Monday, December 26, 2011

We Bought A Zoo ★ ★★ ★

DVD Release Date: April 3, 2012.

Release Date Australia :  26th December 2011  Other countries


The trailer for We Bought a Zoo does not do this film justice. 
There should be a disclaimer after it, which reads: ‘This montage of one liners does not truly portray this film. We acknowledge we have made it seem ridiculously over-the-top schmaltzy.  In reality it is a well-crafted, beautifully acted and delivered piece of cinema.  You may suddenly find tears rolling down your cheeks when you least expect it. In fact, more than a few tears, a few times.  We hope our poor effort at promotion will not put you off a family movie you would really enjoy.’  Now that I have got that off my chest, on with the review.
What I like most about movies like this, is that they remind me of what is important in life.  Even if the wonderful idea, that family is everything, only stays with me for the five minutes it takes to get to the car—before the arguing starts about who sits where—then I say ‘good job’.
Okay, I am going to admit it—as a mother of two boys, nine and eleven, I sometimes hide from them.  The fighting, the whining, the constants demands are something that makes my brain fizzle and my temper rise quicker than the volcano in Journey to the Centre of the Earth. 
So, I’ll take anything that caps that feeling for a little while.
And when I attend a screening—especially in December where there is a preview every second day— expecting to experience a yawn fest of schmaltz I’m usually not in the mood to receive great messages of wisdom.  A side note, my husband and kids were also not excited to see this one either.
So, when We Bought A Zoo, which at first appears to be just another Hollywood formulaic movie, begins to weave its tale, I was surprised to find that none of our family were yawning.  We were surprisingly engaged.   Even in the first thirty minutes, it was clear this movie was turning into something special.  And I should have known because Cameron Crowe, the writer director, has managed this surprise before.
 If you asked me did I want to see movies on the following subjects, high school kid follows rock band to score an interview for Rolling Stone magazine (Almost Famous); sports agent develops a soul and falls in love (Jerry Maguire); selfish publisher goes on weird adventure after an accident (Vanilla Sky), I would have said, ‘Sounds OK but I don’t care if I miss them’.   Yet, they were all surprisingly enjoyable and I would have to say memorable, because I can still recall their plots years later.
We Bought A Zoo sounds average as far as plots go but the way it is told is anything but average.  Freelance adventure journalist, Benjamin Mee, a recently widowed Father to an obstinate and non-communicative teenager Dylan (Colin Ford) and adorable six year old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) has had enough.  He decides they need to make a new start away from life’s stresses.
Whilst looking for houses, they come upon the perfect home with plenty of land and a large house.  But there’s a catch.  It also comes with a private zoo, run by a close knit and eclectic group of people led by head zoo keeper, Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson). 
Benjamin follows his own repetitive advice which will all make sense by the end of the movie—‘All you need is twenty seconds of insane courage’—and buys the zoo.  Looming over their heads, before they can reopen the zoo, is the zoo inspection by Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins), a tough cookie who seems dead set against green lighting the place, as he happily hands out expensive renovation lists.
Amongst the inside look at the chaos of running a private zoo there is a drama with a sick tiger, teenage angst amidst first love, money worries, and wonderful lines delivered perfectly from little Maggie Elizabeth Jones. She is so adorable, that if asked I may have traded one of my own kids for her.
Probably one of the best lines in the film, delivered by Duncan Mee (Thomas Haden Church), Benjamin’s brother, is also the best way to describe why this film works so well.  ‘I like the animals but I love the humans,’ says Duncan.
We can all understand struggling with parenthood, friendship, loss and love and wanting something better for our family—it’s part of being human.   I love it when we hopeless humans are given a beautiful glimmer of hope. Even if it is only for the 124 minutes duration of a movie which inspires us enough, that we turn to our kids and say, ‘You drive me nuts but I love you.’
I promise you, if despite the bad trailer, you decide to brave seeing this movie something amazing will happen, you just might love the humans too.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Fans)★ ★★ ★ (Me) ★ ★

Release Dates:   Australia 5th January 2012
Other Countries

It's not so elementary

In Sherlock Holmes’ own words, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth".

And this may also be true for the movie, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Getting to the truth of why you should or shouldn’t see it, is quite a difficult game of deduction.

Notice in one corner, we have Robert Downey JR (Sherlock Holmes), everybody’s favorite actor, the swaggering Iron Man hero himself. Also in the wonderful actor area is Jude Law (Dr. John Watson), considered one of Britain’s best actors. Alongside them, Noomi Rapace (Sim) of the Swedish Girl With The Dragon Tattoo role, captivating to watch. Of course, lets not forget Jared Harris (Professor Moriarty) of Mad Men fame and Stephen Fry (Mycroft Holmes) whom everyone loves.

Now swing your ever observant gaze to the Director, Guy Ritchie, who literally created a genre of UK gangster films with his hit the 1999, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels made with a paltry one million dollars.

And hidden away, where most people wouldn’t notice them, is the production team of Joel Silver, (who has more than sixty films under his belt, including the Matrix trilogy),  Susan Downey (a prolific producer and Downey’s wife), and Lionel Wigram, (co-producer of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

This is a dream team for big success and they have achieved it with the first Sherlock Holmes film, grossing over $516 Million. So your deduction, my dear friend, is that this movie would be a thrilling caper from start to finish. That, though, would depend on your powers of observation.

The story begins with the death of the Crown Prince of Austria. All is not as it seems, of course, and Holmes follows the slim clues to a gentleman’s club, where he is, supposedly, out with Watson on Watson's buck’s night. Here he meets the Gypsy fortune teller, Sim, who knows more than she is revealing in her card reading. It’s not giving too much away to share that Moriarty is behind everything dastardly. Suspecting this, Holmes and Watson follow Moriarty across Europe in order to discover and thwart his evil game plan. There is a tremendous amount of running and jumping, fighting, and gun exploding, much of it in slow motion, so we miss nothing. And there is much 'follow the clue' revelations, just like in the first film.

My husband, an avid fan of the first movie, found this one exhilarating. He inferred, quite rightly, that it was true to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Downey’s Sherlock Holmes is to say aloof, uncaring and a downright narcissist. Watson continues to be his able sidekick, who, despite being treated like a fool, still follows Holmes faithfully through all his adventures, even abandoning his wife on their honeymoon.

The movie is dark—and I mean darkly lit—which again my husband pointed out is true to the era, where it was candlelight all the way. Holmes slow motion think-through process for every physical clash, along with his and Moriarty’s word play, for me, ground proceedings to a yawning halt. Not so, for my Husband, who commented, this was true Holmes, a man of thought and words.

And yes, we did have a heated discussion, in the car, on the way home from the screening. For every move I made on the credibility of this Sherlock Holmes film, my husband had a counter argument.

So, in order to decide if you will enjoy Sherlock Holmes I can only offer this advice: You must reach your own conclusions. The evidence is there for both sides of the, is it a good movie, argument.

In this case, the truth may be that, whilst this movie was not for me, I feel that the probability is great that an enjoyable two hours is in the cards for fans of the original. And the last person with whom I would argue is Sherlock Holmes. He does play a good game at times.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo ★ ★★ ★ ½

Release Date: Australia January 12, 2012 Other countries
Rating: MA 15+
Running Time: 158 mins

 The Answer to the Millennium Question?

We serious moviegoers don’t like remakes. Especially remakes of European movies. Hollywood has this thing about underestimating audiences. They think we don’t like reading subtitles.

They take a good story, already successful in a foreign language, cast some big name actors—sometimes not—Hollywoodfy it. And presto, we all have another reason to dislike remakes. We comment to each other, “Did you see the—enter European country of origin here—version? It’s sooo much better.” Then there’s the book conversion film which encourages the same discussion. “The book was sooo much better.”

So, here we go again, this time with ‘The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo’. Unless you have lived on another planet, you will know that it's book one of Stieg Larsson’s Swedish Millennium trilogy, which has sold 65,000,000 copies in forty-six countries, since its publication in 2005.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo opens with Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) in a load of trouble. He works with Millennium Magazine and is convicted of printing a libelous story against billionaire industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. There is one bright light for him, though, when one of Sweden’s wealthiest industrialists, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) hires Blomkvist to discover what really happened to his beloved niece, Harriet, whom he believes was murdered by a member of his large family.

Lisbeth Salander (played by an unrecognizable Rooney Mara), an ingenious researcher, is contracted via Milton Security to investigate Blomkvist for Vanger. Lisbeth is an antisocial, pierced, tattooed, cold personality with a dark past. When Blomkvist moves to the Vanger family property, set on a remote snow swept Swedish island, he begins to unravel, step by step, the forty-year-old mystery of Harriet’s disappearance. Things become explosive when Lisbeth joins him in his quest as together they follow the leads to a most surprising end.

Now for the million dollar Millennium—or entrance price—question…

If you’ve read the book and seen the Swedish film—which I have—is there any reason to see this remake? I pondered this as the lights dimmed and the exhilarating sound track by composer, Atticus Ross (Academy Award® winner for Social Network) began pumping.

The unequivocal answer is YES. It is one of the best thrillers you will see this summer, and worth it, if not just to see Rooney Mara’s habitation of Lisbeth Salander. Director, David Fincher, whose last effort ‘The Social Network’, swept the Academy Awards® last year, teams with Steven Zaillian (co-writer Moneyball) and producer Scott Rudin to bring this story to the screen so dynamically you won’t realise you’ve just sat there for a not inconsiderable 158 minutes.

The only thing that would improve the experience would be to be handed, upon cinema entry, a family-tree card of the Vangers. The relationships are a lot to follow at the cracking pace set by the film—even if you have read the books.

Ultimately, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" contains no big name stars leaping off incredibly tall buildings, amazing motion capture characters, smart spies or Oscar winning performances from actresses seeking more awards. What there is, though, is a group of consummate film makers coming together to create a film that will knock your socks—or tattoos off.

And yes, it’s better than all the books and films combined. And, yes again, films of the other two books in the series will follow. Go see it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Adventures of Tin Tin ★ ★★ ★ ½

Releasing:  Australia December 26 2011    USA-December 21 2011 

It's A Brilliant Tintin World

The last time I read a comic book—sorry graphic novel—was more than thirty years ago.  Even then, “The Adventures of Tintin” did not beep on my radar.  My taste ran to 'Tales of The Crypt' and 'Twilight Zone' and the occasional 'Archies' and 'Scooby Doo'.

So I came to the screening of Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ with little knowledge of the character or the story.  There was a dog, a red headed guy and something about a motorcycle and a boat.

Not so my husband, who is usually dragged to previews—he likes movies but we go way too much for his taste.  'Tintin' was different.   He marched towards that cinema, kids and me in tow, recounting the wonderful adventures he’d read as a child.  “Tintin and Asterix were it for me,” he said, “Let’s get good seats.”

Tintin (Jamie Bell), an investigative journalist, and his dog Snowy, purchase a model ship called the Unicorn which carries a hidden secret.  But there are others interested in the model ship who break into Tin Tin’s home and, are prepared to kill anyone who stands between them and the ship.  Enter the villain, Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig) and, thus, begins a race to discover what is Ivanovich's interest in the ship—of course, it can’t be good—and how to thwart him.

In following obscure clues, as only Tintin can, he embarks on an adventure, crossing paths with Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) who, unfortunately, is more trouble than treasure, with his brain addled by years of drinking—a good lesson for the kiddies.  The two travel at a cracking pace, across seas and deserts via boats, planes, motorbikes, and even cranes, to ultimately solve the mystery of the sinking of the original Unicorn.

Fans of the books will be pleased to know, Inspector Thompson (Simon Pegg) and Thomson (Nick Frost) are there in all their bumbling glory—according to my husband, speaking exactly as he imagined them.  By the end of the film, you will be breathless from the ride and giggling from the fun of it all.  Thanks to the action and 3D effects, in one motorbike chase scene along cobbled streets, there was almost a sensation akin to the ‘Indiana Jones’ ride at Disneyland.

Of course, the ‘Indiana Jones’ director was the perfect choice to tell the Tintin story.  A huge Tintin fan, Director Spielberg first reached out to Hergé, Tintin’s creator, as early as 1983, and found the Belgian artist deeply enthusiastic about placing his clever character in the filmmaker’s hands.  But tragically, Hergé passed away before the two could meet.  Later, his widow, Fanny Rodwell, fulfilled his wishes, granting the rights to Spielberg. 
Spielberg then enlisted Director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Jackson couldn’t wait to tackle the task. “Steven really is quite similar to the Tintin character,” Jackson comments.  “He’s young at heart.  He’s very curious.  He has a great love of adventure, and his sense of humor pretty much matches what Hergé brought to Tintin.  It’s a perfect match.”

Using performance capture technology (as seen in 'Polar Express', 'A Christmas Carol') and accompanied by well used 3D, Spielberg and Jackson create a hugely believable world. So much so, you will find yourself repeating over and over, “It looks so real.”

Five decades and two dozen graphic novels later, Tintin has won millions and millions of hearts of every age group, in nearly every country around the world. Spielberg’s faithful and creative recreation of the character means millions more hearts will be won. 

Thanks to ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ film, you can now include me and my harsh film critics, the nine and eleven year olds, in the world of Tintin fandom.  Mr Spielberg, bring on the sequel.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Melancholia ★★★

It’s a weird, weird film

Releases in Australian Cinemas 15th December, 2011
Other Country Release Dates

Picture this—a hand holding a daisy and systematically picking off the leaves.  ‘I love it.  I hate it. I love it. I hate it.’
That’s me on my thoughts on Melancholia.   A quick cruise around the internet film review pages and you will find commentary swinging both ways.  This is a film that filmgoers will either think is magnificent and compelling in its imagery and analogy.  Or a self-indulgence of the highest order by Director, Lars Von Trier, who is enjoying his own melancholia on our dime.
Actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, who plays one of the two central characters in the film even said of Melancholia: ‘It’s a weird film.’  Von Trier laughed at this and said, ‘That was lovely, because I was worried that “weird” was somehow lacking a bit.’
The film opens with a series of slow motion sequences and stills played to the overture of ‘Tristan and Isolde’.  These are beautiful works of moving art and they play out the entire plot even up to the devastating end.  So, if the title, Melancholia, doesn’t give it away, you are never in any doubt that this is not going to be an easy film to watch.
It’s a two part story.  The first part centres on Justine (Kirsten Dunst).  Today is her wedding day and she should be happy.  Everyone wants her to be happy and keeps telling her that.  She has just married Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) and the wedding party is held at her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law John’s (Kiefer Sutherland) magnificent castle overlooking the ocean. 
As the story unfolds Claire, overwhelmed by the day, descends into a depression before our eyes and then indulges in a sequence of bizarre activities away from the wedding celebrations.  The wedding guests have their own strange little moments and this goes some way to explaining Claire’s mental issues, ala her philandering selfish Father (John Hurt) and her depressed and bitter Mother (Charlotte Rampling).
Bring on part two—just in time—because this is a wedding we, the film guests, want to leave.  We want the planet.  This part is entitled Claire.  Here we learn there is an undiscovered planet called Melancholia about to fly by the Earth. 
It won’t hit Earth or that is what Claire’s husband, John, believes.  It will be the view of a lifetime, captured by much fussing with his telescope and the excitement of sharing the spectacle with his young son.
 Claire is not so sure, constantly googling it’s flight path, which has it colliding with the much smaller Earth.  Justine arrives at the castle, barely, and spends much of her time depressed and non-communicative. 
The last twenty minutes of the film, focusing on Justine, Claire and her young son, are heartbreaking.  As each scene leads towards the inevitable, most audiences would themselves be wondering: If I had an hour to live, what would I do? 
Lars Von Trier battles depression and enjoys some pretty crazy behaviour himself.  At this years Cannes Film Festival, he was declared "persona non grata" thanks to his press conference ‘I am a Nazi’ speech’.  Melancholia is his homage to the state of being that for he, and others, clearly feels as if the world is ending.  In this, he has definitely succeeded.
There is a lot to admire in this film. Von Trier has created strong roles and directed his actors to perform at their peak. Kirsten Dunst won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her habitation of the depressive Justine.
In the end, after picking my daisy to pieces—something I have never done with a film before—I am left with just the stem.  I judge films on whether or not they deliver their promise to their audience.  If as a filmgoer you are looking for a light piece of entertainment or a science fiction journey into the end of the world, this is not for you.
However, if you loved ‘Tree of Life’ (I didn’t) and subscribe to the theory of existentialism, then this one will have you salivating over your popcorn.  Von Trier is not subtle and that may be the flaw in the film.  We don’t need to be beaten over the head for an hour to understand Justine has a problem. And we don’t need to watch people for another hour, watching a planet cruise towards them, to understand the enormity of their situation.
So Lars, if you were going for weird and self-indulgent then I hand you a five star rating.  But the problem with weirdness is that it isolates those who just want to enjoy themselves.  Viewing depression, through Justine’s eyes, is an eye-opening experience.  Viewing it through Von Trier’s 135 minute film is beautiful and ugly, boring and mesmerising, and ultimately very, very weird.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Albert Nobbs ★★ ★

Release Date Australia: 26th December 2012
Other Countries Release Dates

Humorous, my corset

Albert Nobbs is not a fun night out at the cinema. It’s an interesting night out at the cinema, but choose this movie knowing you are going to see Oscar worthy performances strung around a sad, sad story of poverty. If you are a woman, you will come out of it grateful to be living in the twenty-first century.

Glenn Close’s involvement with the character of Albert Nobbs stretches back almost three decades to her 1982 performance in Simone Benmussa’s theatrical interpretation of the short story, “Albert Nobbs” by nineteenth century Irish author, George Moore. ‘I think Albert is one of the truly great characters and the story, for all the basic simplicity, has this strange emotional power,’ says Close, whose portrayal in the Off Broadway production scooped her an Obie Award.

Close plays Albert Nobbs, a woman who from the age of fourteen disguises herself as a man to survive the extreme poverty in Ireland. The divide between the haves and the have nots is extreme in this period and this social commentary is played for all its worth in the movie. After various waiting jobs, Nobbs ends up working as a respected butler in the luxurious Dublin hotel, Morrison’s.

Albert has reached a crossroads in his life, after meticulously saving his pennies and farthings to amass a tidy lump sump. He begins to question his life and believes that he may be able to create a pretend marriage with Helen (Australian Mia Wasikowska), a selfish hotel maid and open a business. But nothing is easy for Albert and as his plan evolves it is clear that his chosen road may not be as simple as he innocently believes.

Just as The Iron Lady is an Oscar© vehicle for Meryl Streep, so too, Albert Nobbs is clearly a carpet ride for Close. When the Golden Globe and Oscar nominations are announced she will be there but I’m not sure if she should be.

Whilst it is a performance created by quality acting and the clever use of prosthetics, I found her portrayal of the sad Albert Nobbs contrived and overplayed. Whereas, Janet McTeer, playing Hubert Page, felt more real in her character who was faced with the same dilemma as Close’s.

Throughout the movie it is a real struggle to see Glenn Close as anything but a woman playing a man. There are many—too many I think—lingering close ups, so we can appreciate Albert’s subservience and position, but, to me she and McTeer just looked weird—freakishly weird—and that really detracts from the story.

And this leads me to the unreconciled plot-hole—that these servants, in this hotel, did not suspect, for even one moment that Albert Nobbs was a man. They lived in each other’s pockets and, yet, nothing, not even a hint of gossip. Its just not possible.

Albert Nobbs is not a terrible movie but I kept thinking if you took out the sad little Mr Nobbs and built a story around the other characters then we would have a more fulfilling upstairs, downstairs drama than what we were fed.

Close has said that she recognised the humour in the story from the very beginning and she believed in it enough, that she actually penned the screenplay and produced the film. ‘Through all these years of working on Albert Nobbs I knew that there was humour in it,’ she says.

For what it's worth, either she failed in her attempt at humour, or Glenn Close and I laugh at very different things.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Arrietty ★ ★★ ★ ½ For the Kids: ★ ★ ½

When small is beautiful

First up, with hand on my heart, I would like to state for the record, I am not an animation fan.  
When I was younger I loved Scooby Doo and the Archies—even bought the comics—but as I grew older, they lost their charm.  Recently, the little people in my life, Masters Critic Eleven and scathing Critic Nine, and I have seen two animated releases—not CGI, animated—with very different reactions from them.
The first, the Aussie release, Santa's Apprentice was greeted with surprised enjoyment. Master nine even commenting he preferred it to the very polished CGI Arthur Christmas 3D.   They loved Ponyo, a few years ago, and still sing the song when reminded of the movie.  So, I expected they, and a friend of theirs who tagged along, would have a rollicking good time with Arrietty, the latest offering from Ghibli studios (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo).
For me, it was like watching artwork brought to life on the screen.  Magnificent colours and detail worked skilfully to create an absorbing world. The story, based on Mary Norton’s 1952 book, is a moving tale of a family of little people, who live under the floorboards. They exist by “borrowing” from the human beans that live in the house.  In this Japanese version, the house owners are two elderly women, who are joined by a sick twelve year old nephew awaiting heart surgery.
It is a fascinating peak into the uses these little people make of items they find; a pin becomes a sword, a bay leaf lasts a year, and a sugar cube will make tea for months.  Each night, the Father ventures out on successful expeditions as if were his job. Then one fateful night, when Arrietty, their young daughter, joins her Father for the first time, they are seen by the sick boy.  Now difficult choices must be made and the drama really begins as Arrietty and the boy tentatively build a relationship.
It all sounds like the perfect family movie, right?  But, as I was marvelling at the masterful story-telling, unfolding in the most glorious hues and detail, I detected movement from either side of me.  I’ve attended enough previews with the young critics to sense the warning signs. Then it came, ‘When is it over?’  Then another voice followed, ‘How much longer? I’m hungry.’  And there was a lot of feet and chair shuffling.  Not just from mine but from their friend—who isn’t a jaded movie connoisseur.  They know the ‘shush’ look from me.  So, we managed to survive until the end, although I kept wishing I was there on my own to appreciate this gem.
In this, though, is my warning.  The children thought it was boring and I suspect children who are so accustomed to 3D in-your-face-action every second of a movie will struggle with this piece of art.  It is a moving story and the gentle references to judgement of others, commentary on friendship, children prioritised behind work, will be lost on the kiddies.  Plothole Critic Nine's take was  they had  the premise wrong.  'It's not really "borrowing" Mum.  It's actually stealing."
However, the magic of the story and its rendering will not be lost on most adults. So, I recommend you take the children to the latest 3D, park them with a sitter and then slip off to watch Arrietty.  These little people deserve your full attention.  They are beautiful, charming and offer very valid reasons why you never find those missing bobby pins ever again.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Jack and Jill ★★ ★ ½

Why when Sandler falls down, he keeps his crown

Let us first address the elephant in the room.  Jack and Jill (Dennis Dugan, 2011), has universally not received good reviews.  Adam Sandler movies do not impress film critics.  Yet, his movies are graced with cameos and starring roles from some of the best actors in the business.  Drew Barrymore, Christopher Walken, Donald Sutherland, Don Cheedle, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, and of course, Jack Nicholson are some of the respected thespians with credits in his films.

In his latest offering, Jack and Jill, Sandler’s taken a step beyond, casting Oscar© winner Al Pacino as himself.  Pacino, though, doesn’t play the serious tough guy this time; instead he is a Pacino losing-his-marbles who is obsessed with Jill. He first arrives in the film alongside a cameo appearance by the cool man, himself, Johnny Depp and spends the rest of the film lampooning himself.

So, if Sandler’s movies are as bad as his critics claim, why then do all these box office actors deign to appear in his critically panned movies?  The answer I believe is simple; they think his material is funny. They get his humour, just like most of the audiences that happily pay to see his movies, get his humour.

When I go to see an Adam Sandler movie I’m not expecting to see a thought provoking piece nor find myself changed in any way.  I’m not even expecting to remember the plot a year later. Although strangely enough I can remember most of his film’s plots, whereas ask me about some of the superhero ones and you will draw a blank stare.

What I am expecting, when the poster says starring Adam Sandler, are people falling over a lot and being whacked by objects, Adam’s character the brunt of some kind of one-joke running gag, and co-stars that appear to be having a lot of fun being downright silly.

And in varying degrees every time I see a Sandler movie, I get exactly what I expect and exactly what I want—a silly ninety minutes of slapstick, and toilet humour laughter.  Now what then is there to complain about when a movie delivers exactly what it promises?

The latest addition to the Sandler stable is ‘Jack and Jill’, in which he plays both lead roles—seamlessly stitched together I might add.  Prepare to find yourself forgetting that it is actually him in the role of Jill.

Jack has a great life, with his wife Erin (Katie Holmes) and their two children.  Every year his twin sister Jill, who is the relative from hell, invades his life.  She arrives to stay Thanksgiving weekend and comes with a long list of activities she wants to enjoy during the visit.

Jill, through a twist of fate meets Al Pacino, who is instantly attracted to her, pursuing her relentlessly in some very funny scenes.  Sadly, for Pacino, his love is unrequited. However, in order for Jack’s plan—of having Pacino star in one of his commercials—to succeed, he needs to convince Jill to stay longer than the planned weekend and somehow change her mind about Pacino.  The rest of the plot is pure Sandler formulae, where in the end Jack realises family is what matters.

My kids love Adam Sandler movies.  Sitting next to them at the Jack and Jill screening, listening to their enthusiastic laughter as Sandler’s Jill punches a guy through a door, wreaks havoc in a swimming pool with a jet ski and destroys Pacino’s Oscar with a bat and ball, it occurred to me that there are not many comedies I can see with my kids.  There is no swearing.  There is no sex and the violence is Punch and Judy style, without a drop of blood.  It is just slapstick and gags, pure and simple.

As a kid, I loved Saturday afternoon movies with the Three Stooges, and Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin—Jerry Lewis at one stage was my favourite actor. I suspect in their day they also copped a fair bit of criticism for their mindless slapstick humour.  Yet, I adored them and they are a fond part of my childhood memories.

I am probably going against the tide of critics who hate Adam Sandler films, when I suggest that Sandler is the Jerry Lewis of our day.  He is funny and he is good at what he does, which is making audiences laugh.

As one friend said of his movies, ‘You need to check your brain at the theatre door.’  And you know what, at the screening I attended there must have been a very full brain check cloakroom, because there was a heck of a lot of laughter filling the theatre.  Laughter is what Sandler aims for and laughter is what he delivers.  How can you rate that badly?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Iron Lady ★★★

How they turned gold into tin
Imagine, if you will, after watching The Iron Lady, the biopic of Margaret Thatcher’s life, Margaret is asked her opinion on said film and its portrayal of what is her memorable and significant life story.  Mrs Thatcher eyes the interviewer, and with a stare that would stop a politician at fifty paces, she replies, ‘I don’t like the tone of it.’  Be assured, there will be a lot of reviewers and film-goers backing her on that one.
As this movie releases in late December, the first thing you will hear is that Meryl Streep is a shoe-in to win the Oscar.  And, I would say she should win the Oscar, not just for her performance but in that she manages, to elevate a very average movie to watchable and entertaining.  She is startlingly brilliant in this role and it is a pleasure to watch her personify a woman so recognisable from our recent history.  Only once did I catch a Meryl gesture; the rest was pure Margaret.
The Iron Lady is the story of Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep), probably one of the most famous and controversial political leaders of our time.  She was England’s first female Prime Minister, serving from 1979 until 1990.  An ambitious and influential leader, she was loved and hated during office.  Having lived in London in the early eighties, I can attest to the criticism and strong emotion her “Thatcherite” policies evoked, whilst she transformed England from a country in recession to a prosperous economy again.  Her hard line stance on unions, her decisions to go to war in the Falklands, and her overseeing of the introduction of the divisive Poll Tax are all touched upon in the movie. These tough political decisions of her Prime Ministership are intermingled with the personal moments she shared with her Father, her children and her husband, Denis (played with comical charm by Jim Broadbent).
The Thatcher story is a fascinating one on many levels, from her early childhood as the daughter of a green grocer in a politically minded family, to her determined struggle against the political ‘Boy’s Club’, to the family she neglected in order to realise her goals.  The peek through the window into the eleven years of her Prime Ministership, where she literally had a hand in changing the world, leaves us in admiration of her stoicism. 
In all that huge life though, lays the first problem with the movie.  There is a lot of story to tell, in one hundred and five minutes.  Abi Morgan, penned the screenplay, and worked closely with Director, Phyllida Lloyd.  My sense of it is that they took off on the wrong path from the very beginning. 
First, in wanting to cover everything they have created a film that felt, annoyingly, like we were jumping around in a time machine and a broken one at that—Doctor Who, we need your sonic screwdriver.  We are hurled back and forth through five minute snapshots of key life events.  Then, just as things get interesting, we are whisked back to present day with old pensioner Margaret Thatcher, who suffers dementia and converses with her long dead husband, Denis.
Another issue and, the ruination of the story for me, was the choice to frame the story around Margaret Thatcher’s senile character, struggling to clear her long-dead husband’s clothes from the house. This Margaret’s behaviour raises character flaws which don’t ring true.  In one scene, we have old Margaret giving her Doctor a run for his money, fitting perfectly with the strong, younger Margaret character.  In the next, we have Margaret dithering over her husband’s clothes or over concerned about the price of milk.  You could argue that this was the dementia influence but I would say anyone who faced the world fearlessly would also face her own health issues the same way.
Then, after the film has delivered us ninety minutes of a woman who will not be stopped, who knows her own mind, who will go to war for her principles, she then utters one of the weakest lines a female character can, as her husband’s ghost walks out the door.  She cries out, ‘Denis come back’.
After I saw this film, I felt a margin of anger towards its makers, in that they chose to tell the story using a senile Margaret’s reflections.  I kept thinking why Aaron Sorkin (Acadamy Award Screenplay writer of Social Network) couldn’t have penned this one.
As Margaret Thatcher once said, ‘What Britain needs is an iron lady.’  What this inspirational story needed, with its talented leads, strong supporting actors, and remarkable makeup artists, was an iron strong script.    What they gave us was hollow tin.

Release Dates:  Australia December 26,   USA December 30,   UK January 6.    Other Countries