Monday, 31 December 2012

The Bourne Legacy: Blu Ray Review

The Bourne Legacy: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Ent

Matt Damon is gone from the Bourne movie, but his presence casts a shadow over this latest outing.

Jeremy Renner is now the Bourne again spy in this action thriller, which has been stripped of its original team but tries to revamp the Bourne series.

Renner stars as Aaron Cross, an agent being trained in black ops program, Operation Outcome. the training's brutal; abandoned in the wild, Cross is taking blue pills to increase his mental skills and green ones which enhance his physical skill sets.

However, when the events of the Bourne Ultimatum come to fruition with Jason Bourne exposing the details of Operation Blackbriar and Treadstone Project, the CIA decides to close all their ops down and eliminate their assets thanks to the involvement of Edward Norton's clandestine agent Eric Byer.

But Cross discovers he's been double-crossed and escapes...

At the same time, scientist Dr Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) escapes a massacre at her laboratory (which was testing the subjects of Outcome) and finds her life threatened by her involvement in the undercover operation. Luckily though, Aaron Cross is there to save her and the two end up on the run...

What to say about The Bourne Legacy?

Firstly, this parallel-a-quel really does suffer from a murky and confusing script and not exactly heaps of tautly put together action sequences which proliferated the first three films, excellently put together by Paul Greengrass. There are chunks of heavy exposition from plenty of scenes of CIA suits standing around monitors and barking orders - which don't serve to add to the tension or suspense, merely to slow it down.

Secondly, it's incredibly hard to warm to Jeremy Renner's character, regardless of how well he acts throughout the film's rather dour, slightly stuffy and overlong running time.

Don't get me wrong, Renner is nothing less than electric as he launches  a career as an action man of the movies - even if he does lack the charisma of Damon; but it's symptomatic of the film that you don't really warm to Cross in a way you did with Bourne.

While Weisz brings a permanently pained and shocked expression to her Marta Shearing, she adds very little else except to maybe serve as a potential love interest and to run about in need of saving. Norton's nothing less than icy and cold as Byer and presents a menacing presence for future films.

There's not enough action throughoutThe Bourne Legacy - and while there are some impressive sequences when they do show up, they're never as immediate or gripping as what's gone on in previous films.

The Bourne Legacy feels like an extended first act with no face off or ultimate conclusion between the good and bad guys, giving it the feeling of one (over)long tease which offers hardly any pay off. Interesting it may be and a solid thriller it is, but it's just not quite enough excitement to sustain and enthral you for 2 and a quarter hours of your life.

Extras: Deleted scenes, behind the scenes featurette on bike chase and fight sequences


Hope Springs: Blu Ray Review

Hope Springs: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Entertainment

Welcome to the world of Twilight sex.

Not Edward and Bella - this is an altogether less supernatural phenomenon, although frankly, no less terrifying.

Meryl Streep's Kay and Tommy Lee Jones' Arnold have been married for over 30 years.

They're in the later years of life, and also their love life. Stuck in an endless routine - the same eggs and bacon for Arnold for breakfast every day, the same Arnold slumped asleep, watching the golf channel at night and the same separate bedrooms without a hint of intimacy - Kay decides enough is enough.

Rather than walking out the door, Kay enrols Arnold and herself in a week long intensive couples therapy clinic run by Steve Carell's Dr Feld.

Unsurprisingly, Arnold's against the whole idea and is cynical about being involved in the first place. As time goes on though, the pair begin to discover intimacies about each other held long locked away and face truths which could prove difficult to overcome.

Hope Springs is a dramedy, with the emphasis more on reality and drama than endless bouts of sex comedy.

Streep and Lee Jones are perfectly matched and deft at breathing life into this somewhat unoriginal story. Sure, we've all been to films where couples are having trouble but this one is adept at putting the story squarely into the latter stages of life. Both the leads bring a light comedic touch to a tale which is essentially downbeat and seriously dramatic in parts. They lift the duo from being stereotypes and give them a warmth and humanity which makes you empathise with them - and Kay and Arnold's situation - immediately and as the film goes on. both handle what's asked of their characters wonderfully. Sure, there are comedic moments which are required of both but the drama lingers long after the humour's worn off and as the therapy (both for the audience and the characters) grinds on.

Equally, Carell who spends most of the time smiling sympathetically is incredibly convincing in his dialled-down turn as the therapist.

That's the thing with Hope Springs - it has a hefty dose of reality which may hit a little too close to home for some in the audience; there's a tenderness and honesty to the script which may cut to the quick but has its roots squarely in something which may face many in years to come.

Hope Springs is quite a serious piece - despite how knockabout the trailer initially appears, with a pace that may actually give you the feeling that it's infinitely longer than it is.

However, you should also be aware that there's plenty of squirm in your seat moments as we have the duo discuss their sex lives, watch Meryl's character Kay literally get in touch with herself and hear sex talk that may frankly put you off any meal you may be about to have...It's to be applauded for getting this kind of thing on the big screen, a rare feat in Hollywood these days, but for some in the audience not over a certain age, it could be a hard ask.

But what you should be impressed with in Hope Springs is an adult dramedy that really does explore what it's like to be older, and dealing with issues of intimacy and attraction - with two very impressive performances by Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep.

Extras: Gag reel, an expert's guide to lasting passion, commentary, making of, and couple of other pieces with the cast


Downton Abbey: Season 3 : Blu Ray Review

Downton Abbey: Season 3 : Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Entertainment

So, it's back for another year - another outing for the gang at Downton - and this time, it brings a wedding as well.

Following on from a relatively lacklustre season 2 was never really going to be a challenge but with critical eyes on this latest outing, there was always a sense that the makers had to up their game a little.

And it's fair to say they have. To a large degree.

There's still the ongoing Bates saga to sort out and a wedding of Mary and Matthew, but this year brought economic and health worries to Downton as the estate ran out of money and there was cancer concerns within the ranks.

I think, if anything, Downton Abbey is becoming more and more soapy as time goes on - but with strong performances from the likes of Hugh Bonneville and occasionally strong writing, it's easy to see why it's still so popular. Though, the ending this year, with a spot of cricket, was something of a let down.

Downton will continue to garner fans with this latest release and certainly the masses who adore it will continue to do so - with a bit of an improvement, non-fans may also take some solace in this masterful release which mixes culture with soap to good effect.


Sunday, 30 December 2012

Seven Psychopaths: Movie Review

Seven Psychopaths: Movie Review

Cast: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Tom Waits
Director: Martin Mcdonagh

From the writer/ director of In Bruges, comes Seven Psychopaths.

Farrell is Marty, a struggling writer who is trying to put together a screenplay but getting nowhere with it. Part of that is due to his friend Billy (Rockwell), who's running a sideline, dognapping. In part he's doing that scam with Christopher Walken's Hans - but they fall foul of the fact Billy's stolen a dog from gangster Charlie (Harrelson).

When Charlie works out what's going on, the scene is set for a massive showdown.

To say Seven Psychopaths is a darkly black comedy is a bit of an understatement.

It starts with two mafiosi types discussing whether Dilinger was shot in the eyeball and concludes in a manner which really does set the tone for what lies ahead. It's incredibly similar to In Bruges, but perhaps is lacking a bit of the maudlin tone which pervades that piece of celluloid.

Riffing on movie cliches, crime cliches and proffering up a whole heap of one-liners, this ludicrously overbaked story finds its feet and certainly runs with it, thanks in part to the performances of Farrell, Rockwell and Walken who make a farcical, if talking nonsense, trio.

It's an initially clever script too - and one which becomes self referencing towards the end (where it sadly starts to lose some of its initial gumph and gumption). And yet, Seven Psychopaths certainly manages to carry it off mashing up genres, pouring on the dark comedy as it freewheels on and piles in some surrealist sequences which are one shaggy dog story after another. For a while, at least.

It's violent too and splattered with blood and gore in ways that the very darkest of crime genres should be too. However, I can't help but feel that aside from one well written female character, the other women in this are treated somewhat badly - and I can't quite work out if they are supposed to be caricatures of women within the crime genre. It's borderline misogyny in places and certainly a difficult laugh to garner from the audience. Despite throwing in dialogue from Hans which critiques the poorly written women characters and that psychos get a bit boring after a while, it's an odd mix and one which doesn't sit well with me personally.

Ultimately about friendship and buddies (Rockwell in particular excels in his role, it's a crime film which revels in its deep seated black humour, served with a side of slit throats and an ensemble which satirises as it slaughters. It ends up in an absurdly imagined and over the top shoot out sequence but there's never really anywhere else it could have gone.

Seven Psychopaths certainly brings the laughs and the blackness but whether you'll love it or not, depends on how much you adore the crime genre in general and if you're ready to see a derivative film which isn't quite as clever as it thinks it is.


The Expendables 2: Blu Ray Review

The Expendables 2: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Entertainment

Having successfully blown up a lot of stuff (and the box office in the process) in the Expendables back in 2010, it was perhaps no surprise that Sly and his mercenary team of stars from the 80s would return again. (Sly and the Family Stallone, anyone?)

This time around, it's a bit more of a personal quest for the group.

When CIA operative Church (a relatively non-smirking Willis) commands Barney Ross (Stallone) and his unit to extract a safe from a shot down plane, the group duly heads out to pay off their debt.

But what they don't realise is that sneering sunglasses wearing bad guy Jean Vilain (Seriously???) is also after the contents of the safe - and when he takes out one of their own, the Expendables' thirst for retribution propels them to seek revenge.

And that's really it for plot.

Except for plenty of explosions, big guns being shot and crowd pleasing cameos (if you're a fan of the 80s action genre), then the Expendables 2 doesn't do anything more than what it sets out to. There are two schools of thought on this one - it may be bigger, louder and packed with more explosions and mayhem than ever before, but it doesn't half feel a little soulless as it goes about its plot.

This ageing action thriller is surely aimed at giving the 80s action stars some cred and show that they can still do it with the best. However, it ends up feeling more akin to an episode of The A Team populated by your slightly embarrassing parents, who are determined to show they can still do it, via some grunting, running and generally smacking down whatever they can to demonstrate they're still in shape.

It's incredibly dour with a bit of self deprecation here and there but not enough to carry it off; sure, there's cheese aplenty and cameos to tug at the toughest action hero heart as it enters its final furlong - and there's also risible dialogue throughout. Even with the addition of a female to the mercenary group seems like a shallow attempt to shake the dynamic up and get a few women into the auditorium.

And yet, despite railing against these ideas, I can't quite tell if the film deliberately chose those intentions or whether those involved are such geniuses of the genre that we've all had the wool pulled over our eyes.

Arnie's rolled out like some geriatric deus-ex-machina, and spends his little on-screen time stealing all his scenes, shooting everything and dispensing various catchphrases from his past (no sign of Hasta la vista, so maybe we should be grateful); there's a great use of the Sergio Leone theme from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, though the person who shows up afterwards is not who you'd expect, Liam Hemsworth gives an utterly ludicrous and laughable speech about how, despite the horrors of war, it was the killing of a camp dog which forced him out of the forces (and thus, being a bit vulnerable marks him for death); and even Stallone looks a little weary and tired as it wears on. Crowd pleasing cameos ensue and ultimately, the film's final set piece ends up at an airport, doling out more carnage than a security scanner would ever prevent from happening. Even the final smackdown between a vengeful Ross and wry Vilain lacks the punch-the-air-in-glee denouement you'd expect from such a confrontation you've been teased with over the past 100 minutes.

Despite all the macho gung-ho testosterone on show, and with all of the formulaic plot constraints and constant bombardment of explosions, and people being shot to bits (after dispatching one guy with guts and gusto, Stallone tells his victim to "Rest in Pieces"), if you check your brain at the door and fancy a piece of retro action which comes with a large side order of cheese and explosions, has little coherence and originality, then the Expendables 2 is the perfect night out for you.

Bear in mind though Arnie's final line - when his pals are given an ancient plane to fly off into the distance, and is told that it "belongs in a museum", the Governator smirkingly nods before announcing that "We all do."

Though with a third Expendables outing slated to go into production and with box office anticipation still high for these OAP mercenaries, that seems highly unlikely to happen.

Extras: Commentary, doco, deleted scenes, gag reel


Saturday, 29 December 2012

This Is England '88: DVD Review

This Is England '88: DVD Review

Rating: R16
Released by Madman Home Entertainment

Christmas - a time of hope, forgiveness and starting again.

And in This Is England 88's world, a time of misery and abuse dealing with what happened a couple of years ago.


Shane Meadows' spin off series from This Is England continues with this four part drama and sees Woody and Lol (all from working class England) growing apart from each other and Woody (Joseph Gilgun from Misfits) leaving the gang.

Themes of separation, family, depression and general misery pervade this release - and it's a little unrelenting to be honest with the malaise of unhappiness from the past few series continuing to drip through. It's only thanks to an extremely talented cast that you really stick with it - because the continual unhappiness, is to be honest, a little draining after a few series. I know working class Britain is a bit rough, but it would be good to bring in a little light occasionally.

That said, the series won BAFTA nominations and it does beat the pants off a lot of other mini series - so stick with it and you will be rewarded with some of the best acting on the box. But don't expect, sunshine and rainbows all the way through.

Extras: Commentary on ep3 with Joe Gilgun and Vicky McClure, interviews and deleted scenes


Friday, 28 December 2012

Watch the first four minutes of Warm Bodies

Watch the first four minutes of Warm Bodies

It's here - your chance to watch the first four minutes of Warm Bodies, starring Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer.

We've already had the Warm Bodies trailer and now the Warm Bodies guys have decided to give us a bit of a treat.

The film's due in 2013 - so stay tuned to find out more - it looks as if the zombie movie is about to get a shot in the arm.

Rise of the Guardians: Movie Review

Rise of the Guardians: Movie Review

Vocal cast: Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher, Jude Law
Director: Peter Ramsey

It must be summer time as we're suddenly awash with animated fare.

The latest to hit the big screen is computer generated animation, Rise of The Guardians.

Starring Star Trek's Chris Pine as Jack Frost, it's the tale of a threat to the world from the evil Pitch (played by Jude Law).

When the collective group known as the Guardians - Santa (Baldwin), the Easter Bunny, (Jackman) The Sandman (doesn't speak throughout) and the Tooth Fairy (Fisher) - find children are stopping believing in them, they realise they're facing a danger bigger than they could have imagined.

It turns out that threat is Pitch, a nightmarish character / Boogeyman (played by Jude Law) who is sick of lurking in the shadows and being ignored. So, The Guardians decide to recruit Jack Frost, the lone boy whom no-one sees to help them save the day.

Rise of the Guardians is a curious beast.

On one hand, the story is a relatively novel one, a kind of Avengers of the imaginary world unite.

But on the other, there's not quite enough to keep it going or enough knowing story subtext to engage the adult audience.

Visually, it looks - in places - stunning, painting in FX that are lush, subtle and gorgeous to behold. But then, it's almost as if the animators get carried away by how clever they feel they are and end up swamping the screen with so much unnecessary animation or, worse than that, throw in FX shots for no real reason other than because they can.

Also, it's a strange mix of story as well - these aren't the traditional characters as you'd come to expect. This Santa is a Russian accented, tattooed heavy who employs Yetis rather than the traditional elves; the Bunny is a gruff on-the-edge Aussie, and the lack of real recognition may mean some are put off in this slightly skewed tale.

But there are themes of belonging and belief melting through the Avengers recruitment feel of the film - and while it's not a bad mix overall, it's just neither fish nor fowl unfortunately. It's a film that's a little lacking in story, a little too ready to show off its animation and a little too dark to appeal to a mass audience of kids.


Thursday, 27 December 2012

Worst films of 2012

Worst films of 2012

Well, we've had the best movies of 2012 - so it can now only be the turn of the worst of 2012; the cinematic stinkers, the celluloid catastrophes and the filmic flops that made being a reviewer just that little bit more difficult to bear.

In no particular order, these are the films which didn't do it for me during the past 12 months - and as a proviso, this list is confined to the films I saw on the screen, which means some which I endured on DVD get a bit of a break (Project X and Piranha 3DD, I'm looking at you!)

So here are the top 12 worst films of 2012....

Alex Cross - Alex Cross? It made me Alex Angry. Everything a thriller shouldn't be - a mess of acting (Matthew Fox gurning his way through serial killing anger) and a hero whose powers seemed to be provoked by his co-investigator urging him to "Think like him, and get inside his mind." Just a disappointment all round - and a shock to hear a sequel is on the way.

Fresh Meat / Two Little Boys  - a double helping of Kiwi let downs this year. Kiwi cannibal "comedy" Fresh Meat didn't have anything new to bring to the table and felt a real let down because it held back when more would have been perfect for it. Two Little Boys wasn't as dark as it could have been and sure wasn't as funny as it was forced. Towards the end, it threw in some great visual touches, but it was hard yards getting there.

Battleship / John Carter - Taylor Kitsch started the year as the guy who could take over the world but whose two celluloid outings torpedoed those dreams. To be fair, it wasn't so much his acting ability which let him down but the films which let him down. Battleship made good on its Transformers x Hasbro game premise with plenty of hokum and noise; and John Carter turned a great idea into a wonderfully realised but ultimately frustrating film which failed on the story telling front.

The Campaign - Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis in a comedy about elections? That should be funny. But yet, it wasn't strong enough or subtle to reach the satirical highs it could, settling instead for a proliferation of profoundly unfunny moments with a smattering of minorly amusing punchlines.

Taken 2 - A mis-Taken attempt at a sequel, whose first outing was original, clever and a subtle twist on the established action formula. The problem with this one, which had the families of the bad guys that Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills offed in the first place coming after him and his family, was that it was robbed of any surprise and originality as it dispensed with logic and sanity. Please, no Tak3n sequels - though given how well it performed, am guessing there will be.

Bel Ami - RPatz ditches Twilight and goes for period drama in this flick about a man's rise to power and his seduction of women was about as sexy and enticing as some wet lettuce, left soaking in the back of your fridge. By making Pattinson's character dull and uncharismatic, a lack of chemistry with any of the leads, the filmmakers made this a drudgery and dull night out at the cinema.

StreetDance 2 3D - this time, the dance flick goes to Europe. And appears to leave any semblance of a script somewhere on the plane as it passes time zones. A flat lead character and story, plus frenetic editing - including speeding up and slowing down - of the dance sequences mean nothing stands out or is given the time to breathe. Even worse was Tom Conti's character being brought round from a heart attack by the rhythm of a drum.

Men in Black 3 / Total Recall - Agent J and K return for MiB3 but leave most of the J-O-K-E-S behind. Despite Josh Brolin's wonderful impression of a younger Tommy Lee Jones, a confusing ending and general misuse of characters showed that I desperately needed to be zapped by one of those memory forgetting devices they carry around. Likewise, Total Recall offered up some tantalising hints of a remake, but forgot to add anything in other than wall to wall action/ running/ shooting/ slow mo running/ slow mo shooting. Again, I wanted my memory wiped afterwards.

Dark Shadows - a remake of a 60s show which very few people saw, put a cursed vampire played by Johnny Depp back with Tim Burton to mixed and undercooked results. A spooky atmosphere was squandered by some boring narrative and unamusing jokes. Throw in way too many characters as well and this gothic horror should have been staked at birth.

So, those are my thoughts - what did you make of 2012's films?

Here's hoping 2013 is a slightly better year....

Brand new Star Trek Into Darkness images

Brand new Star Trek Into Darkness images

As we gear up for 2013, everyone's starting to look ahead - and one of the big films of the year, is the new Star Trek Into Darkness film.

Empire Online's revealed a couple of new Star Trek Into Darkness images and some exciting cover shots for Star Trek Into Darkness....

Wrapping up what we know so far...

Hot on the heels of the recent teaser trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness and the reveal of who Benedict Cumberbatch is playing in Star Trek Into Darkness, comes something new and exciting

A new Star Trek Into Darkness trailer is here - and a brand new viral campaign for Star Trek Into Darkness has been unveiled too. has launched - see if you can spot it in the trailer...

See who the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness is here....

The announcement Star Trek Into Darkness trailer has landed....

Watch the Star Trek Into Darkness trailer.

And as if that wasn't exciting enough, the Japanese trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness has 15 seconds more footage - here it is...including a rather worrying homage to Star Trek The Wrath of Khan - is this where we see the demise of Zachary Quinto's Spock???

Star Trek Into Darkness synopsis

In 2013, pioneering director J.J. Abrams will deliver an explosive action thriller that takes Star Trek Into Darkness.

When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis.

With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.

As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.

Returning again will be NZ’s own Karl Urban, along with a cast that includes Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg and Benedict Cumberbatch.  

Star Trek Into Darkness: releases in NZ on 16 May 2013.

Life of Pi: Movie Review

Life of Pi: Movie Review

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Suraj Sharma, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu
Director: Ang Lee

Fans of Yann Martel's book The Life Of Pi will be happy to see the release of Life Of Pi as the New Year rings out across the world (assuming the Mayans weren't correct and all that).

It's the tale of Pi (Irrfan Khan), whose father owned the animals in a zoo in India. When the family falls foul of a dispute with the government, they decide to pack up the zoo and head to Canada, hitching a ride on a freighter with all the animals.

But tragedy hits and a massive storm sinks the freighter, leaving only Pi, a hyena, a zebra, orangutan, and a Bengal tiger on a boat.

This is the tale of how the 16 year old Pi survived the 227 days he was at sea and the magical adventure which befell him.

And as with all fables, it's rife with interpretation.

Life of Pi certainly hits a visual high note thanks to the work done by director Ang Lee.

Aside from the animation of the tiger, scenes where the 3D really soars are the ones where the visual experience is extended, enhanced and expanded.

A scene where Pi is afloat on the waters at night positively glows with magic as the sea creatures and jellyfish around him come to life - and to light. Awash with greens, blues and yellows, there are definitely echoes of the sprites sequence in the first Avatar. When Pi comes across a floating island inhabited solely by meerkats, there's character aplenty in each critter rather than the soulless mass rendering of the animal. The FX work is truly second to none on a tale which is essentially a boy in a boat with a tiger (though Sharma deserves credit for his acting work to what must have only been a greenscreen)

Likewise, Richard Parker, the tiger is brought wonderfully to life, yet another digital masterpiece, so three dimensional that we feel an instant emotional connection to the beast. And speaking of the animation of this beast, it's utterly incredible and totally flawless, drawing you in through his eyes and pulling at your heartstrings as the journey unfolds. It's utterly impressive how far the technology has come in  the years and how the work has resulted in us occasionally having more of a connection to a virtual world than to the actors on the screen. And much like Tom Hanks had Wilson in Castaway, Pi has Richard Parker.

Which makes it a shame to say that some of the narrative choices serve to only detract from the magical mystical tale (though one suspects that is not director Ang Lee's choices as he's clearly adhering to the structure of the book,)

The decision to keep pulling back to current day with Pi telling his story to Rafe Spall's disruptive on this journey of the senses. Voiceover would have worked equally well and particularly given these scenes add little narratively other than to show you that the reminiscing is continuing, the structural choice is a jarring one to the overall experience.

Sadly, the spiritual and philosophical tale isn't one which connected at all with me and I think the seed of doubt which is sown by the final moments of the film is detrimental to what's gone beforehand. I left, not knowing what the true story of Pi was but having seen a film which visually enriched my soul - even if some of its ideas failed to even light an ember.


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A Royal Affair: DVD Review

A Royal Affair: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Madman Home Entertainment

Mads Mikkelsen continues his rise to cinematic glory in this sumptuous period piece set in Denmark in 1766.

It's a turbulent time in Denmark, with the masses oppressed and downtrodden by a King who's mad and politically ineffectual, there's scant hope for those who pursue the ideals of the Enlightenment movement.

But when new Queen Caroline Mathilde (an entrancing Vikander) comes to join her husband from England, Mikkelsen's recently appointed royal physician Johann Struensee starts to fall in love with her.

Their dangerous liaison leads to love and the chance for Denmark to change as Struensee begins to exert his Enlightenment beliefs both on the Queen and on a willing King.

However, not everything in this love story ends happily as the consequences of Struensee's actions begin to play out.

A Royal Affair is a slightly over-long look at dramatic events in Denmark which shaped a nation and played a part in the formation of European history.

Gorgeously costumed and stunningly shot, it's an intelligent period piece which screams lounge back in your seat and wallow away but it does take a little while to get going and become engrossing. Mikkelsen and Vikander are perfectly cast as the physician and the royal who're engulfed in the passion of the romance and the burning desire for change for their oppressed nation. Folsgaard is also solid as the mad King who flounces around whoring and being weak and ineffectual (even if he does remind you a little of Hugh Laurie's King from Blackadder).

The drama is powerful in this piece and while it may take a while to grip you as the slow burn kicks in, be aware that the (somewhat abrupt) ending may resonate more with you than you first realise.

Overall, A Royal Affair is a strong piece of historical film making; it offers light into a period many will be unaware of and thanks to strong acting, it's a striking celluloid outing for one of Denmark's most difficult periods.

Extras: Interviews with stars, gallery, family tree, theatrical trailer


Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas to you all

Merry Christmas to you all

It's Christmas time here at Darren's World of Entertainment - and there's only one way to celebrate - with movies.

Have yourselves a great Christmas and back to normal tomorrow.

For now, though, here's the perfect gift.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Best Movies of 2012

Best Movies of 2012

It's the time of year when critics like to dwell on what was great and not so great about 2012 as a cinematic year.

And being too scared to be different from the crowd, that's what I've decided to do as well. It's been a good year for films at times - sure, there have been the stinkers of 2012, but you'll have to wait for that list - for now though let's concentrate on the best of the year. (And as ever, they are in no particular order)

Safety Not Guaranteed - a brilliant little film which made the most of its stars Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass. It became a wonderfully poignant character piece and had one of the best endings of the year as a writing team investigated an ad which promised time travel to a prospective employee but could not guarantee their safety.

Looper - talking of time travel, this Rian Johnson flick, starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt with Emily Blunt was a cool mix of premise and substance. It also had one of the best tonal shifts and a story which none of the trailers hinted at. A rare surprise these days in the movies.

The Dark Knight Rises / The Avengers - a tremendous year for superhero films saw the fun in the Marvel team up from Joss Whedon which reinvented the Hulk and gave the series a shot in the arm with The Avengers. The Dark Knight Rises capped off a stellar trilogy for the Batman series and showed dark and broody is seriously entertaining.

Skyfall - Bond was back and while he didn't reach the heights of Casino Royale, he certainly did better than Quantum of Solace. Capping off a jingoistic year for the Brits, this was Bond at its best - though I'm unlikely to beat this comment on the internet to explain how good it was at putting the cool back into cool Britannia... "Skyfall is the best instalment of Home Alone yet."

The Hunt - Mads Mikkelsen's turn as a kindergarten teacher hounded after a wrongful accusation of sexual abuse was a searing entry in the film festival and had a lingering impression long after its powerful denouement. It's due out on general release next year - so don't miss it.

West of Memphis - Talking of film festival, this doco about the West Memphis Three was as powerful a piece of soul searching film that you'll ever see. Uplifting and terrifying in equal measures, the fight ofr justice - and Damien Echols' visit to New Zealand - offered up more hope than anything else released.

Your Sister's Sister - Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mark Duplass teamed up for this mumblecore three hander about a one night stand gone wrong. A brilliantly funny and dry relationship piece, this one hits the small screen next year. Make sure you catch it.

Dredd / The Raid - as a long term fan of the Judge Dredd comics, there was much anticipation around this given how Stallone had messed up the franchise. Its biggest thrill was seeing Joe Dredd fanboy and Kiwi Karl Urban take the role and do something incredible with it - as well as a great use of 3D within. Likewise, The Raid, which had a similar premise, offered up much action and ass-kicking from the tower block under seige story.

Argo - Ben Affleck gave good story in front and behind of the camera in this story about the CIA mission to pull out American diplomats from Tehran in the 80s. But it was the side story of a Hollywood fake film which was riotous thanks to Alan Arkin's studio hack.

Brother Number One - the NZ doco looking into the Khmer Rouge through the eyes of Rob Hamill whose brother was caught up within the horror was never anything but emotionally gut wrenching and achingly honest. But it had hope in a place where you wouldn't expect some - and to be honest, it was one of the best docos of the year.

The Cabin in the Woods - Joss Whedon produced this brilliantly meta horror about horrors which was a riotously great time in the cinema as it revelled in the horror cliches but provided commentary on why we watch horror films in the first place.

Ted - who knew that a film about a pot smoking CGI animated teddy bear from Family Guy Seth MacFarlane would be such foul mouthed fun?

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Peter Jackson's first part may be a little padded at the start but for its 48FPS CGI wizardry which redefined the look of the fantasy genre, the Hobbit was a startling cinematic tour de force. And not just for the FX, Martin Freeman made an immediate impression as Bilbo - and I can't wait to see how the final two films pan out.

The Sessions - Humorous, heartfelt, life affirming were just a few of the words which spring to mind for this John Hawkes film which starred Helen Hunt as well as a sex surrogate, out to help Hawkes' disabled by polio Mark O'Brien lose his virginity. An engaging piece, it managed to touch me a little more than The Intouchables did.

Bubbling under the list and just missing a place  - but still worthy of a commendation and your time... The Intouchables, Madagascar 3, The Way, The Hunger Games, The Artist, Amour, Moonrise Kingdom, This Must Be the Place, The Descendants, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Not seen - but heard great things about - Searching for Sugarman

Have a Merry Christmas to you all - and stand by for the cinematic stinkers which fouled up the auditorium...

Quartet: Movie Review

Quartet: Movie Review

Cast: Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Dame Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon, Sheridan Smith
Director: Dustin Hoffman

Based on the same titled play by Ronald Harwood, Quartet marks Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut.

Courtenay, Connolly and Collins play a group of retired musicians, (Reg, Wilf and Cissy) who are living out their twilight years at Beecham House, a home for elderly musicians. The group used to be in a quartet and every year, the inhabitants of the house come together for an annual concert to celebrate the birth date of Verdi.

The plans this year though are disrupted by the arrival of Dame Maggie Smith's Jean Horton, a once revered singer, who used to be married to Reg. Jean doesn't sing anymore, and with tensions between her and Reg, it looks like this band ain't gonna get back together....which could be disastrous for the fund raising efforts for Beecham House.

Quartet is a gently charming comedy, which will play well to its target older audience. And, perhaps, fans of Downton Abbey, given that Dame Maggie's playing yet another version of her character from that.

Mind you, that said, the veterans are the stars of this piece and each gets their moment to shine. From Courtenay's bitter feelings towards his ex, Connolly's cheeky cantankerousness, Collins' scatterbrained approach and Dame Maggie's somewhat haughty diva, they all work with what little they have in terms of story and script. Sheridan Smith adds a level of sophistication and a touch of youth as the doctor running the house.

With one liner quips and bon mots throughout, Quartet is a pleasant enough, lightly frothy piece which sags a little toward the end; I do feel a little cheated at the end of the film (spoiler) when you don't see the quartet actually sing. Given how many hints there were that Dame Maggie's character was an extraordinary singer, and such a big thing for the quartet to reform and sing, it's a disappointment that that didn't eventuate. Although, it was probably a big ask and could have led to some terrible lip synching....

Hoffman does a fair job of directing - the camera lingers a little too often in some parts and the direction can occasionally veer towards the heavy handed when a lighter touch would have done. The music and rolling English countryside are wonderfully captured on film as the film plays out.

All in all though, Quartet is a solidly pleasant piece, which hits the right notes for its audience - I hesitate to use the word nice - which will proffer up a point of difference in amongst all the other seasonal fare being released at Christmas.


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter: Blu Ray Review

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter: Blu Ray Review

Rating: R16
Released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The world of vampires mashed up with one of America's most famous presidents....

How is that even possible? Well, that's the thesis of this new release which posits that, as a youngster, Abe Lincoln's mum was dispatched by a mysterious force so evil that he can't begin to fathom what exactly it was. Thankfully, Dominic Cooper's Henry Sturges helps explain the vampiric ways of the world, opening his eyes to the omnipresent threat around him.

So, when Lincoln becomes president and discovers a threat by vampires to turn the USA into a nation of bloodsuckers, he has no choice but to make it his mission to take them all out.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is a film which is based on a mash up book and unfortunately takes itself a little too seriously. If it pricked a bit of that pomp and pomposity and infused it with a vein of a bit more self knowing fun, it would be a slightly better film. As it is, it's not a bad night's entertainment, just one of those popcorn films where the overall feel is that you're indifferent when it's over.

The acting's solid from a cast which has a few names here and there - Benjamin Walker gives a good turn as the vengeful president and Rufus Sewell brings a degree of menace to the leader of the bad guys. Sure, there's plotholes aplenty throughout but after a while, your mind starts to forego logic in favour of just watching the film.

And that's really where the benefits of this film lie. From Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov, it's a stylish piece which oozes slow mo shots, things flying out of the screen and a healthy amount of cool horror FX action.

Maybe if it had been a bit more tongue in cheek, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter would have you a bit more fangful for its qualities. As it is, it's a disposable piece of night in entertainment - nothing more, nothing less.

Extras: making of,commentary


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Jackpot: DVD Review

Jackpot: DVD Review

Rating: R16
Released by Vendetta Films

Another Scandanavian crime thriller, Jackpot is yet further proof that the Nordic way of looking at life is somewhat skewed.

After a violent shoot out at a porn shop, one survivor, Oscar remains. Surrounded by eight bodies, and the police and clutching a shotgun, Oscar's immediately hauled into the cop shop to be interrogated as to what exactly he knows about the shooting....

However, while the investigating detective Solør is convinced Oscar's guilty, Oscar begins to explain what happened - and how it all came from the winning of a football pool which netted four men over 1.7 million kroner and caused all manner of divisions.

Jackpot is as dark a black humoured story as they come - it's also incredibly amusingly dry throughout.

Oscar's choice of colleagues for the football pool happens to be three ex-cons, Billy, Thor and Dan who are particularly inept at division (a running gag centres on how they're unable to work out exactly how much money each of them will get) but whose propensity for mistrust and paranoia outweighs the benefits of the win.

But there's a very tongue in cheek feel to some of the extreme violence throughout; when one ganglord's killed in the shoot-out, his final words to a co-worker in the porn shop is to plead with him to go and pick up his son. To which, the co-worker asks if he'll need written permission to do that.

It's that kind of off-kilter, slightly left-field view which permeates the slickly produced piece and thanks to a snappy running time, touches of Fargo (think chippers) Jackpot is a twisty, albeit slight shaggy dog story with a fun pay-off that's as pulpy and in keeping with the genre as you'd expect.


To Rome with Love: Movie Review

To Rome with Love: Movie Review

Cast: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig
Director: Woody Allen

After his recent fantastical offering in Paris, Woody Allen returns.

This time, he and an ensemble cast head to la bella Italia, Rome, for another fantasy magical comedy offering - To Rome With Love.

Visitors to and residents of Rome find their lives changed by the adventures and predicaments they find themselves in.

From Jesse Eisenberg's trainee architect, Jack, who's tempted by his girlfriend's best friend Monica (Ellen Page) to Roberto Benigni's Leopoldo, who awakes one day to find his life has been turned into that of a celebrity, chased at every turn by the paparazzi, this is a mix of farcical and the comedic, with a pinch of the serious thrown in.

Allen himself is back in his usual neurotic form as a frustrated former opera director whose daughter is engaged following a whirlwind romance to one of Rome's locals. When he heads there, he discovers his daughter's father-in-law is a talented singer - but only when he sings in the shower...

It's full of whimsy, fantasy and light heartedness - but it didn't half rub me up the wrong way. Allen seemed to be a parody of himself and all his neuroses wound up to 11; with comments like "I have an IQ of 150 - you're thinking in euros, in dollars, it's a lot less" and "Don't psychoanalyse me! Many have tried. All have failed.", it's like he's rolling out his best lines.

Like any series of stories, some fly, whereas others falter and fail, proving their flimsy coincidence is all a little too much to bear - from the farce of the newly married husband whose wife wanders off only for him to be left with Penelope Cruz's call girl and his parents thinking that's his wife, it's an intriguing mix which doesn't quite work out as well as perhaps it should.

It's a shame because Allen's eye for the beauty and majesty of Rome from behind the camera is once again magnificent - even if his writing is stereotyped and a little too farcical and fantastical to take seriously. But then, perhaps that's some of the reason for To Rome With Love - it's a postcard and declaration of amour for the city and one which will resonate with those looking for light and flouncy Woody Allen.


Friday, 21 December 2012

Django Unchained: Movie Review

Django Unchained: Movie Review

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo di Caprio, Samuel L Jackson, Kerry Washington
Director: Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino's back in true trademark skewed style - and he's already dragging with him five Golden Globe nominations for Django Unchained, his take on the spaghetti western.

It's set in America in 1858 and Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave who's been separated from his wife Broomhilda (Washington) and part of a chain gang. He's sought out by former dentist turned bounty hunter Dr Schultz (a stunningly great turn from Christoph Waltz). Schultz seeks out Django as he knows what three of his quarry look like - and the pair form an alliance, working through the winter and capturing bad guys, dead or alive (mostly dead though in bloody Tarantino fashion).

But Django's got one thing on his mind - the return of his wife. And making a deal with Schultz, the pair set off for slave laden estate Candie land owned by Leonardo di Caprio's Monsieur Calvin Candie (who has a side line in mandingo fights) and run by Stephen (a cowed Samuel L Jackson) to free her once and for all.

What do you say about Django Unchained?

Violent, pulpy, bloody, funny and trademark Tarantino, it's a revenge flick through and through. Filled with, of course, historical liberties, it's a stylish film which has Quentin's pawprints all over it - from the fantastic soundtrack to patented patter and violence and zoom shots. (Plus an old Columbia logo at the start of the film sets the reverential tone for the westerns and cinema from days of yore.)

And yet, it's anchored by a tremendous turn by Christoph Waltz, who commands the screen from the moment he arrives on it, drawn by a horse and cart with a giant wobbling tooth attached by a spring on its roof. Through a calm and intelligent exterior, Waltz is a towering presence over the film and in some ways, overshadows everyone who appears - with the exception of Leonardo di Caprio, whose flouncy cotton plantation owner Calvin Candie is all flourish and charm, until his anger is aroused at which point the tension has you on the edge of your seat before it all explodes in violence. It's no wonder these two have been granted Golden Globe nominations - they're rarely matched on this celluloid outing.

So it's fair to say that Jamie Foxx brings a quiet and measured performance as Django, but it's not until the final part of the film that he actually gets to shine, because of how towering Waltz and DiCaprio are. Even Samuel L Jackson as the toadying and calculating runner of the home Stephen is more sidelined by these - but at the end of the day, you can't have the final mix without all the ingredients and it's not to suggest their performances are lesser, but that their superior turns pale when compared to the electrifying performances from the other two. Each get their time to shine away from the others and when they do, you can't take your eyes off the screen.

Django Unchained also suffers a little from a long winding narrative, with some extra excursions (including Tarantino's bizarre appearance and attempt at an Aussie accent) seeming better suited to the cutting room floor than in this 2 hour 45 minute epic, occasionally over-indulgent and sprawling vengeance flick. A little more expeditious editing could have turned this occasionally sprawling N-word littered Western into a tighter piece without losing the character touches and humorous moments which stand out. (One riotous sequence sees a posse of sack wearing vigilantes railing about how they can't see through their eye slots)

Pulpy, trashy and true Tarantino, Django Unchained is a stunning and audacious piece of film-making which has artistic and stylish flourishes aplenty and offers up cinema lovers the typical Tarantino cocktail of furious film-making, guaranteed to nourish and at the same time, confront with its brutal -and brilliant -touches.


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