Posts Tagged ‘movie’



August 27, 2007

The Lives of Others / Das Leben Der Anderen review

Matt: 5 Stars
Four Stars

Length: 137min


Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Germany’s secret police listened to your secrets.

Review by Matt:

The Lives of Others is an astounding film by first-time director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It is set in 1980’s East Berlin – a very bleak place. The Berlin Wall still divides Germany into East and West. East Germany’s notorious secret police – the Stasi – monitors citizens in its declared quest to “know everything” and to uncover and eliminate any subversive threats to its “socialist paradise”.

Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is an experienced and dedicated Stasi officer. He is a true believer. When he is assigned to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), Wiesler sets about the task with humourless efficiency. With the audio bugs installed, he nestles in a hidden niche of Dreyman’s building and listens covertly to the lives of the writer and his actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck), expecting to uncover something seditious.

What he does discover is that the close experience with the lives of these people has an effect on him. Much about the couple’s life contrasts to the austerity of Wiesler’s own life – the touching frailty of their romance, the presence of art and music. As he listens from his spy-nest, Wiesler unexpectedly finds himself tempted to use his privileged position to intrude into the lives of those he is supposed to be observing.

The resulting story is drama at its best. It unfolds like a thrilling novel. Georg is actually not one to rock the boat, unlike some of his dissident colleagues. But during the period of surveillance, tragedy jolts him into considering a subversive plot to expose some of the egregious truth about this Orwellian state. A perilous move. Christa-Maria is also in danger, coerced into a secret romance with the exploitative and swine-like Minister Hempf. And while Wiesler listens to it all, behind his inexpressive face he is pondering his own relationship with this authoritarian world. The audience, as the privileged, omniscient voyeur, nervously watches the fateful interconnections between the characters, as each minute sinks them further into the Stasi’s hazardous mire. The Lives of Others relentlessly builds a high-tension political and moral drama that turns our stomachs and spins our moral compasses. As is common, the tension was enough for Tracy to flee the room, missing some of the crucial moments.

Von Donnersmarck pulls us smartly through his finely written plot without any needless flashiness. The authentic characters splash colour into the drab totalitarian landscape. They’re thoughtful and complex, and brought to life by superior acting, so that we’re unavoidably drawn into their universe. Mühe is an especially riveting Stasi drone. From this foundation, the film eventually delivers us to what must be one of the most meaningful and moving conclusions in cinema.

The Lives of Others is not just a picture of life under the Stasi. It is a film about human nature, its depth, and its potential range of morality. It gives us much to contemplate about people and their decisions, decency and wickedness, creativity and relationships. It is precise and intelligent, thrilling, moving, and brilliantly scripted and acted. Like good art should, it will leave you with profound feelings that will linger long after the credits have rolled. It did for me – and I think that this is a rare five star film.


WILD HOGS (2007)

August 12, 2007

Wild Hogs review

Wild Hogs

Note, this picture is not from the movie. But a promotional still might give you the wrong impression – the feeling evoked by this picture is more accurate. That’s right, soak it up.

Adam: One and a half stars

Length: 100min


A lot can happen on the road to nowhere.
Four guys from the suburbs hit the road… and the road hit back.
Four guys. 2000 miles. How wild can it get?
Ride hard… or stay home!

Review by Adam:

I saw this movie on a flight from Australia to Bali because I didn’t want to rent one on the plane. In hindsight I would have paid twice the rental amount to have watched something else. This is the sort of movie that once you see the poster you immediately think “god what an awful movie”…and you’re right. Just think of the comedy gold that was Big Momma’s House 1 & 2, multiply that by Home Improvement and you’ve got yourself the pile of crap that is this movie. So bad was this film that I spent most of its length trying to work out the plot of Blood Diamond on my mate’s rented video beside me.

The general plot is that four suburban 40-somethings are having a mid-life-crisis. They belong to a social motorbike gang called the, wait, “Wild Hogs”. They all live rather mundane lives. One is a dentist, one a plumber, one a failing businessman and the other a computer geek afraid to speak to women. In an attempt to regain some relevance to his son, Tim Allen, gets the boys together for a road trip across the States.

This is where the adventure begins. The “Hogs” stop into a bikie pub somewhere on the way owned by a ‘real’ bikie gang called the “Del Fuegos”. The “Hogs” get muscled out and William H. Macy’s geek character loses his bike in a trade. They’re told to beat it and leave the bike riding to real bikers. Travolta engineers some payback, steals back Macy’s bike and enacts revenge. Long story short, they end up in a nearby town that is being terrorized by the Del Fuegos and they decide to stay and help out. Along the way they all find whatever it is they need to within themselves and Macy falls in love with Marisa Tomei. Why are both Tomei and Macy in such a bad film? That’s what you spend most of the time trying to work out.This movie is imbued with all sorts of homophobic tones and tendencies. Tim Allen’s alpha-male role from Home Improvement wouldn’t look out of place in this film. All the characters display the sort of discomfort amongst men as those who beat queer-identifying people.

Overall, this movie is a total waste of time. For some unfathomable reason there is talk of a sequel. Tip for movie makers: if your first movie isn’t funny AT ALL, the idea sucks, so don’t make a sequel.



August 12, 2007

Blades of Glory review
Blades of Glory

Matt: Three and a half Stars
Three and a half Stars

Length: 93min


Kick some ice.

Review by Matt:

One day I’d like to see a well-put-together montage of the best toilet humour from Earth’s 105 years of cinema. I don’t even have to think too hard for many images to immediately spring to mind: Jeff Daniels panicking from a laxative attack in Dumb and Dumber, Ewen McGregor crawling down the bowl in Trainspotting, the restroom assassin in Austin Powers. And since seeing Blades of Glory, I can add Jon Heder on the bathroom floor doing, well, I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Making it into the toilet montage isn’t a distinguished achievement in itself. What is an achievement though, is that Blades of Glory taps that special, deep-rooted power that the toilet holds over the human psyche in a way that will make us laugh (and also simultaneously moan – a strange squawking sound). And the film is able to keep making us laugh, even though it actually rarely dives into the toilet bowl. Blades of Glory is more of a silly parody or satire than a gross-out comedy. It’s daft, the plot is flimsy, but it’s hilarious and it seems to know just where to mine to find the laughs.

Blades of Glory tells the story of Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell) and Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder, from Napoleon Dynamite) who are the fire and ice of the male ice-skating circuit. Michaels is a bestial womaniser, described by one admiring commentator as “an ice-devouring sex-tornado”. MacElroy is the innocent and graceful angel, driven by a forceful billionaire father, so ambitious that he had Jimmy circumcised to minimise air resistance. They’re the equal champions of the sport. That is until they earn a life long ban after a shameful brawl at the Winter Games. The only way the two can subvert the ban is to reluctantly join forces for a comeback – as the world’s first male figure skating pair.

And that’s the wellspring for the comedy. There are some hilariously unique skating performances (the duo’s uncomfortably homo-erotic routine honestly brought tears to my eyes), some awkward romance, and some typical ice-skating treachery (supplied by a villainous ice-skating couple played by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler). A particularly enjoyable aspect of the film is the effort it takes to ridicule the ostentatious and slightly unhealthy world of sports such as figure-skating and their over-competitive participants. The filmmakers have breathed the polluted breath of ice-skating into the characters: Chazz and Jimmy have strange histories that are revealed to us by rapturous commentators, they’ve splendid flamboyant costumes, CGI effects permit them to skate like champions, and they’re surrounded by a cast of eccentrics such as an obsessive stalker and a coach who pressures them to skate stunts with a high probability of death.

Will Ferrell is delightfully shameless as the macho and pathetic Michaels. He milks his Jim Morrison-esque character for as much gross sexuality as possible. “I thought you’d like to see what a real skater’s body looks like,” he boasts to MacElroy at one point, thrusting out his naked, hairy paunch. Heder is funny too, though much more muted than Ferrell. He’s often the backboard for Ferrell’s crassness. It is mainly the way these two play their characters that gives the humour its sting.

I can see how not everyone would enjoy watching ninety minutes of idiotic and indecorous behaviour by homophobic male ice skaters. But they’re not there for you to identify with – they’re there to laugh at. Your expectations need to be in the right place. On the poster for the film, Ferrell holds Heder above his head by his crotch, striking an elegant yet defiant skating pose. It should be obvious then that this is going to be slapstick farce and not Schindler’s List. Blades of Glory really has trawled up a lot of neat ice skating jokes – I never thought there’d be that much amusement in this topic. But it’s no more complicated than that. And, like most films earning a place in the toilet-humour montage, it is pretty low-brow. But unlike most films of its ilk, it skates the genre genuinely well, so that you should be guaranteed an evening of easy, jolly laughs.



August 11, 2007

The Simpsons Movie review

The Simpsons Movie

Matt: Four Stars
Four Stars

Length: 87min


See our family. And feel better about yours.
For years, lines have been drawn…and then colored in yellow.

Review by Matt:

Everyone knows that The Simpsons is genius. It’s permeated modern culture. It’s given us a consistently amusing spin on pretty much everything. And it’s coined so much innovative material that there’s countless 20 – 30 year olds who can respond to any situation with a Simpsons quote. Ever since Matt Groening first morphed his misanthropic rabbits into a dysfunctional television family, it’s been 15 years of post-modern, satirical joy for viewers the world over. Televised joy, that is. The Simpsons never ventured into the chancy world of cinema, where our cherished culture is so often devoured and regurgitated as some galling blockbuster rip-off. There have been so many television and comic book icons sullied by a journey to the big screen that there must have been a hoard of anxious Simpsons fans sweating about the release of The Simpsons Movie.

They can breathe easy and let out a Homer-esque woohoo! The creators of The Simpsons Movie – and it seems all the central creative minds were on board – have transported the show to the cinema with loving care. They would have had to, because the television Simpsons made plenty of fun of flimsy Hollywood cinema over the years – even of TV-to-blockbuster cinema. The film itself opens with a self‑reflective gag that chastises the audience for paying to see a television show at the cinema. Your money is well spent though, because this is The Simpsons on the big screen, as sharp, satirical and hilarious as ever.

So the film hasn’t deflated a cultural institution – phew. But is it anything more than a ninety-minute Simpsons episode? Well, no, not too much more. And what else should this film really have been anyway? The additional joys injected into the cinematic Simpsons are appropriate. Visually it looks grand on the widescreen – there’s some neat 3D animation, a thousand Simpsons characters to spot, and there’s even a surprise penis. Obviously, it’s also much longer than a single episode, so there’s room for more sumptuous gags. It’s also able to develop a movie-length plot. This meanders at first, but is pretty innovative. It is also erected to buttress ninety minutes of mischievous social satire, targeting everything: politics, religion, corporations, the media, and everyday people.

The story features an overzealous Environmental Protection Agency – sanctioned by an ignorant but impressionable President Schwarzenegger – suppressing an environmental hazard in Springfield with a shock-and-awe style blitzkrieg. This sets the Simpsons off on a town-saving adventure. They’re central of course because, as we’d expect, it was Homer that endangered the town to begin with (I also realised, as Springfield charged at him with torches and pitchforks, that this must have been Homer’s fifth or sixth town lynching over the years).

The plot bounces by lightly, leaving ample time for irreverent non-sequiturs and other comical flourishes. They’re great, and they really help maintain the film’s very cheery style of cynicism. It’s probably been a while since the television Simpsons has been this sharp-witted; you’d have to stick together four pretty high-quality episodes to match the film. I grinned or laughed through almost its whole length, with only a few shallow lulls. I probably wasn’t as touched by the film’s touching moments as I should have been – I think I just expect The Simpsons to remain ironic and amusing all of the time – but a dash of poignancy wasn’t out of place in the cinema-length format.

Admittedly, I’ve been inculcated by the enduring themes and icons of The Simpsons, so it’s difficult for me to imagine how a Simpsons virgin would view this film. But apart from missing the many in-references, and meeting characters who’ve been developed over 15 years of television rather than in the film, these viewers are sure to enjoy the bounty of laughs and, like anyone would, appreciate the bright social commentary. But wait, I can’t really guarantee that, can I? Who are you, strange outsider, that has never seen The Simpsons? Would you really be au fait with all the social commentary?

The Simpsons Movie won’t be remembered throughout history for being – as ‘the comic book guy’ would say – the “Best. Movie. Ever.” It is just another fantastic and funny piece of The Simpsons’ oeuvre bumped off the TV and into the cinema. As that, it’s a film that is almost impossible not to appreciate and enjoy. There’s not much on the television or in the cinema that you can say that about.


DEJA VU (2006)

August 4, 2007

Deja vu review

Deja vu

Matt: Three stars
Tracy:Three and a half Stars

Length: 128min


If you thought it was just a trick of the mind, prepare yourself for the truth.

Review by Matt:

Ahh, the old messing-with-timelines-by-travelling-through-time film. Nothing beats it. Unless you can’t get the timelines to make sense. Then, if you’re like me, instead of enjoying the sci-fi carnival, you stare off to the side thinking about how it could all possibly work. Déjà vu’s clumsy time-travel plot only makes sense if the audience dreams up some creative sub-plots to plug the holes. If you’re going to be satisfied by this film then, I think you’ll have to put the swiss-cheese plot to the side and just sink guiltily into the heady nonsense of a Hollywood thriller for two hours. Fortunately, that’s still a pretty enjoyable experience.

Messy timelines aside, the story is fairly straightforward. Denzel Washington trots out his familiar tenacious cop persona to portray Doug Carlin, a detective investigating a terrible terrorist attack on a New Orleans ferry. Some sharp detecting brings Carlin to the attention of a special FBI team (headed by Val Kilmer), who recruit him to work on the case using the FBI’s new, mind-blowing “God’s eye” technology. The technology somehow harnesses the power of worm-holes to give the detectives the power to look directly into the past with privacy-destroying omniscience. At Carlin’s word the detectives use “God’s eye” primarily to intrude into the past life of a beautiful female victim (Paula Patton), who Carlin had seen at the morgue and – weirdly – fallen in love with. It seems that in Hollywood, it’s always love-at-first-sight, even when one of the lovers is staring with dead eyes from the autopsy table.

The time-bending investigations result in some intense dimension-spanning action. These sequences fully exploit the best parts of the classical Hollywood style. It simplifies potentially complex sequences so that the excitement is maximised. I did feel some amusement at the poor romance plot, and by the film’s indulgences – brought into sharper focus by having recently watched Hot Fuzz parody this kind of excess. The opening ferry-bomb sequence, for example, is constructed with slow-motion visuals and portentous musical cues (and I’m sure I heard the same ominous strings in the recent James Bond film) which manipulate our tensions until the surprising BOOM of the ferry.

But there’s no doubting this style generally works for this film. And there’s also some joy in seeing the disaster in the opening scene. The time-travel plot allows us to revisit the same scene later. This time we’re fully aware of the imminent bomb, so we’re trapped in the fretful “audience knows there’s a bomb” sequence that Hitchcock described as the epitome of suspense. It is quite exciting. As with Breach, Déjà vu passed the “suspenseful enough to make Tracy pace and moan at the edge of the room” test.

It’s when Tracy is at the edge of the room that Déjà vu is at its best. When it’s at its worst, I think, are the moments it flirts too hard with scientific or philosophical concepts. It’s not sharp enough to inject anything insightful into these themes. Keep control of the corners of your mouth when the line arrives “But what if there is more than physics?” and it is punctuated by a soft dramatic sting. The wishy-washy attempt at philosophising also reveals a lurking little goblin: although it embraces hard physics, the film still messily implies that an almighty God decides how the technology works or doesn’t. It’s a bit frustrating; like US politicians, it seems that films want mass appeal so they don’t want to risk seeming too aetheistic. I’d be more forgiving if Déjà vu‘s omniscient being had at least popped in for a moment and explained how the film’s confusing timelines make sense.

So, like its time travel physics, the film has some weaknesses. But there’s not much to hate. Just try to hurdle the slight obstacles, or let the fast-paced action plough through them. Then you’re free to enjoy what is a fairly spiffy sci-fi action flick.



July 16, 2007

Transformers review


Adam: Two and a half stars

Length: 144min


Their war. Our world.
More than meets the eye.

Review by Adam:

The first time I went to see this movie it had sold out and I saw Shrek the Third. Talk about a crapfest. Anyway it was my brother Luke and his partner Laura’s “awesome” comments that got Lara and I into the movies to see this.

The basic plot is that a loser kid happens to hold a seemingly inconspicuous object that is actually the key to saving the world from bad robots (Decepticons) that can transform. Oh and then there’s the “hot” girl at school that he is trying to impress who gets tangled up in it all.

For the next two hours you watch as the US military tries to work out what’s going on and the Autobots (goodies) make good with the transforming. Highlights include the robots transforming. Lowlights include everything else.

Of particular low-light fame is the sexist portrayals of women, loser kid getting all self-righteous because he’s never been to Juvy for boosting cars like the “hot” girl, and the black guy always dying. Seriously, the only Autobot who dies is the one who is stereotypically African American. What’s with that!?!

There’s little character development in the humans but some in the robots. (Kinda says something about it eh?). Optimus Prime’s speeches are totally lame and make you want to see the Decepticons win. They don’t.

Bad reviews aside, I loved watching the special effects and the robots getting all robo-erotic in the fight scenes. Everything that can blow up does. Of particular liking to me is the final battle that takes place in a city – nothing spells fun like giant anythings smashing up a city. These things satisfied the eleven dollars I spent.


SHOOTER (2007)

July 7, 2007

Shooter review


Matt: Two and a half stars

Film length: 124min


Yesterday was about honor. Today is about justice.

Review by Matt:

This action film stars Mark Wahlberg as John Lee Swagger, an elite marksman abandoned by his country. After a disastrous mission in Ethiopia which saw his best friend killed, Swagger retires from snipering to an isolated mountain cabin. He spends his time reading the 9/11 Commission Report, surfing the splendid social change website “Znet“, and nurturing a growing mistrust of the government. Opportunity to manifest this mistrust comes his way when a mysterious Colonel (Danny Glover) arrives and asks Swagger to help defend the President from an expected assassination plot. Swagger’s lingering sense of honour convinces him to assist and, of course, he is framed for murder. Now he’s really mad.

At the visual level, the film is pretty good. It’s big, explosive, and fast paced. Mark Wahlberg acts well as the angry and focussed Swagger. He even kisses his mountain-dog with the passion that only a wounded and withdrawn sniper could. Danny Glover appears to have developed emphysema and can only whisper his lines hoarsely. The others are bearable, apart from the comically sneering assistant-villains. No-one is helped by the structure of the film, which is a bit floppy. In particular, the subplots flap around, loose and underdeveloped. Key parts of the film – particularly the assassination – are also put together poorly so that they are unnecessarily confusing.

It wasn’t these things that troubled me though. I had high hopes for Shooter. At a basic level I’m still pleased that it shows us a reflection of immoral power with a level of cynicism that we don’t often see in this type of film. The amoral conspiracies of the powerful are given to mainstream moviegoers as the reality. Blood for oil, profits over people, malign foreign policy- it’s there on the screen and it signals that these concepts are creeping into the zeitgeist. And there are other enjoyable aspects. The vibes of anti-government sentiment are enticing and encouraging. There’s also some good action, some good intrigue, and some good twists. Our antihero holds a gratifying mistrust and derision for authority.

Tragically though, Shooter is a disappointing film because it deals with these important issues in an offensive way. It ends up asking us to identify with destructive feelings – violence, revenge, thoughtlessness. It may fool you for a while, but overall the film lacks intelligence and subtlety; it becomes more and more Ramboesque-ridiculous as it progresses. I don’t want to spoil the plot by going into detail, but if you watch until the end – and particularly at the end – you’ll see the narrowness with which it approached this interesting topic. Swagger sees and understands the corruption, but he tackles it violently, carelessly, vengefully, and alone. It seems he didn’t really read that Znet site carefully at all.

It could have been so much better. It’s as if The Constant Gardener was poisoned by Rambo so that, by the end, it could only limp along sickly, confused and talking silly.