Tuesday, 22 February 2011


Universal Pictures
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Matt Damon on the run in New York city is nothing new; that's how he capped off his tenure in the Bourne films. But this time he's being pursued not by agents of the US government but by those of the Lord. Actually, he goes by the moniker of The Chairman, amongst others (Frank Sinatra? Aslan?), and runs his operation like a hands-on public service, albeit far more efficient and far better tailored.

Yes, the Lord would seem to have a penchant for TV's Mad Men; his agents dressed in snazzy suits and not-so-inconspicuous trilby hats. He also has that show's John Slattery as one of his top men, Richardson. It's his, and others', job to make sure the world runs according to a preordained plan, a plan that is jeopardized when Damon's political hot shot, New York congressman David Norris, goes off the map and falls for Elise, a contemporary ballet dancer.

As Elise is played by Brit actress Emily Blunt, you can hardly blame the guy. Norris heeds Richardson's warnings at first – that neither will be happy if they remain together – somewhat compensated by the promise of great things to come should he go it alone. But as Norris would know, no one is getting the keys to the White House without a First Lady; the US voters are not about to elect an unmarried man. They may have gone black in 2008, but they're not about to go 'pink' any time soon.

But what is power without love? Norris decides he can't live without Elise and Heaven, or The Bureau, be damned! Damon and Blunt have a wonderful, easy going chemistry but the silly goings-on around them lessen rather than heighten the impact of an impossible love. I could have done with a lot more of their courtship and a little less of the men in suits and their god-bothering.

I'm not overly familiar with the work of Philip K. Dick, upon whose short story The Adjustment Bureau is based, other than being aware that his work was the basis of Blade Runner, one of the seminal sci-fi films of all time. Fighting fate and destiny, and whether or not our future's are indeed preordained, were at the centre of Minority Report, another Dick adaptation, but there's very little sci accompanying the fi in The Adjustment Bureau.

I don't know if debuting director, George Nolfi, who penned Ocean's 12 and co-penned The Bourne Ultimatum, has changed the elements of Dick's original story, toning down the sci-fi elements and upping the celestial? Either way, it won't be just fans of Philip K. Dick who are disappointed by The Adjustment Bureau. Fans of Matt Damon won't be too pleased either, especially as it comes so soon in the wake of Hereafter. I suggest they go catch True Grit for a second (or third) time.


Rialto Distribution
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What started with a bang with the highly effective serial killer mystery, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, has ended with a whimper with the third and final installment, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, the second longest and least satisfying of the three film versions of Stieg Larsson's million-selling Millennium trilogy of books. To paraphrase Variety, it's been a series of diminishing returns.

Originally made for Swedish television, those roots are never more apparent then in this third film which would be much better suited to a screening over two nights on SBS than one 142 minute session at your local cinema. Hornet's Nest also makes abundantly clear just how uninteresting the character of crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (and, if we're being honest, actor Michael Nyqvist) really is.

But then, the real star of the Millenium series, books and films, has always been Lisbeth Salander, and Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, who returns once again and in fine form. That's even as Salander is recovering in hospital from the bullet wounds inflicted by her father, Soviet defector Zalachenko, and her half brother during the climax of the second film, The Girl Who Played With Fire.

Once recovered, it's off to prison to await trial on the attempted murder of said father and possible incarceration in a psychiatric institution, most likely the same one she was sentenced to as a child when she first attempted to kill her father in an effort to stop him beating her mother.

Other men, mostly government and security officials, were involved with silencing Salander to protect Zalachenko and their interests, and it's Blomkvist who must uncover these mens' identities and reveal their past injustices if he is to save her. Friendly tip: if you've not read the books or seen the first two films, this is not the place to start.

All of this could be thrilling, and may very well be in the book, but as directed by Daniel Alfredson, who also directed The Girl Who Played With Fire but significantly not Tattoo, it's all rather plodding, with far too much exposition and not nearly enough action – or Salander.

It reaffirms my belief that David Fincher (and Sony Pictures) would be wise to make his version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (currently filming in Sweden and due for release this December) a stand alone thriller. The sequels, while perfectly suited to Stieg Larsson's literary intent to shine a light on the ugly underbelly of Swedish society, are, in my opinion, unnecessary in the Hollywood version.

But there is an audience for these films and I can understand that many, most likely fans of the books, will rock up to The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest if only for a sense of closure. Despite the efforts of Noomi Rapace, saying a final farewell won't prove as difficult as it should have.


Paramount Pictures
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There is a scene in Wasted On The Young where a female student confides to a male student that their private school seems like a parallel world. That's probably the best way to approach Ben C. Lucas's debut feature, where the events resemble nothing (I hope) like a real high school or adolescence (certainly not those of my experience).

Adults are virtually non-existent in this world; we never once see a teacher and the newly married parents of Darren (Oliver Ackland) and Zack (Alex Russell) have gone away and left the new step brothers alone in the upper middle class home that is as sterile as it is modern. Darren and Zack already have an uneasy relationship but it's when Zack, the unofficial king of the school – captain of the swim team, handsome and arrogant as all hell – decides to throw a house party that tensions escalate.

At this party, Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens, bearing a striking resemblance to Michelle Williams), a fellow student who is as keen on Darren as he is on her, is drugged and left to the devices of Zack and two of his cohorts. It is the aftermath of this incident – the cover-up and lying, the indifference and cruelty of the student body – which leads first Xandrie, then Darren to take extreme measures to right the wrongs.

For the most part, Wasted On The Young plays like a high school thriller, effectively depicting how social networking not only fuels and proliferates bullying but has desensitized the student population to the suffering of others, be it mere teasing, playground fisticuffs, or even gang rape. The absence of adults making a point about the generational disconnect modern technology creates.

But it's in the third act, when Darren sets in motion his rather convoluted plan of revenge against Zack, where Lucas's film came undone for me. The sickly feeling I'd had in my stomach from the film's beginning – where we flash to the end of the first act and the immediate aftermath of the rape; we just know something wicked this way comes – is replaced by the dismay of a young writer-director losing his way. Wasted On The Young loses any pretensions of exploring its young protagonists' dire situation and merely exploits it, and us.

But there's no denying Lucas has talent. The film, shot in Perth, looks good and is slickly edited, at times resembling a music video. And the young cast (though not as young as they should be) all deliver strong performances. I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more from all of them in the future, and for Lucas, youthful exuberance may give way to focus and restraint.

Sunday, 20 February 2011


In just under a week (Feb 28 AEDST) at the Kodak Theatre, the winners of the 83rd Academy Awards will be announced. Here then are my final predictions in the major categories. Feel free to tell me who you think will walk away with a gold statuette.

As much as I'd like to invoke the patriotic card, Jacki Weaver will not triumph here, but how great has it been to have her in the mix? Even though Melissa Leo (The Fighter) has won the lion's share of critics' awards, I don't think she'll win; she's not even the best supporting actress in her film (fellow nominee Amy Adams is!). I expect Hailee Steinfeld to win, to earn True Grit one of its few major prizes. Steinfeld really should be in Lead, but she's in Supporting and she gives the best performance of them all.

Geoffrey Rush's recent BAFTA win suggested to some that the tide which had swung in The King's Speech's favour was bringing everyone with it. Not that Rush would be undeserving but Christian Bale (The Fighter) is equally terrific. It is definitely between these two and I think Bale will win, but I'll be just as happy to be wrong and have Rush come away victorious.

As much industry respect as there is for Annette Bening, and however much people say "it's her time", it will be a shock if Natalie Portman does not win Best Actress for Black Swan. Her darkest, most demanding role to date simply cannot be denied. Maybe if they'd put Bening (The Kids Are All Right) in Support, where she belonged, the four-time nominee wouldn't be going home empty handed again.

If I had a house, I would put it on Colin Firth winning. The king is dead, long live the king! There isn't even a close-running spoiler, although if I had to pick one, I'd nominate Oscars co-host James Franco (127 Hours). The guy's everywhere at the moment and people seem to really like him. Of course, Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) would be a far more deserving usurper.

Everyone was stunned when Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) won the DGA's top honour a few weeks back, but in spite of how much the Academy supposedly loves that film, I'm sticking with David Fincher (The Social Network) to win.

If critics awarded the Oscars then The Social Network would win BP hands-down; the film has scooped every critics' award and guild pre-cursor to be one of the most awarded films in history. And yet, The King's Speech is considered the favourite to win. Some say because "it's the kind of the film the Academy likes", that it's a safe choice and feel good. But it's also a pretty darn terrific film. Then again, The Social Network is perhaps as close to a near-perfect film as we've seen in years. The Academy anointed both No Country For Old Men (2007) and The Hurt Locker (2009) when "experts" suggested those kinds of films couldn't win, so maybe TSN has a real shot? I'd be happy with either winning but I'll go with the momentum and tip The King's Speech.

In Brief:

Original Screenplay: Has to be The King's Speech but I'd love for The Kids Are All Right to get some love.

Adapted Screenplay: There can be only one: Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network. Hands-down the best written film in recent memory.

Animated Feature: Toy Story 3 is the highest grossing animated film of all time. It's also nominated for BP and the third and final film in a much-loved trilogy. Pixar won't be denied.
Best Foreign Language Film: Not having seen any of this year's nominees, and with no critical darling a la A Prophet or The White Ribbon (both of which lost out last year), I'll go with the Golden Globe winner In A Better World, although Inarritu's Biutiful does feature Best Actor nominee Javier Bardem and could sneak in.

Best Documentary: The smart money says GFC-related Inside Job will win but how cool would it be if street artist Banksy won for his mockumentary (or whatever it is!) Exit Through The Gift Shop? Probably not, since the Academy has asked that the identity-hiding artist not attend the ceremony should he be donning a mask. Oh, well.

What are your predictions? Who do you think will win ? Who do you want to win? Let me know, and by all means, feel free to disagree!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Roadshow Films
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Fact is often stranger than fiction and some stories are so incredible that they have to be true. And even if there is conjecture about whether or not author Slavomir Ramowicz himself made the amazing trek from Siberia to India, across Mongolia's Gobi Desert and over the Himalayas, as claimed in his book, others did. Peter Weir's The Way Back is a testament to them - and the human desire for freedom - regardless of the source material.

Polish man, Janusz (Jim Sturgess), is found guilty of treason against the Soviet Party, on evidence tortured out of his wife, and is sentenced to hard labour in a Siberian gulag. But it's not long before his thoughts turn to escape; cold, hunger and lice will do that to you. Encouraged firstly by fellow prisoner, Khabarov (Mark Strong), who proves to be all talk, Janusz puts talk into action with a handful of inmates, including a low-level Russian mobster, Valka (Colin Farrel), and Mr Smith (Ed Harris), an American and Communist sympathiser interred for being a foreigner.

These three men, and four others, escape through the forest and into the mountains during a snowstorm, which will conceal their tracks from pursuing guards if it doesn't kill them first. Following that, it's a 4000-mile walk through unforgiving landscapes, beautifully shot by cinematographer Russell Boyd.

Weir has always been in awe of nature (Picnic At Hanging Rock, Mosquito Coast, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), and its on display here in all its majesty and terror; Bulgaria, Morocco and Pakistan standing in for Siberia, Mongolia and India, and somehow all captured on a budget of just $30 million. That said, at times that grandeur can diminish the human characters in the film; Weir and screenwriter, Keith R. Clarke, choosing not to weigh down their trekkers in the way of backstory or conflict.

That decision may reduce one's emotional involvement somewhat but I was still moved when members of this band of travellers fell by the wayside; an opening title credit informs us that 'three men' walked out of the mountains into India. Less successful is that eventual arrival in India, which should be triumphant but feels rather muted (the 20th Century Communism 101 postscript at film's end doesn't help either).

But the four stars (including young Saoirse Ronan as Irena, a Polish girl also fleeing Russia who joins the men when still headed for the Mongolian border) make an impression. Sturgess's Janusz is a good anchor for the drama, while Harris is at his stoic best. And Farrell, equally comic and menacing, gives one of his better performances, even if his thick Russian accent renders him near indecipherable.

The Way Back is Peter Weir's first film since 2003's Master and Commander, and there was a very real possibility of it going direct to DVD. When an artist such as Weir, arguably Australia's greatest ever director, cant find a distributor for his work, there is something terribly wrong with the film distribution paradigm.

The Way Back may not be a masterpiece, or even Weir at the top of his game, but sub par Weir is better than many a director's best. That isn't to say that great directors should receive a rubber stamp for each new work. Like anyone, they're only as good as their last film. But even if that hadn't been the Oscar-nominated Master and Commander, I'd be willing to give Peter Weir the benefit of the doubt.

Weir claims to already be working on his next project; let's hope we don't have to wait another seven years to see it, and that we can see it in a cinema.


Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
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There's nothing wrong (or new, for that matter) with a teen soap with an extraterrestrial bent, but some consistency would be nice. I Am Number Four, Disney's foray into this genre, has as many holes in its plot as there are stars in the galaxy from which its hunky, young alien John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) hails.

The 17-year-old (in human years) is hiding out on Earth with his protector, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), following the destruction of his planet by a rival alien species, the Mogadorians (who, despite the name, aren't cat people). But it's not that easy to be inconspicuous when you're a teenager in Miami and prone to getting your waterskiing activities uploaded to YouTube, and just as your alien powers are kicking in, too.

John, also known as Number 4, is one of nine 'special' inhabitants sent away before their planet's fall. Their powers, known as legacies, will eventually bring about some greater cosmic good but for now, John and his ilk have to focus on staying alive. Numbers One, Two and Three are already dead (the Mogadorians kill in numerical order; as obsessive-compulsive as they are ugly) and John is next.

But of greater concern for John is wooing the pretty girl with the camera, Sarah (Glee's Dianna Agron), at his new school (why an on-the-run alien would want to attend high school being one of those aforementioned plot holes) in Ohio, following his and Henri's sudden departure from Miami.

John also makes friends with Sam (Aussie newcomer, Callan McAuliffe), the outsider kid who, like his missing dad, believes in the existence of extraterrestrials. Maybe I got bored and started directing my own version of the film at this point, but did anyone else find McAuliffe's Sam giving off a Sal Mineo vibe to Pettyfer's Alien Rebel Without A Clue? No? Oh, well.

Eventually the Mogadorians track John Smith down, around about the same time Number 6 (a leather-clad, bike-riding Teresa Palmer whose accent is as inconsistent as the film's internal logic) arrives in town to lend her numerical cousin a hand. Cue acrobatic fight scenes, explosions and shapeshifting alien dogs (no, really).

None of this would be all that bad if I Am Number Four didn't take itself so seriously. There's very few light moments in the film, most of them arriving late with Palmer's Number 6. Before that the Mogadorians (bald and tattooed, with no dental plan and speaking an alien language) exhibit more personality than our 'hero' Pettyfer, who's cast in the brooding (re: pouting) teen mold though a million light years away from James Dean.

No doubt the intended teen audience will love it. Disney would certainly hope so; the ending suggests a sequel (or multiples: I Am Number Four Still; Finding Number Five?), and with Harry Potter about to disappear from cinemas for good, there's an opening for a fantasy franchise. A little more magic and lot less brooding could do wonders for I Am Number Four #2.


20th Century Fox Films
Now Showing

The true story of Betty Anne Waters, the working single mother who put herself through law school in order to defend her brother whom she believed to be wrongly imprisoned for murder, not only sounds like an inspiring story but perfect material for a film of familial love and justice triumphant.

But in the hands of director Tony Goldwyn, working from a screenplay by Pamela Gray, the story's inherent dramatic and rousing elements have been dampened. Conviction is a solid, professionally made film that never soars despite the story and the best efforts of its talented cast.

Hilary Swank excels playing working class, a la Million Dollar Baby; her atypical Hollywood looks never a distraction from her performance. The role of Betty Anne – determined, courageous but vulnerable – must have seemed ideal to Swank, and she plays her with the zeal of a bloodhound with just one objective: the freedom of her brother.

That's Kenny Waters, played by the ever-reliable Sam Rockwell who is perfectly fine in the role of a man who is no angel but who's not the Devil either. We witness enough of Kenny's temper (the film flashes back to happier, pre-conviction times, and less happier times in the Waters' siblings childhood) to believe he may just be capable of murder. But Betty Anne has no doubts, and Swank and Rockwell make for a perfect pairing.

It's also wonderful to see Minnie Driver back on screen. She doesn't get a whole lot to do necessarily - cracking-wise as Betty Anne's law studies classmate, Abra Rice, the only other student to have gone through puberty - but she's a welcome presence, as is Juliet Lewis, uglying up as white trash, and threatening to steal the film in her two brief scenes as an ex-girlfriend of Kenny's.

Melissa Leo, as Kenny's arresting officer, also has limited screen time. She doesn't chew scenery in the way Lewis does but reminds us yet again how good a character actor she is, completely different from her Oscar-nominated turn in The Fighter.

But good actors in the service of ordinary material can only do so much. Even as they try to invest this true story with requisite power, Goldwyn, and the screenplay, keeps the cast well and truly grounded, ensuring an unfavourable verdict.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


Roadshow Films
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There is no right way to grieve, just as there is no time limit on how long that grief should last. Eight months after the accidental death of their young son, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are still feeling the loss but each is dealing with it in their own way; Becca seemingly moving forward, Howie languishing in his pain.

The premise sounds heavy going, but one of the surprising elements of John Cameron Mitchell's film of David Lindsay-Abaire's stageplay, which the playwright has adapted, is the humour. Despite the subject matter – the 'dead child' movie has almost become a genre in itself, and often used to exploit easy emotions – Rabbit Hole is far from depressing. Like the characters themselves, you'll be surprised to find yourself laughing.

A lot of this humour is generated by Dianne Wiest, who as Becca's mother doesn't seem to understand her daughter and is therefore always saying the wrong thing. She, too, is grieving the loss of a child – her son having died years earlier from a drug overdose – and her scene with Becca, where she explains how grief never really leaves but becomes a part of you, is one of the film's most poignant.

Poignant, too, is Becca's awkward relationship with Jason (Miles Teller), the teenager driving the car that claimed her son's life. Jason, about to complete high school, is an aspiring artist who believes in parallel worlds, accessed through the rabbit holes of the title. Rather than expressing anger at the young man, Becca's maternal instincts seem to have drawn her to this boy.

I've always found Kidman to be at her best when she plays cold or prickly characters; the fame-craving weather girl in To Die For (1995), the distant wife in Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Virginia Woolf in The Hours (2002). But her Becca isn't cold in an uncaring way but more as a defense mechanism, and it's an affecting moment when those defenses finally come down. It's easily Kidman's best performance in years and not undeserving of its awards attention.

The real revelation, however, is Aaron Eckhart. Always a solid performer, I've often found his acting overshadowed by his almost caricatured handsomeness and that superhero jaw. But it's the maelstrom of emotions – the sadness, the anger, the hurt – which Eckhart makes palpable in a man trying to reconnect with his wife that make it a memorable performance, and the equal to Kidman's.

Mitchell, better known for more outrageous fare Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) and Shortbus (2006), directs his most mainstream film to date. That doesn't it mean it's dumbed down or easily accessible. Rabbit Hole isn't a fun night out at the movies, but it rewards with its restraint, humour and heart.


Roadshow Films
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The premise sounds a little familiar: Liam Neeson goes to Europe and loses his mind. But unlike the 2009 guilty pleasure that was Taken, Neeson isn't on a rage-fuelled rampage to retrieve his kidnapped daughter, offing the bad guys without fear or favour – or restraint. Unknown is a different kind of action-thriller and Neeson's character has literally lost his mind.

Actually, Neeson knows exactly who he is. He's Doctor Martin Harris, in Berlin with his wife, Liz (January Jones), to attend a conference. It's his identity he's lost. Following a car crash which sees the taxi he's riding in plunge into an icy river, he wakes in hospital four days later to find that his wife seems to have forgotten him. She has a husband, Doctor Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn), and has never seen this other man before.

Dazed and confused, Harris enlists the help of Gina (Diane Kruger), the taxi driver who drove him into the river and then pulled him out, and an ex-Stasi officer (Bruno Ganz) to discover just who he is, why he's in Berlin and what's up with his wife.

Jaume Collett-Serra's film takes a little long to get going but then the bad guys arrive, people start dieing, and Martin and Gina are running and driving all over Berlin. FYI If Diane Kruger happens to be in your taxi, take another.

I won't reveal the twist (which you may or may not guess at) that brings Martin Harris's identity into focus, needless to say we've been this way before (and in far more capable hands), and your suspension of disbelief is mandatory. It's not all bad, helped greatly by the presence of Neeson.

But remember when Liam Neeson was a serious Oscar-nominated actor? He still does the occasional dramatic role (Five Minutes Of Heaven and Chloe most recently), but has had the most impact lately in the action arena; last year's The A-Team and the aforementioned Taken (not to mention pay cheque roles in Clash of the Titans and the Chronicles of Narnia).

There's no denying he can do bad ass, and do it well, but some of the awful dialogue he's saddled with here surely is beneath him? Here's hoping the real Liam Neeson comes to his senses soon.


Madman Films
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I'm not familiar with the work of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, which is to say I've not seen any of his films, including his Palm D'or-winning Taste of Cherry from Cannes 1997. Perhaps that's why I failed to grasp exactly what was going on in Certified Copy, Kiarostami's latest film and his first to be made outside of his native Iran.

What starts out as a debate about art – beauty is in the eye of the beholder, original versus copy – soon morphs into some kind of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? in the Tuscan countryside; a battle between intellect (represented by visiting English author, James Miller (William Shimell)), and emotion (represented by Elle, a local gallery owner and ex-pat Frenchwoman, played by Juliette Binoche in a performance that won her Best Actress at Cannes 2010).

Miller, in town to promote his new book, Certified Copy, meets with Elle and accompanies her on a car trip to a nearby village where it soon becomes apparent that they have some kind of relationship. Or do they? And if so, what is its nature? Do they know each other? Or are they merely pretending to know one another; 'copying' the traits of an established but failing relationship?

Kiarostami teases out these questions as the pair walk and talk the village streets, not unlike the characters in Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), though Shimell and Binoche are far more prickly than either Ethan Hawke or Julie Delpy.

Shimell, an opera singer making his feature film acting debut, is very much the pragmatic academic who would appear to appreciate the art that he writes about rather than engaging with it on an emotional level. Binoche's Elle, on the other hand, 'feels' everything and can't understand someone – husband? lover? projection? – who doesn't. She's sympathetic and exasperating in equal measure.

The same could be said for the film. Every time I thought I was getting a grasp on Kiarostami's intent, it took another turn and continued to elude me. Reviews for the film from last year's Cannes Film Festival suggest that Kiarostami is having fun with the idea of originality, in art and film, thus the allusions to Linklater's aforementioned films as well as all those rom-coms where ex-pats escape to the Italian countryside.

One could also read Certified Copy as Kiarostami's statement on the current predicament of film: that there is nothing new; everything is a copy of something else. As I stated, I'm unfamiliar with the director's work so can't say whether cynicism (even if warranted, with regards to that last point) is his usual position. But given that the film ends with Shimell's Miller taking a piss, I'm inclined to think he's in a jocular mood, and the joke is on us.


Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Now Showing

One wonders if the creators of Gnomeo & Juliet, an animated version of the Shakespearean tragedy of star crossed lovers, came up with the idea by tossing around variations on the original's title. Not a lot rhymes with either Romeo or Juliet. But with that obstacle cleared – let's make the rival families garden gnomes! – the next challenge would have been to make a children's version of the doomed lovers' tale that didn't end with a double suicide.

Given that the film is credited to nine (!) writers, that task is handled adequately enough which is also the best way to some up the entire enterprise. Animated films are so good these days (and not just Pixar's) that the bar is set fairly high. Gnomeo & Juliet is not in Pixar's class, animation or story wise, and perhaps closer to early Dreamworks (director Kelly Asbury made Shrek 2), but it's reasonably entertaining with enough in-jokes (Shakespearean and cinematic) to give accompanying parents a chuckle or two.

Our eponymous lovers are fixtures in the gardens of warring neighbours, Miss Montague and Mr Capulet; Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) and his ilk donning blue, Juliet (Emily Blunt) and her clan painted red. There's the occasional lawnmower drag race in the back alley between Gnomeo and his red alpha gnome rival, Tybalt (Jason Statham), but it's when Gnomeo meet-cutes Juliet, by moonlight in the overgrown garden of an abandoned estate, that love takes over – it's colour blind, after all.

What ensues is more or less as Shakespeare intended, minus that tragic ending, and all to the soundtrack of classic Elton John; Crocodile Rock, Your Song and Don't Go Breaking My Heart are used to enjoyable if incongruous effect. Elton, along with partner David Furnish, is one of the film's producers, and he and Bernie Taupin have re-worked some of their old hits and written two new tracks for the film (again, for the folks, not the kids).

Sadly, the talented and diverse voice cast, which includes Maggie Smith (Gnomeo's mother), Michael Caine (Juliet's father), Ozzy Osbourne (Fawn), Matt Lucas (Benny), Dolly Parton (Dolly Gnome?!), and Julie Walters as Miss Montague, is used to little or no effect.

Best in show goes to Ashley Jensen as Nanette, a water spurting frog and lady-in-waiting to Juliet, and Featherstone, a Spanish-accented pink flamingo found by our lovers in the abandoned estate. Jim Cummings gives Featherstone enough pathos to offset his potential for irritation; this is one garden ornament who knows what it is to have loved and lost. Special mention must also be made of Hulk Hogan's appearance as the voice of an online advert for the 'mutha' of all lawnmowers, the Terrafirminator.

Gnomeo & Juliet's impressive though modest opening weekend in the U.S. ($25m) points more to the dearth of good family-friendly films than it does the quality of this one; parents have very few options to entertain the young ones at the cinema, even more so between school holidays. There will be a lot worse released in 2011 (Yogi Bear, for starters), and with most animated films slated for release being sequels (Cars and Kung Fu Panda to name but two), it may not get a whole lot better. And that may well prove to be a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.


Sony Pictures
Now Showing

Charles Ferguson's Oscar-nominated documentary (it's favoured to take out this year's award) successfully explains what brought about the Global Financial Crisis of late 2008. Not surprisingly, pure, unadulterated greed was the driving force.

Yes, derivatives, subprimes and other financial practises (which this reviewer confesses to know little about, despite being provided with a glossary ahead of the screening) were the mediums through which billions upon billions of dollars were lost to bottom rung investors but not the CEOs of any major companies involved; they still got their million dollar bonuses. But it was the sheer greed and arrogance of the so-called financial experts, on Wall Street and in Washington, who facilitated it.

Inside Job doesn't tell us what we didn't already know – that Wall Street is populated by greedy, soulless assholes – but then again, if it did, I may have missed it given my tendency to tune out during discussions of things financial. Not even the seriously-intentioned narration by Matt Damon could negate my natural antipathy for all things economics (Merrill Lynch? I loved her in Julie and Julia!).

Same, too, for the inclusion of an interview with a New York madam who informs us, rather redundantly, that Wall Street big shots enjoy hookers and cocaine. And so does Charlie Sheen, but that's not what's ruining the economy. Titillating, maybe. Informative, no.

The saddest, most sobering element of Inside Job is, that despite a change in US government following the global economic crisis, little has changed, either in Wall Street practises or those supposedly in charge. President Obama has seen fit to keep in positions of regulatory power those Bush-selected 'experts' who brought about – or turned a blind eye to – the crisis in the first place.

Greed is still good on Wall Street, and as long as big business controls governments, very little is going to change. And even as you guffaw at the hubris – and, often, out and out obliviousness – of these money men (those who dared agreed to be interviewed by Ferguson, that is), you'll feel your spirit waning and your faith in humanity dieing just a little.

Saturday, 5 February 2011


Roadshow Films
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Clint Eastwood's latest film opens with a tsunami sequence that is as impressive and powerful as anything you'll see in cinemas this year. Sadly, for fans of Eastwood, that sequence is the high point of Hereafter, a contemplative meditation on mortality where “contemplative meditation” is a generous euphemism for “deadly dull”.

That tsunami (of Boxing Day 2004 infamy) sweeps up holidaying French journalist, Marie Lelay (Cecille de France), briefly claiming her life – where she has visions of an afterlife – before she comes spluttering back to the real world. Marie's brush with 'the other side' leaves her changed – haunted and full of questions – and sets in motion a journey that is inevitably linked with two complete strangers.

One of those strangers is young Londoner Marcus, grieving the loss of his twin brother, Jason (played by real life brothers, Frankie and George McClaren). Removed from the care of his drug addicted mother and into a foster home, the lost boy searches for a way to re-connect with his older (by 12 minutes) brother, visiting a variety of psychics who do the clairvoyancy industry a great disservice, and very little for a little boy's faith.

The third stranger is George Lonegan (Matt Damon), a San Francisco dockworker trying to escape his past as a psychic (he is the real deal). This proves impossible given his brother's eagerness to exploit his talent (or curse, as George tells us more than once), and George's inability to control it; the moment he touches someone, he has visions of their dearly departed. It makes any kind of social life difficult and romance, which looks to be in the offing with fellow Italian cooking student, Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), doomed from the outset.

All three stories unfold separately before they inevitably (and clumsily) come together in the film's third act. But much like the film's overall stance on the possibility of an afterlife (vague and non-committal), Hereafter ends without resolution or answers. Indeed, it leaves you asking, what the f*ck?

Now 80, Eastwood could be forgiven for allowing his thoughts to turn to one's mortality. What can't be excused is a boring film. Some reviewers (those who tend to have a permanent hard on for the man's work) have praised Eastwood here for his classic filmmaking style and his embracing of a European aesthetic. Whatever.

I'm not an Eastwood fan but I believe he's a better director than an actor. I do admire some of his films (Bridges of Madison County, Mystic River, Letters From Iwo Jima) but struggle to understand the high praise for others, like Gran Torino, or even the Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby. For me, Hereafter falls into that latter category.

Equally surprising is that Brit scribe Peter Morgan is responsible the screenplay. Morgan, who penned The Queen, The Damned United and Frost/Nixon, all films about real life figures and recent historical events, seems to be less assured when dealing with an original concept or three stories instead of one.

There's no denying an interesting film is trying to break out of Hereafter, but unlike with Damon's George, that connection requires a hell of a lot of effort to be made. For more involving and entertaining looks at the afterlife, why not try The Sixth Sense, or even the Ricky Gervais comedy, Ghost Town? Neither is particularly insightful about the nature of death but they're also less likely to induce it through boredom.