Sunday, December 28, 2008

Epic Australia

Finally prised myself off the sofa today and put aside the junk food and the remote control to go and see Australia. I will admit, this wasn't my first choice (that would have been Yes Man cos I'm reading the book) but I had to go and see something non-comedic because I was going with my sister who has a chest infection and laughter of any sort pre-empts a scary coughing fit.

However, I was glad I saw Australia in the end as it was highly entertaining despite its length (165 minutes) and was full of gorgeous imagery. Seriously - if it emerges that Baz Luhrman was paid by the Australian government to make this film as tourism propaganda, I will have no trouble believing it. The country has never looked more inviting.

The film has epic written all over it. Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman play parts that you can just imagine stars like Clark Gable and Ingrid Bergman pulling off. She's Lady Sarah Ashley, an English aristocrat who comes to Australia in 1939 to find out if her husband Maitland has managed to bankrupt the remote cattle station he's been running with her money. Jackman is The Drover, the rough cowboy her husband pays to pick her up in Darwin. The two characters meet and predictably hate each other on sight. The Drover drives her to Faraway Downs, the cattle station in question, only to find that Maitland has already been murdered. The most likely suspect is local Aboriginal shaman King George, whose mixed-race grandson Nullah lives on the station.

Sarah, who cannot have children, and the orphaned boy soon form a bond and she decides to stay on the farm and make a go of the business. But she faces two obstacles: the 1,500 cattle must be brought to Darwin to be sold and cattle magnate King Carney (Bryan Brown) is determined to stop her and maintain his monopoly of the beef market.

The first half of the film, which sees Sarah engaging The Drover's services in order to drive the cattle to Darwin across an unforgiving landscape and against incredible odds, is brilliantly done and plays out like a true Australian Western. The finale, which takes place in World War II-era Darwin, is also involving and effective. I'd argue that the part in the middle sags badly and that this is where scenes could definitely have been cut. The film's other main problem are the villains, in particular Carney's henchman Fletcher (David Wenham). They are simply moustache-twirling stock baddies who could have been fleshed out a lot more.

But the good outweighs the bad - Nicole Kidman is better than I've seen her in ages and she is matched by Hugh Jackman who is perfect as the macho hero. Brandon Walters is outstanding in his debut role as Nullah and steals every scene he is in. Overshadowing the storyline is the Australian government's horrifying policy of taking mixed-race Aboriginal children away from their families and placing them in church care. Both the opening and closing subtitles refer to this atrocity and it is this that remains in your mind after seeing the film - that and the incredible beauty that is Australia.

Epic Australia

Finally prised myself off the sofa today and put aside the junk food and the remote control to go and see Australia. I will admit, this wasn't my first choice (that would have been Yes Man cos I'm reading the book) but I had to go and see something non-comedic because I was going with my sister who has a chest infection and laughter of any sort pre-empts a scary coughing fit.

However, I was glad I saw Australia in the end as it was highly entertaining despite its length (165 minutes) and was full of gorgeous imagery. Seriously - if it emerges that Baz Luhrman was paid by the Australian government to make this film as tourism propaganda, I will have no trouble believing it. The country has never looked more inviting.

The film has epic written all over it. Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman play parts that you can just imagine stars like Clark Gable and Ingrid Bergman pulling off. She's Lady Sarah Ashley, an English aristocrat who comes to Australia in 1939 to find out if her husband Maitland has managed to bankrupt the remote cattle station he's been running with her money. Jackman is The Drover, the rough cowboy her husband pays to pick her up in Darwin. The two characters meet and predictably hate each other on sight. The Drover drives her to Faraway Downs, the cattle station in question, only to find that Maitland has already been murdered. The most likely suspect is local Aboriginal shaman King George, whose mixed-race grandson Nullah lives on the station.

Sarah, who cannot have children, and the orphaned boy soon form a bond and she decides to stay on the farm and make a go of the business. But she faces two obstacles: the 1,500 cattle must be brought to Darwin to be sold and cattle magnate King Carney (Bryan Brown) is determined to stop her and maintain his monopoly of the beef market.

The first half of the film, which sees Sarah engaging The Drover's services in order to drive the cattle to Darwin across an unforgiving landscape and against incredible odds, is brilliantly done and plays out like a true Australian Western. The finale, which takes place in World War II-era Darwin, is also involving and effective. I'd argue that the part in the middle sags badly and that this is where scenes could definitely have been cut. The film's other main problem are the villains, in particular Carney's henchman Fletcher (David Wenham). They are simply moustache-twirling stock baddies who could have been fleshed out a lot more.

But the good outweighs the bad - Nicole Kidman is better than I've seen her in ages and she is matched by Hugh Jackman who is perfect as the macho hero. Brandon Walters is outstanding in his debut role as Nullah and steals every scene he is in. Overshadowing the storyline is the Australian government's horrifying policy of taking mixed-race Aboriginal children away from their families and placing them in church care. Both the opening and closing subtitles refer to this atrocity and it is this that remains in your mind after seeing the film - that and the incredible beauty that is Australia.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Twilight - the review



Just saw Twilight and here's what I thought:

The money-making machine that is Twilight has hit Irish screens - and if the (mostly teenage) audience reaction in my cinema is anything to go by, resistance is futile.

Based on the first of Stephenie Mayer’s bestselling series of novels, Twilight tells the story of teenager Bella Swann, who moves to the town of Forks in Washington State to live with her dad. Her father is the local police chief and soon finds himself investigating a spate of deaths that apparently involve a wild animal. Or do they?

Meanwhile, Bella starts at the local high school where she encounters the mysterious Cullen siblings and in particular the enigmatic 17-year-old Edward. The Cullens are a family of foster children and this, as well as their aloof manner and deathly-pale skin, sets them apart from the other kids. Edward seems to detest Bella on sight, but a series of strange events and a growing attraction to each other conspire to bring them together and expose his family’s secret. It comes as no surprise at all, of course, that they are vampires, albeit vegetarian ones (they only drink the blood of animals). But though we have seen the vampire family idea before, it is done in a fresh and surprisingly funny manner – “It gives us an excuse to use the kitchen for the first time.” says Edward’s mother when Bella visits the family house for dinner.

The good and bad vampires idea – for there are also vampires who are only too happy to hunt people – has also been done before in films like The Lost Boys and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and arguably, these previous efforts did it better. This is a 12A film so obviously it is low on gore but did it have to be so low on scares? The evil vampires, led by Cam Gigandet, are a toothless bunch and don’t present much of a threat.

The real threat in this film, of course, comes from Edward himself. He and Bella fall in love, but can’t consummate their relationship or even kiss for fear that Edward will lose control and kill her with a bite. This has inevitably led to a comparison with sexual abstinence movements in the U.S. (and the fact that Meyer is herself a Mormon has added to the argument). I think that if anything, though, this is reading too much into what is a clever and compelling plot device.

I will confess that I haven’t read the novel and had little or no expectations walking into the cinema. That I enjoyed the film and would pay to see a sequel is mainly down to the well-drawn heroine and the amusingly-written supporting characters. Kristen Stewart is likeable as Bella, despite playing possibly the most angst-ridden teenage girl I’ve seen on screen in a long time. Her school friends are realistically-played and the vampire family, especially the parents portrayed by Peter Facinelli and Elizabeth Reaser, are interesting characters that could be developed much better in any future films. It is ironic, seeing as he plays the supposedly charismatic Edward, that Robert Pattinson’s is possibly the least-engaging character. Whether Pattinson can do more than pout and look mysterious or whether he’s going to get typecast like Orlando Bloom, only time will tell.

In the meantime, Twilight is an engaging and beautifully-shot teenage movie that parents will probably enjoy more than they will admit.

Twilight - the review



Just saw Twilight and here's what I thought:

The money-making machine that is Twilight has hit Irish screens - and if the (mostly teenage) audience reaction in my cinema is anything to go by, resistance is futile.

Based on the first of Stephenie Mayer’s bestselling series of novels, Twilight tells the story of teenager Bella Swann, who moves to the town of Forks in Washington State to live with her dad. Her father is the local police chief and soon finds himself investigating a spate of deaths that apparently involve a wild animal. Or do they?

Meanwhile, Bella starts at the local high school where she encounters the mysterious Cullen siblings and in particular the enigmatic 17-year-old Edward. The Cullens are a family of foster children and this, as well as their aloof manner and deathly-pale skin, sets them apart from the other kids. Edward seems to detest Bella on sight, but a series of strange events and a growing attraction to each other conspire to bring them together and expose his family’s secret. It comes as no surprise at all, of course, that they are vampires, albeit vegetarian ones (they only drink the blood of animals). But though we have seen the vampire family idea before, it is done in a fresh and surprisingly funny manner – “It gives us an excuse to use the kitchen for the first time.” says Edward’s mother when Bella visits the family house for dinner.

The good and bad vampires idea – for there are also vampires who are only too happy to hunt people – has also been done before in films like The Lost Boys and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and arguably, these previous efforts did it better. This is a 12A film so obviously it is low on gore but did it have to be so low on scares? The evil vampires, led by Cam Gigandet, are a toothless bunch and don’t present much of a threat.

The real threat in this film, of course, comes from Edward himself. He and Bella fall in love, but can’t consummate their relationship or even kiss for fear that Edward will lose control and kill her with a bite. This has inevitably led to a comparison with sexual abstinence movements in the U.S. (and the fact that Meyer is herself a Mormon has added to the argument). I think that if anything, though, this is reading too much into what is a clever and compelling plot device.

I will confess that I haven’t read the novel and had little or no expectations walking into the cinema. That I enjoyed the film and would pay to see a sequel is mainly down to the well-drawn heroine and the amusingly-written supporting characters. Kristen Stewart is likeable as Bella, despite playing possibly the most angst-ridden teenage girl I’ve seen on screen in a long time. Her school friends are realistically-played and the vampire family, especially the parents portrayed by Peter Facinelli and Elizabeth Reaser, are interesting characters that could be developed much better in any future films. It is ironic, seeing as he plays the supposedly charismatic Edward, that Robert Pattinson’s is possibly the least-engaging character. Whether Pattinson can do more than pout and look mysterious or whether he’s going to get typecast like Orlando Bloom, only time will tell.

In the meantime, Twilight is an engaging and beautifully-shot teenage movie that parents will probably enjoy more than they will admit.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Write a Christmas hit, make millions....

It's at this time of year that I usually start thinking about writing a Christmas movie. It just seems like such an obvious idea - every time a movie you've written gets shown on the telly, you get a royalty payment. And at this time of year every Christmas movie ever made, no matter how bad, seems to get at least one outing. It's a no-fail way to make money! If I could write music I'd write a Christmas song, too. And one about birthdays - there aren't enough songs about those.

I was thinking, therefore, about good and bad Christmas movies. I think one of the worst I've ever seen was Mary Christmas (starring Jenny McCarthy, about Santa's errant daughter). Bet the guy who wrote it is still making money though! Here's my top five favourite Christmas films...

Seasonal crackers
Miracle on 34th Street - I've never seen the original, only the 1994 version with Richard Attenborough. But I get a lump in my throat every time I watch it. Every department store Santa should be like him!

It's a Wonderful Life - What's brilliant about IaWL is that it has this great bleak side to it as well as the heartwarming side. All Christmas movies should have this sort of duality cos this is a time of year when tempers are fraying and people are getting family-rage. I even had butcher shop-rage this year when a granny tried to start something with me in FX Buckleys.

Scrooged - You can't have a Christmas movie list without a version of Scrooge and this has Bill Murray in it when he was still funny, so it's a winner. I've seen this film a dozen times and it's still hilarious. A bit like...

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - Again, I've seen this nearly every Christmas I've been alive and I still laugh at the squirrel in the Christmas tree and the granny who's wrapped her cat up as a gift.

Die Hard - a strange choice, maybe, but it all takes place at Christmas and Holly Gennaro McClane's colleagues are just trying to have an office party - damn those pesky terrorists and their gatecrashing! Holly is clearly cursed at Christmas (despite her festive name) cos terrorists interruped the season for her again in Die Hard 2.

Get this lot on DVD and you won't be stuck for something to watch!

Write a Christmas hit, make millions....

It's at this time of year that I usually start thinking about writing a Christmas movie. It just seems like such an obvious idea - every time a movie you've written gets shown on the telly, you get a royalty payment. And at this time of year every Christmas movie ever made, no matter how bad, seems to get at least one outing. It's a no-fail way to make money! If I could write music I'd write a Christmas song, too. And one about birthdays - there aren't enough songs about those.

I was thinking, therefore, about good and bad Christmas movies. I think one of the worst I've ever seen was Mary Christmas (starring Jenny McCarthy, about Santa's errant daughter). Bet the guy who wrote it is still making money though! Here's my top five favourite Christmas films...

Seasonal crackers
Miracle on 34th Street - I've never seen the original, only the 1994 version with Richard Attenborough. But I get a lump in my throat every time I watch it. Every department store Santa should be like him!

It's a Wonderful Life - What's brilliant about IaWL is that it has this great bleak side to it as well as the heartwarming side. All Christmas movies should have this sort of duality cos this is a time of year when tempers are fraying and people are getting family-rage. I even had butcher shop-rage this year when a granny tried to start something with me in FX Buckleys.

Scrooged - You can't have a Christmas movie list without a version of Scrooge and this has Bill Murray in it when he was still funny, so it's a winner. I've seen this film a dozen times and it's still hilarious. A bit like...

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - Again, I've seen this nearly every Christmas I've been alive and I still laugh at the squirrel in the Christmas tree and the granny who's wrapped her cat up as a gift.

Die Hard - a strange choice, maybe, but it all takes place at Christmas and Holly Gennaro McClane's colleagues are just trying to have an office party - damn those pesky terrorists and their gatecrashing! Holly is clearly cursed at Christmas (despite her festive name) cos terrorists interruped the season for her again in Die Hard 2.

Get this lot on DVD and you won't be stuck for something to watch!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Comedians - do they have a sell-by date?

Every couple of years a new batch of comedians hit the scene and everything they touch turns to gold (or ticket sales). But four or five years later they inevitably start to churn out more turkeys than a turkey farmer on a turkey farm at Christmas time. So who are the current old guard, who are the new boys and who’s just starting to fray at the edges?

The Old

Steve Martin – he’s had many highs (The Man With Two Brains, The Jerk, Planes, Trains and Automobiles) and lows (too many to mention but I’m going to single out The Pink Panther remake). But he’s still standing and still sells tickets.

Chevy Chase – a blast from the past who hasn’t had a hit movie in well over a decade, but a friend of mine who works at Dublin airport saw Mr. Chase pass through recently and get swamped by fans looking for autographs. Not surprising, considering that the Lampoon films and Caddyshack are on constant re-runs on TV.

Bill Murray – the grumpiest legend of all, Bill hasn’t done a straight-up comedy in a while. Will he fulfil my dream in 2009 and re-unite The Ghostbusters for number 3? I really hope so…..

Fraying at the Edges

Jim Carrey – Carrey is another comedian who has spent the last few years avoiding comedy with mixed results (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was excellent, Number 23 was not). But he’s making a comeback this month with Yes Man. Danny Wallace’s book was hilarious – let’s hope for Jim’s sake that the film is too cos he needs a hit.

Adam Sandler – Zohan was bad in an unfunny way and Bedtime Stories looks bad in a cloyingly-cute Disney way. To be honest, I haven’t laughed at an Adam Sandler movie since The Wedding Singer.

The Frat Pack – They’re all way too old to be still doing this shit, and judging from the desperation in their eyes, they know it. Yes, Messrs. Wilson, Ferrell and Vaughn, that’s you. I’m giving Ben Stiller a temporary reprieve because Tropic Thunder was so brilliant it made me snort Fanta through my nose.

The New

Judd Apatow’s stable – Apatow has more or less taken over Hollywood comedy and for now, at least, his line-up of actors are the hottest names in Hollywood. And this despite the fact that Seth Rogen et al look like they should be crunching code for Microsoft rather than appearing in movies with babes.

But if there’s one thing they should know it’s that the public tires of comedy performers just as fast as they fall in love with them. Sooner or later, just like the comedians that have gone before them, the hits will dry up and their jokes will start to stink like old cheese. But will they rise to the top like Bill Murray and keep coming back for more or sink like Chevy Chase and become the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question? Only time will tell…..

Comedians - do they have a sell-by date?

Every couple of years a new batch of comedians hit the scene and everything they touch turns to gold (or ticket sales). But four or five years later they inevitably start to churn out more turkeys than a turkey farmer on a turkey farm at Christmas time. So who are the current old guard, who are the new boys and who’s just starting to fray at the edges?

The Old

Steve Martin – he’s had many highs (The Man With Two Brains, The Jerk, Planes, Trains and Automobiles) and lows (too many to mention but I’m going to single out The Pink Panther remake). But he’s still standing and still sells tickets.

Chevy Chase – a blast from the past who hasn’t had a hit movie in well over a decade, but a friend of mine who works at Dublin airport saw Mr. Chase pass through recently and get swamped by fans looking for autographs. Not surprising, considering that the Lampoon films and Caddyshack are on constant re-runs on TV.

Bill Murray – the grumpiest legend of all, Bill hasn’t done a straight-up comedy in a while. Will he fulfil my dream in 2009 and re-unite The Ghostbusters for number 3? I really hope so…..

Fraying at the Edges

Jim Carrey – Carrey is another comedian who has spent the last few years avoiding comedy with mixed results (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was excellent, Number 23 was not). But he’s making a comeback this month with Yes Man. Danny Wallace’s book was hilarious – let’s hope for Jim’s sake that the film is too cos he needs a hit.

Adam Sandler – Zohan was bad in an unfunny way and Bedtime Stories looks bad in a cloyingly-cute Disney way. To be honest, I haven’t laughed at an Adam Sandler movie since The Wedding Singer.

The Frat Pack – They’re all way too old to be still doing this shit, and judging from the desperation in their eyes, they know it. Yes, Messrs. Wilson, Ferrell and Vaughn, that’s you. I’m giving Ben Stiller a temporary reprieve because Tropic Thunder was so brilliant it made me snort Fanta through my nose.

The New

Judd Apatow’s stable – Apatow has more or less taken over Hollywood comedy and for now, at least, his line-up of actors are the hottest names in Hollywood. And this despite the fact that Seth Rogen et al look like they should be crunching code for Microsoft rather than appearing in movies with babes.

But if there’s one thing they should know it’s that the public tires of comedy performers just as fast as they fall in love with them. Sooner or later, just like the comedians that have gone before them, the hits will dry up and their jokes will start to stink like old cheese. But will they rise to the top like Bill Murray and keep coming back for more or sink like Chevy Chase and become the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question? Only time will tell…..