Saturday, 31 May 2014

MALEFICENT

A vindictive fairy is driven to curse an infant princess only to realize the child may be the only one who can restore peace.

A very enjoyable revisiting of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale. Angelina Jolie is excellent as Maleficent and her character's transitions throughout the story are great. In fact, Jolie really carries this one. The best and most powerful parts of the movie are the "dark" parts - but the story is a whole is about the fact that one individual can be both hero and villain - and there are couple of those in this movie! The 3D is excellent along with the special effects and cinematography. I especially liked the crow and the dragon. The story is fresh and engaging. The 90 or so minutes flew by. My only criticism is that the "bright" side of the movie is quite soppy and the narration irritating. Apart from that - a darkly enchanting movie. Warning: not for small children - half of the movie is quite dark, violent and would scare them!

****

NEW RELEASE DVD RECOMMENDATION

This weekend's new DVD recommendation is the delightful HER. A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that's designed to meet his every need.

A very intriguing philosophical fable about what it means to be human (if a computer can mimic a human being, does that make it human?), our relationship to technology (most of Western society seems to have fallen in love with their smartphones), the nature of love (can love be true love if it is perfect and without limitations?). Joaquin Phoenix (who plays the main protagonist, Theodore) is excellent as the lonely, divorced, desperately-looking-for-love writer of letters for other people) and Scarlett Johansson (who plays the OS1 computer system with whom Theodore falls in love with) is absolutely scintillatingly sensual with just her voice alone (we never, of course, see her in the flesh because she's a computer program construct). Amy Adams is under-utilised but does a decent job. The story is very provocative and raises all the issues I have listed above (and more). It is intriguing as the Theodore's romance with the OS unfolds. Despite all these positive aspects, the movie could have been a little more engaging and deal with the issues a little more powerfully. But even with its flaws it it's so modern that it's scary to think how close we might be to these types of disembodied relationships with our mobile devices ubiquitously present 24/7. For anyone who appreciates some deep thinking this movie is made for you. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

****

 

 

Friday, 30 May 2014

C. S. LEWIS: A LIFE: ECCENTRIC GENIUS, RELUCTANT PROPHET (book)

C. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant ProphetC. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister E. McGrath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent biography of C S Lewis. Brings lots of new insights to a complex man who has contributed so much to society - secular and religious. The best biographies, in my opinion, describe a picture of a person that is nuanced and fearless in presenting some of our "heroes" as genuine, flawed human beings. McGrath has done just this and, as a result, increases the respect we have for someone like Lewis. The book is well written and easy to read. The author tells the story in a way that moves along well and balances a discussion of bigger themes with the detail of Lewis's life. If you've read any of C S Lewis's writings you'll want to read this very comprehensive, respectful, and honest biography.

View all my reviews

UNDER THE SKIN

An alien seductress preys upon the population of Scotland.

This movie is better after seeing it than during the seeing of it! As I have reflected on the movie I can see it is possibly making comment on the way in which women may feel alienated in a society where many men construct women as sexual objects. The movie does, I think, have a lot to say. Why,though, does it need to be done in such a boring, pretentious manner?

During the opening credits, Scarlett Johansson's name appears in white on a black background - that's it. We don't find out the names of the other actors (mostly men) until the final credits. And there's good reason. UNDER THE SKIN is Johansson’s movie in a daring role different to anything she's done before. In the movie HER, we never saw Johansson on screen. Her amazing voice, dripping with sensuality, conveyed all we needed. In UNDER THE SKIN there's minimal dialogue and it is what she does with her body that is central - and she is very good.

The cinematography is very depressing - drab colours, constant rain, dark shadows, fog, and grey landscapes. The soundtrack is disturbing as is the visual imagery. UNDER THE SKIN is highly original and it may seem that what I've said above is positive. That's true but the overall experience of watching the movie just didn't work for me.

**1/2

Thursday, 29 May 2014

THE BABADOOK

A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

Brilliant movie. A dark exploration of grief, guilt, and parenting with an intelligent script that taps into our childhood fear of monsters in the dark. Essie Davis, who plays Amelia, the mother of Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is excellent as she descends into her nightmare. Noah Wiseman is astounding as the son who starts to "see" monsters in the house after his mother reads him the story of The Babadook. The tension increases inexorably but never goes too far. The director (Jennifer Kent, who also wrote the script), never succumbs to the temptation to merely cause the viewer to jump by using cheap tricks. Instead, the character and story development is what's most important. The same goes for any "special effects" - they're subtle and effective - what we can't see is often more frightening than what we can. The story is original and complex and provides rich material for reflecting on what people go through when they feel responsible for bad things happening to those they love. THE BABADOOK is a clever, riveting, disturbing movie - and highly recommended if you like intelligent psychological thrillers.

****1/2

 

 

Monday, 26 May 2014

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.

Possibly the best X-Men movie so far! Interesting time travel premise, good development of characters, plenty of action, good script, acting is good, and great cast - James McAvoy, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Michael Fassbender - the list goes on. The 3D is subtle (you actually forget you're watching 3D) and effective. Very enjoyable.

****1/2

Friday, 23 May 2014

SUNSHINE ON LEITH (movie)

Two Scottish soldiers return from Afghanistan, home to Leith (Edinburgh, Scotland) to the warm embrace of their families.

Musicals don't do much for me - and this one didn't improve the situation. Saccharine plot that seemed like an episode of Neighbours - about six characters, most of whom are couples, experience just about every clichéd negative relationship experience one could have, combined with the results of war trauma, but all experienced while singing foot-tapping tunes (yes, I did tap my feet a couple of times). But the whole thing was just too soppy and you just knew it was all going to be sunshine eventually. The dialogue was obviously written to make way for the songs (a few of which were ok). There were so many plot lines happening that none of them have time to be developed with any depth - and because of that, there was quite a bit of jumping around. The movie is set in Edinburgh, Scotland, so the city backdrops and landscapes are beautiful - shows off the city really well. SUNSHINE ON LEITH is a feel good movie with no sex (apart from some mild kissing) or violence that is clearly targeting an older age group - the older members of the audience around me clearly appreciated the movie. Disappointing but will suit those who like low-key, feel good romantic musicals.

**1/2

Thursday, 22 May 2014

UPDATE: THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

One movie I overlooked on the new cinema release list this week - and it's one to avoid. SON OF GOD. The life story of Jesus is told from his humble birth through his teachings, crucifixion and ultimate resurrection. Critics and general viewers alike are rating this movie very low. 

The Hollywood Reporter Todd McCarthy says: 'This quite mediocre spawned-from-television feature feels like a Jesus film designed primarily for true believers, meaning that the faith-based public that has already been put on alert by seal-of-approval-dispensing church leaders that this is a film to see will make the Fox release into a significant Heartland attraction.'

And Chicago Sun-Times Richard Roeper: 'It is the story of the faith in which I was raised, and it is a story told here with great reverence and extremely faithful renditions of scenes from the New Testament. But, alas, it's not a good movie.'

THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

It's going to be tough choosing what to see this week at the movies!

MY TOP PICKS TO SEE

If you are an X-Men fan then you will be rushing to the cinema (with me) to X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants. Can't wait!

I have to also a mention another top pick to see for me -- THE BABADOOK - A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her. An Australian movie which is winning awards. I've heard the director being interviewed - it sounds pretty intense! So if you like a bit of intelligent horror check this one out.

OTHERS TO SEE

Another high scoring movie is THE SELFISH GIANT, a contemporary fable about two scrappy 13-year-old working-class friends in the UK who seek fortune by getting involved with a local scrap dealer and criminal, leading to tragic consequences. Critics and general public like this one, too!

This week's foreign attraction is MY SWEET PEPPER LAND. Baran, a Kurdish independence war hero, is now sheriff in Erbil, the capital city. No longer feeling useful in this society now at peace, he thinks about quitting the police force, but instead agrees to be stationed in a small valley, at the very borders of Iran, Turkey, and Iraq. It is a lawless territory, right at the heart of illegal drug, medication and alcohol trafficking. Having arrived in the small village, he refuses to bow down to Aga Azzi, the seriously corrupt tribal chief and absolute ruler of the area. Baran meets Govend, the village school teacher, who is also rejected by the villagers. Like Baran, she represents another law, that of the young and autonomous Kurdish state. Govend is all the more vulnerable as she is not a married woman. (IMDB)

Finally, combining comedy, drama, music and romance there is SUNSHINE ON LEITH - Two Scottish soldiers return from Afghanistan, home to Leith (Edinburgh, Scotland) to the warm embrace of their families. Looks like a very uplifting, feel good movie.

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

Some good movies arrive this week!

MY TOP PICKS TO SEE

Top of the list to see this week is the Pakistani movie WAAR about the efforts of the Pakistani security forces in their fight against terrorism and how the lives of security officials are affected. A retired security officer returns to save Pakistan from a major terrorist attack. Averaging around ***1/2 by viewers it looks pretty good.

If you are not in to foreign film, then next on the to-see list is GODZILLA. The world's most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity's scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence. While the critics mostly find it an average movie the general public are rating it around ****.

OTHERS TO SEE

THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN combines bluegrass music and romance in a story in which Elise and Didier fall in love at first sight, in spite of their differences. He talks, she listens. He's a romantic atheist, she's a religious realist. When their daughter becomes seriously ill, their love is put on trial. Looks like some interesting themes!

From Romania comes CHILD'S POSE (Pozitia Copilului). 'Seeing a way to reassert control over her adult son's life when he faces manslaughter charges, an affluent Romanian woman sets out on a campaign of emotional and social manipulation to keep him out of prison, navigating the waters of power, corruption and influence. Child's Pose is based on the sense of loss of parents who have to send their children away-physically and psychologically. The parent-child relationship is re-assessed through a son in his 30s that wants to escape from his mother, who in turn wants to keep her adult son by her side. The mother's character is quite familiar, but this film is unique in that the director delicately portrays how the controlling mother wants to deny that her son is destined to leave her by following the characters' emotional flows and gazing at their twisted desires. Luminita Gheorghiu turns in an extraordinary performance in playing a mother struggling to "save" her son. Heading to the conclusion, the film shows that the unhealthy mother-son relationship is not that simple when it comes to matters of humane duty.' - Written by Ryan Silverman (IMDB)

MAYBE MAYBE NOT

On the sci-fi menu we have THE ZERO THEOREM. A computer hacker whose goal is to discover the reason for human existence continually finds his work interrupted thanks to the Management; namely, they send a teenager and lusty love interest to distract him. Sounds like an odd plot. Critics are rating it low and the general public average. It sounds weird enough for me to go see it so I will let you know if I do.

Finally, the French drama romance BRIGHT DAYS AHEAD (Les Beaux Jours) tells the story of retired dentist Caroline who attends a class for computer users. Although she is married, she falls in love with her significantly younger lecturer. It turns out he used to visit her surgery primarily in order to enjoy her view. Her husband finds out about her affair with this admirer. Another one where audiences and critics disagree. We'll have to decide for ourselves.

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

BELLE (movie)

An illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle.

BELLE has no surprises. Based on a true story it explores the difficulty of a black woman born into aristocracy but never accepted by society. As far as entertaining goes it's ok but doesn't have the emotional intensity to really engage the viewer. The cinematography is beautiful as one would expect from  a period piece, the acting is agreeable, but overall the story unfolds in a fairly predictable manner. Wait for the DVD.

overall=*** ; acting=*** ; story=*** ; cinematography=*** ;  directing=***

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

HEALING (movie)




At the tail end of a 16-year sentence, an inmate is sent to a low-security, pre-release prison with a special program that pairs men with injured game birds.

HEALING is a beautiful and touching story that is truly uplifting. The way injured birds on their journey of rehabilitation to fly is superbly used as a metaphor for the healing that comes to the inmates of a low security prison preparing for their own "flights" back to society. The tender story directed, with elegant subtlety, weaves together complex characters all of whom are on their varied journeys from psychological injury resulting from their past crimes to different degrees of freedom or permanent sanctuary - mirrored in the stories of the birds. The birds photographed in flight against the backdrop of Australian landscapes are stunning and healing in their own right. The story unfolds at a meditative pace allowing us to connect with the characters, the birds, and the relationship between the humans and birds’ parallel stories. HEALING has a lot to tell us about dealing with the past, fractured relationships, power and control, freedom and the fear of freedom, and the vulnerability of those in our society whose wings have been damaged by their circumstances. There are a number of standout performances from the lead actors. The soundtrack is beautiful and liberating. The running time is a little longer than it needs to be and is my only criticism. But that is insignificant when placed beside all that is good about this movie. HEALING needs to be seen on the big screen for the full effect of it's soaring cinematography. Highly recommended.

overall=**** ; acting=***1/2 ; story=****1/2 ; humour=***1/2 ; soundtrack=**** ; cinematography=****1/2 ; directing=***1/2

Friday, 9 May 2014

NEW RELEASE DVD RECOMMENDATION

Rush to the video store (or rent on your online provider) the wonderful SAVING MR BANKS this weekend!

Author P.L. Travers reflects on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen.

A very moving story of the struggle between Walt Disney and the author of Mary Poppins (Mrs P L Travers) to bring the story to the big screen. Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are excellent in their roles as are all supporting cast. The moving back and forward in time is very effective in revealing the basis of the conflict. And there is a powerful "speech" by Walt Disney about the power of story telling in society. It's an excellent, very satisfying story that is engaging and well-paced - maybe just a touch too long. Don't miss this one!

Overall= ****, Acting= ****, Story= ****, Humor= ****, Soundtrack= ***

CHEF (movie)

A chef who loses his restaurant job starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family.

An average movie. If you like food (which I do) and locations in the US like Miami and New Orleans, you'll probably enjoy this one (although the food is mostly unhealthy in the last half of the movie!). Got a bit laborious in the middle. Some good supporting roles from Dustin Hoffmann, Scarlett Johansson and Emjay Anthony. Good family movie. Wait for the DVD.

overall=*** ; acting=*** ; story=*** ; humour=*** ; soundtrack=*** ; cinematography= *** ; directing= **1/2

DAILY RITUALS (book)

Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to WorkDaily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work by Mason Currey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

More of a book to dip into rather than read through from cover to cover. Some interesting information about how famous people structured their daily lives to get things done. The author has done an amazing amount of research!

View all my reviews

Thursday, 8 May 2014

THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

Ready for some new cinema releases? A couple to check out...

MY TOP PICKS TO SEE
My top pick to see this week is THE DOUBLE which tells the story of a clerk in a government agency who finds his unenviable life taking a turn for the horrific with the arrival of a new co-worker who is both his exact physical double and his opposite - confident, charismatic and seductive with women. Looks interesting.

OTHERS TO SEE
I didn't think this was much of this movie - but a lot of people, including critics, don't mind BAD NEIGHBOURS (just NEIGHBORS in the US). A couple with a newborn baby face unexpected difficulties after they are forced to live next to a fraternity house. **1/2 for me.

If you like food and just some good fun check out CHEF (which I will review shortly). A chef who loses his restaurant job starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family.

BELLE is not getting the high average scores I thought it would. An illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle.

MAYBE MAYBE NOT
Don’t have much information about HEALING about - at the tail end of a 16-year sentence, an inmate is sent to a low-security, pre-release prison with a special program that pairs men with injured game birds. I'll let you know more if I see it.

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

I AM PILGRIM (book)

I Am PilgrimI Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this book! It has a complex plot with interesting characters. It twists and turns in unexpected directions. And the central crime is very scary - I hope it doesn't give any extremists any ideas! It's a long read at around 700 pages but moved along at a good pace. The main protagonist was complex and flawed along with his extraordinary experience and skills. I'll be watching out for any further books from Terry Hayes.

View all my reviews

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (movie)

At the height of his career, Charles Dickens meets a younger woman who becomes his secret lover until his death.

This period drama was terribly boring. Lush sets, beautiful costumes, stunning countryside just isn't enough for a story (based on fact) of Dickens's secret lover. The script was completely flat, the acting unconvincing (although Felicity Jones as Nelly and Susanna Hislop as Dickens's wife were better). One reviewer has suggested that Ralph Fiennes (director and Dickens) was essentially trapped in what he thought a period movie should look like. I tend to agree. We don't get a real and rich sense of Nelly, Dickens's wife, while on screen, is good but isn't developed enough. The whole thing is in good taste but, nice to look at, but completely superficial. Give it a miss.

overall=**1/2 ; acting=*** ; story=**1/2 ; soundtrack=*** ; cinematography=***1/2 ; directing=**1/2

FADING GIGOLO (movie)

Fioravante decides to become a professional Don Juan as a way of making money to help his cash-strapped friend, Murray. With Murray acting as his "manager", the duo quickly finds themselves caught up in the crosscurrents of love and money.

An average movie despite the presence of Woody Allen in a leading role. I'd categorise this as a charming romance with a risqué edge given the essential premise revolving around top shelf male prostitution - which is what it is! Some of the dialogue was quite witty but there's not much substance to the whole thing. Interesting seeing Sharon Stone reprising her Basic Instinct parting of the legs (you'll know what I mean if you're old enough!). The presentation of sexuality in the movie is refreshing - no guilt, no embarrassment, just celebrating human need for intimacy. FADING GIGOLO in cinemas now but would be fine to watch on the small screen when it's released.

overall=*** ; acting=*** ; story=*** ; humour=*** ; directing= ***

Monday, 5 May 2014

52 TUESDAYS (movie)

16 year old Billie's reluctant path to independence is accelerated when her mother reveals plans to gender transition and their time together becomes limited to Tuesday afternoons.

A remarkable film that explores some very significant issues about sexual identity, parent-child relationships, coming of age, friendship, and the power of love. Tilda Cobham-Hervey, who plays Billie, is stunning in her first role as is all the cast. The story, which was actually filmed on 52 Tuesdays over one year, is told with that structure. Each Tuesday is introduced by brief clips of significant world events on that day and then we see how the characters (mostly Billie's) develop over the year and the way in which they meet their emotional challenges brought about by Billie's mother's decision to transition from male to female. It's a moving, profound portrait that avoids sensationalism. It's already beginning to attract awards including winning the Directing Award at Sundance; and winner of the Reader Jury of the "Siegessäule" and the Crystal Bear for the best film in the Generation 14plus category at the Berlin Film Festival this year. Keep an eye out for this one. It's going to go places so make sure you catch it if you can. And it's made right here in South Australia! A great achievement.

overall=**** ; acting=****1/2 ; story=*** ; cinematography= ***1/2; directing=****

Saturday, 3 May 2014

NEIGHBORS (AUS: BAD NEIGHBOURS)

A couple with a newborn baby face unexpected difficulties after they are forced to live next to a fraternity house.

There are some good observations about new parents and issues living next to difficult neighbours but, like so much of Seth Rogen's material, it is unnecessarily crude. Rose Byrne just doesn't seem authentic in this comedy turn although she probably does the best she can with the script. There are some very funny, very clever moments but one has to wade through a lot of college level humour to find it. It's uneven and chaotic (appropriately so at times) and doesn't hit the mark for me.

overall=**1/2 ; acting=*** ; story=*** ; humour=**1/2 ; action=***1/2 ; directing=***

Friday, 2 May 2014

NEW RELEASE DVD RECOMMENDATION - FROZEN

A movie I really enjoyed recently and which has been released on DVD this week is FROZEN.

Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna's sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.

A very good message about the power of love to thaw frozen hearts. In the style of the great Disney classics - great animation, enjoyable songs and music, great humour and a wonderful reindeer who steals the scenes he's in. thoroughly enjoyable and heart warming. One for the whole family.

Overall= ****, Story= ****, Humor= ****, Soundtrack= ***, Action= ****, Special Effects= ****, 3D Quality= ****.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

A smorgasbord of movies opening in cinemas this week!

MY TOP PICKS TO SEE

If you are into documentaries then top of the list this week goes to BEYOND THE EDGE which tells the story of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary's monumental and historical ascent of Mt. Everest in 1953 - an event that stunned the world and defined a nation.

As far as drama goes, 52 TUESDAYS looks fascinating. 16 year old Billie's reluctant path to independence is accelerated when her mother reveals plans to gender transition and their time together becomes limited to Tuesday afternoons. Apparently the movie was actually filmed on 52 Tuesdays throughout one year. I'll definitely be catching up on this one!

OTHERS TO SEE

The provocative YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL (JEUNE & JOLIE) finally arrives on our screens. After losing her virginity, Isabelle takes up a secret life as a call girl, meeting her clients for hotel-room trysts. Throughout, she remains curiously aloof, showing little interest in the encounters themselves or the money she makes.
The Dissolve's Scott Tobias: 'Ozon tosses an abundance of twisted psychology into the stew, but he leaves the audience to sort it out for themselves. Young & Beautiful has the detached air of other Ozon productions, and Vacth gives so little away as Isabelle that she's eternally an unsolved problem.'

MAYBE MAYBE NOT

For the action/crime/drama aficionados we have SABOTAGE in which  members of an elite DEA task force find themselves being taken down one by one after they rob a drug cartel safe house. Critics rate it low on average but general public think it's average.
ReelViews' James Berardinelli: 'For most of its running length, Sabotage is a gritty, compelling motion picture with twists to make a pretzel envious.'

FADING GIGOLO looked like it had potential from the trailers. Starring John Turturro (directs and stars), Woody Allen, Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct) and Sofía Vergara (Modern Family) it should be up there with the best. The story? Fioravante decides to become a professional Don Juan as a way of making money to help his cash-strapped friend, Murray. With Murray acting as his "manager", the duo quickly finds themselves caught up in the crosscurrents of love and money. Looks like it might be average.
RogerEbert.com: 'As an actor, John Turturro is a stalwart, alert, engaging character player. As a writer/director, he's one of the quirkiest, hit-and-miss narrative moviemakers around.'

TO AVOID

A couple to avoid... 12-12-12 is a mix of live performances and behind-the-scenes footage from the televised benefit concert to raise relief funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Averaging low scores from critics and public.
Variety's Andrew Barker: 'An impressive yet drama-less concoction that can't totally disguise its slightly stale aftertaste.'

And... SNEEZING BABY PANDA - THE MOVIE. A mockumentary that follows an Australian zoologist's quest to save her struggling zoo. Really?

That's it for this week. Enjoy the movies!