Say yes to the undressed – Under the Skin review

Under the Skin

By Simon Miraudo
July 4, 2014

Sensory experiences such as Under the Skin defy mere words, which is going to make enthusiastically recommending it a tricky task indeed. The picture stars Scarlett Johansson as an extra-terrestrial who seduces Glaswegian men as a means of harvesting their organic material, for some alien mission we’re never made privy to. Giving that brief description to Jonathan Glazer‘s transfixing tone-poem makes it sound more plot-driven and accessible than it truly is. That description makes it sound like Species. And, er, this is no Species.

Under the Skin feels instead like a feature-length successor to Scotty’s nightmare from Vertigo. It helps that Mica Levi’s droning, snake-charming score pays tribute to Bernard Herrmann’s own. In that aforementioned Hitchcock sequence, James Stewart‘s Scotty, driven mad by an obsession over a beguiling beauty (who was maybe possessed by some otherworldly entity), imagines marching towards her in the darkness, eventually peering into an open grave and tumbling into an abyss.

Under the Skin

When Johansson’s unnamed alien leads suitors back to her place – a cavernous black hole – she strips down while they follow behind in kind, barely caring as they find themselves submerged in black goop while she continues to stroll forward. Johansson, following on from her hugely physical performance in Don Jon and solely vocal turn in Her, is superb here as the unfeasibly-womanly creature, inviting normies to accept certain oblivion. She’s such a convincing seductress, you can hardly blame them. When she later becomes shockingly sympathetic, you’ll be amazed at what earlier travesties you’ll forgive. Johansson has become an essential screen presence, in blockbusters and art cinema alike.

Under the Skin is an adaptation of Michael Faber’s book in the same way Chet Hanks is an adaptation of Tom Hanks: they share some material, but these are two totally different animals. Glazer, an accomplished music video director who learnt the power of repetition in his first flick Sexy Beast, treats us to a series of similar sequences; with the just-landed Johansson driving around Scotland in a white van, asking male bystanders for directions, and especially if they have any family or friends, before offering a lift. Many of these interactions were improvised and conducted with actual passers-by, captured by hidden cameras. I fear investigating any further and accidentally unravelling its tangle of reality and fantasy.

Under the Skin

Before long, she begins disobeying orders and attempts to live as any regular person might. However, her alien heart isn’t softened by seeing the goodness in her victims, nor does she suddenly come down with an inexplicable case of compassion, as usually happens in science fiction. (At one point, she in fact looks upon acts of self-sacrifice and bravery on a beach dispassionately, as if it was bacteria scattering under a microscope in unknowable ways). It’s instead imperfection, peculiarity, and deformity that intrigues her most, particularly after she picks up a young man with facial neurofibromatosis (Adam Pearson). In private, she inspects her nude body in a mirror, stretching awkwardly and watching the wrinkles form. Did her dossier on Earth not reveal just how self-conscious we humans can be? She may not suffer from original sin, or shame, yet she too learns how humbling it is to have to carry around these weird, freakish flesh bags called bodies.

Under the Skin will rankle some viewers. Okay, most. Not even the presence of A-lister Johansson, Glazer’s genuinely chilling horror-movie moments, puncturing the unbearable bubbles of tension, or Daniel Landin’s dazzling cinematography could make this go down smooth. Nonetheless, to those who think it nonsense – (cough) the guy behind me as I left its screening (cough) – you don’t have to gaze too deeply to find meaning in it all. Under the Skin is about an alien who becomes entranced by her feminine qualities and how powerful they can be, only to pay the price for being a woman in the world, leered at and lusted over, in increasingly dangerous scenarios. Stunning to behold, often impossible-seeming, hypnotic and profoundly affecting, Under the Skin achieves what some sci-fi films could only ever dream of: actually taking us to another universe entirely.

4.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Under the Skin plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival July 6 and 9, 2014. It’s also showing in select cinemas around Australia.

Photo sensitivity – Finding Vivian Maier review

Finding Vivian Maier

By Simon Miraudo
July 4, 2014

Separating the art from the artist – or the sandwich art from the sandwich artist – is sticky stuff. Maybe impossible. Inappropriate, even. But what if the art has separated itself from the artist; is lost and only found after the artist has abandoned their creative pursuits, and appreciated despite their creator’s true identity being nearly inscrutable? Does digging into their past – perhaps intentionally made obscure – give that art greater depth? Does it make the life of the late artist more valuable? Or does it besmirch something pure when the artist’s more unsavoury aspects come to light?

These are the questions faced by John Maloof. The Chicagoan purchased a $400 box of anonymous photos in the mid-2000s and found inside a treasure trove of incisive, indelible, American street photography from the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s; all, amazingly, captured in secret by a working nanny named Vivian Maier. In his documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, Maloof and co-director Charlie Siskel seek to give their enigmatic subject her due, uncovering further negatives (around 100,000) and amusing videos. Convincing us of her talent is easy. What’s significantly more difficult a task is piecing together the experiences that formed it; before she ultimately succumbed to the mental illness that always flirted just beneath the surface of her curious personality.

Finding Vivian Maier

Something like a cross between Stories We Tell, a patchwork quilt of a doco that pays tribute to director Sarah Polley‘s mother through blended home movies and re-enactments, and Frank, a fictional tale about a musician whose internal, emotional struggles colour (and are also cured by) his music, Finding Vivian Maier is an exquisite portrait of an almost-lost icon. The talking heads who attempt to characterise Vivian – many of them her former charges – can barely reach a consensus on what she liked to be called, how to spell her name, or if her vaguely-European accent was even real. And yet, her negative is slowly exposed, revealing fully the troubled, fiercely funny, sometimes abusive, and fiendishly talented photographer hiding behind her omnipresent Rolleiflex camera.

Though the film, at first, feels like a self-congratulatory attempt by Maloof to make his discovery (rather than Maier’s actual work) seem the triumphant achievement, it doesn’t take long for her powerful pictures to overshadow the very competent movie containing them (which does a fine job of contextualisation). The videos are even more valuable, at least in regards to giving us a glimpse at the woman shooting them, such as the moment in which she presses a female passer-by to give her thoughts on a hot button issue, saying, “women are supposed to be opinionated.” A professor recalls Vivian’s explanation for her fevered photo-taking (none ever submitted for publication): “I’m sort of a spy.” That she was. For decades, without anyone knowing, she etched several generations of Americans into eternity. Maloof and Siskel have made a very watchable flick, however their truly significant actsort of like Domhnall Gleeson in Frankis reintroducing the world to an important, nearly-forgotten figure. Artists in service of other artists. No separation necessary.

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Finding Vivian Maier plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival July 5, 8, 12 and 13.

Still burns – Endless Love review

Endless Love

By Glenn Dunks
July 4, 2014

If Hollywood insists upon remaking movies left and right, then it makes more sense for them to do it to the likes of Endless Love. The original, a button-pushing romance best remembered for its famous theme song, has been remade by Shana Feste in the sun-drenched style of a clothing commercial, but for a younger audience seeking out a serious exploration of teen sexuality, Endless Love will prove to be soporific and – most disappointing of all – sexually tepid and timid. Filled with inexplicable stupidity on behalf of nearly every character, this is a bland slice of generic pap.

Pretty, upper-class rich girl – and not to mention terminally boring – Jade (Gabriella Wilde) falls for the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, David (Alex Pettyfer), of whom her overbearing father (Bruce Greenwood) disapproves. As they spend their summer running joyfully through picturesque gardens and kissing in the back of a pick-up truck, David’s past comes back to haunt him and threaten their perfect relationship. There’s really little else to the story, which makes for a dragging 100 minutes, the only true benefit of which is the wonderful soundtrack that has assembled Tegan and Sara, Tanlines, Franz Ferdinand and a collection of other indie outfits.

Endless Love

Despite never convincing as either love-struck or teenagers (Pettyfer is 24, Wilde is 25), the two stars are hardly the worst element of Feste’s film. Unlike the similar problems with her last, Country Strong, Endless Love never turns its faults into anything entertaining. The screenplay by Feste and Joshua Safran from Scott Spencer’s novel is a turgid progression of clichés and idiocy lacking any sort of real world connection. The father in particular is a character of such unfathomable hatred that he very quickly descends into something akin to Richard Roxburgh’s moustache-twirling evil duke in Moulin Rouge!

Young audiences are used to being treated as idiots, but features like Endless Love only confirm the worst about this sorely underserved crowd. Missing the awkwardness, and messiness, of teenage love, this film lacks even the conviction of a Mills & Boon that made The Notebook such a winner.

1/5

Endless Love will be available from Quickflix on July 3, 2014.

‘Sherlock’ to return for Christmas special in 2015; Season 4 follows in 2016

Sherlock

Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman will play another.

BBC One’s Twitter account has made flesh the dreams of Tumblr’s collective hivemind: more episodes of Sherlock.

Creator Steven Moffat added in an official statement that Sherlock and Watson would first return with a Christmas special in December of 2015, to be followed by a fourth season, once again comprised of three episodes, in 2016.

Each season of Sherlock goes by criminally fast, so getting one extra movie-length mystery is a true bonus.

But with Cumberbatch and Freeman becoming increasingly busy – thanks, ironically, to the success of Sherlock - might this be their final go round?

At least we don’t have to confront that prospect for another year.

Channing Tatum and Steve Carell go for Oscar gold in ‘Foxcatcher’ teaser

Foxcatcher

The long-awaited Foxcatcher – a film I prematurely added to my Most Anticipated of 2012 list – is finally hitting cinemas this December. To tide over our ravenous anticipation, here’s another teaser trailer.

Steve Carell stars as schizophrenic billionaire John du Pont, a chemical heir who tried to train wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) ahead of the 1988 Olympics.

As the official synopsis puts it, “[John] lures Mark into dangerous habits, breaks his confidence and drives him into a self-destructive spiral.”

Do not take to Google if you wish to remain oblivious to the tragic events that unfolded; at least until Foxcatcher hits local cinemas this summer.

Mark Ruffalo also stars in the flick, as Schultz’s brother.

Originally slated to hit cinemas late in 2013, its release was delayed by a full year to give it a better shot at the Academy Awards.

It’s a move that just might pay off, as Foxcatcher was able to play In Competition at Cannes, where it was met rapturously. Bennett Miller even walked away with the Best Director prize.

Could Carell and Tatum also find themselves amongst the nominees? Bet on it.

Tina Fey to star in ‘Untitled Witch Comedy’ for Disney

tina fey

If your Nostalgia Sensor started flashing this morning, it was likely due to the internet becoming abuzz with news of Tina Fey developing a sequel to Hocus Pocus.

Her reps have since shot down that claim, but a source has clarified to The Wrap that the 30 Rock star is indeed working on a similar-sounding Disney movie, being developed under the name Untitled Witch Comedy.

Fey will star in and produce the flick, which she’ll begin working on afterThe Nest, in which she plays opposite Amy Poehler, and The Taliban Shuffle, based on the memoir of a journalist embedded in Afghanistan during the war.

Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, meanwhile, wait by their phones.

Bill Murray stars in ‘St. Vincent’ trailer, sadly, not about the singer

St Vincent

If only Bill Murray could have babysat us all.

In the trailer for Theodore Melfi’s St. Vincent, Murray stars as a grouchy, down-on-his-luck gentleman who takes a job babysitting his neighbour’s son.

Now, Melfi had us at “Murray stars,” but the additional promise of having him play opposite Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd and Naomi Watts is pretty appealing too.

The trailer suggests this might be more of a heartwarming dramedy in the mould of Little Miss Sunshine than an out-and-out comedy, or even one of Murray’s more melancholy, late-career efforts.

If that’s the case, then it just might be the kind of catnip the likes of the Academy will eat up, and perhaps earn the actor his long-desired Oscar.

It arrives in U.S. cinemas this October, but we’ll have to wait until Boxing Day to see it for ourselves.

‘Shrek’ screenwriters (happy) working on ‘Enchanted 2′ for Disney

Enchanted

Disney, finally listening to your Vision Boards, have set screenwriters to work on a sequel to Enchanted.

According to DeadlineShrek 2 scribes J. David Stem and David N. Weiss have begun penning the script for Enchanted 2.

The first Enchanted, released a long, long time ago (2007, specifically), saw Amy Adams play Giselle, a Disney princess who accidentally wandered into New York City.

Anne Fletcher will return as director, and, you can expect, much of the cast from the original will follow.

No release date has been set, and this is also the second time Disney has tasked writers to the script, but we are getting closer people. This is happening.

Jennifer Aniston seduces Jason Bateman, grossly, in Horrible Bosses 2 trailer

Aniston - Horrible Bosses 2

If you ever wanted to see Jennifer Aniston offer to be Jason Bateman’s waste receptacle, well, here is your chance!

The trailer for Horrible Bosses 2 sees would-be criminals Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day seeking advice from their former (failed) assassination targets (Aniston, Kevin Spacey) as well as murder consultant “Motherf***er” Jones (Jamie Foxx) for a brand new sting.

The target this time is the slimy Christoph Waltz and his son, Chris Pine. We don’t get to see them much in the trailer, which is probably for the best, because that is not a father-son pairing that looks like it shares much genetic material.

Horrible Bosses 2, directed by Sean Anders, arrives in cinemas December 11.

Flying high – Non-Stop review

Non Stop

By Richard Haridy
July 2, 2014

Non-Stop is another entry in Liam Neeson‘s late-career shift towards gruff, sombre action pictures. Teaming up again with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, after the surprisingly engaging Unknown, Neeson offers up a compelling turn in a film that is fast-paced and filled with satisfying twists.

The less said about the plot the better as the narrative reveals strategically placed throughout are a great part of the fun. All you need to know is that Liam Neeson plays a US Air Marshal who begins receiving odd phone messages while aboard a flight over the Atlantic. The messages threaten to kill a person on board the plane every 20 minutes until $150 million is paid into a special bank account.

Non Stop

Is the evil culprit on board too? Why have they chosen Neeson to be the catalyst? These are just two questions this clever screenplay toys with, as the feature plays like a locked-room whodunit mystery for much of its running time. Neeson is amusing as the increasingly paranoid protagonist and an impressive supporting cast featuring Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy and Lupita Nyong’o all elevate this B-grade material by treating it much more seriously than it deserves.

Non-Stop moves like the type of tight little thrillers that were popular in the 1990s but don’t really get made much anymore. Recalling everything from Under Siege to Air Force One and Nick Of Time, this is a dumb movie made by very smart craftspeople who know exactly how to pitch and pace exciting cinema. The final act is inevitably over the top and slightly anti-climactic, but any flick so fundamentally centered around its mysteries will always lose momentum as the reveals finally arrive. The filmmakers deeply understand this trap of the genre and the time between final reveal, climax and end credits is absurdly brisk.

For a good 80 minutes, Non-Stop delivers exactly what the title promises – an escalating series of exciting set-pieces with a great, mysterious backbone. This is top grade Hollywood entertainment.

4/5

Non-Stop will be available from Quickflix on July 3, 2014.

Dog on wheels – Belle and Sebastian review

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN

By Jess Lomas
July 2, 2014

In some ways, Belle & Sebastian feels like Lassie meets The Sound of Music; at other times, the absurdity of the plot conjures memories of Charlie the Wonder Dog (for fans of The Late Show’s ongoing sketch starring the late Bud Tingwell). It’s at once sweet and endearing before tumbling into a cheap family drama where good versus evil plays out in front of the picturesque French Alps. Despite that unevenness, there’s something magical about this feature that captures your imagination.

Based on the 1965 French television series (itself inspired by a novel), Belle & Sebastian, set in 1943, tells of an unlikely friendship between boy and mutt. Six-year-old Sebastian (Félix Bossuet) lives in a small mountain village with grandfather Cesar (Tchéky Karyo) and aunt Angelina (Margaux Chatelier). Sebastian’s mother is “living in America,” according to Cesar, who we soon discover is hiding the truth about her behind the bottle of brandy he consumes each day.

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN

As the Second World War plays out in the distance, German troops are stationed in the town to monitor and foil any illegal crossings of Jews from France into Switzerland. While they remain largely faceless throughout the film, Lieutenant Peter (Andreas Pietschmann) takes a particular liking to Angelina, much to the irritation of Angelina’s boyfriend, Doctor Guillaume (Dimitri Storoge). When a mysterious “beast” maims and kills local livestock, Cesar and the other farmers hunt to destroy it. Before they can raise their guns, Sebastian has befriended the culprit, a large dog christened Belle, who despite past mistreatment trusts the young boy.

While director Nicolas Vanier succeeds in beautifully capturing the stunning landscape, the same cannot be said for the Nazi subplot. One can imagine a young audience enjoying the opening half of the movie only to lose interest as the narrative takes a decidedly mature and morose turn. Sebastian is played impressively by Bossuet given his age, and the quiet moments between he and Belle are handled masterfully by Vanier, subconsciously manipulating you in preparation for some of the picture’s tense closing scenes. It is at this point that you realise the level of investment you have in Belle & Sebastian, a tale of innocence and companionship that is thankfully nowhere near as traumatic as Old Yeller.

3.5/5

Belle & Sebastian arrives in Australian cinemas July 3, 2014.

 

Hicker than your average – Joe review

Joe

By Simon Miraudo
July 2, 2014

Nicolas Cage is as if the question “Turn down for what?” took human form and then starred in a bunch of direct-to-DVD thrillers. For him, there is no such thing as a ‘phoned-in’ performance. Performances should be delivered with gusto, peppered with screaming fits. It’s become harder and harder to defend his late career choices (belonging to what I like to call the ‘Castle Repayment Collection’) but he, as a screen presence, remains oddly compelling, with such uniquely weird energy. Even Kevin Costner‘s recent rebranding has him seeming like a low-rent Liam Neeson. There’s only one Nicolas Cage. If there were more than one Nicolas Cage, the internet wouldn’t know what to do with itself.

So imagine what Cage, always committed to being committed, could pull off in an honest-to-goodness decent movie. David Gordon Green, a once-promising director whose second act saw him produce dumb stoner comedies like Your Highness, has himself hit the reboot button with his plaintive, pastoral Joe. The name in the title belongs to Cage’s character, a well-liked, bad-tempered ex-con eking out a modest living clearing trees in a ruined, desolate Texas. Young Gary (Tye Sheridan), an eager-to-impress teen, has it harder, trying to provide for his destitute family in spite of the short fuse he inherited from his abusive, alcoholic, and (here’s the kicker) break dancing father Willie (Gary Poulter, a homeless actor who died shortly after production was completed). As Gary’s situation becomes more dire, and his father resorts to more disgusting means of getting by, Joe risks making some dangerous enemies by helping the boy out, teaching him how to be a man, and in the flick’s lone joyful moment, how to look cool.

Joe

Green is certainly closer to his Malickian roots than he was with even last year’s lyrical Prince Avalanche, aided by cinematographer Tim Orr (who is certainly better suited to shooting the expansive outdoors than he was trying to keep up in Green’s improv-heavy comedies). Joe, to many, will bring to mind Mud, the Jeff Nichols/Matthew McConaughey joint that came just when McConaughey needed it. It too starred Tye Sheridan as a boy who learned about manhood from a wandering criminal with a heart of gold. However, Nichols’ picture is about romance and heartbreak, and Green’s is about poverty and desperation. Stars, setting, and title brevity is where the similarities between Joe and Mud end.

A closer comparison would be Winter’s Bone, though that had the benefit of a star-making turn from Jennifer Lawrence, and a stealthily-hidden hard-boiled detective story under the surface. Joe is a much tougher watch, full of people making bad decisions with worse consequences. Do its rewards, namely the bonding scenes shared by Cage and Sheridan, make the experience worthwhile? Certainly. Joe won’t reset Cage’s career the way Mud reset McConaughey’s. That’s only because Cage’s doesn’t need resetting. It’s the perception of him that needs to change. If only more directors like Green would realise Cage is the uncommon actor who knows precisely how to make their film better. The despairing, haunted, redemptive tale of Joe deserves its own despairing, haunted, redemptive lead performance. Hopefully that’s how people see it.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Joe plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival 5, 7, 9, and 11 July, 2014.

Bloodless – Vampire Academy review

Vampire Academy

By Glenn Dunks
July 1, 2014

Rarely have I felt such disconnect between material and the actors tasked with performing it as I did with Mark WatersVampire Academy. A little bit Mean Girls (which Waters directed) and a whole lot Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but sadly nowhere near as good as either, this weak teen comedy is a hopeless attempt at building a comic-horror franchise for a new generation. And while there is certainly potential in the story adapted from Richelle Mead’s series of novels, Vampire Diaries suffers from unconvincing actors delivering inept exposition-heavy dialogue alongside appallingly cheap visual effects that make the finished film look like little more than an episode of Supernatural.

Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry) is the last of her royal bloodline after her parents were killed in a car accident. Now a social outcast alongside her vampire guardian and best friend Rose (Zoey Deutch), the two must attempt to uncover who is behind a series of exceedingly gruesome pranks that escalate into a threat on both of their lives.

Vampire Academy

Superficially reminding of screenwriter Daniel Waters’ own revolutionary screenplay for Heathers, Vampire Academy lacks genuine wit and intelligence. Its characters talk and act like they are far older than their ages suggest but without the generational smarts that made Sarah Michelle Gellar on Buffy such a strong character. By the time Deutch screams “Are you not entertained,” it has become far too impossible to imagine a world where such pop culture cues are in their teenage vernacular. They don’t even have televisions and aren’t allowed out of school grounds, which makes me wonder how this young woman ever saw Gladiator.

It is frustrating inconsistencies such as these that make Vampire Academy so disappointing. The two Waters appear busier explaining their vamp-universe’s grand mythology rather than exploring the lives of teenagers in any honest way. A seemingly last-minute feminist twist notwithstanding, the filmmakers likely intended on delving deeper in sequels that will never come. This is a misjudged, mishandled affair from start to finish, including its sequel-baiting stinger that will remain a sad testament to the movie’s financial success that was never to be.

1.5/5

Vampire Academy will be available from Quickflix on July 3, 2014.

Talk Hard – The Lego Movie, Jersey Boys

Everything is awesome! Well, almost everything. In this episode, Quickflix critic Simon Miraudo reviews The Lego Movie (on DVD and Blu-ray in Australia) as well as Jersey Boys (in cinemas July 3).

The-Lego-Movie

 

Show Notes:

Thanks for listening!

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You can shoot us a line at talkhard@quickflix.com.au. Find me on Twitter here: @simonmiraudo.

Thanks to Blue Ducks for our theme, “Four, Floss, Five, Six.” You can find more of their work at www.recordsonribs.com

That thing they did – Jersey Boys review

Jersey Boys
By Simon Miraudo
July 1, 2014

Here’s what’s interesting about Jersey Boys (and pay attention now because little else is): the Broadway sensation and now Clint Eastwood movie, based upon the career of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is the rare music biopic to have zero interest in the quest for artistic perfection. It concerns guys who, as far as we can tell, have no real creative aspirations beyond making a living and being able to hang out with one another at the same time. The songs – though we have to go through the cliché of seeing the precise moments of inspiration when someone accidentally utters a future, legendary title – never actually reflect any major life events. They’re just disposable pop for the Four Seasons to make money from. And for a quartet of New Jersey natives who came this close to joining the mob, we’re told that’s good enough.

As they rose from the ranks of the local pool halls to the hallowed set of The Ed Sullivan Show, crooning in perfect synchronicity meaningless hits like Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like a Man, I wondered: did they deserve the recognition? Jersey Boys, through the transcendental magic of the music and its performers, makes a good enough case that they did. Just. Credit for that goes to its stars, especially Vincent Piazza, who is particularly watchable as Tommy DeVito, the troubled huckster who started the band for every reason except for all the honourable ones. John Lloyd Young, the ageless, Tony-winning actor who originated the part of Valli on Broadway, is a ringer for the diminutive icon, and it is no surprise Eastwood recruited him again here. Some other stage regulars hired for this cinematic retelling, sadly, standout in all the wrong ways.

Jersey Boys

The experienced cast help to hide the usual flaw in Eastwood’s notorious cut-and-run style. (For the other result, in which inexperienced actors are only given a handful of takes to get it right, and fail, see Gran Torino.) His technical team also clearly knows by now how to recreate that sleek, grey ‘Eastwood sheen’ in a dash, playing with shadows in a manner that at least seems like some time was taken to perfect the visual landscape. Screenwriters Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice have adapted their own book for the hit jukebox musical, and though their Jersey Boys hits a lot of the typical beats of these kinds of flicks, when those guys start singing those songs, the quality of the picture around them barely matters anymore.

There’s a reason why so many non-English language speakers audition for Idol and The X Factor and The Voice, mimicking glass-shattering anthems phonetically (for which they’re mercilessly mocked). Music translates. Music is that intangible something. The meaning of a certain song, and its inspiration, might never equal the significance of an impossible voice, impossible in any language, and that is precisely what Frankie Valli was armed with and makes his story worth telling.

Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys, at times, had me questioning what’s to be valued in art. Should Frankie and his buddies have suffered more? Put more of their pain into their music? Told tales of 1950’s New Jersey (which, shockingly, they never do)? The film itself doesn’t delve that deep into its subjects, and their eventual entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is presented as more of a given rather than an enthusiastic defence for their talents after two hours of soul searching. But when Christopher Walken’s gangster wells up at Valli’s rendition of ‘My Mother’s Eyes,’ making him forever indebted to him, we have no trouble believing this turn of events. It’s that impossible voice.

Still, a little something has been lost in the translation to celluloid. What succeeded on Broadway was the uncanny resurrection of an era and the indelible songs that defined it, culminating in a live concert of a troupe that modern-day viewers could only dream of seeing perform (and certainly so in their youthful register). When Jersey Boys closes with a climactic, non-canonical curtain call, the entire cast singing along to ‘Oh, What a Night,’ it’s charming but hardly stand-in-your-seat stuff. When they finish, the camera lingers on the performers, out-of-breath, arms open to the silence of the cinema. Did Eastwood leave an applause break? There might not be a sadder image in 2014 than the cast of Jersey Boys awaiting their ovation as a half-empty matinee clears out, sporadically-clapping, maybe, out of obligation.

2.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Jersey Boys arrives in Australian cinemas July 3, 2014.

James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain tell their side of the story in ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’

The-Disappearance-of-Eleanor-Rigby-Him-and-Her-2

The trailer for Ned Benson’s audacious tri-movie project The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby has arrived online.

The picture(s) tell of the relationship between Connor (James McAvoy) and Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) in New York.

At the Sydney Film Festival, individual versions of the story told from each character’s perspective played under the titles Him and Her. In the U.S., and likely Australia later down the track, a joint version subtitled Them will see release first, with the Him and Her versions arriving one month later.

This might get confusing.

Nonetheless, the trailer is compelling, and highlights an impressive supporting cast that includes Viola Davis, Bill Hader, William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert.

How it connects to that Beatles song is yet to be seen.

Jason Bateman to direct and star in ‘Untitled FBI Wedding Comedy’

Bad Words

But what Jason Bateman really wants to do is direct. The comedy star debuted his first directorial effort, Bad Words, at Sundance earlier this year, and has already lined up two further projects at which he’ll sit at the helm.

We previously discussed The Family Fang, which will begin production next month with Nicole Kidman and Christopher Walken in the lead roles.

Deadline now reveals his third effort, Untitled FBI Wedding Comedy. Catchy!

Bateman will also star in the flick, for which details – outside of those to be found in its working title – are scarce.

‘Audition’ remake in the works

audition

Australian director Richard Gray (Blinder, Summer Coda) is set to shoot an English-language adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s novel Audition.

The news was first broken via Gray’s Twitter account, with details added by Deadline.

Audition is perhaps most famous for Takashi Miike’s 1999 cinematic retelling, considered still one of the most notorious Japanese horror movies ever made (for reasons we don’t care to relay here, but super encourage you to Google).

The original story concerns a widower who attempts to find a new wife by putting out a fake casting call, only to find himself entangled with a seriously damaged young woman.

In Gray’s new take, the protagonist is called Sam Davis, while the woman he chooses is, this time around, a ballerina named Evie Lawrence.

Gray’s last American effort, The Lookalike, is still awaiting release. He will begin shooting Audition after wrapping the Jason Momoa thriller Sugar Mountain.

‘Pacific Rim 2′ officially set for 2017

Pacific Rim

It’s official: Legendary Pictures will make a sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

Universal Pictures will release the flick in 2017.

Details were dropped by del Toro in a short video clip, who also added that an animated series would precede the sequel.

Original screenwriter Travis Beachem will continue with franchise development, but actual scripting duties will be taken by Zak Penn and del Toro.

No cast-members have been confirmed as returning.

Frank Darabont might direct ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ sequel; Kristen Stewart not expected to return

snow white

As was rumoured shortly after the release of Snow White and the Huntsman, The Wrap reports Kristen Stewart will not return for the film’s sequel.

The follow-up will instead center entirely on Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman character.

The first movie was embroiled in controversy when Stewart and director Rupert Sanders revealed they had been having an affair behind the scenes.

Sanders won’t return for the sequel either, with Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Walking Dead) in early talks to take over.

Charlize Theron will likely return as The Evil Queen for the picture, and fair enough. The international success of that other Evil Queen movie, Maleficent, likely nudged this whole project back to life.

Fox still wants Bryan Singer to direct ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’

x-men-days-future

Fox is still planning on bringing back Brian Singer to direct X-Men: Apocalypse, despite all of the … unpleasantness.

In an interview with THR, the studio’s president of production, Emma Watts, attributed much of X-Men: Days of Future Past‘s box office success to Singer’s return to the franchise.

When asked if they’ll keep Singer on board as director of its sequel, Apocalypse, in the wake of his recent sex abuse allegations, Watts suggested they would (leaving at least a little wiggle room for a future firing).

“Right now we are totally at the outlining phase. But nothing would make me happier than if it all worked out. It’s always been the intention for him to do it.”

Singer had to bow out of his promotional obligations ahead of DOFP‘s release, due to a civil suit from a former extra alleging sexual abuse on the director’s part.

Still, the controversy did little to diminish fan enthusiasm for the film. Days of Future Past has so far grossed nearly $700 million worldwide.

X-Men: Apocalypse is set for release in 2016.

Legendary character actor Eli Wallach dies at 98

Eli Wallach

Eli Wallach, one of the most enduring character actors in cinema history, has died. He was 98 years old.

Wallach’s death was confirmed by his daughter Katherine, though no other details were made available.

His career began on the stage, where he won a Tony Award for Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo in 1951. Wallach’s screen debut came five years later in Baby Doll, which would be followed by parts in The Magnificent Seven, The Misfits, and How to Steal a Million, to name just a few.

His most famous role is likely that of Tuco, the ‘ugly’ of Sergio Leone’s iconic spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. That said, the actor once remarked he received the most fan mail for his role as Mr. Freeze in the Batman television series.

Wallach continued working late into his life, appearing most recently in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and The Ghost Writer.

Though never nominated for an Academy Award, he was handed an honourary Oscar in 2010, the Academy trumpeting him as “the quintessential chameleon, effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role.” He also had a BAFTA and an Emmy sitting alongside his Tony.

Wallach is survived by his wife of 66 years, Anne Jackson, and their children Peter, Roberta and Katherine.

Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes join the Coens’ ‘Hail Caesar’

Tilda Swinton

The Coens’ increasingly incredible-sounding Hail Caesar now has Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes linked to star alongside the previously announced George Clooney and Josh Brolin. We’re not worthy!

Variety first revealed the news of Tatum’s involvement – though it’s still being negotiated – while THR jumped on the bandwagon with news of Swinton and Fiennes.

It was previously reported that Hail Caesar! will be a “comical yarn” concerning a famed 1950′s muckraker who spies on Hollywood celebs for a gossip magazine.

The new reports suggest it will instead focus on a Hollywood “fixer” – to be played by Brolin – while Swinton will take on the part of the gossip columnist.

Fiennes will portray a studio exec, and Tatum, a “Gene Kelly-type” star.

We are, obviously, hugely excited.

Shane Black to direct ‘Predator’ reboot

predator

Shane Black has just been hired to direct a modern reboot of Predator, meaning that Fox, the studio that once gifted him with a role in the 1987 original in the hopes of getting him to rewrite the script (which he did not do), has finally tied down the infamous filmmaker. Way to play a long game, Fox!

According to THR, Black will write the treatment and direct the do-over for Fox, who last attempted a sort-of sequel in 2010 with Predators.

It’s a major coup for the project. Though Black was in the cold for much of the 1990′s and 2000′s, he returned to active duty with 2005′s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and just last year directed the billion dollar-grossing Iron Man 3.

The actual script will be written by Black’s pal Fred Dekker. In 1987, Dekker was busy writing Monster Squad.

It’s unknown who will step into the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and take over the lead role. More pressingly, who will take the part of the wise-cracking mercenary played by Black in the original? Please say he’s keen to do it himself…

The Best Films of 2014 (So Far)

Top 10 of 2014 So Far

By Simon Miraudo
June 25, 2014

The inexorable march of time continues ever forward, a crushing reminder our too brief, finite existence. Or, to be less of a ‘von Trier’ about it: Can you believe it’s almost July?

The first six months of 2014 are behind us, and what do we have to show for it? Well, the following twenty films, and that ain’t nothing. At this point last year, I shared my ‘Top 10 Films of 2013 (So Far)‘ and though only two of those movies made my end of year Top 10 (the rest pushed out by the hulking Oscar contenders and festival gems traditionally saved for release until the later months), each deserved their moment in the sun. And that’s what this list is for: paying tribute to the fine flicks that entertained us from January to June. I doff my hat to them below.

First, The Top 5 Films of 2013 (Not Released Until 2014)

Top 10 of 2014 So Far

Thanks to our nation’s screwy release schedule, a number of 2013′s choicest cuts didn’t arrive in Australian cinemas until 2014. There was just no way to see the following five before publishing my Top 10 Films of 2013 list, and yet, they won’t technically be valid for my Top 10 Films of 2014 list come December. Predicament! Instead, here is where I shall honour these forgotten inbetweeners (though three of them, Best Picture nominees, surely weren’t waiting for me to finally endorse them).

5. In a World…

Hollywood wouldn’t give the endearing Lake Bell a leading role, so she up and wrote one for herself. In a World… is a charming ensemble comedy about the competitive community of trailer voice-over-artists, full of rich characters, snappy dialogue, and voices so sonorous you could bathe in them. The biggest upshot of Bell being forced to make the movie herself? It simultaneously introduced a fine writer-director to the world, and not just a sparkling comedienne. In a World… will be available from Quickflix on July 17, 2014. Review.

4. 12 Years a Slave

An Oscar winner for Best Picture, Supporting Actress, & Adapted Screenplay, 12 Years tells the true, too-sad tale of Solomon Northup, a free man kidnapped by charlatans in 1841 and sold into slavery. Steve McQueen’s cinematic retelling is an important document; less a polite request for equality, and more an audacious demand for attention. Stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson, to name less than half of the impressive ensemble, astound. 12 Years a Slave is now available on Quickflix. Review.

3. Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis builds to a final punchline, but the Coen brothers’ latest is no joke (nor does it relish in the cosmic torture of its protagonist as nearly every other feature of theirs does). Oscar Isaac’s failing, flailing folk singer is a bastard, and yet, the Coens love him. Over the course of their sweet, soulful, two hour song, we come to love him too. Inside Llewyn Davis is now available on Quickflix.  Review.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street

I can’t believe I serendipitously received a call from my priest during the screening of The Wolf of Wall Street, as if he sensed I’d been revelling too giddily in the debauched antics of stockbroker Jordan Belfort. The morality police denigrated Martin Scorsese for doing the same, totally missing the point of his scathing satire. If one came to the end of this and found themselves sympathising with Belfort, a wife-hitting, sexually-abusive animal who endangers the life of his children … well, I don’t know if even a call from a priest could save them. The Wolf of Wall Street is now available on Quickflix. Review.

1. Her

Last year, I christened Gravity the best film of 2013. It only got the spot because I hadn’t seen Her, the best film of the past year (and maybe the next few too). Joaquin Phoenix continues his flawless run as a lonely writer who falls for his artificially intelligent OS (voiced with smoky charm by Scarlett Johansson). Most sci-fi fables involving technology emulating and ultimately surpassing human capabilities are meant to inspire fear. And yet, Her is only scary on account of the uncanny insight it has into modern relationships. It’s a love story, as good and profound and painfully true as any I’ve ever seen. Her is now available on Quickflix. Review.

The Top 5 Films of 2014 (Not Yet Technically Released)

Top 10 of 2014 So Far

On the other side of the spectrum are the movies I caught at the Sydney Film Festival still awaiting a general release. Some may not hit local cinemas until 2015! Regardless, it felt wrong leaving them off, as they have had public screenings (in Sydney at least), and Calvary actually opens in cinemas July 3. That’s right… it was three days shy of making the cut-off for the top ten proper.

5. Life Itself

Roger Ebert was a great critic, a flawed human, and the perfect subject for a documentary encapsulating everything valuable, fleeting, and marvellous about life. Steve James’ doco opens with Ebert communicating to a crowd his belief that movies are machines for generating empathy. The evidence of that claim is Life Itself. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and that may have even proved true in the adjoining theatres showing Godzilla, so overwhelming it was. Life Itself does not yet have a release date. Review.

4. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

David Zellner’s Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a real find; a curio about a collector and obsessive made for collectors and obsessives. Inspired by the urban legend of a Japanese woman (played by Rinko Kikuchi) who goes seeking Fargo’s fictional treasures, it’s an oddly amusing and often heartbreaking portrait of mental illness as well as exploration of both the freeing power and danger of cinephilia, the latter perhaps indicating why I responded to it so strongly. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter does not yet have a release date. Review.

3. Mommy

Xavier Dolan’s Mommy has one of the year’s best movie moments. Two even. Maybe three. Look… it’s all great. The twenty-something director’s fifth effort in as many years concerns a mother’s burden; specifically, her reckless, over-sexual teenage son Steve. But is the son ruining the mother’s life, or is it the other way around? That’s the tragedy of Mommy, a quizzical examination of how someone made from your same material can be such a stranger and too familiar at once. Mommy does not yet have a release date. Review.

2. Two Days, One Night

Marion Cotillard’s Sandra has a weekend to convince her co-workers to turn down their bonuses so she can keep her job in the Dardenne brothers’ affecting, compassionate latest. Cotillard, playing a woman for whom the fight to live is a struggle, let alone the fight to work, starts uneasy and finds poise and purpose as the picture rolls along. In many ways, Two Days, One Night is a lot like Gravity, except for all the space. Two Days, One Night does not yet have a release date. Review.

1. Calvary

That devilish John Michael McDonagh, always zigging when you think he’ll zag, follows up his dirt-black buddy comedy The Guard with despairing anti-hymn Calvary. It plays out like a parable, or, maybe, some half-remembered joke, with Brendan Gleeson’s generous Father James learning of a mysterious parishioner’s desire to murder him. Gleeson is brilliant, as always, however, it’s McDonagh’s talents as a tightrope-walking filmmaker that leaves the largest impression. Calvary arrives in Australian cinemas July 3, 2014. Review.

With those out of the way: The Top 10 Films of 2014 (So Far)

10. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 / Vol. 2

Nymphomaniac

Lars von Trier’s four-hour sexcapade was cleft in twain, released as two instalments. Each half has its, ahem, charms. Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as a battered, sex-obsessed woman relaying her entire sordid history to a good Samaritan (Stellan Skarsgård), Nymphomaniac found no shortage of ways to push our buttons, confronting us with explicit, full-frontal f*** montages, disturbing violence, a concluding message regarding mankind’s persistent cruelty towards women (a favourite topic of von Trier’s), and, finally, Shia LaBeouf’s penis. It also delivered one of the biggest laugh lines of the year, courtesy of the above image, which should be totally inexplicable to those who’ve not yet subjected themselves to this saga. Your loss. Nymphomaniac is now available on Quickflix. Reviews of Vol. 1 and Vol 2.

9. The Raid 2

TheRaid2

The world of cinema is full of many wonders, chief among them in 2014, writer-director Gareth Evans’ unending well of inventive ways to kill people on screen. His follow up to claustrophobic classic The Raid perhaps bites off more than it can chew (this sequel spans half a decade and sprawls out across Indonesia); it nonetheless delivers some of the finest, rawest fight sequences ever committed to celluloid. The Raid 2 will be available from Quickflix on August 6, 2014. Review.

8. Bad Neighbours

BadNeighbours

In a world without 22 Jump Street, Bad Neighbours could have claimed the title of the year’s flat-out funniest comedy. It’ll have to settle for being the most revolutionary, simply thanks to it being about a man and woman who get to be best friends (a rare thing indeed in this ‘bro’ age of ours). Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play a married couple who truly enjoy one another’s company, but are confronted by their old-fogeyness when a frat house moves in next door. We know how amusing Rogen – and antagonists Zac Efron and Dave Franco – can be, so it’s nice to see an Aussie-accented Byrne steal the show. Bad Neighbours is one of the more emotionally satisfying entries of the modern-comedy canon, with one monster of a role for one very talented lady. Bad Neighbours will be available from Quickflix on August 28, 2014. Review.

7. Godzilla

Godzilla

What the hell is Godzilla doing in this Top 10? I had little hope for the latest American incarnation of this Japanese legend, images of Matthew Broderick flashing through my memory. Amazingly, as an actioner, it blew all other comers out of the water. The presence of Bryan Cranston, delivering a number of Earth-shattering monologues, certainly helped. I should have trusted director Gareth Edwards, fresh off the magnificent Monsters; Disney certainly have, giving him a Star Wars spin-off based on this excellent disaster flick. He’s earned it. Godzilla will be available from Quickflix later this year. Review.

6. 22 Jump Street

22JumpStreet

I’d like to report a murder. The buddy-cop comedy is dead, drowned in a sea of d*** jokes by directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Hey, at least it died doing what it loved. In 22 Jump Street, Lord and Miller, along with their convention-shredding stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, gleefully tear asunder every trope there is to be found in police movies, sequels, and cinematic bromances (coming as close as any buddy comedy has to finally admitting its leads are gay). Though it maybe means there’ll never be a need for another Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys, or perhaps a 23 Jump Street thanks to the state 22 leaves the genre, I tell you, what a way to go. 22 Jump Street is hilarious and subversive, but especially that first thing. 22 Jump Street will be available from Quickflix later this year. Review.

5. The Babadook

Babadook

You may not believe in bogeymen, but you better believe The Babadook is the best Australian film in years. Jennifer Kent’s feature debut is wholly inventive and original, while still calling to mind Drag Me To HellThe EntityRepulsionThe Shining, and Carrie. I don’t list its (possible) influences to make it seem derivative. I do it to place the flick in the pantheon alongside them. Often funny, frequently terrifying, haunting, moving, and anchored by a masterful Essie Davis – as a mother whose grief, depression and animosity towards her son might be manifesting as an honest-to-goodness monster – The Babadook is the real deal. The Babadook will be available from Quickflix later this year. Review.

4. Edge of Tomorrow

EdgeofTomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is an ingenious action-comedy about how frequently movie heroes would actually die if they attempted that much crazy s***. Featuring a rare, low-status performance from Tom Cruise (seeing him as a snivelling coward is good stuff) and certainly Doug Liman’s most impressive effort since The Bourne Identity (over a decade ago!), this wildly entertaining blockbuster surpasses Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro creatively, comedically, and emotionally. Of course, it cratered at the box office, and won’t even make half of their individual tallies. Right that wrong when Edge of Tomorrow arrives on Quickflix later this year. Review.

3. The Lego Movie

LegoMovie

Jump Street geniuses Lord and Miller were also responsible for The Lego Movie, which had no right to be as entertaining as it ultimately was. It lies at the intersection of chaos and commerce, but don’t call it a cash-grab: heck, if cash-grabs were always this great, we’d all be broke. This is delightful, inspired, poignant, utterly side-splitting stuff, and certainly the first feature starring Batman to earn a couple of those compliments. Plus, anything that casts Chris Pratt in the lead is going to win some brownie points. (Hear that, Guardians of the Galaxy? Our love is yours to lose.) The Lego Movie will be available from Quickflix on July 3, 2014. Review.

2. Frank

Frank

Straddling the line between cutesy, quirky, and stunningly grim, Frank is a perceptive depiction of the frustrating, maddening creative process, and then, an incisive comment on outsider art, the way hipsters ironically embrace it, the way hacks try to take advantage of it, and how even the possible widespread acceptance of it fails to solve the ailments of those doing the creative suffering. Featuring Michael Fassbender as a playful, papier-mâché-headed musician (masking real dysfunction), this Jon Ronson-penned, Lenny Abrahamson-directed oddity hits all the right notes. I’ve seen it three times. I could go another. Frank will be available on Quickflix later this year. Review.

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

GrandBudapest

What a rare pleasure it is to watch a movie and slowly realise it will soon become one of your favourites. That’s precisely how I felt while viewing the latest from Wes Anderson. On second sitting, his cuckoo caper comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel had officially checked into my heart, with no check-out date noted. A melancholy remembrance of a lobby boy’s youthful years under the tutelage of legendary concierge M. Gustave (a towering Ralph Fiennes), it dreamily recalls a version of Europe just prior to the Nazi invasion. The army, country names, and notable dates are just slightly off here, similar to the way photos fade, dreams dissipate like fog, and recollections grow unreliable. In contrast, the forlorn, very witty, sometimes grisly and hopelessly romantic Grand Budapest will be impossible to forget. The Grand Budapest Hotel will be available from Quickflix on September 3, 2014. Review.

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

And a bottle of (non-alcoholic) rum – Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy review

The Pirate Fairy

By Jess Lomas
June 25, 2014

The trend of taking a successful film and sabotaging it by churning out uninspiring sequels is perhaps best illustrated in the world of animation. Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks – they all love to repeat their winning formulas. By the sixth instalment of a franchise, expectations are understandably low, and yet Peggy HolmesTinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy is a revelation other sequels can learn from.

Tinker Bell began life, at least in the world of Disney, as the disgruntled fairy sidekick to the boy who wouldn’t grow up in 1953’s Peter Pan. She was resurrected for the modern audience in 2008’s Tinker Bell, set in Pixie Hollow, of Never Land. The Pirate Fairy reintroduces us to Tink (Mae Whitman) and her eclectic group of friends; garden fairy Rosetta (Megan Hilty), water fairy Silvermist (Lucy Liu), animal fairy Fawn (Angela Bartys), light fairy Iridessa (Raven-Symone) and wind fairy Vidia (Pamela Adlon).

The star here, however, is not Tinker Bell but Zarina (Christina Hendricks), an inquisitive fairy unsatisfied with her position in Pixie Hollow. Zarina wants to be more than just a pixie dust-keeper; she’s driven by science, experimentation, and a questioning spirit. When an experiment with blue pixie dust goes wrong, Zarina is banned from being a dust-keeper and leaves Pixie Hollow.

The Pirate Fairy

A year passes and the fairies are enjoying the Four Seasons Festival when Zarina returns, placing the audience into an induced slumber. Her plan is to steal the Hollow’s entire supply of blue pixie dust; it’s what’s used to make the gold pixie dust that allows them to fly. Unluckily for her, Tinker Bell and her five fairy friends escaped the forced siesta and follow her, discovering she has become a pirate captain. On board her ship of dastardly men is cabin boy James Hook (Tom Hiddleston), and The Pirate Fairy’s prequel status becomes delightfully clear.

What impresses most about the feature is its cleverness to weave together a back story for Captain Hook whilst feeling fresh. The attention to detail and quality storytelling is heightened by delivering moral lessons without feeling preachy. The voice work is highly impressive, and the six fairies are feisty and entertaining for both children and adults.

At its core, underneath the swashbuckling adventure, Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy is a thoughtful tale of female friendship, of appreciating individuality, opening one’s mind to new possibilities and always believing in second chances.

4.5/5

Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy arrives in NSW, VIC, QLD and NT cinemas June 26, 2014. It arrives in ACT, SA, WA and TAS cinemas July 3.

The Costner of living – 3 Days to Kill review

3 Days to Kill

By Richard Haridy
June 24, 2014

3 Days to Kill is an extraordinarily compelling film; unfortunately, in all the wrong ways. Several times over its strung-out two hours I stared at the screen, mouth agape, wondering what the hell I was watching. Directed by McG and co-written by Luc Besson, this is alternately a bombastic spy actioner, a morose drama about retirement, a jaunty comedy about a father and his rambunctious teenage daughter, and a comic-book thriller.

Kevin Costner stars as Ethan Renner, a CIA hitman who is “retired” after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only a few months to live. Ethan returns to his estranged wife and daughter, hoping to spend his remaining time making up with them, but the CIA comes calling with one final job. The rest of the flick alternates misjudged “humorous” scenes with extremely violent, well executed action set pieces, as people start lining up to kill Ethan and his family.

3 Days to Kill

The blend of wry domesticity and a secret life of violence is a particular trademark of Besson’s, and in his best work such as Leon: The Professional or La Femme Nikita, the tonal shifts are smooth and satisfying. 3 Days to Kill plays more like Besson’s recent The Family with Robert De Niro, an uncomfortable mash up of extreme violence and light comedy. McG is a competent but undistinguished director and on a scene to scene level manages some effective work; it’s when the feature is taken as a whole it comes across as an absolute mess.

Cast well against type, Costner does a surprisingly good job as a gruff, staunch assassin father. His gravelly voice seems to be channeling Tom Waits and while the role isn’t the game changing revelation it wants to be Costner does well to remind us he is a real movie star and keeps the picture from entirely falling apart at the seams. Amber Heard deserves a special mention as an insane caricature of a CIA handler.

3 Days to Kill is a frequently bizarre, never boring mash-up that doesn’t come together yet perfectly encapsulates everything both good and bad about Luc Besson’s recent output.

2.5/5

3 Days to Kill will be available from Quickflix on June 27, 2014.

50 first deaths – Edge of Tomorrow review

Edge of Tomorrow

By Simon Miraudo
June 24, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow is an ingenious action-comedy about how frequently movie heroes would actually die if they attempted that much crazy s***, and no movie hero is more notorious for doing crazy s*** than Tom Cruise. Though Cruise long ago lost his reputation as a reliable truth teller – around the time he described himself as knowing the history of psychiatry – his latest is remarkably upfront about how quickly even he would be killed while trying to save the universe. Not many marquee stars would agree to being depicted like that; even fewer that were previously famous for climbing the Burj Khalifa and claiming only Scientologists can help at the scene of road accidents. And yet…

As a cowardly PR man who accidentally winds up on the front lines of an intergalactic war and splattered in alien blood, Cruise’s Major William Cage keeps on waking up safe and sound in an army barracks after every subsequent death, slowly finding his spine and figuring out how to best the invading forces bit by excruciating bit. It’s a rare low-status turn for Cruise; a snivelling coward who only earns his saviour standing after being endlessly rebooted. It’s a similar resurrection story for director Doug Liman, whose career seemed unsalvageable after his last sci-fi venture, the abominable Jumper. Here he is, sitting at the helm of one of the year’s snappiest, funniest, most emotionally engrossing pictures.

Edge of Tomorrow

Adapted from Hiroshu Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill by screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth – with an assist from Christopher McQuarrie – Edge of Tomorrow takes no time in setting up its sci-fi premise, presenting us with a universe almost-overrun by spindly, helicopter-rotor-like beasts called Mimics. Cage does the TV talk-show circuit seeking volunteers for the war effort, spruiking a special mech suit that can turn any schlub into a murdering-machine. His commanding officer (Brendan Gleeson) puts it to the test by having Cage don it on the first wave of a new assault. He dies, and then dies again, until eventually finding help from Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a peerless warrior and face of the human army. Together with disgraced Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), the three of them devise a way to use this glitch to humanity’s advantage. If ever they mess up, they can take solace in the fact that shooting Cage in the head will reset the clock. Prepare to see Tom Cruise get shot in the head a lot.

The plot sure sounds like a literal translation of one noob’s struggle to complete Halo, but, in its execution, Liman is smart enough to skip large portions of every new do-over, and, in the second act, sneakily switches our perspective. For a while, we see each rebirth from Cage’s eyes. As he becomes more and more knowledgeable about the future, we slide into Vrataski’s shoes, unaware of how many times they’ve lived any particular moment. It’s totally destabilising. Blunt is an effortlessly compelling presence, and it’s nice to see her brusque side (not so far removed from her work in Looper or even The Devil Wears Prada) on display, and actually fitted with a great big sword to go with it.Bill Paxton, meanwhile, has the pleasure of playing a Kentucky-fried Master Sergeant (or, I should say, the pleasure is all ours).

Edge of Tomorrow

The action sequences are all fairly spectacular, though in the age of the $200 million budget, that’s pretty much a bare essential for this kind of thing. The additional pathos and uncommon spark of black comedy is all bonus, however. The coda may not hold up to the flick’s own internal logic, but Liman’s film satisfies in too many other ways to be bothered all that much by it. Much like Groundhog Day before it – and Cloud Atlas too, kind of – Edge of Tomorrow suggests it takes many, many lifetimes for a bad person to become good. Inspiring real exhilaration, it took just one feature to make me excited about blockbusters again.

4.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Edge of Tomorrow is now showing in cinemas.

Television Revision: The West Wing – Season 4

The West Wing S4

By Andrew Williams
June 24, 2014

Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and the rest).

Now, this is a story all about how… Faced with growing international unrest, President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) also has the small matter of a national election to contend with.

The West Wing S4

Happy days? The fourth season of The West Wing is the last of the ‘Sorkin era’ and also where a lot of people pretend the show ended. Sorkin left the show (along with signature director Thomas Schlamme) at the conclusion of the season, and he’s so synonymous with The West Wing as a whole that viewers, buzz and award ceremonies pretty much abandoned the show after his exit. (There are plenty of reasons to stick with it, but we’ll get to that next time.)

What a way to go, though. The West Wing’s fourth outing is a virtuoso season of television, balancing some of the show’s most ambitious storytelling with the quiet, funny behind-the-scenes moments that made it so beloved. Sorkin handles Rob Lowe’s resignation from the cast (he left, essentially, because he wasn’t the star any more) with an almost absurd amount of grace, makes the fait accompli nature of the Presidential election into an asset, and winds the season up with an absolute barn burner of a finale featuring a stunning moment of leadership (and parenting) from his central character.

There are missteps along the way, for sure. Christian Slater’s brief guest starring role doesn’t work, Zoey’s new boyfriend is just the pits and there’s one episode that is drastically out of step with the rest of the show. For the most part though? This continues to be an all-time great television series.

The final frontier: The last stellar season of The West Wing winds up the best four-year run in television history.

The West Wing S4

Top three episodes: 1/2) 20 Hours in America. I get goose bumps just listening to Martin Sheen’s ‘angels’ speech in the second instalment of this funny, moving and thoughtful two-parter. It’s a stirring opening to an outstanding season. 21) Life on Mars. Matthew Perry guests in one of my favourite episodes to re-watch; more of a mystery story than anything else, and the way Sorkin sets up the pieces of the puzzle is first class. 6) Game On. Though it takes perhaps a tad too much delight in the utter spifflication of Governor Robert Ritchie (James Brolin, pretty much just playing George W. Bush), this debate episode still manages to be entirely thrilling.

Worst episode: 13) The Long Goodbye. It’s not just that The Long Goodbye is a jarring change of pace from the usual The West Wing format (though it is), but it’s also just not very good. It’s a dreary, maudlin episode absent of this show’s trademark wit and style; unforgivable given it centres around one of the show’s best characters in C. J. Cregg (Allison Janney).

Season MVP: Martin Sheen, Martin Sheen and Martin Sheen. From his performance in the debate in Game On, to his speech in the premiere and his heartbreaking work in the finale, he remains the show’s indomitable soul.

5/5

Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:

Television Revision: The West Wing - Season 1

Television Revision: The West Wing - Season 2

Television Revision: The West Wing - Season 3

The West Wing is available on Quickflix.

The man show – Out of the Furnace review

Out of the Furnace

By Glenn Dunks
June 24, 2014

Somewhere hidden beneath the frequently indecipherable growls that make up Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace may just be an interesting movie. However, laboured as it is with sledgehammer-subtle metaphors and a cast of overtly gruff male actors doing insufferably one-note performances, Cooper’s second feature after the Oscar-winning Crazy Heart is a reductive one that lacks anything particularly new to say.

Following a stint in prison for an accidental death, Russell (Christian Bale) attempts to return to life as he knew it. In the years since, his hometown has declined almost beyond recognition, his former girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) has moved on, and his war veteran brother (Casey Affleck) has descended back into his former illegal ways. When his brother becomes involved in an underground boxing circuit with a local ringer (Willem Dafoe) and drug-pusher (Woody Harrelson), Russell decides to take vengeance (and potential redemption) into his own hands.

Out of the Furnace

The lone area where Out of the Furnace excels is in its evocation of Small Town, USA. Almost as if attempting to recreate the setting of a Bruce Springsteen song where its characters deal with a world where jobs are scarce and hopes are lost, but the memory of a better world clings, the imagery that Cooper creates is often striking. With the charcoal-stained factory looming ominously in the background of many shots juxtaposed against the striking beauty of the Appalachian Mountains just beyond, it’s wonderful to look at if not necessarily to watch.

Sadly, the rest of Out of the Furnace is such a soul-sapping experience. With characters that it frequently doesn’t know what to do with – Saldana’s Lena, the lone respite from the oppressive masculine brutality, is particularly under-valued by Cooper and Brad Ingelsby’s male-centric screenplay – and a rather simplistic attitude towards elements of its story, there’s little room for it to do what’s unexpected. Right up until the final confrontation scene, which plays out more like a battle of the sweat-stained beards, there are no surprises nor any particularly interesting insights into these characters’ minds. The political context, reminding most predominantly of Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, is also misjudged and an unfortunate addition to an already undercooked film.

2/5

Out of the Furnace will be available from Quickflix on June 27, 2014.

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