Archive for January, 2010

Up (2009)

Posted in 2009, Animated, Comedy, Disney, Kids/Family, Reviews with tags , , , , on January 24, 2010 by filmglutton

Up is Disney/Pixar’s latest animated feature, and it sure does live up to the Pixar name. It tells the the story of grumpy old Carl Fredrickson (Edward Asner). As a young boy he used to dream of great adventures, and found a soul-mate, Ellie, who shared similar dreams. The years pass and life gets in the way; before he knows it, Ellie is gone and Carl is an old man. The neighbourhood has completely changed. Carl is being forced to move into a retirement home, but he decides to embark on one last adventure, fixing thousands of balloons to his house so it can float away in the direction of Paradise Falls, South America. His plan unravels when he discovers Russell, a young Wilderness Explorer has stowed away on the front porch. From here Up becomes one great adventure as Carl and Russell battle storms, deflating balloons, evil dogs and a certain explorer named Charles F. Muntz (Christopher Plummer).

Up might seem like a bit of a hard sell, particularly since the main character is an elderly man, but this is a genuine crowd pleaser. All of the characters are really great; Carl is amusingly grumpy, Russell is awkwardly funny, the bird is hilarious, and Dug the dog will just melt your heart – he gets some of the sweetest and funniest lines. I don’t want to spoil any of the jokes, but the joke with the evil dog nearly killed me. The animation is no less than perfection, but what else would we expect from Pixar?

I had already read a lot about the opening few scenes so I wasn’t surprised by them but I was still touched.Some have argued that Up is Pixar’s funniest film, and I can see why. I laughed pretty much all the way through this, and I feel that this is more of a ‘gag’ film (in a good way) than some of their other films. It also has a really heartfelt tender side, I shed a few tears at the start and the end. Both adults and kids can enjoy it and will get a lot out of it.

We can’t help wanting to compare Pixar films…where should Up go? Well, Toy Story 2 is still my favourite. I feel like all the films from Toy Story through to The Incredible really form the canon, but things start to get a bit different with Cars and Ratatouille. I can’t really explain why they seem different, maybe it’s different directors or something. They are still great but have a different style (and Cars is definitely a bit of a low point).

This is another fantastic film from Pixar, one for the whole family. Be prepared to laugh.

My rating:

Shine (1996)

Posted in 1996, Australian, Based on True Events, Drama, Reviews with tags , , , , , on January 23, 2010 by filmglutton

Shine is based on the life of Australian pianist David Helfgott. Gifted from a young age, David showed exception prowess in chess and piano. His main obstacle and encouragement in life is his father (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Peter Helfgott (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a survivor of the Holocaust, is a man that cares deeply about his family but doesn’t know how to relate to any of them. He never shows David or his sisters any love. He is furious when David comes home with second prize at a piano competition. He even beats David. It’s almost like Peter loves him too much, and every time David disappoints him he becomes irrationally angry. When David is offered a scholarship to study piano in America, Peter goes nuts, screaming that he is the head of the family and that they won’t be separated. What a terrible disappointment to poor David. This emotional and physical abuse in David’s childhood is central to his later life.

The film opens with middle-aged David (Geoffrey Rush) running around in the middle of the night, his talking frenzied and incoherent. He is gripped by schizophrenia, and as the film moves through his earlier life, it is extremely painful for the audience to watch this develop. We don’t want it to happen but there’s nothing we can do to stop it. When David starts taking piano lessons (he previously learnt from his father), Peter insists that he learn Rachmaninoff’s 3rd, an extremely difficult piece technically and emotionally. Each teacher refuses to teach him that song; David eventually learns it at college, but the sheer emotional demands of the piece threaten to unravel his fragile psyche. Music, and his father’s advice, nearly destroys him. We see him at three stages in life, from his childhood to his adolescence and young adulthood (Noah Taylor) and finally in later life (Geoffrey Rush). Lynn Redgrave has a small but important role later in the film.

There are some truly fine performances in this film. Geoffrey Rush won the Oscar for his role, but I think Noah Taylor and Armin Mueller-Stahl are both fantastic as well. The music is almost a character in itself. It is incredibly beautiful and skilfully used throughout, never being too much. Music is David’s life-force and a driving force in the narrative. The music in the film was played by David Helfgott himself, while Geoffrey Rush acted as his own hand double. While music is extremely important in the film, the film focuses on the relationship between father and son and how that affects David as an individual. There is one scene about 3/4 of the way into the film between older David and his father that is so just incredibly moving, it brought me to tears. It’s a bitter reminder of so many wasted years, wasted time. Boy, that was strong writing and strong performances. You will know it when you see it.

Much of the criticism aimed at Shine has focused on the blurring of fact with fiction, or about how David Helfgott is not a great pianist. It’s even more contentious because David Helfgott is still alive and still touring. I’ve chosen to judge the film as it is, not on outside debate.

Oh my goodness, this was a great film. I rarely hear Shine mentioned whenever the ‘Australia’s best films’ debate crops up, and I have absolutely no idea why. This is an Australian film that has a really wide appeal and can resonate with anyone. It has universal themes of family and love and growing old and regret. Why can’t we make more films like this instead of the crap we see in the cinemas now? I can’t believe it took me so long to see this, very fine direction from Scott Hicks.

Absolutely loved this. Watch it now.

My rating:

(just as a side-note, it was very difficult to find pictures for this review, so I kind of gave up…)

Addams Family Values (1993)

Posted in 1993, Comedy, Kids/Family with tags , , , , , , , on January 15, 2010 by filmglutton

Addams Family Values, sequel to The Addams Family (1991),  is about our favourite creepy, kooky and spooky family. Morticia (Anjelica Huston) and Gomez (Raul Julia) welcome a new baby, Pubert, to the family. Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsly (Jimmy Workman) feel immediately theatened and make numerous attempts to kill the baby. Morticia hires a nanny, Debbie (Joan Cusack), to look after the children, unaware that Debbie is actually a famed serial killer who marries rich men then kills them to inherit their fortune. Debbie ensures that Wednesday and Pugsley are sent to summer camp (where they befriend nerdy Joel, played by David Krumholtz) as she turns her attentions to Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd). The whole family must try to save Uncle Fester from Debbie before it’s too late!

In some ways this is your typical kids film, but it has some really nice elements that adults will appreciate. The production design is really great, very gothic. It has  really top cast and they are all really good in their roles, they look like they are having a lot of fun, especially Joan Cusack, she is just crazy! Anjelica Houston gets some brilliant lines – she got a Golden Globe nomination for this role. There is a real black, dry humour to this film. Example: Gomez says to Uncle Fester “One day you’ll find someone. Someone who won’t press charges”; or Debbie says of Gomez “Isn’t he a ladykiller”, to which he replies “acquitted!”. All of those witty lines will go over children’s heads, but adults will enjoy them. I guarantee you will laugh, the whole thing is just ridiculous. It only slips into that slapstick children’s-film-mode a couple of times, such as when the baby slides down the banister, flies into the air etc. It’s a shame they did that, because those moments aren’t particularly funny and adults will roll their eyes. Or maybe I am just being too miserly, I’ll shut up about that.

This actually has a lot of well-known actors in it, even down to the two camp counsellors (played by Peter MacNicol of Sophie’s Choice and Christine Baranski of Mamma Mia!), who have smallish roles. An interesting piece of trivia is that Peter MacNicol and David Krumholtz now work together on the TV show Numbers. Christina Ricci steals the show as Wednesday…such a delightfully morbid child! Sending them to summer camp was a great idea, there are plenty of good gags there because they are so completely opposite to the happy blonde children running around the camp.

Not really anything else to say about this one, it’s a really entertaining film. If they had removed some of the sillier elements and replaced them with more black humour this could have been a cult classic (although perhaps it already is?) I haven’t seen the first film in about 10 years, but the sequel holds up quite well on its own. In fact, from what I remember, it’s better.

My Rating:

Braveheart (1995)

Posted in 1995, Action, Based on True Events, Best Film Oscar, Blockbuster, Drama, Epic, Period Film, Romance, War with tags , , on January 15, 2010 by filmglutton

Braveheart, winner of the Best Picture Oscar, tells the story of William Wallace, the legendary hero who fought for Scottish independence in the late 1200s. This film has Mel Gibson in the lead role, a rugged and brave man with a keen intellect and sense of humour. Oh, just so charming. Anyway, as a young boy William has to cope with the death of his father and older brother, killed in a resistance battle. He goes away to live with his uncle, and when he returns he is intent on marrying and making a life for himself on a farm. He wants nothing to do with the violence that took his family away from him. He marries his childhood friend, Murron, in secret, but a tragic event causes him to retaliate against the English, and from here it escalates into full-blown battles led by Wallace and his loyal men.

It’s really strange to think back to the days when Mel Gibson sat on top of the movie making world. Think about it: this was an ACTOR who won best DIRECTOR for the film that won BEST PICTURE. It sounds like something from a screenplay. I do find it hard to believe he directed this, because I always think of him as an actor, but with Braveheart he proved that not only could he direct, but that he was very, very good. Because this is an extremely good film. The cinematography is beautiful, James Horner’s score is fitting, and the direction really is commendable. The battle sequences are amazing, it convincingly looks like there are thousands of men onscreen.

Besides William himself, other characters include love-of-his-life Murron (Catherine McCormack), best friend Hamish (Brendan Gleeson), evil Edward I (Longshanks) of England (Patrick McGoohan), insipid Edward II (Peter Hanley), his French wife Princess Isabelle (Sophie Marceau), and claimant to the Scottish throne Robert Bruce (Angus Macfayden). The actors are all fine, but this is really Mel’s film.

The battle scenes are violent and brutal. Perhaps not as gory as some more recent films, but they certainly have a raw brutality; and do be warned, we do see throats slashed and heads crushed. But Gibson does not dwell on these moments, so anyone who is a bit squeamish (like myself) will be fine!

The film has been criticised for its historical inaccuracies, corny one-liners, obligatory romance, for depicting only one side of the story, for supposedly being homophobic, and Gibson himself has been criticised for being too old (well, yes, especially when they want us to believe that Murron and William are almost the same age – yeah right!)  BUT Braveheart is not pretending to be a true historic account, it is presenting a myth. It is a piece of entertainment, a story of great breadth and excitement.

Braveheart is purely entertainment, a cinematic epic. And if you choose to look at it in this way, instead of an historical travesty, it joins the ranks as one of the great epic war films.
My Rating: 

Bright Star (2009)

Posted in 2009, Australian, Based on True Events, Drama, Period Film, Romance with tags , , , , on January 10, 2010 by filmglutton

Bright Star is about the last three years of John Keats’ life and his relationship with Fanny Brawne, the girl next door. Fanny is a strong-willed young woman with a skill for sewing, and she finds beauty in John’s poetry and personality. As the fall in love, however, we see that his health grows weaker, making for a sparkling yet doomed romance.

Bright Star has been hailed as Jane Campion’s best film since The Piano. I haven’t seen any of Jane Campion’s films other than The Piano, so I can’t really comment on that, but I will say that I think The Piano is the superior film.I think my problem with Bright Star was that it had very little plot. This is not a terrible thing, but it meant that the film felt quite, well, slow at times. I was still very engaged with the characters, but since you will probably know the outcome of the story (as spoiled by every review you read) there are no surprises in this film, nothing to keep you hanging on. And while I think the two leads had good chemistry, there is actually quite a lack of sexual tension (which was so prevalent in The Piano and is something which really draws the viewer in).

Abbie Cornish is really lovely as Fanny, she’s not a character you’ve seen 50 times before in period dramas. She has her own ideas but she’s not as headstrong as an Elizabeth Bennet or Jo March. She is a fantastic seamstress, creating a range of interesting fashions that are looked down upon by stuffy neighbours. Abbie Cornish gives her life and intelligence, I really like some of her work (although Fanny is supposed to be 18 and Cornish is clearly much older). Ben Whishaw as John Keats is suitably poetic and vulnerable…I don’t know much about Keats, so I can’t comment about his characterisation. Paul Schenider as Keat’s friend and fellow poet Brown is suitably irritating, I think he played this role really well (and probably had good fun with it!). Pretty good performance from this American actor in Scottish accent. The other roles are quite small; Edie Martin puts in a natural performance as Fanny’s younger sister Toots. And just excuse the animal lover in me for one second while I say I loved the cat. Cats in films = win.

The cinematography in this film is simply stunning. The locations are beautiful, and there are some shots that film fans will just drink in. At times one could get sick of that dreamy, overexposed look but it is just beautiful. Even if you aren’t interested in the film the cinematography is definitely worth the admission, beautiful photography. Also worth mentioning is the art design. The sets are good, but I really loved some of the costumes.

I want to see more from Jane Campion, I wish some directors wouldn’t take so long to bring out their next project. Bright Star is a lovely film with good performances. I think some people will abolutely love this, and most others will appreciate the talent displayed here.  Keats fans may particularly like it, but it is less about him than about Fanny and their relationship.

Worth watching.

My Rating:

The Lovely Bones (2009)

Posted in 2009, Drama, Reviews, Teen, Thriller with tags , , , , , , on January 10, 2010 by filmglutton

I have been eagerly anticipating The Lovely Bones for a couple of years, ever since I first read that Peter Jackson would be adapting it. This is partly because I read and enjoyed the book, but also because I am a great fan of Peter’s and I’m always interested to see what he does next. I’d read some mixed reviews so I went into this with mixed expectations.

The Lovely Bones is the story of Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a 14-year-old girl who is murdered by a neighbour. It’s the 1970s and things like that are almost unheard of, particularly in pleasant suburbia where Susie’s family lives. The film deals with her death and her subsequent afterlife as she watches her family, unable to move on from the ‘in-between’ (the place between heaven and Earth) whilst her family is emotionally tormented and her killer still at large.

Alice Sebold’s book has been extremely popular, probably mainly with teenagers. It might seem a strange choice for Jackson to adapt this novel, but I guess it spoke to him in a certain way.

There are some sequences in The Lovely Bones that are so beautiful, so perfectly put together that it’s a shame the whole thing isn’t so finely tuned. This is a film that could have been incredible, but it falls short. I actually like the changes made to the novel. I like that the ending has changed, I liked that Jackson did not show Susie’s brutal rape and murder, instead adopting a more elusive approach. But the material isn’t taken far enough. Reviews have been mixed and you will probably leave the theatre with quite mixed feelings. I know I did.

All of the actors are  very good, if somewhat underused. For all the negative anticipation surrounding Mark Wahlberg, he is actually believable empathetic here as a grieving father. Rachel Weisz has one of the smallest parts as Susie’s mother, but she does well with what she has. Susan Saranon provides comic relief for the audience, emotional support for the family. Rose McIver is good as Susie’s younger sister Lindsay (even though Rose is actually 6 years older than Saoirse), who takes it upon herself to find Susie’s killer. Saoirse Ronan is as good as you would expect from a young Oscar nominee, but the real standout here is Stanley Tucci. I know it can be really cliched for an actor to get accolades for such an extreme role, but he really does bring this real edge to Mr Harvey. A lot of people have made comments about his supposely stereotypical paedophile moustache, but I don’t think he was cliched in this role. He gave me the creeps, especially since I’m so used to seeing him in likeable roles.

The most problematic thing about The Lovely Bones is the sequences of Susie in the in-between. Whenever the action moves to Susie we want it to move back to the family, we want the story to move on., because there is no real storyline involving Susie. She just watches, wanting her killer to be caught and for her family to be ok. Although there are some moments with Susie (when she connects with her family) that work really well, most have a really lame Ghost (the Demi Moore film) feel to them, right down to the breathy voice uttering wise words. And even though the ending is far better than that of the novel, it’s still not satisfying, and may have a few audience members rolling their eyes. The Lovely Bones is so grounded in reality that these fantasy sequences don’t fit in.

But there is a lot to like about this film. Suspense is built really well (even though we know who the murderer is) and, as I said, some sequences are close to perfection. I loved the music, and I actually liked the design of the film (which some have derisively likened to a 70s record cover)I would love to see Peter do just one film without any fantasy sequence. I know he loves and specialises in special effects, but I think he could make a really terrific film without special effects.

As it is, this one falls a bit flat, but it still has a lot to offer.

My rating:

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Posted in 2009, Animated, Comedy, Disney, Kids/Family, Reviews, Romance with tags , , , on January 10, 2010 by filmglutton

This is Disney’s first 2D animated film since Home on the Range in 2004, and the 49th in the canon list of Disney theatrically released animated motion pictures.

The film opens with Tianna (Anika Noni Rose), our herione, as a young girl listening to her mother read The Frog Prince. The contrast between Tianna’s modest home and the grand mansion of her friend, Charlotte La Bouff (Jennifer Cody), is stark, but Tianna’s home is happy. She has inherited her father’s gift for cooking, and one day she hopes to open her own restaurant.

Tianna grows into a beautiful, hard-working young woman. Her father went to war and never came back, making Tianna even more determined to fulfill her restaurant dream. Friends and social life take a back-seat to several jobs. Charlotte, meanwhile, is the belle of every ball, and she is sent into a frenzy when she discovers that Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) of Maldonia will be arriving in New Orleans. All she has ever wanted is to be a princess – here is her chance! Prince Naveen arrives (with manservant Lawrence (Peter Batlett) in tow), a slick ladies-man who loves to have a good time.

Things go awry, however, when Prince Naveen is transformed into a frog by Dr Facilier (Keith David), a voodoo doctor. Naveen hops into Tianna’s room on the night of the ball and says if she kisses him he will be transformed and he will give her the money she needs to open her restaurant. The kiss, however, results in Tianna being transformed into a frog also. From here they must travel through the swamps and beyond to return to their human forms before it is too late, meeting an array of quirky characters along the way…

Well, I really enjoyed this film. The characters are really great (Roy the Firefly and Louis the Alligator are real scene-stealers), and it’s so good to have a Disney female character that works hard for what she wants, relying on her own abilities while still having faith in a little bit of luck and magic! There has been a lot of fuss about Tianna being the first black Disney Princess, but Disney wisely avoids race discussion in the storyline. The screenplay has the typical mix of sadness, humour, ridiculous situations, romance, finding ones-self etc. The jokes are light and witty, and many gags in this should draw a good laugh (particularly one flashback scene involving an alligator, a boat, and a trumpet). The songs are quite good but I prefer Alan Menken (most probably biased, though!)

I must be getting old, because my main criticism of the story is that Tianna and Naveen fall in love waaaaaay too quickly. Naveen doesn’t really have any particularly redeeming qualities, and most of the time he actually borders on being sleazy. Their relationship is not convincing, especially when Tianna is such a smart, hard-working girl…why would she fall for a ladies-man like Naveen? Yes, maybe they could change each other over time then fall in love, but over a couple of days? No chance.

Now I’m just getting picky. Go watch this and enjoy it. Young girls will absolutely love it, and young boys will probably like it too (even though they won’t admit it). This film is not a classic like Beauty and the Beast or The Little Memaid but it is more than worthy of joining the long list of Disney animated films.Yes, they fall in love too quickly, but just appreciate the film for what it is: a highly entertaining and charming family film that marks a solid 2D animation return for Disney. I can only hope this is a good sign for things to come, will definitely be going to see Rapunzel when it is released late this year.

My Rating: