Saturday, November 26, 2011

Attack The Block ★ ★★ ★ ½

Looking for heroes in all the wrong places
Releasing in Cinemas across Australia December 1

Before watching Attack the Block, the British Sci-Fi film from first time director and writer Joe Cornish, I would have taken a different route should aliens ever invade Earth. 

You see I was led to believe that the best folks to defend us against alien attack were the U.S. Special Forces.  In Battle: Los Angeles, they threw everything at them, except nuclear weaponry.     Then in Independence Day we not only had the US Air Force but also Will Smith.  And, of course, if there is a clone still around of Ellen Ripley from Aliens, well, she would be a pretty good asset.

After watching this, the best Sci-Fi romp this year, I would say we can do better on a lesser budget.  Just get yourself a gang of teenagers from a London council estate tower block, arm them with decorative swords, baseball bats, water pistols, a few impressive firecrackers, and a severe bad attitude and you can pretty much guarantee mankind’s victory.
Attack The Block opens with an alien’s meteor-like landing into a nearby car, as said gang mugs trainee nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker).  The unwitting gang attack the smallish alien, easily killing it.  They then march it through the streets to a local drug dealer’s den, managed by Ron (Nick Frost), for overnight storage. 
When more aliens arrive, landing near the block, the gang decides they are going to have fun hunting and killing some aliens.  But, these new arrivals are not as small and the boys realise quickly they are ill-prepared to battle them.  In between, they accidentally incite the vicious drug dealer into pursuing them, along with the police for their earlier mugging foray.  What has started as a “gang’s night out” soon becomes a fight for survival.
What is interesting is the evolution of the idea for Attack The Block, an idea which came to Cornish after a mugging very similar to the one in the movie.  'A gang of quite young kids nicked my wallet and phone through sheer force of numbers,' Cornish recalls, citing an incident that took place in 2001. “I’m a typical coward and I gave them everything.”
But this experience got Cornish’s thoughts racing.  'I was struck by how young they were, and I thought to myself, I probably see you in the park every day.  We’re probably on the same level of “Call Of Duty!"
A few months later he saw M. Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi horror film Signs.  Signs reminded me of a script that John Sayles wrote called Night Skies, which became ET and Gremlins,' says Cornish. 'I’ve always loved the idea of a siege, and humans on earth under siege by aliens, and it struck me: what would happen if that happened in my neighbourhood where I grew up, in South London? Then I thought, what would happen if something like that went down during my mugging? Those kids, who some people are frightened of, would suddenly become quite important – suddenly all their strengths would be usable for a good reason. It went from there, really.'
Attack The Block is a polished Sci-Fi thriller supplying exactly what it promises; something different and something wildly fun. It works on every level – script, acting and special effects, even the language.  What is so impressive about Cornish’s film is that he delivers the gang’s unappealing council block lifestyle and attitude unsympathetically. Then he cleverly allows us to change sides and feel good that we did.
 Just like the aliens, we never stand a chance against the “charm” of these thugs. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Arthur Christmas - Adult ★ ★★ ★ Children ★ ★★

Arthur Christmas is a joy.  It makes me want to sing Jingle Bells and put up the Christmas tree early. 
We parents endure a lot taking our children to the movies.  I can’t tell you how many times I have sat at a movie screening thinking, if only these 3D glasses had sharper ends on the arms, I could gouge out my eyes and be saved.  Most of the time, I manage a power nap and it was only the horrible squeaky singing in the “Alvin and the Chipmunk” films that prevented me from grabbing some blessed shut eye.  Warning, there is another Chipmunk outing on the horizon.  We saw the trailer and the kids both turned to me and said, ‘Can we see that Mum?  Pleeasse.’  I’ll just take earmuffs and a pillow this time, and I should be right.
So, when you see a movie like Arthur Christmas with a good story line and plenty of jokes for the adults to enjoy, you really feel grateful and relieved.  It’s beautifully animated and the voiceovers by talents like James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, and Imelda Staunton are wonderful.  A check at IMDB reveals that even some of the lesser voice roles are played by leading actors, like Michael Palin and Joan Cusack, to name a few.  That shows you the quality of the production, that those folk are happy to be involved in any capacity.
Arthur Christmas is a modern day answer to that question our children ask each year: ‘How does Santa deliver all the presents in one night?’  Well, now we have a new answer.  He has got himself a spaceship, plus a gadget that looks a lot like an iPhone, and an entire command centre.  Then there are a million or so elves, who moonlight as Hollywood stuntmen when not delivering gifts.  Santa has joined the modern age.  Arthur, the clumsy but good-hearted son, works in the letter answering area of the operation, whilst Steve, the dynamic G.I. Joe brother runs the entire show.  All runs smoothly until something goes terribly wrong and one child’s present remains undelivered.  It is Arthur who takes it upon himself to get the child their present before sunrise, accompanied by his Grand Santa using his mothballed sled.
This is a movie for the holidays, for the whole family.  I suggest you even take the grandparents.  Its fun, it delivers and you won’t be disappointed.  Buuuttt—insert screeching halt sound here—there is one warning I would like to give.  It is not for every child.  Mine are nine and eleven and let me say they are seasoned cinemagoers.  In fact, thanks to my passion, you probably won’t meet many kids who have the movie knowledge they possess—they can usually even tell you which movie company releases a film.  So, as my husband and I walked out of the movie, commenting how enjoyable we had found it, the nine year old piped up with, ‘I was a little bored half way through.’
‘Why?’  I asked, ‘It was really funny.’  My nine-year-olds’ answer says it all.  ‘It was good but where was the magic?  Santa doesn’t use a spaceship to deliver the toys.  He uses magic.’
Then it struck me, it is a kid’s movie with a lot going on for adults—and thank you, we really appreciate that—but maybe it would have served everyone better if the makers remembered its market is kids.  As a parent, I don’t mind sitting through ridiculous movies, if the kids enjoy it.  This is their time to experience movies made for their age, just as we did when we were children.  I don’t think in my day studios were thinking of adults when they made Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. 
So, as an adult animation I would give it a 4 star rating but as a kid’s movie, it’s a 3 star.  In hindsight, my son couldn’t be more right.  It’s a great movie but it is missing just a little magic.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 -Twihard Fans ★ ★★ ★★ Me ★ ★

What hasn’t been written already about Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1? 
Instead of repeating everyone else, I am going to write in support of the Twihard fans even though I didn’t like the movie.  And no, I haven’t gone mad or plummeted in my cinema viewing expectations.
There are already a million reviews out there, as the second last chapter of the Twilight series drops into cinemas  with a thud louder than a werewolf knocking over a vampire.  So, this isn’t going to be an outline of the story  other than to say, there are vampires, werewolves and all is not well in the land of Twilight despite a lovely wedding.  If you don’t know the story of Twilight, then I presume you don’t have a computer or a Television and, therefore, wouldn’t even be reading this blog.  It’s a phenomenon and that is the supernatural truth of it.  Either you love the franchise or you don’t get it.  I’m not sure if there is much of an in-between.
Even poor reviews from the critics, the film receiving only 24% at Rotten Tomatoes—the lowest critic rating of all the Twilight films—won’t keep fans away.  One critic probably summed the movie up best with, ‘Slow, joyless, and loaded with unintentionally humorous moments, Breaking Dawn Part 1 may satisfy the Twilight faithful, but it's strictly for fans of the franchise.’
Regardless of critics, there are millions of fans very happy to part with their money to watch Bella and Edward marry and consummate their extended relationship.  And don’t forget there’s the ‘I’ve seen all the other ones, so I have to see this’ camp, of which I am a member.
I’ll be glad when the last one comes out and I’ve finished my tour of duty.  It really does seem to have gone on forever.  While the characters have forever—being immortal and all—we normal human moviegoers only have a few hours to kill and we’re lucky to get that these days with all the other distractions.  The average moviegoer would not generally indulge Breaking Dawn’s excruciatingly drawn out scenes.  In fact, the average moviegoer would not indulge any of the Twilight movies. 
Yet, here we still have a box-office hit that isn’t very good.  And, I must say, it’s not surprising it is not good, the books weren’t very good either.  They, too, suffered from long drawn out passages and poor writing.  I read them out of curiosity and because everyone told me I should.  I’m a writer by day, so anything that is that big, I need to check out.  I didn’t learn anything from reading them, except that when you capture the audiences imagination, nothing else matters.
There’s another commentary on Breaking Dawn that begins with the idea that this film is a rip off, a cheap grab by studios to milk the franchise for all its worth.  Ker-ching.  Ker-ching.  And it probably is.  You know what, I am going to come out and say, I don’t blame the studio.  I don’t think many of the first weekend viewers of Breaking Dawn will be asking for their money back, either.  They know exactly what they are in for when they hand over their money and they received exactly that. 
I love my blockbusters but my favourites this year have been small movies, most people wouldn’t bother to see—Barney’s Version, Take Shelter, and We Need To Talk About Kevin.  They all had beautifully crafted scripts with complex characters, portrayed by arguably the leading actors in Hollywood.  But nobody would rush to see these offerings.  There’s no vampires, virgins or beautiful young creatures floating across the screen in these films, just thought provoking ideas that stay with you long after you leave the cinema.
I’m not a Twilight fan but I am a fan of the movie industry.  If the Twihards are willing to come out, and hand over their money instead of pirating the film, thus allowing the studios to make the wonderful, but less record-breaking movies, then I say ‘good on them’. 
To the Twihards I say, Breaking Dawn isn’t as bad as the critics make out.  Go, enjoy it—and yes, Taylor Lautner does take off his shirt—and I thank you for throwing yourself on the fangs of Edward in support of the movie industry.  You are doing a good thing. 5 Stars for you.  2 for me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Moneyball ★★★★

Before seeing Moneyball, I didn’t know anything about baseball.  After watching the 133 minute drama, I still didn’t know anything about baseball.  What would seem like a large obstacle to enjoying this film doesn’t matter though because it is a movie not just about baseball. It’s about going against convention, about bravely believing when there is no reason to believe.  And those are themes to which anyone can relate and make for a great story.

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is the General Manager of one of the poorest baseball teams in the league, the Oakland A’s. He can’t buy the players he needs and the rich teams, like the New York Yankees with their multi-million dollar contracts, are picking off any star players he does develop.  He is a haunted, ambitious man with one goal, that through whatever means available he will bring the Oakland A’s to a World Series win.

Enter Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a computer nerd, Yale-educated economist who offers a new approach to choosing baseball players based on statistics.  Together they collect a team of misfit players, rejected by other teams, but each one with a skill the team needs—the most important being, they’re cheap.  Everybody is against Billy and Pete, the media, his scouts and even his own field manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and with good reason.  Their ideas are radical and Billy’s single-minded determination to see their statistical selection plan through does not endear him to any of his colleagues.  Once a promising baseball stars himself, Billy’s head scout accuses him of a vendetta against the establishment for the perceived wrongs in his failed baseball career.

Michael Lewis, the author of the book, 'Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game', upon which the film was based, says, “With Moneyball, frankly, I wondered how they were going to do it, because the book doesn’t necessarily have a single narrative or the kind of dramatic arc you usually see in a movie.  So it was truly tough to crack the code and get it right and it was an extremely pleasant surprise to see that Bennett and the screenwriters did the impossible – not only did I love the movie, but I was stunned by how well it represents my book.’ 

The answer to why it did work so well, lies with the screenwriters, Steven Zaillian, who earned an Academy Award® for his screenplay for Schindler’s List, and Aaron Sorkin, who won an Academy Award® for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Social Network earlier this year.  Then you have the Director Bennett Miller who also earned an Academy Award® nomination for Best Director for the 2005 drama, Capote.  This is a trio of quality filmmakers and you would expect nothing less than the quality drama delivered in Moneyball.

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are very different in appearance and backgrounds but display great chemistry on screen, delivering performances worthy of the polished script.  The movie is probably about fifteen minutes too long, with the uncomfortable scenes between Billy and his ex-wife not adding anything to the story and Billy’s relationship with his daughter taking up far more time than necessary.

Ultimately though, Moneyball is a rousing, inspirational movie in the tradition of The Damned United and Invictus.  It certainly hit a home run for me.

PS.  To the publicity department.  You’ve got one of the world’s most handsome men and an exciting story and you’ve delivered one of the most boring posters I’ve ever seen.  Tsk. Tsk.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Arrietty" Trailer is launched

The official Australian territory trailers for Studio Ghibli’s upcoming animated feature film ARRIETTY are available for to view      Click here to view the Arrietty Trailer.

This enchanting family tale will be released in Australia on 12 January 2012. The eagerly anticipated animation from the Academy Award winning Japanese film studio is based on the much-loved children’s novel The Borrowers, by Mary Norton and will be a welcome treat for families looking for an imaginative entertainment choice these summer holidays.

This is a story of a family of "little" people.

ARRIETTY is a visually stunning animated film created by world-renowned Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli (SPIRITED AWAY, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, PONYO) and based on the much-loved children’s book The Borrowers by Mary Norton.

In this whimsical adventure, tiny 14-year-old Arrietty lives under the floorboards of a sprawling mansion set in a magical, overgrown garden with her father and mother. Arrietty and her family live by borrowing. Everything they have, they borrow or make from the things they have borrowed from the old lady who lives in the mansion.

Their peaceful life is dramatically changed when the ever-curious Arrietty accidentally allows herself to be seen by Sho, a lonely 12-year-old human boy. The two begin to confide in each other and, before long, a friendship begins to blossom...

Headed by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Studio Ghibli has created some of the masterpieces of recent theatrical animated films including Ponyo, Howls Moving Castle, Spirited Away and The Cat Returns. ARRIETTY will be released in both English dubbed and subtitled Japanese versions.

View the Arrietty Trailer

Santa's Apprentice ★★★½

There wasn’t a pair of 3D glasses in the cinema; and not one CGI character danced across the screen.  Santa’s Apprentice is—dare I say it—an simple animation with no special effects.  

Looking around at all the children, waiting expectantly to be entertained at the nearly full preview screening, I thought, I wonder how long into the movie before we hear the I’ve-had-enough-shuffle?  My two veteran preview attendees the nine year old Mr-hyper-critic and the eleven year old Mr-I’m-bored,-too-much-talking, were already complaining they wouldn’t like it.  ‘It’s just a cartoon. Can we go if it’s boring?’
‘Eat your popcorn kids and be grateful you see so many movies,’ I said, whilst thinking, I do hope it isn’t boring.   After all, we have the quintessential Christmas movie on DVD at home with Polar Express.   How can you top that?
Then the lights lowered and the magic began.  I was back in my childhood with a sentimental tug pulling at my soft spot, that comes from a movie that doesn't need special effects because  it has heart.  There was very little shuffling throughout and my two didn’t ask to leave.  The miracle of a good Christmas story had occurred.
Santa’s Apprentice is an Australian animated tale of Nicolas, a seven year old Australian boy, who meets all the criteria to become the next Santa; a role the current Santa does not wish to relinquish but must according to Santa Law.  Swooped up one night, from his orphanage home, he is taken to the North Pole to an initiation in ‘Santa 101’.  His adventures, mishaps and ultimately his final understanding of the true magic of Christmas kept the audience, including my two, engaged and quite often laughing. 
It is so refreshing to hear Australian voices behind an animation and this film has the current crème of Australian acting talent which includes Shane Jacobsen, Delta Goodrem, Magda Szubanski, Hugh Sheridan, Max Cullen and Georgie Parker.
Santa’s Apprentice is a movie for the kids who still believe in Santa and for adults, with older children, who miss being quizzed on how Santa knows when they’ve been naughty. Don’t take your fifteen year old to this, but do take your younger children.  This year I won’t have to explain to my children how Santa delivers all the presents in one night, Santa’s Apprentice answered it beautifully.

Just like the secret to this movie’s appeal, the answer was made clear, ‘It’s the magic of Christmas’.

Friday, November 4, 2011

We Need to Talk About Kevin ★★★★★

We need to talk about Kevin should be called, “We will think about Kevin for a long time.”  Since watching this disturbing movie, scenes from it keep flashing through my mind.

Somehow, I arrived at the preview without seeing a trailer nor reading anything on the book.  As the story unfolded, each moment was a revelation.  This is the best way to see this film, so this review is intentionally vague in plot outline.  I will say one thing; this movie is a horror story.

We need to talk about Kevin is a dramatic thriller based on the award winning 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver.  It follows the relationship conflict from birth between Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) and her son, Kevin, played by three different actors Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell as six-eight-year-old Kevin, Rocky Duer as infant Kevin.  The older Kevins’ portrayals are remarkable.  Eva must also deal with her husband Franklin’s (John C. Reilly) unsympathetic views of her difficulties with Kevin.  When Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) is born, she adds another nail in the family’s relationship coffin.

From the beginning scenes we realize something terrible has happened, over which Eva, now without family and living a struggling isolated life, is guilt-ridden. Her acceptance of her guilt is heart-wrenching. Through well-handled flashbacks, we watch as Eva painfully remembers the key moments which have brought her to this disastrous point in her life.

Eva is a role few actresses could play. Tilda Swinton, gaunt and finely controlled in her emotions, will win awards for her role of the Mother attempting to understand how to love a child who is so unlovable. 

This is dark and gut-wrenching subject matter.  As a parent, I felt every moment of Eva’s confusion and desire to connect with her son, and protect her family.  You need to see this movie because it is a masterpiece of filmmaking and storytelling. 

However, there is a price to pay.  It will haunt you and unsettle you, just as Sophie’s Choice sometimes still crosses my mind thirty years later.  For a little while, I don’t think I will want to talk about Kevin.


The Australian motion poster for MELANCHOLIA, the much anticipated film from controversial director Lars Von Trier, has launched today. 


MELANCHOLIA is a beautiful story about the end of the world. Justin (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) are celebrating their marriage at a sumptuous party in the home of their sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland). Despite Claire's best efforts, the wedding is a fiasco, with family tensions mounting and relationships fraying. Meanwhile a planet called Melancholia is heading directly towards Earth.

The stunning animated poster features the provocative director Lars von Trier alongside the outstanding ensemble cast which includes Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland and Alexander Skarsgård.
The visually stunning and original concept was designed by Madman Entertainment's creative team. The poster was created using a behind the scenes image from the film which allowed von Trier's image to be incorporated next to his stellar cast.
In addition to the motion poster, Madman Entertainment have also created a 2-minute 'making of' featurette where Madman Art Director Marcus Cobbledick demonstrates the steps taken to produce the motion poster and discusses the creative concept including the unorthodox use of von Trier.

MELANCHOLIA will be released nationally by Madman Entertainment on 15 DECEMBER, 2011.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Anonymous ★★★★

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."

In Anonymous, this very question posed by Juliet, may be answered.
Anonymous provides one theory on the debate surrounding the belief that William Shakespeare was not the author of the 37 plays and 154 sonnets credited to him. Mark Twain even commented that in Shakespeare’s will there was “Not a play, not a poem, not an unfinished literary work, not a scrap of manuscript of any kind.”
The film is complex, centring on Edward De Vere’s, the Earl of Oxford’s (Rhys Ifans) initial use of the playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) as the front man for his work, which as a nobleman, he was not permitted to publish. Enter William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), a drunkard actor, who grasps the money-making opportunity by signing his name to the increasingly more popular plays.  Alongside this is the other story of De Vere’s love affair with Elizabeth 1 (Vanessa Redgrave & Joely Richardson—as the younger Elizabeth), creating its own political dramas, with later shocking ramifications.
Anonymous moves alternately between the earlier lives of De Vere, Elizabeth 1 and her confidante the powerful William Cecil (David Thewlis) to their present day lives, filled with political manipulation, jealousy and betrayal.  It’s almost a ‘thinking man’s’ soap opera.
It’s an unexpected project for Roland Emmerich, director of the blockbusters, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012.  Emmerich became fascinated with the Shakespeare authorship question after a conversation with screenwriter John Orloff.  He believes the film will open up the subject to wider discussion. 
The actor’s performances are compelling, the storyline well-crafted and the computerised visualisation of London beautifully evoked.  You cannot help pondering the ideas presented in Anonymous long after the movie is over. 
Shakespeare may have been talking about himself when he wrote,
“All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” But he could have also been talking about the film, Anonymous. Whoever Shakespeare was, I think he would have applauded.