Archive for the 2009 Category

Nowhere Boy – 2009

Posted in 2009, Based on True Events, Drama with tags , , , , , on December 12, 2010 by filmglutton

Nowhere Boy is a film about the early years of John Lennon. Lennon (Aaron Johnson) is a restless teen who lives with his Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott Thomas). This is not so much a film about the beginnings of the Beatles, but Lennon’s estrangement from his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) and his attempts to re-connect with her. His mother teaches him a few chords on the banjo and John is suddenly hooked on music, learning to play the guitar and forming his own band, The Quarrymen. A young Paul McCartney sees them play and joins the band, later bringing his friend George Harrison into the fold. But at the core of this is Lennon’s relationship with the two women in his life: his mother and his aunt.

If you’re expecting to hear any Beatles music in this, you’ll be disappointed. The unmistakeable opening chord from A Hard Day’s Night rings out as the film opens, but we aren’t treated to any more Beatles music. There is plenty of rock n roll, though, with young Lennon being inspired by Elvis.

The performances are quite good in this, with a particularly superb performance from Kristen Scott Thomas. But really, would expect anything less from her? Aaron Johnson is fine, but perhaps not the ideal actor for this part – he seems to lack the intensity or something. Anne-Marie Duff is very good as Lennon’s mother, and I think Thomas Brodie Sangster makes a very sweet Paul McCartney.

This is not a major movie. There are moments where it falters, both in the screenplay and in the direction. The climatic moment of the movie is handled quite strangely and doesn’t affect you as it should. It’s a well-made film but there’s nothing particularly outstanding or interesting about it. If you’re a Beatles fan you’ll get a kick out of it, and it’s worth catching if you get the chance…but I wouldn’t buy it on DVD!

My rating:

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Nine (2009)

Posted in 2009, Drama, Musical, Period Film, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2010 by filmglutton

Based on the Broadway musical which was based on Fellini’s 8 1/2, Nine is the story of Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), a big-time movie director struggling with ideas for his next film. He is only 10 days away from starting shooting, yet still he has no script. He desperately searches for answers as he remembers the many women of his life.

I’d heard quite bad reviews for this one but I generally like Rob Marshall’s work, so I went into this with mixed expectations.

Nine is nowhere near as good as Marshall’s previous musical Chicago, but this is mainly because Nine is not a great musical. I felt that when I saw it on stage and I felt it when I saw if on screen. This is as handsome a production as we have come to expect from Marshall, but Nine has a distinct lack of truly great songs. The only showstopper is Be Italian, which is sung by Fergie, who has the smallest role of all the women. So you won’t leave the cinema singing any songs other than that one, unlike so many great musicals.

So, the acting. Daniel Day-Lewis is as convincing as ever, although I don’t think this is a particularly difficult role for him. It doesn’t really require a lot of depth in the performance. Other roles that leave the actors with very little to do include Sohpia Lauren as his mother, Kate Hudson as an American journalist, Nicole Kidman as his muse, and the aforementioned Fergie. Judi Dench has a slightly larger role but again is not required to do anything too difficult.  Penelope Cruz is good as the emotionally fragile mistress, while Marion Cotillard steals the show (in my opinion) as the long-suffering wife. She has a really nice voice, too, and her character has the most depth and humanity of any of the others.

The musical numbers are beautifully choreographed. Marshall was once a choreographer so the musical scenes are always impressive. All of these numbers are enjoyable but ultimately forgettable if not for the dancing and the visual style. I thought it was very well edited, and the cinematography by Dion Beebe (who also collaborated with Marshall on Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha) is as interesting and beautiful as we have come to expect from him. He is a truly great DP.

Other than the lack of great songs, the main problem with Nine is that the story just seems to drift by us. It’s a reasonably interesting storyline but also a bit underwhelming. This is probably why this movie has been getting negative reviews, because it leaves no real impact on the audience. I noted that Marion Cotillard provided some of the only emotional interest in Public Enemies, and I think it’s true here too.

This is not a great film by any means, but definitely worth checking out if it comes on TV or you can see it cheap on DVD.

My Rating:

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:

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:

Avatar (2009)

Posted in 2009, Action, Blockbuster, Drama, Romance with tags , , , , , , , on December 21, 2009 by filmglutton

Yesterday I saw James Cameron’s long-awaited blockbuster Avatar.

The year is 2154 and a human corporation is living on Pandora, a far-off moon in a far-off galaxy that has a precious mineral called unobtainium that the corporation wants to mine and sell at a huge profit. The only problem is that Pandora is home to a native species of humanoids called the Na’vi. The story starts in a blur or story set-up as we meet our protaganist Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-marine. Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) leads a team of scientists and researchers on the Avatar Program, which involves blending human and Na’vi DNA to create an Avatar that resembles a Na’vi. The development of these Avatars is extremely expensive. Jake’s twin brother was a scientist in the program but he died so Jake, who shares Tommy’s DNA, takes his place in the Program, and is esctatic about being able to walk and run in the body of his Avatar. Jake inflitrates the world of the Na’vi, where he learns about their ways and reports back to both Grace and the sinister Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who wants to destroy the Na’vi to get to the unobtanium (which is deposited in the ground below the Na’vi hometree, the centre of their literal and spiritual life). As Jake begins to learn and love the ways of the Na’vi, and develops a relationship with a female Na’vi warioress named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), he is at odds with the goals of the corporation and must fight to do what he thinks is right.

Phew, seems complicated (I do hate writing synopses)! There has been so much hype surrounding this film, and a lot of pressure, not unlike that of his last project, a little film called Titanic. Much of the hype has been about the CGI and the amazing new 3D techniques. I saw Avatar at a cinema that was not equipped for 3D films, and it really did not matter at all. The film stands without the 3D, but I am keen to see it in 3D now…although, a friend of mine did see it at Imax and she was annoyed a) because it didn’t fill the Imax screen and b) because it made her feel a bit motion sick, so perhaps that’s something to consider. As for the CGI, it’s certainly very elaborate. We see some of the characters as both humans and Na’vi, such as Jake and Grace (can I just say, there was something a little creepy about Sigourney Weaver’s Avatar, maybe it looked a little too much like her!!), while some of the Na’vi are never seen in a human form (such as Zoe Saldana). Their work is projected in an entirely CGI form. Motion capture has made them so human yet so different – the detail on their faces is amazing, it’s incredible technology that’s getting closer and closer to photoreal but it does still have that CGI ‘look’. Not that motion capture is anything new, but I don’t know if it’s ever been done quite to the extent of this. While CGI can get a bit overwhelming at times (and I will say that even without 3D the image can make your eyes go a bit funny), the CGI in this is amazing. It really brings this world and this story to life.

Which brings us to one of the strong points of the film, which is the story. Now, some will say that the story is the weak point, which in many ways it is. There are some corny things happening here, but overall the story is so incredibly immersive that you won’t care about the cliches. Avatar goes for about two-and-a-half hours but I hardly even noticed, I was engrossed. All of the actors were good, though some of the human characters could have been a bit more multi-dimensional.The film is technically amazing and should pick up some prizes at awards time!

Sure, there are plenty of things you could criticise about this film. Maybe you won’t like Sam Worthington’s America accent, or the voiceover, or the not-so-hidden references to imperialism, colonialism and environmentalism. Maybe you will roll your eyes at some of the corny one-liners, or that there is a love story amidst the action. Maybe you will hate the CGI world, hate the over-the-top spirituality of the Na’vi that’s a weird blend of Native American and African, and find the whole thing either to sentimental or too stupid. But I didn’t really think of any negatives until I left the cinema, because this is such an accomplished, impressive film that draws you in and delivers on its promises. Actually, I lie, there was one thing that really bugged me…a damn pop song coming in over the closing credits! Now, maybe James Cameron and James Horner (just as a side note, there are quite a few Titanic-esque moments in the score, you definitely know it’s James Horner again) are trying to recapture the success of My Heart Will Go On, but I just cringed, it was so out of place. Run from the cinema before it ruins the aura at the end!!

Forget the negatives, just enjoy this for the great piece of entertainment it is. I’m not going to talk any more about this, just go see it!

My rating: