Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Le Chef: Movie Review

Le Chef: Movie Review

Cast: Jean Reno, Michael Youn, Raphaelle Agouge
Director: Daniel Cohen

In this French comedy, the hard man of Leon, Jean Reno stars as a top chef Alexandre Lagarde, the proprietor  and chef of a three star restaurant in France.

However, with pressure mounting on him to provide a new spring menu, Lagarde is facing being ousted from his job by the CEO of the restaurant, a meddling fool who wants him to drop a star so that he can cut costs, fire him and bring in another cheaper chef who specialises in molecular gastronomy, the latest fad.

And Lagarde is not the only one with problems; self trained ambitious chef (and longtime Lagarde fan) Jacky Bonnot (Youn) can't hold down menial cooking jobs and is constantly being fired. With his pregnant girlfriend Beatrice about to give birth, Jacky takes a job as a handyman at an old people's home -but thanks to a chance meeting with Lagarde, soon finds his path heading back towards the kitchen.

Le Chef is as light and flouncy as a twice baked souffle but as nourishing as a haute cuisine meal.

It's a comedy which is simple, with charm and humour and blessed with sumptuous shots of food which are sparingly used throughout the film.

Reno excels as the chef whose career is more important this his daughter and his life; likewise, Youn (who bears a passing resemblance to Steve Martin's character in Roxanne) is likeable and breezy in this mix of comedy and farce. They make a good duo as they teach each other the inevitable life lessons and dole out crazy oneliners here and there.

While it's all resolved in a suitably predictable style and with relatively little surprise, at a pacy 80 minutes, Le Chef is a soupcon of a treat; a veritable feast for the eyes and a light snack for the cinema going soul.


Monday, 30 July 2012

Latest reviews from the New Zealand International Film Festival

Latest reviews from the New Zealand International Film Festival

We're into week 2 of the festival now - and here's a wrap up of what we got up to at the weekend.

The Shining 
Kubrick's snowbound psychological horror gets a big screen revamp for the film festival and the remastered version certainly looks impressive. You all know the story by now; caretaker brings his family to the Overlook Hotel to look after the hotel during the winter break - and then proceeds to try and murder them with an axe after going a bit mad (or being possessed by the spirits of the Indian burial ground that the hotel's built on). Jack Nicholson's as impressive as ever; starting out relatively grounded and then going totally ballistic at his wife Wendy (a goggle eyed and constantly hysterical Shelly DuVall) and moppet haired son, Danny. The thing is with the Shining is that even if you know the film backwards, it still manages to entertain and keep you enthralled as it spools out; it's also worth checking out Room 237 which is playing at the festival too and expands some of the hidden meanings in Kubrick's classic

Haneke's Palme D'Or winning film is a heartbreaking delve into a relationship and bond strengthened by years and devastated by illness.Geroges and Anne are in their 80s and living a life of retirement. But when Anne's struck by an illness which is debilitating, their lives are irrevocably changed as Georges is reduced to carer.You can't help but be moved by this tale which is poignantly and sensitively told with two compelling central performances.Subtly layered and shot beautifully, it really gets under your skin as it plays out.It's a haunting film, which leaves you wondering what you'd do if it happened to you-and the final act's shocking denouement elicited many a gasp from the audience.Haneke's on good form in this painful to watch film(which is only painful because it powerfully pushes emotional buttons)- Amour (aka Love) is about devotion and a bond - and it's a tragic and empathetic piece which will affect you more than you may realise.

From Up on Poppy Hill
The annual Studio Ghibli outing at the NZFF this times focuses on Japan in the 1960s with a group of Yokohama teens look to save their school's clubhouse from the wrecking ball in preparations for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It also focuses on the attraction of Umi and Shun, a pair whose lives may be entwined in ways they could never imagine.As ever, FUOPH is gorgeously animated and recreates the era very well, but unfortunately this latest SG outing's story doesn't quite have the resonance of prior cinematic fare-the story's nicely told, quickly resolved and lacks some of the emotional core of others.Sure, there's heart aplenty and humour,but this latest is more of a nostalgic piece than a showcase of SG's best. Not a disaster by any stretch, and great to see whole families there but FUOPH doesn't have the longevity of the studio's previous output and while gorgeously presented and with a beautiful OST ,it's a little lacking, which is a crying shame.

Toons for Tots (Guest reviewer Jacob Powell)

My pick? French short Alimation created sequences out of cake decorations by filming spinning cakes! But enough from me, I interviewed guest reviewer Emily (aged 3.11) whom I accompanied to the screening:

JP-Jake: Did you enjoy Toons For Tots?
Emily: Yes! It was fun the movies.
JP: Tell us about it.
E: The Gruffalo saw a little mouse but it looked like a Big Bad Mouse. I liked the man dressing like a tiger.
JP : Which was your favourite?
E: Trying to find the lion one. [aka Rumours] Because the lion was laughing and they were all laughing.
JP : Which was your least favourite?
E: Orange being a pineapple [aka Orange O Despair] because I like oranges and don't want it to be a pineapple.
JP : What was the funniest part?
E: Little mouse was roaring.
JP : The scariest part?
E: The old pineapple was trying to be a banana.
JP : Would you like to see more movies like these?
E: Oh, yes, yes, yeeesss! We can watch the same one again. Can we go tomorrow?

Emily's verdict: Toons For Tots = #win!

Sound of My voice (Guest reviewer Jacob Powell)
Less sci-fi than lo-fi, Sound of My Voice has lodged firmly in my brain. The debut feature from director Zal Batmanglij (brother of Vampire Weekend guitarist/songwriter Rostam Batmanglij, who incidentally scored the film) tracks the divergent responses of a sceptical couple who infiltrate a cult with the intention of secretly filming an exposé documentary. Cult leader 'Maggie' is played by magnetic co-writer Brit Marling who is firmly stamping her mark on the current indie cinema scene. As well as sharing subject matter with Sean Durkin's excellent Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) the filmmakers cleverly opt to leave key issues ambiguous, letting the viewer's imagination take whichever path fancy or logic dictates. Despite a few glaring missteps (e.g. a slightly weak premise + some terribly written, exposition heavy scenes) Sound of My Voice proves a succinct, smartly directed film with a compelling central performance from Marling and enough dramatic exploration to make it a must see

Into The Abyss (Guest reviewer Jacob Powell)

Mad master of documentary turns his camera on the death row experience. Unlike the West Memphis 3 documentaries - Paradise Lost trilogy + West of Memphis (also playing NZFF 2012) - Werner Herzog's Into The Abyss does not seek to advocate for or against a particular case. Rather the filmmaker attempts to explore the impacts of a death row sentence on all related parties: convicts, convicts' friends & family, victims' family, staff of the 'death house' facility etc. Intrinsically fascinating Abyss holds an audience without trouble but is a lesser Herzog work in terms of technical merit. The production has a made for TV feel, unsurprising perhaps as Herzog also filmed the Death Row Portarits series as TV length companion pieces. Herzog's trademark bluntness and humour both break through but inbetween times it feels as though he's working a little too hard to elicit emotional responses from the interviewees. Herzog's middle may exceed others' bests, nevertheless we've come to expect more.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

New Zealand International Film Festival - latest reviews

New Zealand International Film Festival - latest reviews

As the festival heads into its final week in Auckland, here's a selection of my latest reviews from the Civic, Rialto and SkyCity.

On The Road - after a somewhat disastrous week for KStew and Rpatz after she was caught cheating on Robert Pattinson with Snow White director Rupert Sanders, it's a cinematic return to form for the actress who shows she can actually emote when it's needed in this adaptation of Jack Kerouac's renowned book. Sam Riley stars as Sal Paradise, KStew as Mary Lou and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty. After the death of his father, Sal, a fledgling but struggling writer, heads out across America with his friend Dean and hopes that the travelling will inspire his writing. And that's, erm pretty much it in this adaptation which is a sprawling, well acted, but emotionally detached road movie that pretty much encapsulates the feeling I imagine the book would have. I say imagine, because I've not touched Kerouac's tome so can't tell you if it's true to the tone or the feel or plot points (if they even exist). In terms of atmosphere, there's certainly plenty of hepcat hedonism and feeling of young pretentiousness afoot but I never really felt deeply engaged in these self absorbed poets/ writers as they shamble through a form of life. Kristen Stewart finally gets to really emote on the big screen and brings a bit of vibrancy to MaryLou and Riley impresses as Sal, who only really comes to life when others around him flourish. There's as much of a rambling freeform narrative here as there are beats in an ever lasting jazz piece and to be honest, it was a struggle to really care about these guys and the girl who's caught between the life on the road or the fiancee back at home, patiently waiting. Though cameos from Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen and a brilliant Steve Buscemi liven up proceedings, if it weren't for the captivating performances of Sam Riley and Kristen Stewart, I would have demanded this ride pulled over mid way through and let me off.

Bear - a superb little short that perfectly companioned Sightseers, Bear is well worth seeing. It's about a couple and the male half of said couple isn't exactly in the best books as his other half heads off to do some mountain biking. To say any more would just destroy the surprises on what's one of the smartest and funniest shorts I've seen this festival.

Sightseers - the best black comedy you will see at the NZFF this year. As an ex-pat Midlander who's been forced to endure some caravan holidays, I can perfectly attest to what Ben Wheatley's brought to this killer film. Steve Oram and Alice Lowe play Chris and Tina, a pair of recent lovers who decide to escape Tina's stifling mother by heading away on a caravanning trip around the Yorkshire dales in the UK. But Chris is a veritable powder keg of anger, waiting to boil over...and as the mundane turns to murderous, the very dark humour is ratcheted up to 11. The thing is with Tina's slightly creepy attitude (scarred after her mum's dog died in a knitting needle accident that she caused) and Chris's bristling ginger beard of pure rage, SightSeers manages to be a spectacle which heartily amuses and equally horrifies - a radical dosage of ultra violence complements (and yet never overshadows) this apparently occasionally improvised mix; throw in some great banter (one scene sees Tina's mum shouting that her daughter was an accident) as well as a whole heap of phrases which are destined to become quotable (brown lipstick anyone?) and this is the perfect concoction of horror and humour. But what Wheatley's also managed to capture is the various personalities who inhabit caravan holidays - be they the annoying pedants, noisy neighbours or new age nutjobs, it's a perfect dichotomy of lives lived in middle England. Replete with great shots of the countryside and a cup so filled with black darkness that it runneth over, Sightseers is to be wholeheartedly recommended. This year's Natural Born Caravanners if you will.

Friday, 27 July 2012

New Zealand International Film Festival - Week One highlights

New Zealand International Film Festival - Week One highlights

Well, the first week of the New Zealand International Film Festival has nearly ended now and it's time to reflect back on what you should be making sure you see as the festival winds its way around the country.

There's been a heap of films to head to - and there's a stack of stuff ahead too.

But one thing I find when I watch films or people find I've been to see a lot, is they ask "What do you recommend?"

Every opinion's subjective of course, but my advice is not to listen to one critic - make sure you take in as many opinions as you can and views on the films and get out there and see something. Because to be honest, there's been more cinematic fare on this past week than there is actual time to view everything.

So far, though, to my mind, my highlights of what I've seen have been:

The Hunt - I was knocked sideways by this one and in a very good way. Mads Mikkelsen absolutely nailed the performance of a kindy teacher ostracised after a false accusation of child abuse - and the young girl actress Annika Wedderkopp (who plays Klara his accuser) was spot on too. But what's hit me most about this film is how much I'm still thinking about it. Trust me when I say that is a major thing for a critic - particularly at this time of the year when we gorge at the cinematic smorgasbord. (Or should that be DCP table?)
The Angels Share - Ken Loach comedy which centres on Robbie, a new dad on a last chance in Scotland and determined to change his ways. But, when all the odds seem stacked against him, he finds a salvation in whiskey. Thankfully, this is not a cue for trademark Loach miserabilism; rather a chance to cut loose and throw together a sweetly adorable heist movie with a bunch of first time actors. I saw this at a packed Civic and that certainly added to the atmosphere. Sometimes, a crowd (when not late, texting or talking) is a blessing in disguise.

The Cabin In The Woods
- This is another where the packed Civic helped stir up an atmosphere added to a great night out. Producer Joss Whedon's meta horror is certainly the most fun I've seen at the festival so far, adding in the right mix of gore and laughs to propel you through it. Kudos to Ant Timpson for fighting to get this one screened after it was heading direct to video.

Actually, Cabins and woods have been a recurring theme at my festival so far this year. I've been to four films at this point, which have had Cabins in woods - from the horror (of course), Your Sister's Sister, The Hunt and Die Wand, it seems to be the motif du fest.

The Wall (Die Wand)
- in which
The Lives of Others' Martina Gedeck stars as an unnamed woman, dropped off in a valley, and who finds herself trapped within by an invisible wall. The kicker - it appears everyone else has been frozen and she's trapped. Sparse, sombre and a tour de force one woman feminist performance, Die Wand, is a surprising piece of cinema which uses sound, its fantastic valley surroundings to maximum effect. A lack of resolution may frustrate some but the best films provoke discussion and this one certainly does that.

As for the Twitterverse. here's a round up of a few faves. Remember to use the hashtag #nzff when talking film and the conversations you can have will be continuous. 

Daniel Rutledge (@DanielRutledge) of 3 News Online, reckons Cabin In The Woods - "
amazing deconstruction of horror, + great horror itself, crazy fun at Civic" and Rebellion, which he says "packed an emotional punch"

- @Bridgetholland - "
Diana Vreeland; The Eye Must Travel. Such a talented and original fashionista. Visually beautiful fim, great photos, audio"

- @jacobunny - "
CABIN: funny, scary, way better than I'd expected | ROOM 237: fascinating meditation on obsession w/ a Kubrickian backdrop"

- @mimsycable -  "
Had some really good cries at 'Marina Abramovic: The Artist is present' at the  - my top pick so far at the fest"

- @themyrka -
Caesar Must Die, just friggin' awesome and inspiring. A winner straight out of the blocks "

There's plenty still ahead too - with the likes of West of Memphis seeming to be a guaranteed hit, Klown and Holy Motors providing stimulation ahead. Plus Mads Brugger will be in town to discuss his doco The Ambassador. And I'm certainly looking forward to Studio Ghibli's latest, Up on Poppy Hill - every year their animations are just eye poppingly gorgeous on the big screen.

New Hobbit image

New Hobbit image

A brand new Hobbit image has surfaced courtesy of the totally awesome Empire film magazine.

Their latest issue in the UK is a preview of the Hobbit and inside the mag there's plenty of pics and chat with those involved in The Hobbit.

And their cover's a quite new image too...

The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey hits cinemas December 12th.

John Carter: Blu Ray Review

John Carter: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Entertainment and Disney

It's 100 years after the first appearance of John Carter in a series of books from Edgar Rice Burroughs- and I'm willing to bet most of you have never heard of him (or assume it's that bloke played by Noah Wyle in ER).

Taylor Kitsch (of Friday Night Lights fame) stars as John Carter, a Confederate captain, who's on a quest for gold back in the 1860s when we first meet him. But when he's cornered by Bryan Cranston's Civil War Captain and on the run, he finds himself transported to Mars (or Barsoom as the inhabitants call it) and thrust into the middle of a Civil war.

But not only that, Carter finds himself aligned initially with the Tharks, a 10 foot tall green skinned Martian race - and has to acclimatise fast.

However, it soon transpires there's a greater force at work here with the fighting being manipulated by a race of godlike beings, the Holy Therns, whose leader Matai Shang (the ever brilliant Mark Strong) is determined to stop at nothing to ensure their will is done...

What an odd curio this film is; there's little distinctive aside from the CGI - which I can recall as a stand out moment or definitive action sequence from the actual flick itself.

Let's start with some positives though; those definitely have to be thanks to the CGI. 

The world of Barsoom (or Mars as we know it) is stunningly well put together in its scope and grandeur. I really believe that a civilisation on Mars would look like that in all its grainy, desolate, sand-ridden architecture. After Avatar's world, it's probably the most beautifully realised creation in terms of backgrounds ever to grace our screens. The effort that's gone in to make it so plausible and immersive is extremely commendable.

To a lesser degree, the Tharks are a success as well - their four armed digitally realised gangliness makes you think of greener versions of the Prawns from the brilliant District 9. And dragonfly style craft which are used to traverse the wide masses of the world are visually impressive as well.

Likewise an inflated faced, 6 legged dog creature which befriends Carter is a welcome dose of funny; and is clearly honed from the workings of a guy who's crossed Pixar studios floors.

But this is sort of where John Carter runs into a little bit of trouble - visually, hands down, it's an ambitiously scaled, wonderfully realised space epic; but narratively it's a little wanting and doesn't keep the mind satiated with what it's offered to the eyes. Sure, it's a wonderfully put together mash up of several genres including sci-fi, pulpy comics, Western, Cowboys and Aliens to name but a few, but it's not enough.

Confused and confusing, its story isn't everything it could be. And unfortunately, in terms of scale for its action, nothing truly stands out. Sure, there are set pieces which look good but they're instantly forgettable the moment they're over. In many ways, by being a forerunner as well (as in written over 100 years ago), it's clear the action sequences have been already done on the big screen. It's an unfortunate failing that it doesn't offer up anything which you may not have seen before - a chase on the dragonfly riders is reminscent of pod racing in Star Wars is just one example.

Of the main cast, Taylor Kitsch does okay in his first multiplex lead; he's never really outstanding and never imbues Carter with one stand out moment from within the action; Mark Strong is reliably good as the manipulative deity and Dafoe brings some welcome humour to Tars Tarkus as he befriends Carter. Some will go googly-eyed over the kickass temperament of Lynn Collins' Dejah Thoris who starts off strong willed and goes weak in Carter's thrall.

Unfortunately though as the denouement rolled around, I'm sorry to say I wasn't emotionally invested in either the characters or their fates - and I certainly wasn't on the edge of my seat hoping there will be an immediate return to Basoom (as the 11 books suggest there would be a wealth of material for).

Don't get me wrong - John Carter is not a bad film; it offers up a suitably sized scoop of silly blockbuster fun (despite the humour which is there at the beginning quickly trailing off in favour of sci-fi pomposity) for a few hours. It's just not perhaps the sci-fi epic it could have been - and it's certainly - and unfortunately -not quite the start to a franchise you'd be hoping for.

Extras: 100 Years in the making, Audio commentary


Contraband: Blu Ray Review

Contraband: Blu Ray Review

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Lukas Haas, Ben Foster, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi
Director: Baltasar Kormákur

A remake of a 2008 Icelandic film, which starred the director, Contraband is a heist film set on the seven seas and in Panama.

Wahlberg stars as Chris Farraday, a notorious smuggler, who's now retired from the trade. He's now a family man living the quiet life with his wife Kate (Beckinsale) and 2 kids and working in security alarms rather than hijinks on the waters.

But smuggling runs in the family - and when Kate's brother Andy messes up a deal for boss Tim Briggs (Ribisi), the debt proves to be high and the cost could be Andy's life. So, forced out of retirement for this last job, Farraday decides to head to Panama to call in on some old contacts and try to smuggle out millions of dollars in counterfeit bills.

However, (unsurprisingly), not everything goes to plan - and suddenly Chris is not only fighting for his life but his family's back home...

The idea of one last job for family or to settle a debt is nothing new to be honest - it's been used countless times before.

But Contraband doesn't seem to care as it straddles increasingly strained and preposterous ideas and one (predictable) betrayal after another; however, Wahlberg makes it watchable somehow - even if there is a relative lack of any suspense or real tension.

Ribisi channels feral (at times OTT leering) weasel as the unhinged lunatic Briggs who's trying to cash in the debt and threatens Chris' family with it for the rest of their lives; Wahlberg is solid if unspectacular as Chris, whose attempts to reign in the debt see him involved in a Pollock Panama heist.

Despite a dark grimy unwashed feel to the film, director Baltasar Kormákur Opts for countless swirling and unnecessary aerial shots to bridge the gap between the 'action'. The effect is irritating rather than dizzying and detracts by taking away from any tension which may have been created.

The problem is a real lack of emotional investment in the characters, their plights and resolutions. The often lumpy script doesn't help this either as the noose tightens around everyone's necks. Wahlberg looks suitably perplexed throughout and the pay off at the end (complete with twist) just doesn't feel rewarding enough.

Don't get me wrong; this is well put together, it just lacks a certain little something to make it either edge of your seat stuff or gripping. As it is, it's perfectly serviceable, relatively cliched and instantly forgettable the moment the lights go up.

Extras: See how stunts and effects were done, commentary, deleted scenes, making of


Headhunters: DVD Review

Headhunters: DVD Review

Rating: R16
Released by Vendetta Films

There seems to be just something about the Scandanavian and Norwegian region which breeds thrillers with a slightly skewed take on the world. And that continues with the Headhunters Movie.

It's the world which brought us Stieg Larsson and of course, the superb TV series, The Killing. The latest from top author Jo Nesbo stars Aksel Hennie (whom you may remember from Max Manus) as Roger Brown, a seemingly together guy who has it all; a beautiful blonde wife who adores him, a top headhunting job which sees him one of the leading within his industry - and a multi million dollar house.

And yet - he's living beyond his means and stealing art on the side to make ends meet.

At a gallery opening, he's introduced to Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones), a potentially perfect candidate for a new job but also who has one of the most sough after paintings in the modern art world.

Naturally, with creditors snapping at his heels, Brown can't resist - however, his greed gets the better of him and soon he finds himself in way deeper than he thought - and potentially fatally out of his depth. Classy, sleeky put togeher and slyly funny in places, Headhunters is a truly fresh piece of film in a genre which has essentially become crowded and cluttered with unoriginality.

There's deceit and paranoia in spades here as Brown suspects everyone and as the web weaves itself tighter - but despite taut direction, the script doesn't allow itself to get too overtly serious with moments of bizarre humour thrown in completely unexpectedly.

Hennie is great at keeping us grounded as the plot spirals a little into lunacy with a well rounded performance which is plausible and compellingly watchable throughout. Headhunters is, at every turn, not what you'd think it is - it's a refreshingly good and smartly put together intense Nordic crime flick which is a welcome treat thanks to unexpected twists and turns.

And it also has one of the worst toilet scenes since Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting...

Extras: Featurette behind the scenes


21 Jump Street: Blu Ray Review

21 Jump Street: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Entertainment

Here comes the most pleasant surprise of the movie year.

In theory, it shouldn't work - a revamp of an 80s action TV show which was from Stephen J "A Team" Cannell and starred Johnny Depp. 

But this Hollywood remake and update is surprisingly great, ever so slightly silly entertainment, self knowing and yet respectful and as a result, ends up being a really good night out on the small screen.

Hill stars as Morton Schmidt, a former high school loner and misfit who ends up partnering with his high school jock nemesis Greg Jenko (Tatum) when they end up in police academy after finishing their school years.

The two realise each other has a way of helping them graduate academy - Schmidt can help with the book smarts to the somewhat dim Jenko and Jenko can help Schmidt with his lack of fitness and confidence.

When they end up graduating, they're assigned to park patrol despite their dreams of achieving greatness, they find themselves kicked out of even that menial job after messing up an arrest.

So, due to their youthful looks, their boss sends them off to join the 21 Jump Street division, run by Ice Cube's Captain Dickson. That team is responsible for dealing with crime among teenagers and in schools...

Their first assignment - go back to high school and stop a synthetic drug from spreading from campus to campus by finding the supplier.

But it seems both of the pair, working undercover, have a score to settle from their old days...

Smart, self mocking and yet reverential, 21 Jump Street is a raucously riotous action comedy film which doesn't skimp on the R Rated behaviour and language but certainly brings the funny.

Mixing a mocking of the genre with a knowing nostalgic look at 80s action films (one chase sequence sees Hill opining that two potential explosions don't actually occur - which of course is a poke at any explosion in any of the 80s shows penned by Canning which always ended in gargantuan fireballs) and a lot of genuinely laugh out loud funny moments, 21 Jump Street provides plenty of brain in neutral entertainment.

Tatum and Hill work well together - they've got the great chemistry of a bromance and a smart clever script to help them along in the adventure. And both play their stereotype very well - in fact, Tatum manages to throw in the best performance I've seen from him in ages - it's nice to see him step outside of the romantic drama rut he's got into. Likewise, Hill has a very funny deadpan way of delivering the lines and riffs well on his insecurity and the story. With the pair playing it serious for for laughs, it works exceptionally well.

There's also a brilliant shoot out sequence at the end which is notable for what happens rather than the explosions - but I don't want to spoil that in any way shape or form.

All in all, 21 Jump Street, which ends on the definite promise of a very welcome sequel, is good entertainment coupled with a dollop of obligatory R rated moments. But, it's also great fun and respectful of the show it sprang from - it's definitely worth your time and you may be surprised how much you actually enjoy it.

Extras: Commentary, Back to school doco, 20 deleted scenes, gag reel, JDepp on set, and more - a great package


J Edgar: Blu Ray Review

J Edgar: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Warner Home Video

Leonardo di Caprio stars as J Edgar Hoover, the man who, over nearly 50 years in public office and serving somewhere in the region of 8 presidents, helped redefine the criminal system in the USA, set up the FBI - and who had a tendency to spy on a lot of people.

It starts with a looming voiceover intoning that “It’s time this generation heard my side of the story” and cuts to Hoover dictating his memoirs to a series of agents – starting with his first foray into the world of crime investigation in 1919, while at the Department of Justice.

Central to the story is the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s son in 1932 aka The Crime of the Century– which not only sent J Edgar’s FBI into the spotlight but horrified the nation at the time.

And at the same time, Eastwood’s picture concentrates on Hoover’s own internal struggle with his sexuality, his attraction and friendship to protégé Clyde Tolson (played by The Social Network’s Armie Hammer), and his relationship with his mother (Judi Dench) and his fiercely loyal secretary, Helen Gandy (Watts).

While the narrative jumps around a lot and flashes back and forth between the investigations and
Hoover’s later years, it’s a film which really does belong to Leonardo di Caprio.

His ferocious blistering performance as the man whose puritanical, even evangelical speeches were clearly his defining trait, is one to watch from the moment it begins. It’s a commanding performance which while seeming initially full of bluster, is one which lets some of the hidden truths about 
Hoover come out through a subtly nuanced performance of inner turmoil.

Scenes with Judi Dench stand out as well – as 
Hoover tries to reveal to his overbearing mother he doesn’t like women, he’s told she’d rather have a dead son than a “daffodil”.

Di Caprio’s co-star Armie Hammer does well as Tolson in conveying their relationship and mutual love too – even if towards the end, he’s a little weighed down with latex and liver spots. Naomi Watts suffers a little from a lack of limelight as 
Hoover’s trusted secretary Helen Gandy and you’re never quite 100% sure why she supported Hoover so rigidly.

All in all, J Edgar is an interesting – if occasionally overlong - portrait of the man – and while Clint Eastwood’s direction sometimes errs toward the clunky, it’s a fascinating and compelling central performance from di Caprio which keeps the audience along for the ride.

Extras: Behind the scenes piece


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Blu Ray Review

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Blu Ray Review

Rating: PG
Released by Warner Home Video

Based on the best selling book by Jonathan Safron Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the story of one boy's life after his father was taken from him in the September 11th World Trade Centre attacks.

Newcomer Horn stars as Oskar Schell, a borderline Aspergers Syndrome sufferer who shares an incredibly close bond with his father Thomas (Hanks). The pair are inseparable and his jeweller father sets quests for Oskar to complete and mysteries for him to solve. 

So, when his father is killed in the 9/11 attacks, Oskar is devastated and rejects his mother Linda (Bullock), drawing further into his own world. And his world is blown apart when Oskar one day finds a key in a vase - believing his father's left it for him and with only the clue Black written on the back of the envelope it's written on, Oskar sets about finding the lock the key will open...

However, his quest looks unbeatable with the odds mounting up against him - and Oskar ends up getting the help of Max von Sydow's The Renter, who lives with his grandmother. Unspoken and communicating only via written notes, The Renter begins to fulfill Oskar's father figure needs as the quest goes on...

It's a powerful subject to be tackled in a haunting film like this and there are still some I suspect who may find the idea of a film like this difficult to watch.

It's certainly harrowing in parts and you can't help in places but feel emotionally manipulated as this extremely long film spools out. But there's no denying the wallop some scenes hit you with - one where Oskar tells his mum he'd rather she'd died in the Tower collapse is horrifically shocking but feels so true and real in these actors' hands.

The trouble is that in places you can't help but feel emotionally milked and wish Daldry would have eased back a little on some of his direction; montages of people reading letters and the frankly cheesily appaling freeze frame end would have been better excised from the final cut. Also, a scene of Hanks plunging to his death could really have been left out.

Yet, thanks to a very impressive turn from first time actor Horn gives this something for us to pin our cinema going hats on; it's a remarkably assured performance as the troubled borderline Aspergers syndrome kid hunts for the key to the mystery. But it's not just that - it's the fact, Horn's anger feels real and in line with what a kid would feel when railing against the injustice and unfairness of the death of his father.
Likewise supporting players like Von Sydow, Viola Davis, Hanks and Bullock also give this sense of gravitas and empathy in amongst the brooding. 

Scenes of Oskar listening to the six answerphone messages from his father trapped within the towers feel raw, awkward and intrusive, hinting at a grief which is still too new but also alluding to how families of those affected must still be coping.

A veritable weepie in places, this will reduce even the hardest of audiences to tears at times - and while not exactly an overwhelmingly upbeat film, its ending certainly hints at a healing.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close rises above mawkish sentiment by very impressive ensemble performances from its cast; and while it's not flawless, it's certainly an emotional watch which feels raw and true.

Extras: Making of, Thomas Horn talks, ten years on - looking at 9/11 and a piece on Max von Sydow


Thursday, 26 July 2012

New Zealand Film Festival Reviews - Day Five

New Zealand Film Festival Reviews - Day Five

Actually, in all honesty, I've lost track of whether it is Day Five of the reviews, due to the level of choice I'm being spoilt with...

But, if you are scanning ahead for films to watch, check out the following links:

New Zealand Film Festival Reviews - Day One
New Zealand Film Festival Reviews - Day Two
New Zealand Film Festival Reviews - Day Three
New Zealand Film Festival Reviews - Last Dogs Of Winter special
New Zealand Film Festival Reviews - Day  Four

Here's the latest take on the films which I saw last night -

Your Sister's Sister - Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass and Rosemarie DeWitt star in this threesome which is probably one of the most charming films I've seen so far at NZFF 2012. From Humpday director Lynn Shelton, comes this tale of the trio and whose lives are changed by a trip. Duplass stars as Jack, whose brother Tom died 1 year ago; Jack's struggling to cope so his best friend Iris (the ever luminous Blunt) sends him off to a family cabin to get some headspace time and to hopefully, change his outlook on life. But when he arrives there, he finds Iris's gay sister Hannah (DeWitt) there nursing a break up. One bottle of tequila and a drunken fumble later finds the duo in all manner of problems. Particularly when Iris shows up unannounced... Jack's plan? To keep the truth from Iris and just get through the next few days. However, both Iris and Hannah have designs on Jack which he could never have expected. Deftly funny, smartly written and with a cast that underplays each line and scene so beautifully, Your Sister's Sister is a gently amusing, utterly engaging and totally enjoyable visit to the festival.Clever writing which feels real is Shelton's trade in this - and when matched up with the rising brilliance of a deadpan and yet farcical Duplass (who you really should see in Safety Not Guaranteed when it shows up), it's a winning combination. Even when things take a turn for the apparently more serious, Your Sister's Sister never loses the plot - or the audience. This goofily charming movie is an acutely observed three hander which is poignant when it needs to be and totally winning from beginning to end.

The Hunt - I'd heard dark things about The Hunt from others who'd attended this - about how it got unrelentingly bleak and so to be honest, I had been expecting the worst from this tale of kindergarten teacher Lucas ( an award winning Mads Mikkelsen) whose life is irrevocably changed after one of the children in his charge lies and falsely tells his boss he's been sexually abusing them.

What I couldn't have been expecting is just how utterly compelling and totally claustrophobic, this latest film from the director of Festen, Thomas Vinterberg was going to be. It's actually one of the films of the festival so far as far as I'm concerned. It's no wonder Mikkelsen won the Best actor at Cannes this year for his portrayal of Lucas, the innocent man who's damned before his peers without any shred of evidence.

But what's winning about this film is how utterly plausible it is and how non-hysterically it plays out. Mikkelsen and youngster Annika Wedderkopp (who plays Klara who makes the claim) are completely the stars of the piece thanks to underplayed, subtly sly and riveting performances. Sure, it's an old story and one which we've all seen shades of before, but it's these two actors who imbue their time on screen with such utter devotion that you can't help but be swept up by it.
Vinterberg also needs commendation for his directing and crafting of the tale - Lucas goes from being part of a gang of friends whose bond stretches years back to a haunted and vilified ghost of a man, whose (admittedly frustrating) refusal to totally refute the claims seems like madness. No doubt his self belief is what carries him through but as they say, it's darkest before the dawn, and Mikkelsen's subtle performance is a cinematic tour de force.
Similarly, Wedderkopp, a cute blond moppet (a direct contrast to Mikkelsen's frog like facials) plays a girl who doesn't understand the truth of her lie and who's caught up in a world she can't possibly understand. The scenes where she tells her mother that it didn't happen and her mother comes back telling her it did are gobsmackingly heart breaking and cut an emotional quick as well as hint at a reality of what could play out. Vinterberg's hit a fine form here and a few nerves as well (judging by the horrified yelp of one woman at the screening's ending last night) and makes The Hunt as dark as anything you're likely to experience during the festival. ,
The Hunt is horrifyingly good heart in the mouth drama that challenges but showcases acting genius and really does need to be seen up on the big screen while you have the chance.

Take a look at a clip from The Hunt below.

And also, if you fancy previewing any of the films on at the New Zealand International Film Festival, here's the festival's official Youtube channel for you to peruse at your leisure.

Dredd stills released

Dredd stills released

In a move which will excite the fans of comic book anti hero, Judge Dredd, there's a whole heap of stills from the upcoming Dredd 2012 movie out there now.

And as we approach the October release date in New Zealand, I thought it was time to collect the drokkin' lot together.

To say I'm excited by the Judge Dredd movie, starring NZ Karl Urban as the judge is a massive understatement - so for now, here's a collection all the images we've had so far.

The Judge Dredd movie hits NZ Cinemas October 4th

Bel Ami: Movie Review

Bel Ami: Movie Review

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Christina Ricci, Colm Meaney, Philip Glenister
Director: Declan Donnelan, Nick Ormerod

Robert "R Patz/ Edward" Pattinson stars in this period romp based on the classic French Novel Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant.

It's 1880 Paris and Rpatz is George Duroy, a returning soldier from the war. Down on his luck and living in abject poverty, Duroy has a chance meeting with fellow former soldier Charles Forestier (Glenister) while out on the town.

Feeling compassion toward his old compadre, Forestier gives Duroy a job as a journalist on 
the newspaper La Vie Francaise despite a lack of experience. However, with some tutoring from Forestier's wife (played by Uma Thurman), he's soon the toast of the newspaper.

he also comes face to face with the realities of the corrupt Parisian high society to which he aspires: the sleazy colleagues, the wily financiers, and manipulative mistresses, and realising that there's a power game to be played here, he begins his own manipulations to ensure that he stays in the upper echelons of society, beginning an affair with Christina Ricci's Clotilde.

However, events begin to conspire against Duroy and soon he's left plotting revenge and vowing never to be caught in a world of poverty ever again...

Bel Ami is gorgeously shot but is tremendously pedestrian and shallow in places.

(Even if its release comes at a bitterly ironic time with
Kristen Stewart cheating on Robert Pattinson and revealing she had been with director Rupert Sanders - some could see this film as a RPatz lovefest revenge piece...)

Pattinson fails to impress early on and through a combination of dead eyes, brooding eyebrows, sulky looks and moody silences, he tries to bring (and largely fails) some chemistry with the women on the Parisian front as he tries to manipulate his way through society. It's largely because the film feels so rushed you have trouble believing that the character of George Duroy could ascend so quickly. But if you're after a
shirtless naked Robert Pattinson, baring his bum and giving it his all during sex scenes, then this film is for you...

It's a real shame because in the back end of the film, his character's anger, manipulation and desperation really are translated well by the actor - but you have to really bear with the film to get to that point and it's a hard slog to reach that dramatic conclusion.

And in all honesty, I don't believe it's Pattinson's performance which is at fault - it's his directors who've not realised how wooden and detached his character's made to be.

It's a disappointment because Bel Ami has some very good scenes. But as it plays out over a short period of time in the film, the pace leads them to feel rushed; one scene where the editor of the newspaper, a minister and Duroy play cards brings everything a film like this should to the table - it offers an insight into the manipulative ways, seething jealousies and political games which are afoot.

Elsewhere in the cast, Thurman's impressive as a political puppeteer, Kristin Scott Thomas amuses as a lady who falls for Duroy's "charms" and Ricci still looks too young to be doing sex scenes. (Plus Ricci and Pattinson have a complete lack of chemistry throughout.)  They're a mix of women and portrayals in this film, and given that it's intimated that the women have all the power, I'm not entirely convinced by the acting of the main three.

All in all, Bel Ami is a muddled mess which borders on the dull in its first half and manages to up its game toward the end. It's no Dangerous Liaisons and lacks the edginess and danger of such a film - sadly,despite all his hollow eyed occasional seething mopiness, it's not entirely RPatz's fault - the directors have squandered their chance to make a Bel Ami which has sizzle, pearls of peril and threat as it tears its way through politics and Paris.


Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Magic Mike: Movie Review

Magic Mike: Movie Review

Cast: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Olivia Munn, Cody Horn
Director: Steven Soderbergh

Yes, yes, as you can see, it's that film about the strippers.

But if you're expecting a full on raunchy night out with the ladies, you may be in for a little bit of a surprise.

And for the film lovers out there, a bit of a surprise from renowned director Steven Soderbergh - and yet again, another surprise from Channing Tatum.

Magic Mike is based on Tatum's experiences as a stripper - and follows his character, a guy called Mike, who's a self-professed businessman, entrepreneur and of course, dude throwing his robes off on stage and gyrating around for the cold, hard cash in the wilds of Tampa.

When he meets up with the Kid (Alex Pettyfer, looking a bit mopey, chiselled and scruffy) on a construction job, the two end up becoming friends and Mike introduces him to the world of stripping - a world which The Kid embraces whole heartedly being 19 and out for a good time.

But Mike does a little more than simply introducing him to the world - he takes him under his wing, and cares for him.

Inevitably though, the Kid's entry into this occasionally sleazy pasttime causes real problems for Mike...

Let's be clear about this, Magic Mike has scenes of Channing Tatum stripping (and others) and full routines that highlight the extreme pecs appeal of the rock hard abs of the cast which have been hired as the "Cock Rocking Kings of Tampa." And said scenes, and indeed routines, will cause many of the female audience to wilt, blush and generally whoop and holler at the screen. I will concede they're very well done, pandering to what an audience wants and are liberally used throughout. (Although I will confess I am deeply grateful that it's not in 3D)

And yet, this film is about more than the pelvic hip thrusts of the beefed-up man candy which are strutted during some mightily impressively choreographed dance scenes.

Soderbergh's pulled together a kind of cross between The Full Monty meets Boogie Nights which is more dramedy than drunken hens' night out antics.

Usually, these kind of hedonistic pieces would be filmed from the viewpoint of the newbie - but Soderbergh's flipped that, choosing to follow Mike, a genuinely nice guy who wants more to his life than his stripping (even though, based on his chiselled talents, that's clearly where the cash is) with businesses being run on the side and a desire to set up a custom-made furniture company. It's wise to have concentrated on Mike too, as the Kid's generally unlikeable and offers little to give you any real lasting connection throughout.

It's here that Tatum excels again, putting in an underplayed performance which channels sensitivity, charm and a bit of angst as Mike hits a very early mid-life crisis and begins to lose his way. Tatum's really impressed recently in a string of roles (21 Jump Street, The Vow) which have shown he's a little more than just a good lookin' guy. His Mike is occasionally mopey, lacking any real connections with anyone outside of his fake stripping world and give him a universal appeal to both women (who're lusting over him) and men, who've no doubt been dragged to the cinema with a nagging idea of what's ahead. Plus his fledging relationship with the admittedly rather bland sister of The Kid works thanks to his sparkiness and playfulness.

But I have to confess, in amongst the undeniable energy, the star of the piece is Matthew McConaughey's club owner Dallas, whose self parodying, lounge lizard is a blast to watch whenever he's on the screen (fully clothed or otherwise). McConaughey has a ball playing this and there are hints of rifts between Dallas and Mike, who's wanting a bigger stake in the club, which add an undercurrent of uncertainty to their relationship and a frisson to the dramedy that's unfolding.

All in all, Magic Mike is the perfect blend of angst and cheesy stripper moves (I never thought I'd be writing that) and is actually more of a downbeat low-key drama with heart (with a thoroughly predictable denouement) than you'd ever have expected from the posters and promos.


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