Wednesday, 27 April 2011


Roadshow Films
Now Showing

Fairy tales have always had the good sense to know when to call it quits. Ending their stories with 'and they lived happily ever after' meant they didn't have to return to those same characters when the magic had gone and life in the palace (or the forest) had been reduced to domestic drudgery. We could pretend that all those involved did indeed live happy and fulfilling lives.

Film producers don't believe in ending on the perfect note. They much prefer to flog a dead horse and squeeze blood from a stone. That's why we have the wholly unnecessary sequel Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs Evil.

Even before its release in 2005, the first two Shrek films had performed such an excellent job of skewering and fracturing our beloved childhood fairy tales that the first Hoodwinked film didn't have much left to work with. Its somewhat clever Rashomon-style first two acts (which gave reviewers an excuse to make Kurosawa references) were as original as it got.

But there's no such pretense at wit or cleverness with this second outing: Hoodwinked Too! is nothing more than a wall of noise and aimless silliness. I had thought the recent release Hop would prove to be the worst kids/family film of 2011; I spoke too soon.

Most of the original voice cast – Glenn Close as Granny, Patrick Warburton as Wolf, David Ogden Stiers as Nicky Flippers – are back for the sequel, but not Anne Hathaway (replaced by Hayden Panettiere). Hathaway originally voiced Red Riding Hood and I'm guessing she either didn't feel like pulling double voice duties after her work on Rio or, more likely, read the screenplay for Hood v Evil and baled, for compared to Hoodwinked Too!, Rio is a masterpiece of Pixar proportions.

Other new voices and characters include Joan Cusack as Verushka the Witch, Cheech and Chong as two-thirds of the Three Little Pigs, and Bill Hader and Amy Poehler as Hansel and Gretel whose kidnapping at the start of the film sets the story – something about a stolen secret recipe for producing power-inducing baked goods – in motion.

The filmmakers – director Mike Disa, and Cory and Todd Edwards who co-wrote and directed Hoodwinked, and penned this sequel – could have spent a lot more time working on the ingredients for Hoodwinked Too!, mistakenly believing that the (as always unnecessary) 3D would cover a multitude of deficiencies. It doesn't. Hoodwinked Too! provides no happily ever anything for anyone.


Hoyts Distribution
Now Showing

Not so much a rom-com but a chick lit adaptation (of the similarly titled novel by Emily Giffin), Something Borrowed is aimed squarely at the female audience. And the women who attended the same preview screening as me lapped it up, that's in spite of the film's heroine Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) doing the dirty on her BFF with her soon-to-be-husband.

Rachel and Darcy (Kate Hudson) have been friends since early grade school, and sharing in each others' big days from then on. Now Darcy is about to marry Dex (Tom Cruise clone, Colin Egglesfield), a former law school classmate of Rachel's whom she has always had feelings for but never dared acted on.

Turns out Dex has always felt the same way about Rachel and when they've had a little too much to drink at Rachel's 30th birthday party the two fall into bed, setting in motion a supposedly comic love triangle with Rachel and Dex conducting a stop-start affair behind Darcy's back. That Darcy is pitched as a selfish, self absorbed cow – kudos to Hudson for daring to play ugly – is supposed to negate this treachery. It certainly – strangely – had the women in my screening on side with Rachel.

Like Bride Wars, another matrimonially-themed Kate Hudson movie (aren't they all?), Something Borrowed pedals the notion that women are their own worst enemies, prepared to turn on even the best of friends in a heart beat. As a heroine, perhaps Rachel's flaws are designed to make her more relatable and forgivable, but she – along with Egglesfield's Dex – is, for the most part, a doormat and, ultimately, a rat.

Obviously director Luke Greenfield and screenwriter Jenny Snyder (and original author Giffin, for that matter) don't subscribe to the 'once a cheater, always a cheater' school of thought given the film's 'alls well that ends well' denouement. Then again, these characters deserve each other and everything they get.

The cast, however, which includes a scene stealing John Krasinski as Rachel's best male bud Ethan, deserves better. As do female audiences generally.


Hopscotch Films
Now Showing

Director Duncan Jones announced his filmmaking arrival in 2009 with Moon, a simultaneously modest and ambitious sci-fi drama featuring Sam Rockwell in a brilliant performance(s) as a man stationed alone on the titular satellite and whose situation was not entirely what it seemed to be.

Source Code, Jones' sophomore effort, shares many thematic elements with Moon: it's sci-fi, revolves around a man on a mission, and has a revelatory twist. And despite a major increase in budget (a modest for Hollywood $32M, up from Moon's reported $5M), Jones, working from a screenplay by Ben Ripley, has managed to keep his wits about him; smarts thankfully working alongside thrills rather than sacrificed to them.

That's not to say that Source Code doesn't operate under its own internal logic. Set in the present day, or what may be the near future, a department within the US government has developed a new technology – the Source Code – which allows them to manipulate the time-space continuum but only for eight minutes at a time. It's the perfect device for accessing the moments before a major disaster, such as it is here with a terrorist bombing of a commuter train bound for Chicago, and retrieving valuable intel for capturing the perpetrators.

But not preventing the disaster. The Source Code is not a time machine and events which take place within each eight minute 'visit' to the past can not and will not prevent the disaster from occurring. That's the harsh lesson learnt by Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) when he wakes in the body of one of the doomed commuters. Under the direction of Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and Dr Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), Stevens is charged with locating the bomb and determining who aboard the train planted it, a mission complicated somewhat by fellow commuter, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), the hitherto platonic friend of the school teacher Stevens happens to be inhabiting.

Okay, so the science is, to quote Ebert, preposterous but for the most part – and for fans of Doctor Who et al – it works. You can pick holes in the logic and the plot after the credits roll, but while you're on that train with Gyllenhaal, you're quite happy to go along for the ride.

What doesn't work is the ending. I'm not sure if Ripley originally wrote it that way or if the studio stepped in and demanded a more 'up' Hollywood ending, but what we get seems more like a concession to 'feel good' rather than a natural fit.

Thankfully, this doesn't derail Source Code or undo Jones' good work up until that point. As was the case with Moon, Jones raises questions about humanity and what it means to be human. He also questions advances in technology, asking whether the ends justify the means. Does having the ability to do something necessarily mean you should?

Duncan Jones certainly knows how to make a movie, and should continue to do so.


Transmission Films
Now Showing

Originally tempted to describe Mad Bastards as a musical road movie of self discovery (honestly, wouldn't that look great as a movie poster quote?), I changed my mind lest I give you, dear reader, the impression that the film is lighter and more 'self help-y' than it is.

Granted, Brendan Fletcher's film has its lighter moments – mostly in the musical interludes provided by Pigram brothers, Alan and Stephen, as well as Alex Lloyd – but Mad Bastards is a dramatic examination of the role of Australia's indigenous man within his own community.

Twelve year-old Bullet (Lucas Yeeda) has little to do in his remote West Australian town and with no father to adhere to, is finding himself headed toward trouble. A spot of arson the final straw which sees him shipped off to an outback camp run by Aboriginal elders, where the boys in attendance get back to basics and a wake up call.

Texas (Greg Tait), the local lawman and Nella's proxy grandfather, arranged for the boy's removal in the hopes that it's not too late for him to straighten up and fly right. Texas is also attempting to get a men's group up and running in the community, where the men can come and discuss their problems.

And then there's TJ (Dean Dale-Jones), a muscle-bound man with anger management issues and prone to violent outbursts. He's also Nella's father, and when he needs to escape the city and his own demons, he heads for the small town in the hopes of reconnecting with the son he abandoned and quieting the constant anger inside.

Thankfully, writer-director Fletcher isn't at all heavy-handed with his look at three generations of men grappling with the notion of what it is to be a man, the importance of male role models and the need for strong male leadership within the indigenous community. You may come out bruised, but you'll also come out humming those damned catchy Pigram Brothers tunes.


The Spanish Film Festival, now in its 14th year, is screening a huge programme of 36 contemporary films from Spain and Latin America in six cities across Australia and New Zealand, from May 11 to May 29.

The Festival opens with the black comedy and Venice award winner The Last Circus and closes with the Guillermo Del Toro produced thriller Julia's Eyes.

For more on these and the other films screening as part of the Spanish Film Festival, visit the website:

Image: The Last Circus.

Sunday, 24 April 2011


Paramount Home Entertainment Australia

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Whether or not The King's Speech is indeed the Best Picture of 2010, only the staunchest of supporters of The Social Network (the film many believe it usurped for the Oscar), would begrudge its win. For here is a film that is entertaining, eloquent and emotional, though the latter in that reserved British monarchy kind of way.

The King's Speech is a well written, solidly directed (though Fincher really should have won Best Director), and, above all, superbly acted film. And let's be honest, far less worthy have been crowned by the Academy.

It is no Schembri-esque spoiler to reveal that The King's Speech concerns itself with King George VI's lifelong battle with a chronic stammer (brought into sharp focus when he unexpectedly assumes the throne following his brothers's abdication) which he triumphs over in the early days of the war with Nazi Germany. With $31 million at the Oz box office, you're very much in the minority if you haven't yet seen TKS.

Of course, the main reason to see it – and see it again and again – is for the impressive double act that is Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. For The King's Speech, a period drama of royal intrigue, is first and foremost an odd couple, bro-mance, buddy film between Firth's King George – a volatile mix of rigidity, fear, frustration and anger – and Rush's Lionel Logue, the unconventional Australian speech therapist with a healthy disregard for authority who finds himself teaching a British monarch how to speak.

Other performances – Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter as George's wife (and future Queen Mum), Guy Pearce as the abdicating Edward, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, and for Pride and Prejudice fans, Jennifer Ehle as Mrs. Logue – are uniformally good, but it's Firth (the Best Actor Oscar winner) and Rush (unlucky to come up against an in-form Christian Bale in The Fighter) who are the jewels in The King's Speech crown.

Thursday, 21 April 2011


Paramount Pictures
Now Showing

Fans of the Marvel comics are better suited than me to explain how a Norse god becomes an American superhero, but in Kenneth Branagh's Thor, the latest comic book to big screen adaptation, it all (kind of) makes perfect sense. And speaking of perfect, how about leading man Chris Hemsworth's bod?

Hemsworth as Thor certainly looks like a god. The one (all too brief) scene of him topless reveals a perfectly muscled upper body, undoubtedly achieved in real life by diet and weights and not, as in the film world of Asgard, by the mere wielding of a magic hammer. That shirtless scene comes after the arrogant Thor is banished to Earth – and separated from his hammer – for disobeying the wishes of his father, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

After almost literally falling into the laps of Professor Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and her assistants (Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard), who are researching weather anomalies in New Mexico, Thor must retrieve his magic hammer if he is to survive, let alone ever return to Asgard where his younger brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), has seized the throne.

For me, the scenes on Earth played better than those in the CGI-rendered realm of Asgard. Despite the almost Shakespearean quality Branagh (a seemingly odd though ultimately appropriate choice to direct) attempts to bring to these scenes – with their royal intrigues and sibling rivalry – it is those in New Mexico which are for more effective and entertaining.

In terms of the Marvel/Avenger adaptations, I'd rank Thor above Ed Norton's The Incredible Hulk but only equal to Iron Man 2, the original of which remains the best of these films thus far. We'll see what Captain America has to offer in July.

And yes, there is the obligatory Avengers teaser following the end credits which, depending on your point of view, is revealing or reveals nothing at all (I say the latter). But definitely worth avoiding is seeing Thor in 3D. The film was converted post-production and gains nothing by its use. Save your bucks and see it in 2D. Besides, that body looks good in any dimension.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011


Warners Bros. Pictures
Now Showing

Your enjoyment of Arthur, a remake of the 1981 comedy starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minelli, will no doubt be in direct proportion to your appreciation of comic actor Russell Brand. I have almost a zero tolerance for the guy – he's on my list of supposed funny men whom I simply don't find funny – so it's no surprise I found the film an underwhelming, though surprisingly non-painful, experience.

Like in the original film, Arthur is an obscenely wealthy Englishman with a drinking problem, bedding a succession of women and enjoying a suspended adolescence. Indeed, his nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren, twice in one week stepping into John Gielgud's shoes), who has raised him since birth, remains at his beck and call in his New York penthouse.

But then mummy dearest (Geraldine James) informs Arthur that unless he straightens up and flies right, he can kiss goodbye his access to the family's $950 million dollar fortune. The main stipulation: that he marry Susan (Jennifer Garner), daughter of a self-made construction magnate (an awkward Nick Nolte).

As luck would have it, that same day Arthur meets Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a pretty young thing who runs illegal tours of New York's Central Station, cares for her widowed father and dreams of writing children's books. Naomi is the sweet to Susan's sour, and would be impossible to like if she weren't played so unassumingly by Gerwig.

Sadly, Gerwig, Mirren and Garner aren't given all that much to do, only enjoying the spotlight when Arthur happens to bring them into his gin-soaked orbit. As the title implies, it's all about Arthur and, more specifically, Brand, who you'll either find charming or irritating.

But in his defense, Brand's a lot less irritating in human form than he was as a CG rabbit in the recent family film, Hop. He's even a lot more amusing in the flesh, which he proved at the Australian premiere of Arthur, where he was cheeky, funny and charming. Unfortunately, the film is only intermittently so.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


Universal Pictures
Now Showing

By the time you reach the fifth vehicle in a film franchise there is very little room for surprise or expectation. Fans of the Fast and Furious line, which commenced production in 2001, know exactly what they are in for with this fourth sequel, and judging by the audiences' reaction at my preview screening, they couldn't have been more pleased.

Myself, on the other hand, am an F&F L-plater having seen only one of the previous efforts, #3 The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, which starred neither originals Paul Walker or Vin Diesel. They're both back for this outing along with some faces whom I suspect are familiar from the previous films. The new addition to the line-up is Dwayne Johnson, all souped-up (and sweating as a result?) as US law enforcement officer Hobbs, called down to Rio De Janeiro when three US DEA agents are killed.

O'Conner (Walker) and Toretto (Diesel), already fugitives from the law, were at the scene of that crime - an automotive deal aboard a moving train gone wrong - which sees them fingered as the bad guys. But rather than skip town, the boys decide to get back at the real villain, Rio businessman Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida); hitting his illegal operations and stealing $100 million in cash to be split between themselves and their makeshift crew, called in from around the globe (and previous FF films as mentioned).

Fans of the Fast and Furious films (as suggested) will no doubt be pleased by this outing, although the true rev heads amongst them may be somewhat dismayed by the lack of automotive action. That is until the finale, which sees our heroes literally tearing up the streets of Rio and giving a whole new meaning to the term 'safe driving'.

And, fans rejoice, there's even a post-credit coda hinting at a sixth F&F installment, with the suggestion that Johnson will take the baton from his similarly muscle-bound forebear, Diesel.

A film like Fast and Furious 5 is almost impervious to criticism; it knows what it is, achieves exactly what it sets out to do, and pleases its built-in audience in the process. And despite my unfamiliarity with the franchise, and my general lack of interest in cars – they all look they same to me! – I have to admit, I was neither bored nor insulted by proceedings. I'm not about join the F&F fan club – or study for my license, for that matter – but I'm not going to impound this vehicle either. You'll know if this is the ride for you.


Walt Disney Studios Films
Now Showing

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Or a usurped duchess with magical powers, for that matter. Prospera (Helen Mirren), having been dethroned by her brother (Chris Cooper) and banished to a desolate isle with her daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones), has been biding her time some twelve years, planning her revenge and a return to her beloved Milan.

The Tempest, Shakespeare's final, and some might say least work has been re-imagined for the cinema by Julie Taymor, a director known for her bold visual strokes. But the boldest feature of her take on the Bard (her second following Titus (1999)), would appear to be the gender reassignment of the story's main character; transforming Prospero to Prospera, and casting Dame Helen Mirren in the role.

Mirren, like the best of British actors, could no doubt recite Shakespeare in her sleep and she provides a solid anchor for the action of Taymor's film which is divided between Prospera's daughter Miranda and her new found love, the sappy Prince Ferdinand (Reeve Carney); Ferdinand's father, King Alonso (David Strathairn), Antonio (Cooper), Sebastian (Alan Cummings) and Gonzalo (Tom Conti), traversing another side of the isle; and Stephano (Alfred Molina), Trinculo (Russell Brand), two royal servants who are mistaken for gods by Caliban (Djimon Hounsou), original inhabitant of the island and now slave to Propsera.

For me, it's the casting of Hounsou in the role of Caliban which undermines any claims Taymor may have to boldness. Casting a woman in a man's role shouldn't really be considered daring in 2011, but casting a black man in the role of a native slave (Caliban being a rough anagram of cannibal) just seems unnecessary.

Shakespeare's text may have had some colonial significance 400 years ago but in 2011, the role of an enslaved man (or woman) need not be black. Of course, Djimon Hounsou in a loin cloth will no doubt appeal to several demographics.

There should always be a place for Shakespeare on the big screen, and bold, imaginative and original interpretations at that. And Taymor's The Tempest isn't without its appeal, but at just under two hours it almost induces flashbacks to high school, where the Bard was often a chore and not a joy.


Transmission Films
Now Showing

In 1977, one hit wonder Charlene released her song, I've Never Been To Me, subsequently made famous by its use in the opening sequence of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). Charlene's signature tune may not play on the soundtrack of Francois Ozon's Potiche, set in 1977, but it could very well be reverberating in the mind of Catherine Deneuve's Suzanne Pujol.

Suzanne is a pampered yet put upon housewife who, whilst seemingly having everything she could possibly want for doesn't really seem to get what she needs, starting with respect. Her husband (Fabrice Luchini), manager of the umbrella factory inherited by her, is having an affair with his secretary while her adult children still regard her as little more than a homemaker.

But then a union led strike at the factory sees Mr Pujol's health take a turn for the worse and Suzanne assuming the role of management, a transition which sees the bored housewife flourish; coming into the office sees Suzanne coming into her own. Rekindling a flirtation with former beau now pro-union politician, Mayor Babin (Gerard Depardieu) also puts a spring in Suzanne's step, and no doubt seeing these two icons of French cinema together again will put a smile on many a Francophile's face.

Ozon's film is a period comedy which is easily enjoyed as such and nothing more; the production design and costumes will no doubt prove a delight for osme on their own. Denueve, wonderful as the trophy wife-cum-self-determined woman, and Depardieu, following up his recent appearance in My Afternoons With Margueritte with another warm turn, provide some small time magic. Their night club dance scene may be superfluous but only the hardest of hearts could resist its charm.

Sunday, 10 April 2011


Universal Pictures
Now Showing

Paul is an alien with a potty mouth and a penchant for pot, so it's no surprise (a no-brainer, really) that he's voiced by Seth Rogen, he of the growly yet jolly voice and slacker comedy-filled CV. Still, those character flaws aside, Paul is a rather benign being compared to fellow extraterrestrial Roger, the extremely foul-mouthed, omni-sexual alcoholic from the animated TV series, American Dad.

And while the two extraterrestrials may belong to the same species given their physical similarities, Paul's time in captivity (60 years following his crash landing in New Mexico) hasn't left him as embittered as Roger. But now that the US government wants to harvest his brain for its telekinetic and healing powers, Paul's decided its time he phoned and returned home.

It's during the early stages of his escape that he encounters Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), two English sci-fi geeks fresh from Comic-Con and making a pilgrimage to various US UFO hot spots. Despite their initial reticence, the two become Paul's travel companions and agents of his escape; fully grown if not entirely grown up Elliot's to Paul's E.T.

They're soon hotly pursued by government agents, the determined Zoil (Jason Bateman) and the bumbling Haggard (Bill Hadar) and O'Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio), as well as the Bible-bashing, gun-toting camper van park owner, Moses Buggs (John Carroll Lynch). He's on their trail following his daughter Ruth's (Kristen Wiig) inadvertent kidnapping by the trio following her discovery of Paul.

Paul is only too happy to disavow Ruth of her extreme Christian beliefs (including intelligent design and that the Earth is a mere 4000 years old), and her newfound freedom sees her taking to cussing like a duck to water, albeit one with L-plates, and eager to explore her sexuality, something the besotted Graeme is only to happy to assist with.

One of the joys to be had with Paul – and there are many, however minor, particularly if you are a fan of alien films – is its brazen (given it's Hollywood-backed) disrespect for Christian fundamentalism. The so-called fly over states of middle America may be left unimpressed, but you have to have balls (and it probably helps to be English) to dump on your potential audience's belief system.

Then again, director Greg Mottola (whose previous film was Adventureland), and writers, Pegg and Frost, also have a lot of fun at the expense of their target audience: fellow sci-fi and comic book geeks. But I doubt they'll be up in arms; Paul references so many alien encounter films, from Alien to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. (Steven Spielberg literally phones-in a cameo), that they'll be more chuffed than miffed.

As a close encounter of the nerd kind, Paul doesn't even come close to the greatness of any of those aforementioned films but then I doubt that was the intent. As an alien-buddy-road movie, Paul is more than agreeable company; you're funny bone will be tickled if not completely probed.


Warner Bros. Pictures
Now Showing

One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, and according to Zack Snyder, one man's sexual fantasy is another's feminist warrior. Or at least that's what the director (and his leading ladies, sadly) has been trying to convince us of in promoting his latest feature, Sucker Punch; suggesting that his 'girls with guns and swords' action flick is about female empowerment.

Whatever! Sucker Punch is as empowering for women as is Ralph Magazine. Snyder's quintet of lovelies may not pose in bikinis but what little they do wear is hardly a practical wardrobe choice given that they're doing battle - in World War I Europe and other hostile terrains - where bare skin is not the ideal camouflage.

Those battles occur in the mindscape of our heroines led by Baby Doll (Emily Browning), newly arrived at the asylum for women, Lennox House (no relation), and desperate to escape the evil warden (Oscar Isaac). Baby Doll is especially keen to fly the cuckoo's nest as she's scheduled for a lobotomy in five days' time, which is ironic given that Browning's bleach blonde, piggy-tailed, short skirt-wearing character is already lifeless. For Baby Doll is a cypher; a blank slate upon which men's (and teen boys') sexual fantasies can be projected.

As Baby Doll's accomplices, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens, Jena Malone and Jamie Chung don't fare much better. When they're not battling dragons and German robots in the dreamscape (somehow accessed when Baby Doll performs trance-inducing gyrations, which for better or worse we never witness) they're learning sexy dance routines under the tutelage of Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino rolling her r's East European style).

You see, the asylum is actually a Moulin Rouge-like whorehouse, or at least it is in one of the three realms in which I think the storyline of Sucker Punch takes place. I suppose that's what Abbie Cornish, who addressed the preview screening I attended, meant when she said the film was “layered”? But Inception it's not.

Ironically, Inception director Christopher Nolan has given his blessing for Snyder to helm the Superman re-boot, planned for release in late 2012. Sucker Punch should have taken the wind out of any excitement that earlier announcement may have generated – Lois Lane packing heat and sporting a two-piece? – so, too, Nolan (who helped pen the screenplay for the new Superman) handing full artistic control over to Snyder.

Working from his fist original idea after the mixed results of Dawn of the Dead (2004), 300 (2006) and Watchmen (2009) – all adaptations – Snyder has, with Sucker Punch, proven himself incapable of restraint. Like a boy discovering his father's copy of Playboy, he's more concerned with the images than the articles – the substance, if you will.

Fellow man-childs, teen boys and gamers (for Sucker Punch plays more like a computer game than a film) will be similarly titillated; feminists, discerning film goers and the non-lobotomized are advised to avert their gaze.


RIO (20th Century Fox Films) Now Showing

Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) is a rare blue macaw, raised in Minnesota and more human than bird; he can't even fly. But when he's taken to his native Rio to aid in a breeding program with Jewel (incongruously voiced by Anne Hathaway; no Latina actresses available?), a captive macaw in the midst of planning her escape, a series of misadventures ensues involving bird smugglers, an evil cockatoo (a scene-stealing Jemaine Clement), a salivating bulldog and some evil monkeys.

Much like Brazil's annual festival Carnivale, which provides the backdrop to the climax of Rio, the latest film by the creative team behind Ice Age is all colour, sound and movement. That's not to say it isn't fun or entertaining – it is – but in the continually impressive world of animated features, Rio is more diversionary than enthralling.

Having said that, it's probably the best family film choice these Easter school holidays, capable of entertaining kids and adults alike with its breezy nature, humour and heart, albeit not in the league of Pixar (but then, who is?).

HOP (Universal Pictures) Now Showing

The Easter Bunny is a hereditary title, inherited not earned, and the Easter Bunny himself oversees a Wonka-like operation manned by fluffy yellow chicks (cheep labour!) beneath Easter Island (of course). That's what we learn early on in Hop, the latest animation-live action mix from Tim Hill, the director of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

We also learn that Russell Brand, alleged comedian and ladies' man (what's up with that?), is no less tolerable in animated form. He voices E.B., the son of the Easter Bunny who'd rather play drums than take on the family business and so leaves Easter Island for Hollywood, ingratiating himself into the life of Frank O'Hare (James Marsden), a Gen Y slacker who's in need of some direction. Frank can't shake the rabbit until E.B.'s scored his big break in the music world. Cue lazy Hassellhoff cameo.

Hop is squarely aimed at the 5 and under age group, an audience not yet able to discern between humour and loud noise, which is what I found Hop to be. Most of the jokes fall flat and Brand, no doubt cast to appeal to the (unfortunate) parents accompanying their kids, makes E.B. the most boorish bunny since Bugs. Hank Azaria as Carlos, the Easter Bunny's coup-planning 2IC, gets the best laughs while Marsden, a good sport here, deserves better. As do your kids: see something – anything – else these holidays.

MARS NEEDS MUMS (Walt Disney Studios Films) Opens April 14

When Milo's mum (Joan Cusack) is abducted by aliens – her parenting skills deemed ideal for implanting into the Martians' nanny-bots who raise their female children; the males are literally thrown on the rubbish dump – Milo (Seth Green), stowing away on the abductors' spaceship, makes it his mission to get his mother back.

He's aided in his quest by Gribble (Dan Fogler), a man who was once in Milo's position but with not so fortunate an outcome, and Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), a native of Mars whose knowledge of Earth has been gleamed from a 1960s TV show.

Mars Needs Mums is the latest motion-capture film by director Robert Zemeckis (The Polar Express, Beowulf) although this time he's in the producer's chair (Simon Wells directs). The technique, which sees live performances by actors captured by motion sensors and then layered with animation, achieves its most life-like imagery here with the humans (especially Fogler's Gribble) actually looking like humans and less like lobotmized beings.

The film itself, aimed at a tween and older audience (it gets dark in places), has some garbled messages about the ideal parenting paradigm (as well as posing an interesting scenario of a world where women rule) before ultimately deciding on the one mum-one dad system. This is a Disney film, after all.

Sunday, 3 April 2011


Palace Films
Now Showing

The title may give the impression of a tale of nostalgia – recollections of an idyllic summer when all was perfect and right with the world – but Alexei Popogrebsky's film is more akin to a nightmare, one which could so easily have been avoided.

You see, what we have here is a failure to communicate. Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin) is a university student undertaking work experience at a Russian Arctic meteorological station so he can write his paper, How I Ended This Summer. He's not overly excited by his role – taking down weather readings every few hours – and is often driven to distraction or sleep.

This in turn frustrates his co-worker and superior, in age and experience, Segei (Sergei Puskepalis), a gruff man who wants nothing more than to get their assignment completed incident-free and return to his family on the mainland.

But when Sergei is off fishing, Pavel receives word from the mainland that the elder man's wife and son have been involved in an accident. Pavel is instructed to deliver the message immediately and that a ship may be on its way to collect Sergei, but for whatever reason Pavel decides he can't tell his co-worker what has happened, in the hopes that another radio transmission will come through upon Sergei's return. It doesn't, and the tension continues to build from there, all the while you're screaming (in your head) at Pavel, “just tell him!”.

Popogrebsky means to unsettle us – with the film's sparse landscape (all rock and ice), the jagged soundtrack, (mostly from Pavel's walkman), and the long silences between the two men – and he does. It's easy to see how paranoia could take hold in this situation but not so easy to understand why Pavel, after his initial error in judgement, continues to make mistake upon deadly mistake.

At two hours, the discomfiture of How I Ended This Summer gradually progresses from one of genuine dread to that induced by butt-numbness (greatly aided by the too-small seats of the Place Verona where I watched it). But for the most part it's a gripping psychological thriller.


Icon Film Distribution
Now Showing

My Afternoons with Margueritte, starring Gerard Depardieu, is a little Gallic charmer. Actually, it lays the charm on a little too thick to begin with, but soon settles down into a warm comic-drama about friendship and opening your mind and heart.

Okay, that sounds a little too twee but it's not that treacly. Depardieu is Germaine, a man who makes his living doing odds-jobs around town and selling the vegetables from his garden. He has a much younger girlfriend, a mother who seems to resent his existence, and so called friends who think him a buffoon; the latter two relationships expanded upon in flashback.

Then one day in the park he meets Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus), a kindly old woman whose love of books and reading encourages Germaine to improve his literacy. But as Germaine's appetite for reading increases, Margueritte's eyesight continues to fade, and pretty soon the student becomes the teacher.

The relationship that develops between Germaine and Margueritte is nicely handled, and Depardieu and the 95-year-old Casadesus have an easy chemistry. Sitting side-by-side on the park bench, they make for a humourous study in contrasts; Casadesus's petite frame opposite Depardieu's gregarious nature and impressive girth.

Adapted from the bestselling French novel by Marie-Sabine Roger (a Gallic Tuesdays with Morrie, perhaps?), writer-director Jean Becker's film (co-written with Jean-Loup Dabadie) is as light and warm as an oven fresh croissant, and just as comforting. And at a mere 82 minutes, it never outstays its welcome.

In fact, the ending seems a little rushed and overly pat. But never mind, it will leave you with a smile. And any film which promotes the importance and joy of books and reading is fine by me.