm assuming he impressed the suits with the strong opening The Last Exorcism received at the US box office and not for the content.

I'd recommend The Last Exorcism for the less demanding horror movie buff and not those for whom the devil is in the detail.


Sony Pictures
Now Showing

2010 may yet prove to be the year that Australian filmmakers embraced genre; Bran Nue Dae (musical) and the recently released The Loved Ones (teen horror) to name but two examples. No doubt it's an (understandable) attempt to not only entertain an audience but to attract them to Australian films in the first place. Dae certainly succeeded with $7m+ at the local box office; The Loved Ones, though only in cinemas a month, is floundering.

Red Hill, the debut feature for Patrick Hughes, is also a genre film – a Western – one even more identifiably American than teen horror. But what it possesses which The Loved Ones does not – and could ultimately prove the difference between finding an audience and box office oblivion – is a star.

That would be Ryan Kwanten, one-time Home and Away alumni now international hearthrob thanks to his serio-comic role in HBO's vampire series, True Blood, where he makes a habit of appearing in various states of undress. Much to the chagrin of the ladies (and a fair few men, I'd suspect), Kwanten keep his clothes on throughout Red Hill, though he does don a uniform (if you like that kind of thing).

He's Constable Shane Cooper, newly stationed in the country town of Red Hill where he and his wife (Claire van der Boom) have moved for a quieter life and smoother pregnancy. But Cooper isn't exactly greeted with country hospitality by his superior, Old Bill (Steve Bisley), on his first day.

And then the shit hits the fan when William Conway (Tom E. Lewis), former Red Hill resident jailed for the murder of his wife, breaks out of prison and makes his way back to his home town to inflict revenge on those who sent him down. Or perhaps there is more to it than that, given the rather over-the-top call-to-arms of every local male response this news elicits.

That said, I think I would have enjoyed Red Hill more – and I did enjoy it – if Hughes, who also wrote, produced and edited the film, had exercised a little more consistency in tone, committing to a straight-up Western thriller. But as a first time filmmaker, I suspect Hughes is eager to include as much of his ideas as possible: “Here's what I can do!”

One such inclusion, a subplot involving a panther, a local Red Hill legend, and its cameo appearance, is superfluous to Red Hill's storyline. Unless of course it is intended as an analogy – that man is a beast and will kill to survive? – in which case it's a little clumsy and, if related to Conway, just a tad racist.

That quibble aside, Red Hill marks a competent debut for a new Australian film talent. The film has already been well-received at international festivals, and received positive reviews from the likes of The New York Times. Australian audiences are likely to enjoy it too, if they make that initial Kwanten leap and buy a ticket.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

A recent column in the Sydney Morning Herald suggested that those who didn't like Glee, Channel 10's musical-comedy hit, were dead inside. I'd suggest the same for those who watch Toy Story 3 and don't shed a tear. I've already stated that Toy Story 3 is the most emotional experience I've had at the movies in 2010. Both times I watched it (in 2D, and the unnecessary 3D) I cried like a baby.

In saying goodbye to one the most successful film franchises, in terms of both art and commerce, those of us who have been with Woody, Buzz and the rest of Andy's toy collection from the beginning (was it really 1995?), are letting go of much more than a trilogy of enjoyable films.

Much like the toys themselves, we are coming to terms with the impermanence of things; that even being made of non-biodegradable plastic doesn't prevent you from having a shelf life, a use-by-date, an end. The Toy Story films have always flirted with these ideas of time, of what happens when childhood ends and those who showered us with so much love for so many years finally grow up, move on, leave us.

Of course, we'll always have these films to return to, to delight in and remind us of the children we once were and the friends we once had. And Toy Story 3 is a wonderful last hurrah, reuniting the gang in one last adventure precipitated by the impending big adventure for Andy (voiced by John Morris, the same child actor now grown as in the first two films): he's off to college.

Whether Woody (voiced, as always, by Tom Hanks), Andy's long time favourite, will make that journey with him becomes one of the urgent questions in the film, penned by Little Miss Sunshine's Michael Arndt who brings an edge to the always brilliant if untroubling Pixar material.

That question is answered, beautifully and heartwrenchingly, in the film's final scene and if you aren't already sobbing by this time, prepare for the waterworks. Those who don't cry, prepare for burial; you're already dead.


Roadshow Films/Warner Bros.
Now Showing

When it was announced that The Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter saga, would be made into two films there was always the fear that Part 1 would not succeed as a film in its own right but merely as the warm-up act for the finale (Part 2 arrives in July 2011). Sadly, that has proven to be the case.

Whether David Yates (director since Harry Potter film #5, Order of the Phoenix) and screenwriter Steve Kloves felt the need to reward die hard Potter fans by including as much of the source material as possible, or simply needed to justify splitting the book into two films, the resultant 146 minutes that constitutes The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is all set-up for the second film.

J.K. Rowling's final installment in the Potter saga was a hefty tome but not in need of two films. Rowling's books have always had fat to trim and the best adaptations – #3 Prisoner of Azkaban and #4 Goblet of Fire – succeeded by knowing what to cut.

For the first time since film #2, The Chamber of Secrets, a Harry Potter film is almost a chore to sit through (Chamber and #1, Philosopher's Stone, sagged under the weight of their literary fidelity). That's not because of the film's dark themes and tone or the lack of magic, cinematic rather than wizarding, but because for almost two and a half hours, nothing much happens.

Sporadic action sequences enliven proceedings but most of the film centres on Harry, Ron and Hermoine, on the run and camped out in the woods. School's out (forever) in HP7, with Hogwart's only mentioned in passing. That means school chums and, more disappointingly, a host of British character actors are sidelined.

So, too, is Voldemort. Since his resurrection in Goblet of Fire (still my favourite Potter book and film), The Dark Lord (and Ralph Fiennes who embodies him, sans nose) has been criminally underused.

You can understand Warner Bros eagerness to wring every last drop out of their cash cow (the most successful movie franchise ever), but filming The Deadly Hallows as two features is all about commerce and not art – or intelligent blockbuster entertainment, which the Potter films have proven to be.

But hats-off to the studio for dumping its planned conversion of the film to 3D – this time. Sadly, Part 2 will require eyewear. Here's hoping it will also require a box of tissues, for this fan is hoping for an emotional farewell to the Potter universe, in the form a truly great film and not a ploddingly faithful rendering of the book.

Note to filmmakers: Please DO NOT use the book's epilogue!


A hard category to call, not because of the competition but for the first time in three years there's no psychopathic killer (Javier Bardem, Heath Ledger, Christoph Waltz) with one hand already on the statuette.

The only real odds-on nominee at this early stage. Rush goes toe-to-toe with Firth, indeed, both could go Lead. Hard to believe it's 10 years since his last nom. Welcome back, Geoffrey.

A fine actor who has yet to be invited to the ball, Bale, as the meth-addicted brother of Wahlberg's comeback boxer, may finally get the chance to suit up.

Said to be the best thing about this real life courtroom drama, Rockwell is a character actor who has been doing good work for years, most recently in last year's Moon. It's time to acknowledge him.

Similarly, Ruffalo has been turning in good support, and the occasional lead, since coming to attention in You Can Count On Me (2000). Like Rockwell, he's well overdue for some Academy love.

In a film full of egomanical geeks, Garfield plays the closest thing to a likeable character, Eduardo Saverin, the best friend royally shafted when Facebook hit the big time.

With the announcement of a late entry into the Oscars 2010 race, Peter Weir's new film opened up many possibilities including a fourth nomination for Harris, whom many feel is well overdue for a win. If he's in, he could be the dark horse.

If the Academy really takes to this homespun film (and they'll be watching it for Duvall), Murray may also get noticed. A make-up nom for not winning for Lost In Translation, maybe?

Some solid performances in recent years, including Eastern Promises, has this French actor on the radar and if the Academy falls for Aranofsky's dark thriller (they'll all be watching for Portman), Cassel could get noticed.

No one has seen the Coens' True Grit but both Matt Damon and Josh Brolin appear there, and both are known to Academy voters.


Palace Films
Now Showing

When a natural gas company offered to pay Josh Fox $100,000 to explore for natural gas on his land, he didn't, like most of us, immediately start planning an overseas vacation. What he did do was pick up his camcorder and start asking questions. And while Josh Fox is no aesthete – his camera work is enough to give some cinema purists a stroke – what he does possess is curiosity, passion, and a little bit of anger.

And you'll be angry, too, when you see what Fox uncovers. The mining procedure of hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking) involves the use of water to drill into the earth. A large percentage of that water is contaminated during the process but is merely left by the mining companies to be absorbed into the ground or run-off directly into the river systems of the region.

Fox travels all across America, encountering people and communities who, once relatively happy and carefree, or at least with nothing to fear from their water supply, now have to buy their water from Wal-Mart. The water supplies being contaminated by the fracking water, running out of the taps brown in colour, toxic and literally flammable.

That governments and corporations give no concern for the little people when there is a buck or two million to be made should come as no surprise to anyone. The Bush administration circumvented the Clean Air and Water Acts to allow companies such as Halliburton to drill in these regions, consequence free. They're also exempt from the Right To Know Act (so you don't know just what chemicals you are drinking) for good measure.

And, such is the US legal system, the onus is on those affected communities to prove that their water system was not contaminated before drilling commenced. Why should a mining magnate care if his company's drilling is poisoning the water of a community hundreds of miles and several states away? His kids aren't going to be drinking the water, so, what the hell!

The scary coda to the film is that hyrdraulic fracturing is already occurring in some Australian regions. And when governments increasingly seek to put profits before people, what's a little dirty or flammable water in an outback community when the overall goal is a sustainable Australia?

Like the recent trend of American documentaries – Food Inc., the Michael Moore oeuvre – Josh Fox aims to shock and alarm. Not to instill fear and dread, like his namesake Fox News, but to inform. Knowledge is power.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


Sony Pictures
Now Showing

Danny Trejo is a 66 year old actor with a face for which the adjective 'lived-in' is a gross understatement. Then again, that's what the role of Machete - a former Federale crossed by his superiors, his wife and daughter murdered by a drug baron, and reduced to working as a day labourer on the Texas-Mexico border - calls for. An action hero with a leather face not a leather manbag.

Robert Rodriguez's Machete, originally conceived as a fake trailer for his Grindhouse collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, harks back to the exploitation films which peaked in the 1970s. I'm not overly familiar with the genre, and not just because I was a mere toddler for most of that decade. Gratuitous and graphic violence is not my thing, hence I've never studied up. I can accept it as an aesthetic necessity of the genre, just don't ask me to enjoy it.

Having said that, many in the audience I watched Machete with did enjoy it; there was constant laughter and applause throughout. And to be honest, I didn't hate the film, co-directed by Ethan Maniquis. But it is hard to engage with a film you spend most of the time watching through your fingers.

Still, I appreciated the none-too-subtle politcial edge to the film, that of immigration and border patrol, and the depiction (borrowed from actual advertising) of the racist rhetoric adopted by those in power.

That would be Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), whose campaign for re-election, backed by Mexican drug lord money (the same drug lord, Steven Segal, who ruined Machete's life), is founded on building an electrical fence along the border between the Lone Star state and its southern neighbour. Opposed to this scheme is The Network, headed by a mythical revolutionary lass named She, but who is in fact, taco-seller Luz (a sexy-as-all-hell Michelle Rodriguez).

Machete becomes entwined in all this power play when he is "hired" to assassinate the Senator, which is really only a plot to further enflame hatred towards Mexican immigrants, boosting the Senator's re-election hopes in the process. But Machete's no patsy and goes on the run - with the help of The Network and and a US immigration officer, Jessica Alba - to expose the conspiracy.

If that sounds convoluted, it's really not; Machete is easily followed throughout its two hour run time. And in its favour, it's never dull thanks in no small part to appearances by the likes of Cheech Marin, as Machete's brother, a priest no less, Don Johnson as an overly-eager border patrol officer, and Lindsay Lohan as a drug-addled young lady who has somewhat of a spiritual epiphany (here's hoping life imitates art on that second point).