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REVIEW: The Hunger Games
Thursday 29 March 2012, 01:07PM
142 minutes, Rating: 15+ Director: Gary Ross Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland. With the blockbuster book set to become the biggest film of the season, it is impossible not to feel like The Hunger Games has missed a real opportunity to make an influential movie. For fans that are already familiar with the material, the film is probably fine, or at least adequate. For newcomers, it is an unequivocal dumbing down of some genuinely interesting conceptual content; a film inexplicably designed to set up a new franchise rather than deliver serious commentary on the serious social themes that arise within the material. The basic story takes place in a dystopian future where ‘the Capitol’ rules over the country of Panem (in what used to be North America), and uses ‘The Hunger Games’ to suppress the surrounding districts. Each year, one girl and boy are randomly chosen from each of the 12 districts to participate in the Games – where the 24 “tribute” children fight to the death until only one remains. With one or two exceptions, the non-District 12 tributes (that is, everyone other than our heroine, Katniss Everdeen) are blank caricatures that leave next-to-no emotional impact as either victims or villains. Obviously, with 24 tributes, it would be hard to get to know everyone; however the experience could have benefited from more time spent with the others. On the technical side, the camera work leaves a lot to be desired. Quick, frantic cuts probably helped the film maintain a more family friendly rating, but as a result, the film is short on captivating battle choreography or epic one-on-one confrontations. The action scenes that exist are shot on hand-held shaky-cam, and can be almost nauseating to watch. Part of the problem arises from the direction of Gary Ross – the master of movies that settle over you like a warm blanket. Ross delivers a family-friendly version of the gladiatorial death match with all the sharp edges are smoothed off. You have to wonder what the film could have turned out like in the hands of a horror auteur such as Guillermo del Toro. The best adaptations take novels and add something more to them, but this installment feels like a reduction. Rather than the engrossing, world-building spirit that imbued the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films, The Hunger Games is little more than a by-the-book (and buy-the-book) adaptation. 2 stars – Dane Halpin
REVIEW: Moneyball
Friday 23 March 2012, 10:10AM
133 minutes Rating: 13+  Director: Bennett Miller Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman There are not many sport movies that inspire you to become an accountant. But then Moneyball is, quite frankly, a bit of an oddball when it comes to sport films. Most notably, for a film about baseball, there is surprisingly little baseball actually shown. And those parts that do feature in-game action are perhaps the most tedious and drawn-out of the film. Instead, the real joys of this movie come from the nuanced performances, stellar script and well-judged direction, which admittedly may not appeal to everyone.Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team, who has an epiphany: that all of baseball’s conventional wisdom is wrong. Forced to reinvent his team on a tight budget, Beane has to outsmart the richer clubs with the help of impassioned numbers man Peter Brand (an uncharacteristically dramatic Jonah Hill). Director Bennett Miller, whose only major previous credit was 2005 film Capote, has a restrained but dead-on storytelling style that is an ideal counterpoint for a tale set in the volatile world of professional sports. Given what could have been fairly dry subject material, Moneyball relies heavily on Pitt’s ability to bring subtle humour to the real-life proceedings – and simultaneously, delivering believable emotional complexity in some especially tough scenes. The supporting bench definitely helps, with Philip Seymour Hoffman (as Manager Art Howe) and Brent Jennings (playing A’s coach, Ron Washington) offering some especially entertaining counter-points to Pitt’s more solemn portrayal. That said, with the exception of Beane, the story almost entirely pushes side characters out of the picture in the closing act, and the narrative becomes much more about Beane and how he “changed baseball” than about his team. It feels like it’s really building towards something, and then rapidly changes direction and rather abruptly ends. But if you take it for what it is, Moneyball is, at least in its attempts, ultimately an honest film that gives the audience unobstructed access to Beane’s quite remarkable journey, warts and all. Just don’t go in expecting a baseball movie. 4 stars – Dane Halpin
REVIEW: Chronicle
Thursday 15 March 2012, 04:22PM
Director: Josh TrankStarring: Dane DeHaan, Michael B Jordan, Michael Kelly, Alex Russell   Amongst the seemingly never-ending flood of superhero and found-footage projects released in recent years, it would be easy to write-off Chronicle as just another derivative grab for cash. However, following recent underwhelming faux ‘documentaries’ (such as The Devil Inside) and high profile, but ultimately uninspired hero flicks (Green Lantern), it’s safe to say Chronicle is poised to genuinely surprise a lot of moviegoers with intriguing characters, creative visuals, and a gripping central storyline.   The film follows the exploits of average teens Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Steve (Michael B. Jordan), and Matt (Alex Russell), who encounter a mysterious entity that results in them developing telekinetic abilities. Instead of the usual flat and shallow protagonists we have come to expect from the genre, Andrew, Steve, and Matt each have interesting interpersonal dynamics and arcs that flourish as they explore both their abilities and their newly formed friendships. While the succeeding events might be somewhat familiar to comic book movie regulars, the characters offer plenty of entertaining and believable moments – even after the movie takes a dark turn. However, the most interesting aspect of the film is the cinematography. While there’s no shortage of awkward ways in which the events of Chronicle are caught on film, some of the implementations represent a major step up for the genre. Early on, Andrew perfects the ability to move the camera with his telekinetic powers, resulting in far more dynamic and fluid cinematography. It also uniquely allows all the characters to be in various scenes, instead of always having one hiding behind the camera. Occasionally the format is a self-imposed limitation which leads to moments of contrivance – notably the inclusion of another student who is also documenting her life and handily provides another perspective. But for the most part it’s an inventive and fresh look at what can be done with the medium, and is worth watching for that reason alone. In sum, Chronicle isn’t just a unique found-footage movie or superhero film, it’s an enjoyable blend of the best each genre has to offer, even if that’s not a particularly high bar to clear. Three stars Dane Halpin
REVIEW: The Skin I Live In
Thursday 15 March 2012, 02:42PM
 117 minutes Rating: 18+ Director: Pedro Almodóvar  Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Alaya, Marisa Paredes   A twisted and depraved meditation on gender identity, our interior versus exterior lives, and of lust gone awry, The Skin I Live In is a film which is impossible to forget – whether you like it or not. It begins with a skin surgeon (Antonio Banderas) who keeps a beautiful woman (Elena Anaya) as a compliant prisoner in his palatial home. How she came to be there is a long and utterly disturbing story that gradually unfolds through an almost farcically complicated series of twists and flashbacks. Given this maze, The Skin I Live In is hard to analyse without giving too much away. Suffice to say that one of the movie’s most impressive abilities is the way in which it handles these surprises. Rather than dealing in dramatic revelations, the key plot devices come naturally from non-linear narrative. Put simply, Almodóvar doesn’t simply follow the Scooby Doo approach of tearing the rubber mask off the villain, instead taking a step back to look at every terrible moment the man endured that has led to his insanity. These complex situations – and unimaginable horror – are handled so casually that it draws us that much deeper into Almodóvar’s strange universe, forcing ever more heightened reactions to the content. While the film’s style and cinematography, brightly lit and clean to the point of sterility, stand in beautiful contrast to the story’s dark and disturbing elements, Almodóvar isn’t interested in examining notions of light and dark, as much as he wants to explore how we both protect and deceive ourselves. For Robert (Banderas), skin is what defines us. It can guard us, change us, and it projects our identity. In his world, Robert is a captive to his past, Vera (Alaya) is a captive to Robert, and both are held captive by the skin-deep delusions they’ve created for themselves. Through the non-linear structure of the movie, Almodóvar ignites a slow burning thought into your mind before dramatically blowing it up. The only downside is that the twist is so nerve-rattling it’s difficult to regain focus on the rest of the story, and nothing afterward can really compare. When Bruce Willis was declared dead at the end of The Sixth Sense, the story quickly came to its conclusion. But it’s a solid half hour where The Skin I Live In must deal with the ramifications of its twist, and it will be days before the film stops crawling under your skin. 4 Stars Dane Halpin
REVIEW: Haywire
Friday 2 March 2012, 04:25PM
Director: Steven Soderbergh Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas   There is a reason professional athletes stick to sport, and professional actors stick to acting – the skills sets generally don’t intersect. Steven Soderbergh (Oceans 11/12/13, Traffic, Contagion) sets out to prove that theory wrong in Haywire, enlisting pro Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Gina Carano as the film’s heroine. Does it work? Not really. Fighting in a caged octagon is one thing, but playing a character in a movie is a new arena entirely, and her lines don’t deliver the same punch as, well, her punches. Of course, Soderbergh is shrewd enough to know what Carano’s strengths and weaknesses are onscreen, and for a first-time movie lead, Carano acquits herself capably enough in the smattering of actual ‘acting’ moments in the film. Still, there’s no disguising that the real purpose of her being there is to provide some high impact fight sequences, and those she delivers in quite spectacular fashion, from her opening diner bout with Channing Tatum to the hotel suite brawl with Michael Fassbender and the many others in between. With his awful hairdo, McGregor is suitably slimy as Mallory’s betrayer; Bill Paxton is fun in a small role as Mallory’s former Marine-turned-author dad, while Douglas and Banderas bring some gravitas to their respective ‘suit’ roles. There’s plenty of running and gunning, naturally, but the true highlights are several one-on-one fights between Carano and her male co-stars, showing the combat in wide shots instead of tightly edited exchanges, and making the most of Carano’s natural propensity for violent exchange. But despite the solid action, it’s hard to see exactly what this film is aspiring to be. Haywire, like last year’s Drive, strips the plot down to its basic parts, leaving only a very lean action flick, but Carano lacks the on-screen presence of Ryan Gosling that made Drive so compelling. Thanks to a fairly dull script, the final destination of the film is clear, we have a pretty good idea of who’s to blame and what’s going to happen, and none of it is going to be very surprising. In the end, it comes off as little more than a high octane, low-concept pulpy action flick with the most generic of plots. 2 1/2 stars – Dane Halpin
REVIEW: Ghost Rider 2
Friday 24 February 2012, 02:44PM
95 minutes Rating: G Director: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor Starring: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Ciarán Hinds The first Ghost Rider film was considered by many, with good reason, to be the worst film of the decade. But if there is one thing that can be said conclusively about the sequel, Spirit of Vengeance, it’s that it makes the first one look good. The latest installment is almost completely devoid of story. There’s a kid, there’s the Devil (Ciaran Hinds) who wants to take over the kid’s body and fulfill some vague prophecy, Nicolas Cage turns into an angry flaming skeleton man, and Idris Elba likes wine. That’s about it. Cage does his best to inject energy into a script that couldn’t care any less about presenting anything of interest, but his incarnation of Johnny Blaze can only be described as schizophrenic, much like the film’s direction. With a list of screenwriters that includes Batman Begins and Dark Knight story man David S. Goyer, alongside TV writers Seth Hoffman (Prison Break, FlashForward) and Scott M. Gimple (The Walking Dead), one would expect Spirit of Vengeance to at least offer some quality action, compelling plot turns and a touch of engaging drama. Instead, what we get is one long chase sequence disguised as a story, punctuated by terrible dialogue and scene after scene where it feels like the actors are improvising everything rather than working from any kind of script. While the directing duo manage to create some impressive shots with their daredevil shooting style (which literally included getting towed behind motorbikes on roller skates), those individual shots do not translate into impressive sequences, and on the whole, a lot of the action in the film is dull. There are a few animated segments throughout the film that offer some nice Gothic artistry, but they are spliced rather awkwardly with the live action, and just don’t really fit in with the rest of the film. The movie offers almost no character development to speak of, and instead relishes in creating a handful of offbeat characters. Cage is almost to the point of self-parody with his oddball screen persona, Elba is resigned to stumbling around playing an overly happy drunken warrior, and Ciarán Hinds is wasted in his portrayal of The Devil. Spirit of Vengeance is also showing in 3D at Central in Phuket Town, and while there are some nice moments for the format, most of them involve ‘in your face’ antics. The rest of the time, the format – combined with the directors’ frenetic shooting style – is more headache than enhancement and not worth the hefty B240 price tag. This is the film that people are thinking about when they moan about superhero film culture and fanboy cinema.   1/2 star – Dane Halpin
REVIEW: Safe House
Friday 17 February 2012, 10:16AM
117 minutes Rating: 15+ Director: Daniel Espinosa Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson Taking the ‘thrill of the chase’ to a whole new level, Safe House is literally just a single extended chase scene, a loud and chaotic ride that packs a lot of bang at the expense of plot structure and character development. Directed by Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa, the film centres on rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), who is forced to turn himself in after years on the run selling government secrets. When a safe house he’s remanded to in Cape Town is attacked, rookie operative Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is thrown in the deep end as the two are forced to escape together and stay alive. On the surface, Safe House should be firecracker entertainment, but it feels more like a makeshift production; a series of set pieces that overvalue the need for frenetic action as opposed to dialogue and story. From the beginning, we probably know too much about Frost’s intentions. By keeping some of the plot a secret, the writers could have accommodated a few extra surprises instead of the grossly predictable ones we are left with. The script, by relative newcomer David Guggenheim, instead stumbles through just about every spy movie cliche possible, without ever turning them on their heads or providing fresh insight into familiar themes. The Cape Town setting is a refreshing change of backdrop – but that’s all it is. Throughout the film, we encounter no South African characters for more than 30 seconds, making it feel like a wasted opportunity to inject some fresh material into an otherwise stale story. And so with a substandard script offering few thrills, it is up to the relentless action to keep the audience hooked. And it does work, to an extent. The various martial arts duels are shot a close-range but are still discernible, thanks to a reliance on quick-cut editing rather than the nauseating ‘shaky-cam’ shooting style. The various fist-fights, shootouts and chase scenes are visceral experiences, and achieve a certain level of realism in terms of how the characters react to injuries. The tone is dark and gritty, and overall very engaging. But perhaps ironically, the main flaw is that there is so much action that it simply becomes monotonous. Most of the excitement actually come from the moments of calm that briefly punctuate the relentless action and allow Washington and Reynolds time to show off their respective acting talents – moments that are sadly few and far between. 2 1/2 stars – Dane Halpin
REVIEW: Man on a Ledge
Thursday 9 February 2012, 02:20PM
102 minutes Rating: 15+ Director: Asgar Leth Starring: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris With a title about as subtle as 2006’s Snakes on a Plane, there are absolutely no prizes for guessing what this film is about. Unfortunately, while snakes and planes have some value as content for mindless thrillers, men and ledges simply do not. The film centres on escaped convict Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), who re-surfaces in an expensive Manhattan hotel and suddenly steps out onto the ledge outside his window, where he will remain for almost the entire movie. The concept may not sound scintillating on paper – and that’s because it’s not – but Nick is obviously up to a great deal more than threatening to jump off the ledge of a hotel and create a splattered mess on the pavement below. For it emerges, through a poorly conveyed flashback structure that abruptly and unsatisfactorily falls by the wayside, that Nick is a former cop who has broken out of prison after being convicted for, wait for it, ‘a crime he didn’t commit’. Man on a Ledge sits firmly in the B-movie category of single-setting thrillers, so riddled with plot holes and logical inconsistencies that the pulling of any one plot thread will quickly unravel the whole show. Director Asger Leth is able to inject plenty of action into each scene, which serves well to distract us – at least until it becomes apparent that scriptwriter Pablo F. Fenjves doesn’t have that many tricks up his sleeve. Every plot point is cliched and foreseeable, and the film ends up getting by on tension and suspense alone – that is to say you’ll probably see what’s coming, but watching it play out is still somewhat enjoyable. As events unfold though, the implausibility of the entire situation only increases, and by the time that Nick Cassidy’s fate is decided, the story has pretty much gone off the rails. Visually the film isn’t too bad. Some of the heist sequences manage to create some good tension, and the editing is smart enough to keep things moving at a good pace without letting the mind settle for too long – which is the only way this movie functions at all. Yet the real problem is Worthington’s lead performance. He fails to bring the intensity and charisma needed for the character to hold our attention. Instead, he’s flat and dull and leaves you wondering how much more gripping the film would be with someone else standing on that ledge. US critics have said that Man on a Ledge is a metaphor for how perilous the Australian actor’s career has become after Avatar. That’s maybe a little cruel, but even Worthington recently admitted that he’s happy to continue playing action movie roles. He’ll have to pick better scripts and deliver more intensity than he shows here though – or else find himself pushed from that ledge. – Dane Halpin 1 1/2 stars
REVIEW: What’s Your Number?
Friday 3 February 2012, 04:10PM
106 minutes Rating: 13+ Director: Mark Mylod Starring: Anna Faris,Chris Evans, Joel McHale,Martin Freeman   What’s Your Number is yet another regrettable entry in the ongoing Hollywood saga of ‘when bad movies happen to good people’. Pretty much everyone in this movie, from star and executive producer Anna Faris (Scary Movie, The Hot Chick, The House Bunny) right down to Andy Samberg (Hot Rod) who is one of many comedic stars to make a brief cameo, is infinitely better than the material on offer. The basic operating principle for the movie is that women have a magic number when it comes to love – 20 to be precise, and if you haven’t found ‘the one’ by the time you’ve slept with that many, you’re unlikely to. Ever. Ally Darling (Faris) has already reached 20, so decides to revisit her list of ex-lovers, hoping her true love is somewhere among them. As well as being stupid, this concept is also inherently condescending and antiquated. The script is attributed to two women, Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden, and based on a novel by a third, Karyn Bosnak, so it’s a little unusual that it subscribes to the notion that a man with a history of promiscuity is ideal husband material, whereas a woman who has slept with 20 can expect to be regarded as a whore. But if you don’t take any of it too seriously, which, let’s face it, you’re not supposed to, then there are a few laughs in store. It’s definitely cheesy, but if anything, it’s like a fairly good Camembert. It lacks bite, and it’s fairly cheap, but still has it’s occasions where it’s highly enjoyable. Most of those moments though are through the enthusiasm and comic timing of Faris, and not through any divine intervention on the part of the scriptwriters. You can’t help but feel Faris is an incredibly talented comedic actress who’s just waiting for the right role to showcase her skills. This is not that role. But as likable as she is, and as charismatic Chris Evans (Captain America) can be, they really don’t make for a good romantic match. It’s hard to root for them to get together because although their characters seem perfectly nice, they don’t seem like they were ever meant to be more than friends. There are other issues as well. The filmmakers don’t seem to know what to do with all the time they’ve got, and they’ve got way too much of it. You really do feel like they’re checking off a list, working hard to get through all the exes even though we know from the outset what the conclusion is going to be. It’s tedious, and kind of pointless. Let’s just hope Faris doesn’t need to make 20 movies like this before she finds ‘the one’.– Dane Halpin 1 1/2 stars
REVIEW: Underworld: Awakening
Friday 27 January 2012, 10:12AM
88 minutes Rating: 15+ Director: Måns Mårlind,Björn Stein Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Sandrine Holt, Theo James, Michael Ealy   The summer blockbuster season is now officially over, meaning it’s now time to pick up the dregs coming out of the Hollywood studios. And so all hail Underworld: Awakening, the fourth installment in the franchise – and a miserable one at that. This was admittedly my first entry into the film franchise, and having not seen any of the last three entries (which came out in 2003, 2006, and 2009), it was difficult to make any sense of what this film was even about, aside from senseless violence, mediocre special effects, and an oppressively dark tone. True to its title, Awakening finds vampire warrior Selene (latex-clad Kate Beckinsale) waking up 12 years after humanity’s discovery and “purging” of the vampire and Lycan (werewolf) hordes living in their midst. However, before she can even get her bearings, she is swept up in a rescue mission involving a young girl named Eve (India Eisley). And that’s about it. Awakening looks and feels like an extended TV episode, rather than a big-budget feature film. The film is nothing more than a string of action sequences and cheap set-pieces, often shot at wide angles that reveal the elementary fight choreography, not helped by the amateurish direction of Swedish duo Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, whose primary experience is in directing television shows, as it so happens. Cheap CGI effects make the blood spatter, superhuman feats and supernatural creatures look caricaturish, and they clash awkwardly with the dark, serious tone of the rest of the film. Apparently a variety of writers worked on the script – including the original Underworld director Len Wiseman and Thor writer J. Michael Straczynski – but it’s hard to see where that combined effort was spent. There is almost no development of character or narrative, no thematic arcs, and a lot of the plot contrivances are so pronounced that it’s hard to take the movie seriously, even as a vampire flick. There was a lot of room for Kate Beckinsale’s character to experience some real development throughout the course of the film. Unfortunately, Selene reacts to her new circumstances with such unflinching stoicism that it’s hard to become invested in anything that’s happening. If you’ve enjoyed the previous films for what they are, or just enjoy watching Kate Beckinsale run around in latex, then you’re probably the sort of person who will still get kicks out of this film. For anyone else, don’t waste the time or money on this broken down piece of sorry cinema making. – Dane Halpin 1 1/2 stars
REVIEW: 5 Days of War
Friday 20 January 2012, 09:41AM
120 minutes Rating: 18+ Director: Renny Harlin Starring: Andy Garcia,Val Kilmer, Rupert Friend The war correspondent is the unsung hero of modern warfare in 5 Days of War, a highly fictionalised drama set during the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. An emphasis must be placed heavily on ‘fictionalised’ though, because Renny Harlin’s (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) latest film plays more like propaganda than any attempt to accurately portray the complexities of the South Ossetia War. It is unapologetically slanted and sentimental, which is likely to leave the uninformed moviegoer confused as to where the line between fact and fiction lies. The film stars Rupert Friend (Pride and Prejudice, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) as a talented but tormented war reporter who ships off to cover the brewing conflict; Emmanuelle Chriqui as his local love interest; an oddly cast but earnest Andy Garcia as the Georgian president; Val Kilmer as a seen-it-all veteran correspondent; and Dean Cain (yes, the guy from Lois and Clark), who has a few lines as a US press liaison. Heather Graham also has a cameo, but thankfully gets killed early enough into the fray that we don’t have to endure too much of her. But despite what can only be described as woeful miscasting and incredibly weak performances from the lead cast, 5 Days of War is ultimately sunk by the script, attributed to Mikko Alanne (who is also attached to Oliver Stone’s upcoming Vietnam War drama, Pinkville). Risibly simplistic in its notions of good and evil, and of what conduct constitutes heroism and what defines villainy, the film settles for easy irony instead of complex characterisation. It complains that CNN and other mainstream news channels unfairly present only one side of the story – and then proceeds to tell only the other side of the story, all the while claiming it as fact. Not at all surprising considering the film owes its initial funding to the Georgian government and lists a state minister as a producer. The combat, at least, looks good, with the military equipment reportedly provided by Georgia’s defence ministry. It makes good use of the hand held camera to evoke a more participatory response when watching it – there are moments when you really feel like you’re looking through the lens. But the rest of the film can’t convert this sense of engagement into delivering a tangible message; it is far more interested in its bland, underdeveloped fictional characters than in giving any sense of the scope of or motivations behind the war, which is shown from such a one-sided angle that it seems nonsensical – though Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili would most likely disagree. – Dane Halpin 2 stars
REVIEW: The Darkest Hour
Friday 13 January 2012, 01:36PM
89 minutes   Rating: G Director: Chris Gorak Starring: Emile Hirsch,Olivia Thirlby, Rachael Taylor When it comes to the creative design of its aliens, The Darkest Hour opts for a less-is-more approach. While this is often a recipe for success, unfortunately in this case, less is just plain less, as the space invaders of this surprisingly thrill-less Moscow-set thriller are invisible for much of the film. Even when you can see them, they resemble little more than floating Windows screensavers. Working from a story that is about as derivative and unimaginative as they come, director Chris Gorak sends two internet entrepreneurs (Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella) to Moscow to finish a business deal. When they learn that a Swedish opportunist (Joel Kinnaman) has stolen their idea, they head to a nightclub to lick their wounds and distract themselves with a couple of female tourists (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor). There the four – and the scheming Swede – will remain for the next few days as fireballs from outer space transform most of humanity into untidy piles of ash. But while we wait for the core cast to be reduced, we have time to ponder the pointlessness of the Moscow setting, seemingly chosen primarily to allow the filmmakers access to stock Russian stereotypes – like the crazy inventor and the band of armed-to-the-teeth resistance fighters. It’s almost like this apocalyptic fantasy expects dramatic shots of a depopulated Red Square to make up for a flatlining screenplay and the absence of even a single compelling character. It doesn’t. After his intriguing twist on biohazard drama in 2006’s Right at Your Door, director Gorak is slavishly obedient to genre expectations here, finding no way to enliven a by-the-numbers survival tale. And, really, it doesn’t get any more lazy than invisible aliens. If you’re going to tease the audience with nothing but flickers of light for three-quarters of the film, you need to have a supremely original and compelling reveal up your sleeve. But if all you have is the equivalent of exploding garden gnomes – which is what these aliens amount to – then your problems are greater than a disposable cast and a filming style as flat as the depressingly grey colour palette. As the film switches dramatically from survival horror to resistance fighting, you really should be rooting for the humans, but you might as well be rooting for the blobs. Most likely, though, you’ll just be rooting for the credits. 1/2 star – Dane Halpin
REVIEW: The Adventures of Tintin
Monday 9 January 2012, 09:36AM
The Adventures of Tintin107 minutesRating: GDirector: Steven SpielbergStarring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig If Indiana Jones had smooth skin, a British accent, lifeless eyes and no sense of humour, he might come across something like the plucky reporter at the heart of The Adventures of Tintin. Of course, Indiana Jones had none of those things which is what made him so great, and while Tintin undoubtedly has its moments of greatness, it is let down primarily by the weakness of its central character. After its highly stylised opening credits roll, the Steven Spielberg-directed motion-capture animation starts off excruciatingly slow. While we’re thrust immediately into the story, the first half an hour of the film feels like little more than a very good radio play, with some vaguely interesting images coincidentally happening at the same time. The story is good, the voices great, but the visuals are just okay, and not particularly exciting. Then something happens – the story really kicks into gear, and Spielberg, having become familiar with the rules of the cinematic format, goes about systematically breaking them. The result is an hour and a bit of awesome animated action. As Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Capt Haddock (Andy Serkis) race all over the world to beat the villainous Sakharine (Daniel Craig) to the treasure, the laws of physics, animation and storytelling are bent to breaking point. Unfortunately, beyond these impressive visuals and genuine globetrotting thrills, Tintin remains a difficult film to truly enjoy. It does feel like a cartoon version of Indiana Jones – and that’s true in terms of style and tone – but where they differ is that Indy is a captivating main character, whereas the baby-faced Tintin simply is not. He has no interesting flaws or central character points, nor does he develop in any way throughout the story. Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Lord of the Rings) is undeniably the master of motion-capture performance, but even he is underutilised, little more than a nonstop comic relief device – one that despite being entertaining, gets a bit tiring over the run of the film. More effective are the comic hijinks of Shaun of the Dead duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who play bumbling twin inspectors Thomson and Thompson; their screen time is more tapered, keeping their humour fresher and funnier than Haddock’s. As for Sakharine: he’s largely forgettable, and you probably wouldn’t recognise Craig’s uninspired voice work if you didn’t see his name in the credits. Despite these shortcomings, Tintin remains an entertaining film. It is unlikely to go down in Spielberg’s list of all-time greatest works, but if nothing else, it is an interesting experiment in motion capture technology that provides enough thrills and spills to keep fans and newcomers to the franchise entertained. –Dane Halpin 3 stars
REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Thursday 29 December 2011, 09:39AM
  129 minutes Rating: 13+ Director: Guy Ritchie Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams   First of all, a disclaimer: Ignore the title of this film. It bears little resemblance to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous works, nor does it do them any justice. But looked at as an independent entity, Guy Ritchie’s second incantation of Sherlock Holmes is a tremendously fun and entertaining action adventure that is bigger and better than the first. More than any other modern filmmaker, Ritchie has the ability to switch from slapstick silly to adrenaline pumping special effects action in a heartbeat, and in the Sherlock Holmes universe he’s created, he wilfully skips back and forth between the two with fantastically fun results. Game of Shadows is a direct sequel to Ritchie’s first Holmes instalment, and while it assumes you have seen that film, it is certainly not required viewing to be able to appreciate the latest offering. Diving straight back into the plot as Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) and Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) square off across Europe in an effort to prevent war between Germany and France, this is true edge of your seat stuff, full of explosions, chases and slow motion fight scenes (though the latter is unfortunately overused). The special effects silliness of Ritchie’s film is masterfully inhabited by Downey Jr and Jude Law, who continue their partnership as Holmes and Watson to wonderful effect. Within the first act of the film however, a shining beacon appears in the form of Harris as Moriarty, and all of the best scenes in the film are when he and Downey Jr are pitching against each other onscreen in a battle of wit and cunning. There is a sense of calm and concentration as the pair are simply indulging the audience in an acting master class, and it serves as a very welcome relief from the overblown nature of some of the other scenes. The torture scene especially is one of the more convincing sociopath displays that you will ever see on screen. Stephen Fry acts also as an element of more traditional comic relief as Holmes’ older brother Mycroft, although at times he feels a little underused. Some of his scenes contain more gratuitous gags that don’t really do Fry’s brand of intelligent and subtle humour justice. In the end, it comes down to a fairly simple summary: If you liked the first film, you will love A Game of Shadows. If you didn’t, you won’t. In fact, the main issue really is that the latest film just doesn’t feel like it is doing anything that different, or that it’s in any way moved on from the first film. Still, the detective story at its heart is strong, and once the comedy elements have found a more even pace towards the latter part of the film, it’s eventually very funny. It’s a movie you almost want to hate simply because of the sheer creative licence it takes to some of the greatest crime fiction literature ever produced. But try as you might, it is almost impossible not to find Sherlock Holmes explosively entertaining. –Dane Halpin 3 ½ stars
REVIEW: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Friday 23 December 2011, 04:35PM
132 minutesRating: 13+Director: Brad BirdStarring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg Nearly 15 years after the original Mission: Impossible film debuted (and 45 years after the TV series began), we are once again presented with another franchise offering of what arguably should have been limited to a single installment. But, more than six years after the rock-solid mediocrity of Mission Impossible III, Brad Bird has succeeded in his mission to bring a fresh and stylish M:I installment to the big screen. While Ghost Protocol doesn’t hit the mark in every scene or character interaction, the majority of the film is an in-your-face action adventure with a number of enjoyable performances and exciting set pieces. Unlike previous entries, the story in Ghost Protocol is pretty straightforward, with a linear race against time to stop a nuclear war. Tom Cruise once again returns as series lead, Ethan Hunt, who is incarcerated in a Russian prison at the opening of the film. When Hunt is sprung from jail, it’s only a matter of time before he’s caught in a shadowy conspiracy – one that doesn’t just result in the destruction of the Kremlin, but also the dissolution of the entire Impossible Missions Force (aka IMF); that is, with the exception of Hunt and his newly-formed team, which includes Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Jane Carter (Paula Patton). While some franchise fans might wish for a few more twists and turns, Bird’s installment in the series works largely because it keeps the focus grounded in the moment on a number of eye-popping action set-pieces, as well as tense, and interesting, character interactions. But the trimmed-down plot in Ghost Protocol is by no means thin, and successfully provides a sharp and believable globe-trotting James Bond-like adventure, leaving room for plenty of Bird’s style and humour. Despite the high stakes, the film manages to find an enjoyable balance between  tongue-in-cheek absurdity in the onscreen hijinks, and a tense and relatively realistic tone. While Cruise has always carried the M:I movies, his performance this round is particularly in sync with Bird’s tone and style. Ethan Hunt’s personality, despite being an action hero stereotype on principle, has been somewhat amorphous from film to film. But in Ghost Protocol, the story humanises Hunt: we’re privy to moments of him struggling with loss, frustration, and even his sense of humour. Regardless of which director is at the helm, the M:I series has always been about action and spy/infiltration scenarios, and there’s no doubt Ghost Protocol delivers on those points. Bird takes the series up a notch with enjoyable performances and character dynamics (even if a few fall flat), as well as a straightforward but still intriguing story that keeps the action moving at a steady clip. 3 1/2 stars



Melbourne Cup 2018