Movie Review: Olympus has Fallen

Movie Review: Olympus Has Fallen

Olympus has Fallen is more than a routine action genre movie outing. Director, Antoine Fuqua, does a superb job of orchestrating his cast from the personal confrontations to the plot’s cliff hanger precipice. The story surrounds a very topical assault on American soil by a North Korean militant rebellion force. Their target is to acquire the President in the White House and the American secret service seems to simply capitulate in their path.

Rewind the clock and we are introduced early on to top Secret Service agent and Presidential body guard, Mike Banning played by Gerard Butler. The Machine Gun Preacher has taken his gruff Scottish he-man and put the persona in a suit with an ear-piece. We see some relevant backstory when Banning makes a call that sees a key character die and the President’s reaction as he arranges for Banning to be out of sight and out of mind. The timing couldn’t be worse as our Terrorist forces hit with war like impact led by Kang to capture the President and key government members in the bunker of the White House. You may remember Kang played by Rick Yune from his role as the villain’s key 2nd in command in Die Another Day. This time he delivers a more commanding confident performance that should set him up for more roles in the future.

Butler is a superb ‘man against the world’ actor in a role that is reminiscent of John McClane only more believable. The violence of the movie is incessant and not for the faint of heart as first the North Korean forces make their attack on the White House taking down American civilians in a blatant display of disruptive power. Next the movie kicks down a gear in the dimensions of action but steps up the intensity as Banning goes one on one with anyone untrustworthy.

At the focus of our story is President Asher played by Aaron Earkhart. I’d vote for this guy on ‘chin’ presence alone! I’m seriously surprised he hasn’t had any super hero roles. Earkhart plays the diplomat, the staunch leader and the vulnerable family man in a great combination role.

In the backdrop we have a US government trying to regain control of a situation that could bring nuclear consequences to the world. The Speaker of the House played by Morgan Freeman keeps the military in check while Angela Bassett heads up the Secret Service and keeps the lines of communication going with Banning on the inside.

It’s a great formulaic action movie with a plot we’ve seen before but not with as great a commitment to the fine tuning of the whole movie experience. Kudos must go to Antoine Fuqua and Gerard Butler whose combined talent makes this a brilliant action genre movie that others should emulate.

Interesting that similar to another outing Fuqua had when he directed Mark Wahlberg in Shooter while another movie with similar story was being created in the same year with Wesley Snipes. This time there is another terrorist in the White House movie coming up with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx on board directed by Roland Emmerich and called White House Down. As always I recommend going first in any sport to set the bar high which Olympus Has Fallen has done. Let’s see what happens in round two.

3.5 out of 5 popcorns

Movie Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Movie Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

G.I. Joe: Retaliation opens this week to renew our love of unrealistic action adventures built around comic characters and buff heroes. “Easy”, you say as you wonder how hard I’m going to come down on this comic adventure. Well this might be a mixed review covered by a Dad and his 13 year-old son who together saw the 3D version from Step Up director Jon M. Chu.

With a line-up including Channing Tatum, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Bruce Willis you have a feel that this won’t be a thriller for the mind. To his credit I think Jon M. Chu caught the essence of the G.I. Joe character as more action comic than serious drama. The costumes, explosions and gun size all contribute to a not so real ride. While most of the stunts give a sense of martial arts wow factor some of the effects were so unreal you felt back in comic book mode.

Hasbro must be over the moon with the extra publicity their plastic super doll gets out of the G.I.Joe movie franchise. Even if its not quite targeted at a 7 year-old boy’s birthday party present list, the 28 year-old fathers and 52 year-old granddads will probably be buying all the right toys for the children and grand-children.

Our story follows a betrayed G.I. Joe division trying to recover from an event that depletes its numbers of super soldiers. In the backdrop this was all part of a plan by Cobra to put the safety of the world at risk and due for annihilation unless the leader’s of the nuclear world bow their heads to the evil overlord. All of the betrayal is washed in murky waters due to an evil President in part played by Jonathan Pryce with a psychitzo performance. World Leaders are running around with their heads cut off while the boys and girl in camouflage khaki renew their armoury from the kitchen cupboards of retired General Joe Colton played by Bruce Willis. Out of the kitchen and into the fire, the G.I. Joes start the road back to freedom and save the day.

The cast is dressed up by some ‘beautiful people’ performances from D J Cotrona as Flint and Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye. Elodie Yung as Jinx and Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow give us the martial arts performance and its the reliable Ray Park as Snake Eyes who gives us the strong silent type.

Be prepared to ask ‘Why’ when lead characters don’t last the distance. It was a reminder to me of when a lead actor on the movie poster left ‘Executive Decision’ in the first 15 minutes to keep an audience going… ‘What Happened!’ Equally another supposed lead actor might have had 30 seconds of screen time and half of that was as a photo on a computer screen. I’d love to know how much their paying for appearance money these days.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a mixed bag. The 3D is well filmed and plays right into the comic book style setting. The story isn’t strong but its always hard to write a script with seven one-liners and four explosions per page. All up it was a fun night out for a 13 year-old who said it wasn’t as good as Avengers but it was good!

3 out of 5 popcorns

Movie Review: Safe Haven

Safe Haven Movie Review

Safe Haven is launching in theatres on Valentine’s Day and for the Nicholas Sparks inspired movie this is prime position for another romantic drama to stand alongside his previous works like ‘A Walk to Remember’, ‘The Notebook’ and ‘The Lucky One’. My 15yo daughter was asking after the movie well in advance of its release, wanting to accompany her Dad to the review and for both of us it was a memorable night out. There’s no doubt that Sparks knows how to play the heartstrings and this feature film was always expecting to line up the romantically inclined for a ride. It was clear even from the preview crowd that this was well targeted to the female audience with only about six male members attending amongst a crowd of around 120.

The precept for this encounter surrounds a mysterious young lady on the run with fear in her eyes only to hide in a small American coastal town. Taking the name Katie, our damsel played by Julianne Hough, begins to trust the locals and falls for solo Dad Alex who is raising his two children after the death of his wife from cancer. With two broken people trying to find a fresh start the stage is set for hands edging together in the sand and sunlit backdrops to make you go ‘Aaaah’.

Director Lasse Hallström returns to the Sparks fold after his previous involvement heading up ‘Dear John’. Hallström is rightly revered for his works on Chocolat and The Cider House Rules and although this doesn’t quite draw out the same level of drama the production is very comfortable and meshes together the romantic aspects of a warm family friendly tale with some edgy thriller paced pieces in the story.

Julianne Hough is very ‘at home’ in this role as a woman with a past reaching out for protection and love. Its classic damsel stuff that needs a knight that stands tall in stature. Josh Duhamel is the right man for the job as Alex a Dad trying to raise a cute little lady who remembers the presence of her Mother before she passed away. It’s a role that takes him a long way from the Transformer’s franchise and one he seems settled to enjoy. This was a debut performance for Mimi Kirkland as little Lexie and one she handles well stealing scene after scene with sparkles of cuteness. Dad, Alex’s job is a lot harder dealing with his older child Josh played by Noah Lomax. Josh remembers his Mum and doesn’t want his Dad to forget the lady he remembers for the woman who is new on the scene.

While this could be the guy meets girl routine we do have a couple of surprises thanks to Katie’s past catching up with her. David Lyons gives us another great performance as Tierney and I enjoyed the power of his commitment that puts more edge in the story. If you’ve loved his maniacal side in the TV series REVOLUTION then you’re in for more of a treat. Sometimes we cling close for love and sometimes we cling
closer to hide the fear. Safe Haven will have to fight for its happy ending but it is definitely worth its Valentine’s Day release to enjoy a night out for the ladies.

Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

If you loved The Hurt Locker you will be champing at the bit to find a seat and have everyone quiet down so you can immerse yourself in the movie Zero Dark Thirty. Director Kathryn Bigelow has taken the Hurt Locker experience to a new level as you won’t be sure whether you’re watching the six o’clock news or waiting with President Obama in a locked down situation room waiting for reports from the field. The movie opens brilliantly in pitch black with only the audio of armed forces radio as well as snippets of iconic media reports on the terrorist events we have heard and seen over the last twelve years. Don’t be late for the opening ten minutes.

Bigelow has again collaborated with Hurt Locker writer Mark Boal to craft a story that perfectly tracks through time from the 911 bombings to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. The Zero Dark Thirty story is one of a decade long frustration amongst a worn and tired group of operatives. Agents follow up on dead-end leads and try to determine if pre-911 tactics are still in use by al-Qaeda. The desperation builds as they watch time waft away sometimes for lack of evidence and then because of a bureaucracy that stops initiative. As the CIA struggles to deliver UBL (Usama bin Laden) mistakes are made and the agency begins to question its own direction.

To follow the connection points in time we join CIA operative Maya played by Jessica Chastain. Her recent work in dramatic endeavours like The Help and The Debt showcase an immeasurable talent that some would have seen at even deeper level in more art-house productions like The Tree of Life and Coriolanus. Chastain’s character is recorded as coming straight out of high school into the one project that will absorb her life and focus. Her youthful determination is initially idealistic and head strong but as the pain grows through lost colleagues and searching for the needle in the wrong terrorist haystack the quest begins to mount its toll.

While the movie primarily concentrates on a nation’s search for its hidden oppressor, it has a side benefit of showing the danger a nation and its citizens can fall into in their desire for justice. One of the strong outcomes of the movie is to show how terrorist suspects and collaborators were caught, caged and interrogated. Some very strong scenes in the early part of the movie will be difficult for many to watch. While the justification for dealing with one’s enemy is clear, the means through which justice is carried out is not.

By watching the torture to find answers we ask ourselves whether we are complicit and whether we would prefer this work was done by other members of our society. In fact we wish this was done in secret to allow us the peace of ignorance. Another interesting question asked through the eyes of the CIA agents is whether too much time at the front line of investigation and torturous interrogation is a step towards a tipping point where the despised tactics becomes the desired power.

The nature of the script calls for a strong supporting cast and with performances from Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Strong the movie is held in firm hands within every scene. While the movie is over two and a half hours long it’s the cast that carries it well from scene to scene. Joel Edgerton finally brings together the ground forces that will ultimately bring the prize home near the end of the story but not before James Gandolfini authorises the strike through the President in his role as CIA Director. I love seeing the occasional cameo from favourite actors given screen time on big event movies and seeing John Barrowman and a glimpse of Mark Valley in this outing was perfect.

One thing you won’t find in this review is the meaning behind the movie’s title. If you’re smart enough to know then don’t share and allow others to find it in the script. If you don’t know yourself then don’t look it up. See the movie and join the treasure hunt for the answers. For Zero Dark Thirty Bigelow and Boal have worked extremely well together as Director and Writer but also in the role of producers. Already the film is picking up awards for directing, writing, editing and as best film at critics and film festival events. Now we can watch for talk of Oscars for Zero Dark Thirty it’s really that good.

4 out of 5 popcorns.

Movie Review: Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

The tragic love story of Anna Karenina is a classic piece of literature from Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. The promotion of the period drama had been tempting me for some time. Aside from the trailers and incredible imagery the involvement of Joe Wright as director and a powerful ensemble cast meant the ingredients were all in place. All we needed to do was start the orchestra and see where this Russian rail journey would take us.

Our story finds a young woman in 19th century Russian aristocracy dealing with the dilemma of romance over commitment, the morality of passion and the value of consequences. It is quite a tail where several characters are faced with life changing decisions around events that may have seemed inconsequential at the time. Some will act with honour even if for a fleeting moment they wary in the face of assault on their values. Others take heed that their selfishness has caused them loss and so seek to pay penance by a life changed.

I’m not sure whether Tolstoy intended to challenge our judgements but this is superb story that juxtaposes our position with those on the receiving end of our intentions. Tolstoy was known for being a spiritual person with interests across the religious spectrum. One of the best lessons that Anna Karenina teaches us is that empathy and perspective should be the two guardians of passion.

While Joe Wright has previously steered romantic period pieces involving Keira Knightley like Atonement and Pride and Prejudice this new venture has a more unique visual style. In fact it is one of the most endearing characteristics of the movie. Without giving too much away, the creative scene transitions appear to merge reality with the changing backdrop of a stage performance. The beauty of the sets along with rich velvet and gold colourings give Anna Karenina a majestic visual palette.

The cast is without fault and Keira Knighlty continues to be at home in Haute couture and bustled dresses. Jude Law comes into a sense of royalty with a statesman like performance as Karenina’s husband Karenin. The screen stealing role however goes to Matthew Macfadyen as Anna’s brother Oblonsky. Macfadyen has straddled the void between television and film but roles like Athos in the Three Musketeers, the Sheriff in Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood and now this role, he must be up for some significant offers in the near future.

Anna Karenina is a beautiful piece of theatre but my feeling is it didn’t connect at a screenplay level. Tolstoy is renowned as detailed writer. A typical edition of Anna Karenina would go to over 1100 pages and his most famous work of War and Peace would be over 1200 pages. So when you consider that Peter Jackson can make three movies from a 300page work it was always going to be a challenge for screenplay writer Tom Stoppard to compile this drama into the two hour movie script it became. Rated R in its US release for sex and violence it may be a classic literature but it has a target audience of the young and romantically focussed.

Anna Karenina is a visual pleasure and for anyone who already knows the story it will connect all the dots. Sadly it is a difficult movie to follow for anyone not familiar with the full story. I’m giving Anna Karenina 3 out of 5 popcorns.

Movie Review: Lincoln

Lincoln
Lincoln is the highly anticipated movie from Steven Spielberg that has had critics and fans watering at the mouth to see inside the life of the 16th President of the United States. Standing in office from 1861 till his assassination in 1865 Lincoln was set to leave his mark on American history as he chartered the waters of both the Civil War and his penultimate mark left with the abolition of slavery.

Our story starts as Lincoln is in the field of war addressing a number of young soldiers both black and white at the front of the Civil war amongst the dark, the rain and the mud. As the young soldiers gush forth with admiration they then prove their calibre by breaking forth into reciting Lincoln’s most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address. It paints a beautiful backdrop for the movie as President Lincoln is freshly elected for a second term and has an agenda item that history will remember him for. This is where the heart of our story is anchored as the movie tells the political strategy that Lincoln employed to land the 13th amendment through the American political system in such a way that the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished.

The movie has pulled together some of the biggest names in the industry who were more than happy to pick up a few minor lines in order to share the stage with Spielberg’s epic drama. When the starring role was awarded to mercurial Daniel Day-Lewis the anticipation grew to another level. Day-Lewis not only brings a couple of Oscars in his back pocket but the London based actor brought his 1.87cm stature to the role as well. While normally an actor can have their physical presence worked around there was no doubt that the historically tall Lincoln needed someone to match his 1.93cm (6’ 4”) presence. Add the superb make-up and hair and we found Lincoln had left his log cabin and was dramatic on screen with a wary swagger and an almost care-free approach to the mantle of being President.
The moody lighting and often confined sets speak of a dark time in American History but through it Daniel Day-Lewis charts a course with a performance that is full of care and levity. He portrays an astute strategist and a man of principle and depth of character.

“The minute you begin to approach him – and there are vast corridors that have been carved that lead you to an understanding of that man’s life, both through the great riches of his own writing and all the contemporary accounts and biographies – he feels immediately and surprisingly accessible. He draws you closer to him.” – Daniel Day-Lewis on playing Abraham Lincoln

The script for this drama is of such a high calibre that it isn’t hard to see that the authors must have a fine pedigree. The basis of the screenplay was taken from the book “Team of Rivals” by Pulitzer Prize winning prolific America History writer Doris Kearns Goodwin. It was then adapted into a screenplay by Spielberg’s Munich collaborator, another Pulitzer Prize winning author, Tony Kushner. While bringing the depth of history into the 150min of onscreen time was a masterpiece, the scripting that allowed us to meet a wide range of the personalities of the day was also exceptional. Across the political divide as well as the gap between races and generations, we have a snapshot of American Civil War History.

We see Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris) as he waits pensively with Lincoln’s son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the field for news of the 13th amendment vote. Lincoln aligns heavily with Secretary of State, William H. Seward (David Strathairn) but it’s the role of Republican power broker Thaddeus Stevens played by Tommy Lee-Jones that proves to be a pivot point for the story. Jones draws us deep into the character when at times we wonder which way the state of affairs will roll. This parallel storyline in the movie shows us the tactics based on political savvy and harnessed alliances that were necessary but the end result seen through Thaddeus Steven’s eyes reveals a very personal reward.

The supporting role of most significance however goes to Sally Field’s portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln. The First Lady to Lincoln walked a difficult path losing two children young in life, dealing with depression and migraines as well as the political pressure of living alongside a Republican President set on abolishing slavery while dealing with her family background from wealthy slave holders. Field is all encompassing from her ability to play the in control political strategist with cheek and power through to the weak minded wife suffering to support her husband. It’s a performance that critics will applaud for her ability to capture the heart while not stealing the show.

America will be proud to see Lincoln portrayed for his strength of determination. The rights that were wronged, the costs that were borne have given America a different future than the path they were on before Lincoln arrived. For pure class and a story worth following this is a 4 out of 5 popcorn historical event.

Movie Review: ParaNorman

ParaNorman

ParaNorman follows a young man, Norman Babcock in the town of Blithe Hollow (a town name made up as an amalgam of two other witch story towns) who grows up wondering why he is the only one who can see dead people. Call it 6th Sense for 12 year-olds but the floating dead folk are more humorous than scary. ParaNorman opens with our soon to be hero talking to his dead Grandmother on the couch at home which only infuriates his family, isolating him and giving us a sense of the loneliness he feels. Grandma, who is beautifully voiced by veteran Actress Elaine Stritch, tells Norman she feels she is hanging around to look after him.

ParaNorman just isn’t your normal Pixar style animation. In fact it comes from the stop-motion genius of the people at Laika who created Coraline. This is where Writer/Director Chris Butler received some of his experience working on the Coraline project. It’s in the art department of other darker animations like Corpse Bride that Butler was able to craft the quirky morbid humour that would be needed for ParaNorman however quirky needed a dash more humour for this outing. To get the recipe right it’s clear that this co-directed movie needed a lighter input and this came from fellow director Sam Fell. His resume included a more cheesy set of children’s animations with great mouse tales like The Tale of Despereaux and Flushed Away.

ParaNorman has its own distinctive animation style as the stop-motion design of the characters mixes with sets that have a reach out and touch feel about them while being in cartoonish dimensions. Blend this with ghostly stop-motion floating apparitions and you start to get the idea. The quality of the on screen result is superb after the team took a unique approach of designing 3D stop-animation by filming each set-up on a Canon DSLR by first taking a shot and then moving the camera on a slide to take a second shot to give the 3D perspective. A tireless endeavour rewarded with a great onscreen result.

The 16yo Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee brings experience from working with Viggo Mortensen on The Road and Eric Bana in the drama Romulus, My Father to voice the key character of Norman. He has a few friends, but only best mate Neil the red-head, played by Tucker Albrizzi, reaches out to truly understand Norman. Together they become inseparable like Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee.

The pretext of our story finds Norman living in a town which has based its history and tourism sector around the century old story of a witch killed by the town’s folk. While no one believes Norman’s tales it’s the weird Uncle played by John Goodman who trusts Norman with information that will change the town’s history and Norman for ever. Without giving the game away let’s say that things always have to get worse before they get better. With just the wrong spin on a perfect plan we see cursed zombies let loose on the town.

It’s fair to say that most of these characters are more funny than furious and most children probably from 8-10 and over should deal with the plastercine like characters dropping body parts along the way. Most of the zombies simply moan across the screen like docile children who’ve just woken up but the lead is voiced by a long-dead Judge played by Lord of the Rings actor, Bernard Hill. However there is another character in the movie that throws a supernatural temper tantrum that can be quite dramatic. I watched the movie with two 12yo boys and their recommendation was that the film was suited to 10-12 and over which I thought was right in the zone.

Parents who have a concern with supernatural themes like Witchcraft, the Afterlife and Zombies will probably want to preview the movie first or be prepared to talk through the empathy given to the supernatural characters as well as the visual imagery that is brought to screen. The movie also deals with some great themes from death of a loved one and loneliness through to character issues like believing in yourself and others. Norman shows the depth of character in the story making some wise decisions, digging deep against the bullies and finally has the adults having to catch up with his sensibilities.

The chase to solve the towns riddle looks a little like a Scooby Doo mystery at times with Casey Affleck playing Neil’s buff but dim older brother Mitch. Norman’s unusually hour-glass shaped sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) tries her wiles on Mitch only to be rebuffed at the end in a joke that seemed out of place in a kids flick as Mitch announces he’s gay in the closing minutes. Throw all the characters in a van and head off in search of adventure and you’d swear all we’re missing is a Great Dane and Shagggy. In fact if your kids aren’t took spooked by a Scooby Doo mystery with the added environment of 3D in a dark room you’re probably on to an exciting holiday movie.

With a few parental warnings that make this recommendation a little different from a typical cartoon kids movie ParaNorman is a great story and a movie worthy of 3.5 popcorns out of 5.

Movie Review: Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher

The Jack Reacher movie character comes to us from a series of books written by Lee Child. Starting in 1997 with Killing Floor, Child has now released 17 books and some short stories that carry the adventures of Military Policeman and investigator Jack Reacher. The movie starring Tom Cruise was taken from the 2005 release of ‘One Shot’. Originally the screenplay was written by Josh Olsen but a turn of events including arbitration meant that Usual Suspects writer, Christopher McQuarrie became the writer and director.

The story of Jack Reacher is one of a loner, a thinking man’s vigilante and a man with hidden stories to be told. Lee Child has developed the character over 15 years of writing and the audience are used to the idiosyncrasies that make up this complex character. He is known for being on the move, never wearing clothes for more than two days and eating on the run with only a coffee constantly at hand. Three key things we pick up from his character are his disdain for religion, his love for the Blues and his attraction to mathematics. His fights are more about conducting the orchestra than playing the bassoon. In one fight with a two metre tall thug he is seen to turn him upside down and land him on his head. It’s one aspect of the movie that works with some brilliant fight choreography.

All of this background provided the preliminary irony for a fan base that didn’t expect Tom Cruise could fill the 6’ 5” shoes of a larger than life character. Not only was the 5’ 7” Cruise seen as out of sorts with the shadow of Reacher he also had the mismatch with Cruise’s approach to life and religion through the Church of Scientology. So how did Cruise match up on screen? Lee Child has been quoted as saying; “Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way.”

It’s true that Tom Cruise has shown an incredible amount of skill and determination in each role he plays. The recent outing in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol gained a great deal of credibility with fans and the public for the stunts the newly turned 50yo took on, particularly at the Burk Khalifa building in Dubai where he conducted wire stunts floors above the ground. If there is one thing that Cruise exudes it’s the epitome of smooth. In every scene he communicates control. It’s a badge of honour for Cruise and it comes into the Reacher character. The question is, does this match the original character from the pages of the novel that fans came to love. While I haven’t read the Reacher novels I gain the sense from a number of fans that he’s more of a ‘donkey on the edge’ with a sense that any moment he may tip over the brink. That raw aspect of the character doesn’t come through and while the movie is quite a ride it doesn’t sing in the unpredictable quotient.

The cast is an eclectic mix with villain puppet master Werner Herzog providing some level of supreme antagonist but the character doesn’t reach the heights. His muscle man is picked up by Australian actor Jai Courtney, who may be known to readers from “Packed to the Rafters” and “All Saints”. Courtney adds some validity to the thug side of the equation and this is a great step up role before we will see him as John McClane’s son Jack in next year’s Die Hard sequel A Good Day to Die Hard. Rosamund Pike becomes Reacher’s aide de camp in an investigation that must discover whether the opening discovery is of a villain or a victim. She steps outside of some her better roles and this seems to almost be the blonde moll in a gangster movie. Her character is often not believable and sometimes laughable. It was interesting in a number of scenes to hear the audience laughing at what they felt were unbelievable comic moments, probably out of sync with the action genre.

One thing that is clear about this venture is that two rules of movie production don’t play out so well. One being casting and the other the fortune teller’s curse of timing. The preview screenings were cancelled in the US because of the Connecticut shootings and the opening scene explains the validity of that decision. Whether the big movie production animal that promotes Jack Reacher will have to change tact in order to make the most of holiday screenings is yet to be seen.

The key to this review however is how important casting is to a successful venture. Many movies sink or swim on this aspect alone. Sometimes a director gets a pleasant surprise out of a last minute scheduling change that gives them an unexpected actor but a surprise result. Can you imagine Tom Cruise in iRobot or Enemy of the State? Both were roles he was expected to take before they went to Will Smith. Let’s see if the reverse is also true and the executives at Paramount can breathe a sigh of relief.

All up a fun ride but not quite the edge of your seat event we expected. 3 out of 5 popcorns.

Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

Rise of the Guardians

The Rise of the Guardians movie brings together the fantastical skills of five of our imagination’s heart loved characters to fight fear on behalf of the children they love and protect. Initially Team Fantasy is headed up by Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and the Sandman. Eons have passed with the children of the world enjoying peaceful sleep and celebrations through the year but this year someone is again fighting back and the surface of dreamland could be cracked open.

Everyone knows that to have the best kind of villain you need an English accent but this was still a surprise for me when this animated feature had their choice of Jude Law as Pitch Black. This personification of fear has some issues and he sadly wants to shares his nightmares with the world. Law is superb in the role with just enough dastardly to bring the character to life. However his character’s onscreen performance is outdone by the black night’mares’. These horses of death are built on the corrupted sands of our Sandman and are probably a good enough reason for this to be a cautionary film for any parent taking children under 12. Once they start to fill the screen it could be overwhelming for a young viewer.

As our team mount a rescue response to save the children they quickly recognise they can’t do it alone. The ‘Man in the Moon’ who has appointed each of them as guardians now chooses a new Guardian in the form of Jack Frost. This is where the story brilliantly talks through our search for significance through the eyes of Jack Frost. The misunderstood character enjoys life’s play time and taking risks and is seen by the other characters as dangerous and flighty. Chris Pine of the Star Trek reboot fame voices the character and through Jack’s journey we see a young man with great courage learning who he really is.

The storyline revolves around Jack’s connection with a ‘real life boy’ called Jamie Bennett played by Dakota Goyo. This seemingly incidental character quickly becomes a focal point as it’s through Jamie that our story will find a solution and Jack step up to be a part of the team. There must be a real connection for Dakota with Australia as this is his second outing with Hugh Jackman as they worked together when Goyo played the young Max Kenton in Real Steel. He also starred with Australian Chris Hemsworth as the young Thor in the first Marvel Thor episode. Next he connects to be on screen with another Aussie leading man when he is alongside Russell Crowe as the young Noah in the upcoming 2014 release.

While the Isla Fisher sweeter than treacle voiced character of the Tooth Fairy gives Jack his first touch of courage it’s the Easter Bunny who really has to transform his relationship with Jack. Hugh Jackman plays an Aussie bunny who could be forgiven for being a Kangaroo stretched into Thumper’s skin. It’s the Easter Bunny who is most vocal about his mistrust for Frost but through the movies journey it is the bunny who eats a healthy slice of Bacon and Easter Egg humble pie before drawing Jack into the team.

Visually one of the great characters on screen was Santa Clause otherwise nicknamed as ‘North’ and played by Alec Baldwin with a slight Muscovite accent. Santa is seen as tough on the outside and soft on the inside. A brilliant allegory played out later in the picture through Matryoshka dolls. I loved the forearm tattoos of ‘Naughty’ and ‘Nice’. While each of our characters has their mode of transport you still can’t beat Santa’s sleigh. I love the fact that despite many onscreen versions of the big man’s red runner the retro version is always best.

This Dreamworks movie was directed by Peter Ramsey who has 26 titles to his record in art department work as wide as Godzilla and Men in Black through to Fight Club. This is his second directing outing since the made for TV movie Monsters vs Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space. It is however his time on work like Shrek the Halls, Shrek the Third that have brought his skills brilliantly to the fore in this production.

A great movie which was thoroughly enjoyed by myself, a fourteen year-old girl and two twelve year-old boys for a fun movie outing. I’m giving Rise of the Guardians a 4 out of 5 popcorns.

Movie Review: Parental Guidance

Parental Guidance

I’ve just discovered the ‘must see’ movie of the holiday season and despite the play on words “Parental Guidance” is fun for the whole family. My wife and youngest two kids (12yo and 14yo) went to see Billy Crystal’s new movie on Wednesday night and we’re giving it more than two thumbs up. The kids pushed through the initial shock factor when we told them they were seeing the voice of Mike Wazowski (Monsters Inc) in real life and we all settled in to an enjoyable night.

The 64yo Crystal is joined by the ageless Bette Midler as the ‘other Grandparents’ who are called on to help their ‘successful’ daughter get a much needed break. These modern parents have kept each of their unique kids in line with a plan for success but have since become disconnected from the grandparents. Next we find a serendipity of events brings everybody together where some wisdom and age are able to bring the family together with some old fashioned common sense.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a justification for the ‘old ways’. The heart of this movie comes from Billy Crystal being able to put himself at the centre of the humour. The opening story shows Crystal’s character as a Baseball game announcer who loses his job. Just when our empathy level is reasonably reaching its peak we also see the thoughtlessness and selfish stupidity that also needs to be brought into check. The whole script is a brilliant vehicle for Billy Crystal and you would think you were attending a 100min long introduction to the Oscars he is so famous for hosting. Bette Midler keeps guiding Crystal and the rest of the family through the experience and thankfully we also got an opportunity to hear her sing as well as matching Billy Crystal’s comedic genius with a glint and a glare. The screenplay itself centres around the family’s patterns and schedules. It’s a sugar free environment that needs care and control, two factors that will be missing in order to stir up a recipe for bedlam. A classic piece involves Crystal trying to get out of his parental duties to audition as an announcer for the X-Games where Tony Hawk is in a cameo role skating a half-pipe and putting him at the centre of a recipe for disaster. The comedy and consequences are brilliant as the entire story comes together.

Marisa Tomei gave a superb performance as a Mum stressed to ‘burn-out’ with a heart of gold. Her husband Phil the electronics genius is played by Tom Everett Scott who brings the calming influence to the story apart from when his alter-ego ‘Nigel’ appears on the scene. The real joy though comes from the three grandchildren, Harper, Turner and Barker. Bailee Madison brings a long list of credits to the role of Harper a tense young 12yo violinist who needs to let go and live life but wants to please her Mum in pursuit of a music scholarship. Her younger brother Turner is the speech impaired 8yo played by Joshua Rush. The irony of this role for this young actor is that he has quite a number of acting credits particularly as a voice actor for animated performances but it’s in this role that he hits a ‘home run’ in the closing scenes. Cutie pie award however goes to Kyle Harrison Breitkopf who plays the precocious 5yo Barker. The red head is dynamite and lace on screen. Add to that his acting sidekick character of Carl the imaginary kangaroo friend and you’ve got quite a team. One of the best scenes of the movie involves Carl and Gedde Watanabe in the role of family friend and ‘Pan Asian’ restaurant owner Mr Cheng. The emotion and laughs from these few minutes is worth the movie ticket alone.

As we talked about Parental Guidance on the way home we all agreed this was a movie that had a laugh for everybody and a message for every age group. The grandparents learned to contribute their time and wisdom as well as to roll in the mud with the grandchildren. For the parents it was time to relax and let their Mum and Dad take the reins and the kids picked up a few pointers on life from the mistakes and lessons learned by their elders as well as the love and confidence a family can bring.

Parental Guidance needs no excuse for anyone in the family. Take the 6 year old, the teenagers, bring Mum and Dad to pay for popcorn and the grandparents to buy the ice-creams on the way home. 4 out of 5 popcorns.