Saturday, November 10, 2012


Movies like Bachelorette, The Hangover and Bridesmaids make me feel like getting married is a complete lapse of judgement that will end with you in some kind of physical or emotional pain on what is touted as the best day of your life. I also am beginning to think that I have a very rare thing in my life: friends who are not assholes. Is it really that hard not to be an asshole? Bachelorette says: apparently it is very hard. 

Becky (Rebel Wilson) tells her dear friend Regan (Kirsten Dunst) that she is engaged to her high school sweetheart, Dale (Hayes MacArthur). Despite this piece of apparent good news, Regan calls their mutual friends Katie (Isla Fisher) and Gena (Lizzy Kaplan, who also starred in a previous mean girl movie called Mean Girls) to immediately anguish over the fact her boyfriend hasn’t proposed to her (because in Hollywood, relationships aren’t real unless you’re married), and why does Becky deserve a decent husband anyway? 

Then the movie fast forwards to the day before the wedding. Regan, as maid of honour, has declared herself in charge of the wedding and is cruel to the help. Katie assists by bringing a vast amount of cocaine. Gena is pouting because her ex Clyde (Adam Scott) will be there and she has Unfinished Angst about him. Together, the girls ruin Becky’s bachelorette party with an obnoxious stripper, get told by Becky to grow up, and proceed to Become Mature People by laughing about how they can fit two people in Becky’s wedding dress, which they then tear. Can they fix it in time to not ruin Becky’s wedding? Will they encounter handsome men? Will they all die at the end in a fiery explosion? WE CAN ONLY HOPE SO. 

Bachelorette fails because the cast is so vehemently unlikeable. Regan does nothing but shout, and when she whines about not getting proposed to, you assume it’s because she’s a monster. Katie is painted as the ditz and really is so ridiculously stupid, which she exacerbates by being almost constantly high, that she is entirely unrelatable. Gena is the one I think the audience is supposed to bond with, and harbours a fairly grim secret with Clyde which adds some romantic tension in a sea of pricks (see: Dales friend Trevor, played with jerky abandon by James Franco) and needs to move on with her life and perhaps not be so horrible. But lord, you just don’t care about what happens to them. You wish for them to succeed because Becky seems like a nice person who suffered through high school and who clearly isn’t great at picking acquaintances, but otherwise, just...sigh. Many of the characters (Regan, Katie to an extent, most of the men) don’t get enough backstory to connect with the viewer, and some of the lessons—like, bulimia saves lives!—will make you shake your head. 

There are some great lines, Adam Scott is totally a babe who does one of the best wedding speeches you’ll ever hear, it passes the Bechdel Test easily and I’m super pleased Rebel Wilson is getting famous. Also, she kills with the line: “People think I’m too fat for Dale.” Regan’s response is good, but Becky is right. Her friends are horrible. That is the only lesson to take away from this. 

I give it three out of six bridesmaids. And even those three bridesmaids are wearing dresses that they will never wear again.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

ruby sparks

In a plotline that feeds into the fantasies of 90% of people who work in cafes, an author defeats writer’s block by writing about a woman he dreams of, who then comes to life and is able to be controlled by said author’s typing. I mean, this guy—Calvin, nearing thirty, played by Paul Dano—had already written a bestseller at age 19, and lives off his writing. This is more unrealistic than bringing a girl to life with your mind, but is strangely not the topic of the movie. 

Calvin is moping about, friendless, dateless, and not writing but being harassed about it, when he dreams of a girl and they have a nice conversation without any usual weird dream things like it being in your old bedroom but actually on Mars or anything. Inspired by that and his therapist Dr Rosenthal (Elliot Gould), he writes about her, and thus Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, also the writer and one of the producers) springs to life one morning as Calvin runs about panicking about being late. Reacting perfectly to the presence of a strange woman in his house by hiding from her and freaking out, it takes a while for him to comprehend that she is real, really real and wonderful and fun and just the girl for him. Which is grand, until their relationship hits a few minor speed bumps and Calvin, in a panic, gets back onto his typewriter and changes her course. 

What are the ethics of controlling someone, even when they’re not entirely real? What about if you think it’s for their own good, to make them happy? What would you do in the same situation? (We discussed it while we were watching: write them a huge trust fund and a bright red convertible Cadillac.) What is behind Calvin’s need for control over those in his life? Ruby Sparks is thrown around as a lightweight comedy but has a lot of depth and seriousness; you won’t always be laughing, and everyone is not perfect. While it outright discusses (without the name) Manic Pixie Dream Girls and how they are not practical as human beings, it raises other questions, for me anyway: why are men compelled to write women with sexually turbulent pasts? Did it not pass the Bechdel Test on purpose to make a point about women being idealised? 

Well now that serious contemplation is out of the way, I will say that it’s a great movie: the acting is sincere, the characters bounce off each other well—Calvin’s much more normal brother Harry (Chris Messina) is a good straight logical man without coming across as boring because of it; Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas (sigh) as Calvin’s mother and stepfather are an interesting look into Calvin’s psyche; Calvin’s dog Scotty is suitably fuzzy—and make it a believable situation in a believable world. When Calvin tries to alter Ruby’s personality and finds things inevitable screw up, it makes for both humorous and slightly-to-very depressing situations. It’s an interesting idea and it’s been done well. As a bookseller, one of my favourite things about it was that the book covers in the movie were actually great instead of the crap they usually put out in films—mostly, the author’s name IN VERY BIG LETTERS in case you weren’t sure the book they were signing was their own. If these books turned up in my store, I would buy them. Kudos to their art department then, and to their set designers for Calvin’s stepfather’s forest-like house, which is the most divine place you’d ever want to live in armed with lots of bug spray. 

Ruby Sparks is quirky and delightful while avoiding cliché and never straying into comedy for the sake of it. You could do a lot worse than this film next time you’re out and about. I give it four out of five houses with swimming pools.

Monday, September 17, 2012

kath & kimderella

Have you heard of the sandwich way of criticism? It’s when you need to say something bad about someone who you’re trying to encourage, or who you like, or who will roll up their manuscript/screenplay/comic and beat you about the head with it if you are mean. (I am this person.) You sandwich the bad criticism between good criticism. 

Like, for instance, Kath & Kimderella. I enjoyed the first season of Kath & Kim (I bought it on VHS, in case you were curious about how long ago it started). Kath & Kimderella is possibly the worst movie to ever grace the big screen. But Woodley was very funny. 

See? A nice gentle criticism sandwich. 

Kath (Jane Turner) and Kim (Gina Riley) are both angsting about the missing sparkle (or “vajazzle”, as Kath would and does say) in their relationships when plot encouragement occurs for them as Kath wins a competition at her local chemist for a trip to the Spanish outpost of Pampilloma, located in the south of Italy. Upon their arrival they discover that the whole place has gone bankrupt and their hotel has shut down, but after a tour of the local castle the king (Rob Sitch with luscious hair) misinterprets their knockoff label clothes as the real thing, assumes they’re rich and attempts to seduce Kath for her apparent wealth. His son, hiding his features behind a mask, falls for Kim after seeing her with a t-shirt that says PRINCESS on it in sparkles. Hijinks ensue. Sigh. 

The central conceit isn’t really a problem—give me enough jokes and any plot is fine. But crucially, Kath & Kimderella is not funny. It’s not funny when Kath, Kim and Sharon (Magda Szubanski, along for the ride) go outlet shopping and the girls run around sped up like a Benny Hill skit. The same sped-up schtick is also not funny when Kath uses what she thinks is the castle’s gym but is in fact their dungeon (LOL HAHA except that it is actually totally a gym). It’s not funny when Kath and King Javier go for a ride on their Vespa against some green screen so obvious that it could almost be a joke, but just looks bizarrely cheap against the rest of the movie’s actually decent backdrops. It’s not funny when the plot stagnates halfway through, and it’s not funny that all the twists are completely obvious from the moment the characters appear on the screen. 

It’s also confusing when the poor men, left at home to watch telly in their Snuggies, decide to go fight the royals for their women. Kath’s husband Kel (Glenn Robbins) commits an act on an airplane that would surely get him banished from all flights forever, but then turns up mysteriously in Europe five minutes later to save the day. And, even more mysteriously, arrives before Kim’s own husband Brett (Peter Rowsthorn), who was on either the same flight or an earlier one. Uh, spoiler alert. Also, Gina Riley looks amazing and while I certainly can’t rock a midriff top, I’m a bit over the whole “ugh, look at her in an outfit that’s too small lulz” thing. Wear what you want and get over it. 

Oh hey, It wasn’t entirely awful. Kim’s cutting little digs were occasionally funny, and the cinema popcorn was nice, and the bit where the king and Kath address a crowd and Frank Woodley signs for the hearing impaired made me shake with laughter. This hasn’t made me dislike Turner and Riley, whom I admire greatly for making me laugh numerous times over the years, but I really did not enjoy this. Though I did just see a review on IMDb by summerblink that stated “To everyone who didn't find it amusing - there's so much of Australian culture you do understand. If you call yourself an Aussie, you should be ashamed.” And I’m glad people like it, honestly, but here I am in shame, saying I give it 9 out of 86 minutes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

rock of ages

It was my thirtieth birthday last Wednesday, and I was determined to take myself and the kidlet out and do A Thing during the day instead of sitting around incessantly shaking a stuffed robot at her and singing songs about Masterchef contestants. Unfortunately, the only option was the terrible-looking Rock of Ages (I’ve already done 1987 once, and that was enough.) But after a scare where we thought the babes in arms movie option was instead Adam Sandler laugh-an-hour fest That’s My Boy, suddenly it seemed like a perfectly serviceable film, and, thanks to a lovely new mother-type friend who also jumped at the chance to go to the flicks during daytime hours, off we went to see it with our best perms and midriff-baring band t-shirts. (Haha I’m kidding, my stomach looks like I was in the last Freddy Kreuger movie.) 

Peachy blonde bubble of enthusiasm Sherrie (Julianne Hough) arrives in Hollywood from the town of Dreamsquasher USA and within minutes is mugged then saved by mop of curly hair Drew (Diego Boneta), an employee of the famed Bourbon Room who also kindly nabs her a job there. Both are musicians, and the Bourbon Room is a haven for rock music lovers after giving Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise, channelling Axl Rose et al) his big break. But the Room is in trouble, with owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin, greying) and his cohort Lonny (Russell Brand as the only person who didn’t need a wig) running out of cash and fame. In the meantime, Mayor Whitmore’s wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones, underused) is on a mission to destroy rock music because sex, Stacee is going through a career crisis, and Drew and Sherrie’s fledging relationship is threatened by Drew’s shot at fame. And all this is conveyed through songs you probably know the words to. 

While the music generally grated on me, it was a pretty entertaining film, relentless in its mashed-up tunes and enthusiastic actors. Tom Cruise is a good choice as Stacee, who is a tool, so you don’t have to force yourself to get behind him. He’s all excess, big-haired groupies and dragon-head codpieces, swanning about in a grotesque manner that will make you squirm and laugh and squirm. The singers are all passable to great, with Sherrie and Drew smiley endearing kids you want to see live happily ever after. The highlight, however, is the surprisingly touching relationship between Dennis and Lonny, two meathead looking dudes harbouring a lot of secret Feelings. The lowlight, though, is the other two hours of the movie. 

Rock of Ages is terrible. They should have just done a live covers concert and be done with it, because the plot is so thin on the ground I’m not sure why they bothered. One or two lines of dialogue are in between each song and are so earnest and ridiculous that you’ll sigh and wish for the next dose of Bon Jovi. There are decade errors like the hipster-style underpants worn by Malin Ackerman’s Rolling Stone journalist Constance Sack, who also suffers from a painful dose of cliché when she turns up in glasses and a hairclip and is only attractive, apparently, after she loses both. Patricia’s plan to demolish rock is never a threat, not even for a moment, and everyone seems to know it, making Zeta-Jones a pointless addition who also has the most redundant song and dance routine in a rendition of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot that looks like it’s been choreographed by someone who never read the screenplay to see what was going on. (Lucky them.) Sherrie, down and out after leaving the Bourbon Room, stalks angrily out of a job at a diner when someone slaps her on the ass, only to go directly into a waitressing job at a strip club and then be told by boss Justice (Mary J Blige, talented but another unnecessary part) that the only way to get respect is to become a pole dancer. (Obviously pole dancers and everyone in the sex industry deserve respect, but deserving more than a waitress is a bizarre concept and has no relation to the rest of the movie anyway. I was tuning out completely by this point.) I also dislike the way the movie mocks the late-eighties angular-primary-colours pop that was blooming on the radio—anyone who makes fun of another’s musical taste is a jerk. As Stacee Jaxx’s agent, Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) is such a complete idiot that I assumed he deliberately wanted to be broke and despised. You know what, I actually have a lot of rage for this movie, I think I have to stop before I set my keyboard on fire. 

An adequate movie that you’ll enjoy more if you’re a fan of cock rock. If you’re not, watch it with a sarcastic friend for much more fun. I give it 500 out of 1987 years.

Monday, June 11, 2012


One of the cinemas at Hoyts Victoria Gardens has this perfect little oasis called the Crying Room. Maybe nine seats, soundproof walls and glass, tinny sound piped in through speakers, and the opportunity to take any small children you may have to see a film where someone’s helmet is melted onto their face. Yes, I am an amazing mother. 

Prometheus is a prequel of sorts to the Alien franchise, started by Ridley Scott and continued by numerous directors in varying levels of excellence and shambles detouring into the Predator universe. Seemingly deciding there was no way forward to pursue, Ridley jumped back into his unicorn-leather director’s chair and helmed a movie set before it all. Drs Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Devil’s Logan Marshall-Green) discover the world’s oldest cave drawings—edgy sketches by the skinny-loinclothed hipsters of 40,000 years ago—and one more piece of a puzzle they’d been collecting. Artworks from diverse cultures and times all had one thing in common: a constellation unable to be seen by the naked eye. Shaw believes she will find her maker in this place, and with a rocket full of shipmates (including a robot, a bureaucrat, some comic relief and a stack of dispensable people you won’t miss when they get splattered), funded by the Weyland Corporation they head off on the two-year journey to this planet. Will they find happiness, peace, and a flowery sunny utopia? Seems likely. 

Prometheus hasn’t been receiving the most favourable of reviews, and I can’t say I adored it either. There weren’t any moments of surprise in the film. Spoiler alert: they don’t find happiness, peace, and a flowery sunny utopia. They find dark caverns and goo and aliens so like sexual organs you won’t be able to do any bonking for days. (The penis-worm with the vagina-mouth is a good example noted by my friend Brett.) People have secret agendas on the mission but the agendas of the aliens themselves are never fully explained. Apparently Mr Scott wanted to leave a lot of loose ends to keep people interested in Prometheus 2: The Flubber Returns, but by the end I just assumed he’d done what I do frequently and interrupted his own story with a tangent and interrupted that and so on until he’d forgotten what he was originally talking about. Don’t worry, Ripley, it happens to the best of us. I don’t get paid tens of million dollars to do it though. While I’m on the whiny paragraph, I was thrown by the ship Prometheus itself: it has technology that far surpasses the 8-bit technology on Alien’s mining ship—I mean, my car has more advanced technology than the Nostromo—so even taking into account the fact that the Nostromo isn’t a luxury vessel it seems likely that anything that can make it into space will have a better font. But that’s not a huge problem—it’s not early-80s-Ridley’s fault that technology became amazing, and the audience would hardly believe shitty tech on a ship when our phones alone have Google Earth on them. I was also annoyed by the characters’ lack of emotions—their expressions when discovering alien lands were about as enthusiastic as when you discover a two-dollar coin in your car when you need to pay for parking. You know, pretty pleased, but nothing you’d talk about when you got home to your spouse. Their motivations were confusing at times, with crew member Millburn (a timid Rafe Spall) freaking out at the sight of a long-dead corpse then suddenly not being concerned about reaching out to the aforementioned penis-worm (and calling it “beautiful”, I mean, ew), and the ship’s captain Janek (Idris Elba) not at all worried about leaving Millburn and tattooed redhead Fifield (an unfriendly Sean Harris) in a corpse-ridden hellhole overnight even when the storm keeping them apart only lasted long enough for an (excellent) action scene. The only character whose emotions seemed right was Weyland’s representative Vickers (Charlize Theron, stony), though I guessed her role on the ship right from the start. Most frustrating of all, a particular character undergoes some dramatic stomach surgery, limps around for a bit, then is suddenly sprinting about and flinging themselves onto ledges. I don’t care how advanced medical surgery is in eighty years...just no. 

On the upside, though, I was never bored, and the effects of the ship and the aliens and space itself were marvellous (and I saw it in 2D, for the record). There are numerous scenes of dramatic tension that had me clutching at arm rests and people’s hands. The stomach surgery I discussed above was so suspenseful that I was almost climbing the soundproof walls to get to the other end of the scene. All the bad reviews in the world weren’t enough to stop me from seeing this, and the many reviews that list what I’ve discussed above, and probably some smarter or more subtle flaws as well (apparently Holloway yells “Noomi!” instead of “Ellie!” during a particularly sandy part of the movie), shouldn’t be enough to stop you either. It’s not terrible, it’s just that the errors were numerous and obvious. Just about anyone who’s seen this will feel compelled to see the sequel to figure out what the hell’s going on—me included—so it can’t be that bad. Go in with low expectations and you might be pleasantly surprised. 

I give it forty out of a hundred jars of black primordial goo.

Friday, April 27, 2012

the avengers

Since Captain America came out last year and Chris Evans’ upper-arm circumference became a bigger number than his paycheque, I—along with a good chunk of the population—have been nigh on frantic for the release of The Avengers. We knew it was going to star all of our favourite Avengers from previous Marvel-funded flicks—1940s transplant Captain America (Evans), metal-suited “billionaire genius playboy philanthropist” Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Russian spy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Norse god Thor (Our Chris Hemsworth), candidate for anger management Hulk (previously Edward “Jerkface” Norton, now played by Mark “Unshaven Face” Ruffalo) and a new-to-this-series arrow sharpshooter Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). We knew the bad guy was going to be Loki (Tom Hiddleston), a god with a big stick and hair that flicks up at the ends. (How I wish I knew his secret.) We knew Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) would bring them all together into a great big tasty Avengerrific pie. But would it live up to the hype felt by full- and quasi-nerds everywhere? 

When Loki, brother of the more Earth-friendly Thor, arrives on our planet, he leaves a trail of destruction and borrows a few good guys on his path to global domination. When the person you’re fighting is as powerful as Loki, you need to band together the best of the best—the superheroes that have been defending our beautiful world (read: North America). But when they’re all together, it’s a clash of egos and personalities—will they band together to defeat a god, or will their group fracture and disperse the power they have as a team? 

If that sounds trite, it’s because it is. Yes, I’m aware that in some circles (aka mine) anything but adoration for this movie is controversial. I’ve already been threatened with death, or maybe a sulk, I forget which. It has caused discord even in my own relationship, which will hopefully survive this conflict like it survived the great Sultanas: Yes Or No debate of 2004. But while it was perfectly serviceable, well-acted and fun, it wasn’t as good as it should have been. Much of this comes down to having a plotline that has been done countless times before. The heroes bouncing off each other is part of the fun, and the infighting isn’t even a problem—of course they’re all going to grate on each other. (Have you met Thor? He’s an asshole.) When they all start getting suspicious of each other and of Nick Fury, it’s ridiculous, especially when someone even points out in the film that Loki will try and prise them apart. While they can get to the group’s split (not really a spoiler, come on) in an interesting way, it’s just not a fresh concept. Yes, superheroes aren’t “fresh”, they’re comic characters that have been around for decades. It doesn’t matter. We’re sick of seeing these things happen. Get a new plot. 

Despite director Joss Whedon’s habit of making women kickass characters, the film doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. There are three major female characters: Black Widow, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, recently seen 400 times this week as Robyn from How I Met Your Mother). They never talk to each other, though they are all very cool. Black Widow, while having the best introductory scene, is also the only character to break down after a confrontation. Seeing the female hero shaking in a corner, while everyone else just picks themselves up and gets over it, was a disappointment, especially after she’d flipped that idea in an earlier scene with Loki. It’s corny—Bruce Banner falls on a “contents under pressure” sign at one point—and the effects are pretty average, with a lot of blur. Because I am tragic, I saw it in 3D, which might explain some of the wonky FX, but if you’re going to market a movie like Avengers as a 3D movie, do it properly—this is one of the first movies I wish I’d seen in 2D instead. Even though the Hulk was utterly entertaining, is he able to hold a conversation while Hulky or not? Because he was coherent in convenient moments, but not others. Whedon didn’t bother avoiding that frustrating, easy-out trope where an enemy—numerous and flying—vanishes for just long enough for an important conversation to happen. There are also some continuity errors (can I just hit my past self about the head for forgetting to take a notebook, I am clearly out of practise), including the frequent amount of times that Tony Stark can be seen swanning about without his chest glowing even though it had been just a minute earlier. These are all things I could get over separately if the movie’s excellence had otherwise blinded me to them, but sadly (and I’m genuinely sad, I wanted so desperately to love this) it just didn’t. 

To the movie’s credit, the characters are all staunchly excellent and the casting blissful—Ruffalo is a brilliant Banner, and made all Banner/Hulk scenes my favourite, even though I’d assumed I’d be squealing every time Cap opened his mouth. (Actually, he was kind of sulky.) The fight scenes were a knockout, and there are a few one-liners and comedic tussles that kept me smiling. Working with a great cast and acclaimed director meant it was never going to be a terrible film, but it should have been a brilliant one. The characters shared a mostly equal amount of screen time, though it could have been retitled Iron Man 3 in a pinch. Hawkeye, being the only entirely new addition to the movie franchise, suffered from lack of a backstory, but time constraints—the movie is already nearly two and a half hours long—make it understandable. 

I give The Avengers three and a half out of six superheroes. How do you get half a superhero? Well, Bruce Banner, but not the Hulk.

Friday, April 6, 2012

shit on my hands, madeleine hamilton and bunny banyai

It has been a while since I’ve last posted here, but I promise I have a good excuse. On March 11—nearly a month ago now, lord—at some ridiculous time of the morning, I had a baby. Her name is Natalie Rocket and she is the cutest baby ever, and I’m not at all biased so you should take my word for that. Going to a cinema is a little tricky at the moment, but I’m hoping to head to some of those sessions you can take a baby to or head to the excellent Hoyts Victoria Gardens, whose cinema 2 has a crying room. I do, however, plan to let my kiddo be babysat for the first time when The Avengers comes out later this month, because I am in love with Captain America.

I can review something, however: a lovely friend gifted me a copy of the small in stature but big in larfs book Shit on My Hands, by Madeleine Hamilton and Bunny Banyai. It’s pocket (or handbag or nappybag) sized and it’s about those first few terrifying days, months and years after you pop out a sprog. And it’s not at all twee, not even in a retro way (though it does have some hilarious retro pictures with terrible of-its-time kid-based advertising that must have decimated the population in the 1930s.) It’s just funny. And accurate. And there are swear words in it. Which you need to read when you’re trying not to curse so much in front of your new offspring.

Some choice phrases that made me laugh out loud include: “After you become a parent the nightly news may as well be called ‘terrible things that could happen to your child’.” (Incidentally I now cry at almost any ad with a baby in it because hormones.) On pink: “The birth of a baby girl...[is] also likely to herald the arrival of so much pink paraphernalia it’ll look like a flamingo has thrown up in your hospital room.” (True, but then as I only bought her blue or green clothes at least she now has an assortment of colours.) On competitiveness between parents about who has slept the least: “ ‘Well, my baby woke every fifteen minutes. And she vomited all over her sheets. Then she rang the Department of Human Services to tell them I was an incompetent turkey, before registering herself for membership of the Fascist Youth League.’ ” Look, there’s a million more things that are probably funnier, but unless I take notes (which I do at movies, and if I’m paying attention with books I fold over page corners when interesting stuff happens, but don’t tell my primary school librarian that or she’ll throw chalk at me) I am not good at remembering things. Especially now that I no longer sleep in any normal sense of the word. But take my word for it: this book is funny, and probably would be even if you don’t have kids or even want them, because then you can laugh at the pain of others. And if that’s not what life is about, I don’t know what is.

I give this book five out of five cute babies in hats, because I was in the mood for a laugh and I got one and anything more complicated than that can be saved for when I can walk properly again.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Not at all the new Girl with the Dragon Tattoo like the press is desperately trying to pass it off as, Headhunters is completely different, both in plot, character, and feel—and it’s excellent fun. Thundering along at great speed and with a main character who will lose your affections at the start and then win you back, this is how crime movies should be made.

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie, incidentally the first person convicted for doing graffiti in Norway), as he explains in a brief voiceover at the start, is 1.68m tall and compensates for his lack of stature with an oversized house and his improbably beautiful and tall wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), who, like a surprisingly number of people in crime books (this is adapted from Jo Nesb
ø’s book of the same name) but not in reality, runs an art gallery. He’s a headhunter, a recruitment agent who knows the value of reputation. He’s good at his job and makes a pack of money, but not enough to fund the lifestyle that he and Diana lead. To compensate, and with the help of his security company cohort Ove (Eivind Sander), he also moonlights an art thief more than happy to steal from the clients he’s hiring, and whose personal information it is ridiculously easy to discover when you’re the one doing the interviewing. Despite this, Roger’s finances are precarious and his emotionless affair with brunette Lotte (Julie Ølgaard) is coming to an end when he encounters the man who could change his life: Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, almost ridiculously handsome), the perfect candidate for the job Roger is hiring for, and someone who’s just inherited an original Rubens. Clas, alas, is not your everyday job hunter.

Roger is a total prong, and when everything in his life falls to shit you’re almost pleased—at first. Slowly, Roger regains your compassion and becomes a character you can get behind instead of one you want to push over, and kudos to Aksel Hennie (who has a bit of a Steve Buscemi look to him) for portraying a character arc you’re initially unwilling to follow. Part of this is the ridiculous situations it doesn’t take long for him to be in—you’ll probably want to cover your eyes for a particular hiding place he chooses, and for a fight he has with a dog—and part of it is his reactions, which don’t have you shouting at the screen “Augh! Why are you doing this?” but rather thinking: yes, that is the right thing to do. He’s a smart guy, just confused about his huge ego fighting with his lack of self-esteem. The characters that surround him are excellent too: Diana is lovely and misinterpreted, Clas ominous in his smoky expression, Ove hilarious in his introduction as he runs around his house naked shooting pop guns at a giggling Russian prostitute. Even the peripheral characters, including overweight identical twin police officers, and real-life police chiefs at a press conference, are wonderful touches that make this movie a cut above other action-type flicks.

The movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test—and the few women in it aren
’t at all simpering, but are still being used by men in some way. Having said that, the men are all jerks. It’s also a bit gory in parts, which isn’t necessarily a criticism but something to point out if you’ve got a weak stomach for such things. (A brief pan over someone’s crushed face is followed by a solid close-up you weren’t expecting; also, the aforementioned hiding and dog scenes.) There’s a discrepancy at the end that I haven’t quite figured out, but as I went to see it alone, I don’t have anyone to set me straight.

Those are all very, very minor gripes in a movie I genuinely adored. Go see it; it’s a thrilling, entertaining crime adventure that deserves a wider release than it will probably get, and equal, if not more hype, to the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which, as possibly an in-joke, Diana is actually watching the Swedish version of at one point.) I give it eighteen out of twenty machine gun bullets scattered on the ground.

Friday, February 3, 2012


Before I’d even seen this movie, I’d seen enough previews for it that I’d planned the review in my head. I was going to draw a comic which had three stick figures and went something like: THREE GUYS HAVE A WEIRD THING HAPPEN (picture of figures next to whatever gave them powers), GET POWERS (picture of them freaking out, waving their little stick arms), EVERYTHING IS FUN (picture of them doing fun thing), OH NO IT ALL WENT HORRIBLY WRONG WHAT A SHOCK (picture of them all dead with crosses for eyes). And look, my prediction wasn’t far off, because I have been to movies more than three times in my life and I know how these things go. But instead of cursing you all with my awful drawing skills, I’m actually going to give this a proper review, because it deserves one.

Chronicle opens with high school senior Andrew (Dane DeHaan, appropriately sulky and gawky) setting up his new video camera to record his life: his physically abusive, alcoholic father; his dying mother, strapped to machines in her bed; his school life, where bullies torment him mercilessly and the only person who gives him any time is his philosophical-stoner cousin, Matt (Alex Russell). Andrew doesn’t do himself any favours by bringing a video camera to school and creeping everyone out—in fact, he’s generally unlikeable, but wholly sympathetic regardless—but it comes in handy when, at a warehouse party, he’s summoned by Matt and the school’s gosh-darn endearing Mr Popularity Steve (Michael B Jordan) to a strange hole in the ground. They go underground, the camera gets fuzzy, things are weird, then bam: they are back in the sunlight and suddenly the three of them have developed telekinetic powers. All right! Awesome! This could never go wrong!

The movie succeeds because the three do exactly what you (well, I) would do if you had telekinetic powers. There’s a nod to the Lego video game franchise as they build things with their mind; they skim rocks over rivers; they use a leaf blower to blow up the skirts of the pretty girls. (Hey, I didn’t say they were mature about it.) They start small as they learn to control their powers, and the three develop a close bond
but it doesn’t take long before a harmless prank gets dangerously close to a fatality and the three lay down some ground rules, including the most important: don’t use the powers when you’re angry. However, teenagers do angry really well, and when things go wrong, it happens on an epic scale.

The movie centres around Andrew, as the one with the camera, but all three characters feel convincing: they dress and act like normal people, are occasionally jerks and frequently humane. Matt’s squirm-worthy attempts to prove to a girl that he’s, like, cool, but, like, above being like popular and stuff are painfully endearing; Steve’s determination to be a good politician see him take on Andrew as a challenge, where they use their powers to gain him popularity in the most wholesome way possible. Even Andrew’s jerk of a father has some depth: you hate him, but you have some understanding of him. This, all told in what is essentially a found-footage film (though both Chris and I had thought of the phrase “lost-footage”, as the movie uses footage from cameras that are destroyed, CCTV footage, people’s iPads and so on) is very impressive; it even dodges the problem of Andrew never being on camera when he gets the idea to control it with his mind so it is always looking at the scene from a short distance. The special effects are faultless, which makes the movie’s many tricks—small or large—great fun. The boys never break from character, and Chronicle tracks in an hour and a half the path to villainy that George Lucas barely achieved in the first (second?) three Star Wars movies.

Chronicle doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test—there are women, but they never talk to each other—and you do occasionally want to take Andrew by the ear and get him to the counsellor’s office for a thorough discussion about emotional control and dealing with turmoil at home (and finding somewhere new to live—or a way to get his father in jail.) But on the whole, Chronicle is a surprisingly excellent film that doesn’t bother too much with the why of getting superpowers (because really, who cares?) as much as what kind of person you are, and how you deal with them when you have them.

I give it four out of five car rides to school.

Monday, January 16, 2012

the skin i live in

Like the birthday kid at a swimming party, you’re thrown in in the deep end of this head-scratching psychological thriller and left to flail about helplessly for about the first half hour before someone throws you a flotation device, but even then, it’s maybe the equivalent of three ping-pong balls rather than a lifejacket. What this does have at the start is a brylcreemed Robert Ledgard (Antionio Banderas), craniofacial plastic surgeon extraordinaire who lives in a sprawling Spanish estate; Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya), a beautiful woman who wanders around a sparsely furnished room wearing nothing but a body stocking; and a house full of servants who seem totally at ease with the fact that Robert has a woman locked in a room in his house. Why she is there, why Robert has video cameras in her room that feed into his wall-sized television and why Marilia (Marisa Paredes)—his longtime housekeeper—is so complicit in the captivity so badly is the soul of the story, told back and forth in time from the death of Robert’s wife up to the present (actually the future, as it’s set in February 2012.)

I wouldn’t dare spoiler anything for you, but be assured the horror of the story—and you will be horrified—has little to do with the new, resilient skin that Robert is experimenting with and more to do with the horrendous acts people commit. If you aren’t in a position to deal with sexual assault on film, stay far away from this one. Not only are the scenes convincingly awful, as the experience must be, but the confusion surrounding them can make for an uncomfortable viewing. I’m loathe to say more and ruin the movie, which held countless surprises, but there you have it. It touches on a few sex/gender issues as well, which Pedro Almodovar has done in the past. Having a director out there game to try some new stuff is great, but I guess I feel a little out of my depth in commenting too much on it.

So, onto things I know! I know I generally love Antonio but found him completely alarming in this film; I know that the acting was amazing from everyone. Almodovar is adept at getting nuances out of actors who get offered Western roles that aren’t quite as meaty (Penelope Cruz, for example, is excellent in Volver but more popular in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, where everyone is required to be melodramatic) so seeing Banderas in a role where he wasn’t likeable was hard—because usually he’s so lovely in them—but also impressive. The choppy narrative style was an interesting route to take and, luckily, fell on the side of compelling instead of annoying (though I probably annoyed everyone around me by whispering my confusion at Chris every five minutes.) It was a very narrowly landscaped film—we get a feel for Ledgard’s home but not the environment around it, and only a few other settings, which means it doesn’t feel particularly Spanish (apart from the fact that it’s in Spanish and subtitled) and instead feels appropriately claustrophobic.

It’s a confronting, engaging, revenge-driven flick filled with relationships you’re continually unsure of. Who do you hate? Where does the right of revenge end? Why do people ask rhetorical questions anyway? Well, perhaps I’ll stop and just rate it something high like eight out of ten tiger stripes.

As requested by the lovely Afsana

Monday, January 9, 2012


The ten-minute introduction to the movie Hugo, before the title card even reminds you what you’re at the cinema to see, is an absolute popcorn-gobbling delight of special effects. As we follow the titular hero through the labyrinthine pathways that make up the landscape of his home—living behind the walls at a Parisian train station—we pass through cogs and pendulums and down slides and up rickety stairs, all merging seamlessly together to create an entirely new and beautiful world. Seeing this in 3D is even more incredible, and is an immediate way to engage your audience so that they’re staring slack-jawed with glee within moments.

The world of young boy Hugo (Asa Butterfield) himself is not so lovely. It’s 1931, and, orphaned after the death of his clockmaker father (Jude Law) in a museum fire and sent to live with his alcoholic uncle, his life goes from quiet contentment to ruination. Unable to go to school, running the station’s clocks is his only job, but one he must do perfectly in case anyone notices that as the movie begins, he is now alone, his uncle having abandoned him. Apart from the clocks, Hugo spends his time tending to a broken automaton his father found in a museum, trying to find parts for it—or to steal them from the station’s toymaker, Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley) out of view of the orphan-catching Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). After an altercation with Georges that sees him lose his father’s notebook, a precious memento that also holds the clues to fixing the writing-robot that is his father’s only legacy, he thinks all is doomed. But wait! Because it’s an adventure story (and a self-referential one at that), an effervescent girl named Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz, adorable) is waiting in the wings to befriend him, even though her guardian is Georges himself. And between them, they may just hold the not entirely metaphorical key to everyone’s angst—Hugo’s emotional and mechanical problems, and the secret her godfather has been keeping for years.

Hugo is a love letter to cinema itself: not only in its visuals, but in the subject matter and in the characters themselves. Hugo’s father adored cinema and took his son to films, whereas Georges has never let Isabelle see a movie in her life. There is a glorious line to make all movie-lovers sigh, as Hugo tells Isabelle about the first time his father had seen a movie: “He said it was like seeing his dreams in the middle of the day.” The history of film is touched on as well, as the first one shown—a train pulling into a station—causes the entire audience to shriek and run as the train barrels towards the camera. Connected to it all is cinematic genius Georges Melies, whom you might remember from a particularly referenced and adored film scene where the moon cops a rocket to the eye. Any movie about movies is one that floats my boat, and this is lovingly rendered in every way, where the recreations of hundred-year-old special effects still have the power to amaze, and the loss of film can cause the loss of much more personally.

Quirky French touches abound, as the station’s other occupants—flower-seller Lisette (Emily Mortimer), the object of the Station Inspector’s awkward affections; cafe owner Madame Emile (Frances de la Tour, one of three Harry Potter actors in the film—she played the French giantess); and newspaperman Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths, second Potter-person, Uncle Vernon) dance around each other and create a lightness and sweetness that the movie’s occasionally sad moments need. Moretz is a delight as an enthusiastic counterpart to Butterfield’s quiet grimness, and Cohen does a wonderful job making the initially dastardly Inspector a sympathetic character (it does take a while to warm to the man, though. What kind of jerk throws orphans in a cage?)

However I couldn’t really bond with Hugo himself, a character with a genuinely sorrowful backstory but who in Butterfield was unable to sell me on any of his emotions or the reasoning behind some of his actions. Sadly, this made him one of the least interesting characters in the movie for me. Papa Georges’ backstory, while interesting and visually entrancing, is not quite enough payoff for the build-up surrounding it—so I enjoyed the movie but still left the theatre feeling slightly unfulfilled. I do recall feeling the same way when I read the book as well: that I was hoping for a dramatic reveal and was underwhelmed. Characters frequently did the frustrating trope where they don’t explain their actions, choosing silence over logical discussion and making the movie stretch out into devastation when it could have been remedied by a nice chat over a cup of tea.

But it’s still a fun film, and kudos to director Martin Scorsese for doing to 3D what the mechanically brilliant young Hugo does to a mechanical mouse—injecting it with something new and wonderful. I give it eight out of twelve o’clock.

In Australia, Hugo is released January 12.

Monday, January 2, 2012

the girl with the dragon tattoo

David Fincher: he’s great, isn’t he? The Social Network was one of my favourite movies of recent years and he also made this little-known flick called Fight Club that you can’t mention in a sentence without everyone in the vicinity falling over themselves to sputter out their adoration of. He’s a talented director who knows how to craft addictive movies with an original edge.

So why, oh lord why, did he choose to remake Niels Arden Oplev’s Swedish film that was perfectly capable of telling the story already? Why did he waste months and years of his precious filmmaker time to give everyone a third outing of the Millennium Trilogy? 30 million people worldwide have read the books; the first film made over a hundred million smackers. This is not some obscure gem that needed a fresh facelift: it’s all tremendously modern and already available in literary and film formats. So the question is: what did Fincher hope to achieve with his version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and did he succeed? He claims that it is a completely different film from the Swedish version, but it’s not, of course. When they both work off the same source material, a dense brick of a novel with elaborate backgrounds for each character and incident, they are going to hit the same beats. Yes, it is different, because someone different directed it and the actors are different. Yes, it’s different because everyone speaks in English with Swedish accents (though they read Swedish-language newspapers.) But honestly, apart from a small change in the ending, it is the same film told the same way, and you’ll feel exactly the same by the end as you would at the end of the Swedish version. (That is: paranoid about government agencies, horrified by all men and never able to have sex again.)

It’s hard to see past that to judge the film on its own merits. Of course, it’s wonderfully cast: Rooney Mara captured the damaged (and thin) look wonderfully to be computer hacker/ward of the state Lisbeth Salander; Daniel Craig is the perfect age to be disgraced but excellent investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist; and Christopher Plummer is expansively patriarchal as Henrik Vanger, the wealthy industrialist who inadvertently brings the two together to solve a forty-year-old crime: the loss of his beloved niece. It’s not all Agatha Christie innocence, however: you will be disturbed, by the outcome and also by many scenes disturbing in both sexual and non-sexual gore (Lisbeth’s relationship with her new guardian Bjurman—Yorick van Wageningen—is especially something you’ll want to cover your eyes for.) The growing friendship between youthful Salander and craggy Blomkvist is convincing and enjoyable to witness; the peripheral characters are portrayed just about as you’d imagine them. On a visual level, Fincher perhaps overtakes Oplev purely because where Oplev sees the place he lives and conveys it in a natural way, Fincher sees it from our non-Swedish perspective, revealing the white, icy beauty and Ikea-white angles of homes and buildings. His intro, also, is quite mind-blowing, as a soft, tender tinkly piano barrels into a tar and sweat-soaked Karen O intro as Mara and Craig sex things up in an edgy, oiled-up way along with an eagle, a snake, and some raunchy flowers. Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor score the whole flick with requisite rage and gentleness.

Lisbeth’s use of Google and Wikipedia to track someone down seems to undermine her enormous talent in the hacking field; the Swedish accents sometimes slip; I felt that despite the epic running time—nearly three hours—Lisbeth’s storyline was not given enough time; during a Eureka moment for Blomkvist he makes such a ridiculous show of taking off his glasses in mute shock it seemed like a cliché in what is otherwise a very cliché-free movie; and in frustratingly Hollywood way of thinking, female Rooney is given countless crotch shots and appears fully naked frequently while male Blomkvist (who is polyamorous and hardly a prude) reveals his chest and the barest hint of butt-crack.

Still, these facts don’t at all ruin the film. Fincher’s use of actors in their natural, often makeup-free state is commendable (and something I enjoyed about the first movie trilogy); the long running time doesn’t mean the movie drags—it’s enthralling from start to finish; Mara’s Salander, like Noomi Rapace in the Swedish version, is an absolute treat of a character, scarred from a lifetime of people screwing her over but with a raspy charm all her own: wearing a t-shirt saying “Fuck you you fucking fuck”, explaining Blomkvist’s background to the man who has hired her: “Sometimes he performs cunnilingus. Not often enough in my opinion”—she really is amazing and is the new style of heroine everyone says she is. It passes the Bechdel Test (barely) and, in Sweden, is called Men who Hate Women, so the women are smart and not underwritten.

By all means, go see it if you’re unable to see the Swedish version—it’s a well-crafted film telling a wholly interesting and grotesque family crime story. But without it showing me anything new about the story (which admittedly, I have possibly overdosed on), it is still a vaguely pointless exercise. Because of this, and my clear ragey bias about it, I’m not going to give this movie a rating. See it for yourselves and let me know what you think.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is out January 12.