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132 reviews in total 
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A telling tale where the wonders of childhood meet the gripping reality of adolescence., 27 July 2013

Documentary filmmaker Genevieve Bailey's immersive style of globe-trotting storytelling blends effortlessly with a colourful cast of subjects for I Am Eleven, an intriguing and intricate look into the common forces - and salient differences- that shape children all over the world.

As the title may suggest, Bailey has assembled a fascinating group of pre-teens from fifteen different countries, each with their own histories, difficulties and ambitions, but a heartbreaking tale of poverty clashing with first-world problems this is not. Bailey, with the use of a blunt hammer in favour of a soft touch, could have easily delivered a wrought portrait of humanity against a grim backdrop peppered with finger-pointing, but she instead address the more positive aspects of childhood; the little things in life that affirm the human experience.

Naturally, it is the colourful cast that enriches the message, as each child, while sharing stark similarities with a couple of others, is inherently a unique specimen; a product of their environment as much as their upbringing. A pair of Swedish rappers, a triple threat All-American girl, a free-thinking but mentally disabled British boy, an Indian orphan, a wise-beyond-his- years Frenchman and an aspiring fiction writer, born in London but living in the Czech Republic, make up only some of the peculiar but absorbing personalities.

Their responses to Bailey's open-ended questions are sometimes silly, occasionally profound but always constructive, as by the end of the film the audience has a very detailed idea of who these children are and where they might be headed. Or so we think. A motza of special features (that includes audience Q&As with Bailey and behind the scenes footage) is highlighted by a follow-up visit with many of the film's most arresting individuals, most of whom have taken their lives in drastically different directions than originally intended by their wide-eyed past selves. Despite the implications, Bailey steers clear of a preachy conclusion, instead allowing the film's foremost theme of global commonality to speak for itself.

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ParaNorman (2012)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
As human as it is hilarious; Paranorman will warm your heart., 25 July 2013

Charming, hilarious and deeply human, ParaNorman is everything anyone could ask for in an animated film. Package that with eye-popping animations and a child-friendly story, and the end result proves- without an ounce of rhetoric- that there are still movies out there that can be 'fun for the whole family'.

Eleven-year-old Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is having a hard time fitting in at school. He's reserved, eccentric and he sees dead people. Labelled a freak by his classmates and a burden by his family, Norman spends his days watching Z-grade horrors and adding to his gruesome collection of zombie paraphernalia. When his estranged uncle (a delightful John Goodman)- whom Norman is forbidden from speaking to- warns him of the annual witch's curse, he thinks nothing of it. That is, until the undead rise from their graves and Norman, with his supernatural abilities to contact the grand witch, is the only one who can restore order.

From there, the rest of the film isn't hard to figure out. The outcast must become the hero through pure happenstance, and all the terrified residents of the cleverly-named Blithe Hollow are forced to look at him differently. Meanwhile, all the kiddies learn a valuable lesson about being yourself while mum and dad tag along with fake smiles. The formula is textbook, but co- directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell blend it so seamlessly with the story it feels not only original, but more importantly, real.

As with many animated films, the supporting cast can resemble a case of 'spot that star' more often than not, but bit players Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz- Plasse and Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin all round out their wonderful characters in their own unique ways, contributing enormously to the immersion of a film many might expect overpowered by self-indulgent star power. Ironically, it is the only unknown among the cast, Tucker Albrizzi (TV's Big Time Rush) who steals the show as the dimwitted but headstrong Neil, with a chock-full-of-one-liners performance that effortlessly bridges the inevitable generation gap between viewers.

The whole experience is underscored by Butler's script; a brilliantly satirical, comical and, at times, masterfully subtle showing that pushes ParaNorman into the upper echelon of its genre.

The film's DVD release comes packaged with an UltraViolet copy, allowing viewers to access the film online, on PC and on the mobile. The latest innovation in home release cinema, UV boasts a high-definition improvement over the now-outdated digital copy (although it can be accessed and downloaded in a similarly simplistic manner). Where the latter could only download copies of the film in standard definition, which lead to a noticeable disparity in visual quality between computer copies and their flawless Blu-ray equivalents, UV brings the technology up to speed, resulting in a sharper image most noticeable on smaller screens like those of smart phones.

The innovation pairs up beautifully with ParaNorman's lovingly-crafted animations and enthralling chase sequences. And if visuals play second fiddle to story, just take solace in the fact that you can now get a laugh out of Norm's ignorant grandma wherever you are.

*There's nothing I love more than a bit of feedback, good or bad. So drop me a line on and let me know what you thought of my review. If you're looking for a writer for your movie website or other publication, I'd also love to hear from you.*

The Heat (2013/I)
2 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Bad cop, worse cop., 25 July 2013

Director of the wildly successful and outrageously provocative Bridesmaids, Paul Feig, reunites with rapidly risen comedienne Melissa McCarthy and tags along the malleable Sandra Bullock for The Heat, a lighthearted romp that brings with it the director's penchant for border-pushing humour, but fails to land all of its many, many punches.

The story opens on uptight, career-driven Special Agent Ashburn's (Bullock) takedown of a couple of low-life nobodies, but when the case thickens, she is sent across the country on the hunt for a ruthless crime lord. Unbeknownst to her, she is paired up with the foul-mouthed Mullins (McCarthy), a streetwise Bostonian who has no problems taking extreme measures to keep her beloved community safe.

More so with comedies than perhaps any other genre, an excess of trailers runs the risk of giving away the film's best moments in a wry attempt to get people through the door. Refreshingly, The Heat is not one of those films. Courtesy of an innumerable number of F-bombs and sharply sexual humour, TV spots have been restricted to advertising only the most mundane of jokes in promos, which proves rather misleading.

This is no take-the-whole-family-plus-grandma day at the movies. A merciless barrage of crude and nasty comedy spews forth from the pen of writer Katie Dippold (Parks & Recreation), helped along in no small part thanks to energetic chemistry between the leading pair. Bullock and McCarthy do just enough to separate their relationship from every other buddy cop film ever, peppering their constant criticism of each other with a believable friendship that never crosses into corniness.

Despite this, the film lacks the real laugh-out-loud moments that all comedies persistently try to outdo each other with. Most of the film should have you chuckling (much of the physical comedy and the duo's drunken montage come to mind), but never roaring in your seat. What opens on a promising note eventually- or perhaps, inevitably- descends into vapidity, making for a fun and breezy experience during its runtime, but one that loses all rewatchability not long after.

*There's nothing I love more than a bit of feedback, good or bad. So drop me a line on and let me know what you thought of my review. If you're looking for a writer for your movie website or other publication, I'd also love to hear from you.*

Scary good., 25 June 2013

Those marketing whizzes at Pixar have done it again. Making a great film- which Monsters University undeniably is- is really only half the battle these days. The studio has again showed tremendous patience and foresight to release a follow up to Monsters Inc. only when its original target market was at a stage to fully appreciate it. Think Toy Story 3, but a lot less subtle.

Before they were fully-fledged scarers, Mike and Sully (Billy Crystal and John Goodman, who both slip back into their characters seamlessly) started off just like everyone else: wide-eyed freshmen at the prestigious MU. But while Mike has had to work every day of his life just to gain entry, Sully is less battle-hardened, having ridden the coattails of his family name for years. When a squabble between the pair results in the destruction of a priceless university artefact, Dean Hardscrabble (a wonderfully scathing Helen Mirren) has no choice but to kick them out of the program, and their only hope for re-entry is teaming up with a bunch of rag-taggers and winning the Scare Games.

The beloved animation studio has again served up an excellent mix of child-friendly slapstick and more adult humour, facilitated by a colourful supporting cast and punchy script. Charlie Day's Art, in particular, is a brilliantly crafted character, giving the kiddies plenty of laughs while hinting, ever so deftly, at the stoner culture that comes packaged with the university experience (we all knew one). He is a perfect example of this balance Pixar has built an empire on while elsewhere, newbies John Krasinski and Joel Murray flawlessly complement welcome returnees like Steve Buscemi and John Ratzenberger.

For the keen-eyed viewer, the film is a walk-in wardrobe of Easter eggs and allusions. As soon as you start to get the feeling that an opportunity to bring in an old favourite has gone begging, they pop up in the most unexpected places (wait for the reveal of crusty favourite Roz). The fluidity of the narrative is masterful, too, as MU covers a lot of ground in less than two hours, but never feels flustered, instead taking time to flesh out backstories and relationships in impeccable detail.

The film misses the emotional gut-check of Toy Story 3 and doesn't quite plunder our sympathies like Up, but that isn't the intention here. Tonally, this is a more reserved and, in many ways, more affirming tale; one that assesses the weight of friendship and carries a nice message of determination and believe in oneself trumping all.

*There's nothing I love more than a bit of feedback, good or bad. So drop me a line on and let me know what you thought of my review. If you're looking for a writer for your movie website or other publication, I'd also love to hear from you.*

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A transformative powerhouse of a documentary; the hidden gem of the Sydney Film Festival., 22 June 2013

Following 2009's short film Salt, in which filmmaker Michael Angus captured landscape photographer Murray Fredericks' harrowing journey to Lake Eyre, the pair have gone bigger and better for their latest collaboration Nothing On Earth, set to debut at this year's Sydney Film Festival.

Not content with merely travelling within his own backyard, Fredericks has set his sights on the Greenland ice caps, giving himself the challenge of capturing resonance in a place devoid of any natural or manmade definition. After a series of failed trips, he enlists the help of an experienced guide and two Inuit dogsledders to brave the wild elements and unforgiving terrain.

The film is beautifully shot, making superb use of expansive shots and time lapse cinematography to accentuate the ironic beauty Fredericks is faced with. Another nice touch is the inclusion of each photo Fredericks takes, giving the viewer a strangely poignant look into the mind of an artist; one devoid of pretension or showmanship, but instead brimming with creativity, inspiration and self-criticism.

Fredericks' boundless energy and commitment when exercising his passion remains at the forefront, even when things look most bleak, but it is his interaction with the people around him- complete strangers determined to help him meet his goal- that gives the film warmth. The highlight is without doubt the group's discovery of a long-abandoned Cold War relic: a monolithic live-in structure designed to thwart foreign assaults. Following the war, the building was swiftly abandoned, and within it lay thousands of remnants of a time long gone.

It is this surreal trip through the structure that neatly ties together the film's underlying theme of bonded humanity, cleverly disguised as the most intriguing of history lessons.

*There's nothing I love more than a bit of feedback, good or bad. So drop me a line on and let me know what you thought of my review. If you're looking for a writer for your movie website or other publication, I'd also love to hear from you.*

5 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Killin' it., 21 June 2013

About six weeks ago, I was invited to a fifteen-minute sneak peek of World War Z, an allegedly troubled project from the usually untouchable actor-producer, Brad Pitt, and underrated director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Stranger Than Fiction, Quantum of Solace). Given the buzz- or lack thereof- I was understandably tentative, but was quickly sucked in by the film's grand scale and penchant for genuine horror. Having seen the finished product, the matter is no longer up for debate; World War Z is unlike any film of its genre before it. Endlessly marketed as another snooze fest holiday blockbuster, it is actually a taut, engrossing thrill ride seasoned with merciless, edge-of-your-seat terror, the likes of which haven't graced the big screen for a long time.

Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former UN representative who gets called back into work courtesy of a virus that has rapidly turned most of the earth's population into a soulless, superhuman race of ravenous zombies. In his worldwide search for answers, Lane faces all comers head-on in an environment that would compel even the most reckless Marine to bail with a resounding 'Nope!' before word of the outbreak hits the evening news.

Virtually every supporting character is useless, from Lane's inconvenient wife to his irritating children, but it doesn't even matter. Pitt carries the film with a grounded performance, crafting a rational, believable character that so deftly toes the line between the invincible action hero and the out-of-his-element everyman. Forster made the right decision injecting a main character instead of following the scattered journal entry format of Max Brooks' novel, giving the film the accessibility it needs to be successful without resembling a carbon copy of every blockbuster this side of the 3D revolution.

And it is on that point that World War Z excels. Anyone expecting a fun but forgettable romp ablaze with heavy artillery and indiscriminate loss of life is likely to cop a pleasant shock.

This is not to suggest that the film doesn't cater to the mass market. On the contrary, each set piece just gets progressively more ambitious, making a glowing spectacle of the film's $200 million budget, but it is the moments of deathly silence that are most effective and, ironically, most likely to turn the event into a holistic cinema experience; one in which you and 300 fellow viewers can uniformally share your inner cowardice amidst nervous laughter and clenched fists, jaws and many other parts of the human anatomy. Here is a film that has grabbed every potential setback by the scruff of the neck, thrown it across the room with the force of an undead army, and nonchalantly delivered a jaw-dropping masterclass in suspense for its troubles.

*There's nothing I love more than a bit of feedback, good or bad. So drop me a line on and let me know what you thought of my review. If you're looking for a writer for your movie website or other publication, I'd also love to hear from you.*

Sinister (2012/I)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Hawke goes horrorshow., 27 May 2013

Horror veteran Scott Derrickson (Hellraiser: Inferno, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) returns to his favourite genre with Sinister, a peculiar, prodding and probing film that, like most horrors, has its quality dictated by the type of audience watching it.

Ethan Hawke plays Ellison, a true crime writer who takes his work a little too seriously. Not content to simply research his cases, Ellison insists on a more hands-on experience in his quest for justice. When he moves his unwitting family to a new home, recently placed on the market courtesy of the last owners being hanged in their backyard, Ellison learns that the grisly details of the case extend far beyond this gruesome incident. Whoever is behind the crime has tallied victims all over the US since the mid-60s, while the only thread linking one crime to the next is the killer's sparing of the youngest child.

Sinister spends most of its first half as a police procedural infused with horror, rather than the other way around, and works quite well in that regard. Despite a mostly derivative supporting cast, Hawke is engaging as a determined man tortured by his insatiable curiosity, and watching him piece together the clues- with virtually no help from the police force he has so viciously antagonised in his books- makes for magnetic viewing.

Inevitably, though, there comes that unmistakable moment that confirms Sinister will be moving in a more supernatural direction, bringing with it a bloodbath of modern horror clichés, including creepy kids, men in masks and occult imagery. Lone viewers are likely to see through the cheesy final act, but this is exactly the kind of film that would be eaten up by a big crowd keen for some cheap scares.

Sinister does (only just) enough to keep itself out of 'B-grade schlock' territory, and is entertaining enough to keep most viewers from counting down the minutes to its admittedly brave climax, but its lack of atmosphere and abundance of familiarity make this less of a gamer changer, and more of a fun night in.

*There's nothing I love more than a bit of feedback, good or bad. So drop me a line on and let me know what you thought of my review. If you're looking for a writer for your movie website or other publication, I'd also love to hear from you.*

7 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Complex, exhilarating, rewarding: Dead Man Down is all of those things and none of them., 20 May 2013

Perhaps the main attraction coming out of humdrum action thriller Dead Man Down for in-the-know cinephiles was the director-actor reunion of Niels Arden Oplev and Noomi Rapace, who delivered an astounding performance as Lisbeth Salander in Oplev's original- and superior- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Unfortunately, in the midst of the guns, cash, drugs and more guns on offer in Oplev's latest romp, that selling point must have been a pretty low priority in the marketing plan. The difference it makes, though, is arguable, as Dead Man Down screams of a project longing to break out its full potential in lieu of the studio-imposed constraints chaining it down.

Rapace is Beatrice, a spinster living a life of depression after a car accident with a drunk driver left her physically and emotionally damaged. When she makes the acquaintance of Victor (Colin Farrell), and learns that he makes a crust as a hit-man for the notorious Alphonse (Terrence Howard), she tries to blackmail him into killing the man who harmed her. Victor, meanwhile, has problems of his own, as an anonymous killer has begun picking off Alphonse's crew one by one, in a case that may be related to the death of his wife and young daughter.

Both the suave Farrell and uniquely beautiful Rapace- disfiguring facial scars and all- are in fine form. Their interplay is the film's highlight, teasing at the possibility of fleshing out a complex relationship between the pair that never fully materialises.

Put simply, the film is a caboodle of missed opportunities. Whenever things look like entering new and dangerous territory, everyone pulls the brakes a little; perhaps concerned that an overly layered film may isolate the mass market it's tailored to. Almost every scene including the climax shows admirable chutzpah before it gets watered down into something less palatable.

Oplev's penchant for short bursts of gritty action sandwiched between artistic cinematography appears in glimpses, but the film's excessive Hollywoodisation keeps it grounded in forgettability. The outcome is still a fun way to spend a couple of hours, but it leaves a sour aftertaste when putting all the pieces together during the credits and realising this could've been something truly awesome.

*There's nothing I love more than a bit of feedback, good or bad. So drop me a line on and let me know what you thought of my review. If you're looking for a writer for your movie website or other publication, I'd also love to hear from you.*

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
America! F*** Yeah!, 17 May 2013

Hit-and-miss action director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, King Arthur, Shooter) has assembled an all-star team of American patriots for arguably his most ambitious film, Olympus Has Fallen.

When the First Lady is killed in a freak car accident, President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) has no choice but to discharge his most trusted Secret Serviceman, and close friend, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). Eighteen months later, the White House is compromised by a crack team of North Korean terrorists, and when the President is taken hostage in his own underground bunker, it is up to Banning, with the help of acting President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), to dispense freedom, one bullet at a time.

Quickly written off by most critics and sceptical moviegoers for its absurd plot and 'junk food' tendencies, Olympus succeeds in all the areas one would expect, while crashing and burning everywhere else. The action sequences are expectedly strong, led off with an exhilarating set piece showing just how the White House falls under terrorist rule. Wave upon wave of mercenary-on-authority violence ensues, satiating the viewer's bloodlust with a glorious miasma of collateral damage. The violence isn't exactly Drive-level graphic, but Fuqua isn't afraid to spill copious amounts of blood and guts when required.

Both the plot and Butler's strangely endearing 'don't-take-no-guff-from-nobody' persona hark back to the fun of the first Die Hard. That said, the film's short-sighted effort put into extravagant set pieces- and not much else- gives the impression that Olympus would've worked better as a video game.

The script is a dog's breakfast, as dialogue ranges from cringe-worthy to inexcusably awful, doing little to soften the body blow already dealt by a contrived set of characters and a plot with more holes than the poor, generic baddies unlucky enough to face Banning and his toys. Fuqua has not made a good film, per se, but one for the wrong generation. One can't help but think that Olympus- with its macho, take-no-prisoners lead and its blatant pushing of outwardly 'muhrican ideals- would've fit right in in the excessive yet carefree 1980s. But in a time where audiences are, dare we say, smarter, it is easy to get wrapped up in all the ways a film is wrong, rather than considering how much fun it was to watch all the wrongness unfold.

*There's nothing I love more than a bit of feedback, good or bad. So drop me a line on and let me know what you thought of my review. If you're looking for a writer for your movie website or other publication, I'd also love to hear from you.*

The Call (2013/II)
6 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Connection lost., 17 May 2013

With a filmography that includes surrealist thriller The Machinist and directorial duties on a range of respectable TV grit (The Shield, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire), Brad Anderson certainly has the talent to turn an interesting concept into magnetic viewing. The Call is not one of these examples. What starts off as a flatline, serviceable thriller rapidly descends into a cheesy miasma of B-grade sensibilities that has no business on the big screen.

Halle Berry is Jordan Turner, a 911 operator who quits the force after a disturbing incident that led to her caller's murder. Six months later, she is back strictly as a trainer, until she has to take over a kidnapping report from Casey (Abigail Breslin).

There is nothing particularly wrong with Berry's performance, but she is a non-factor in the sense that anybody else could've played the same role to equal effect.

The rest of the cast is a series of living, breathing clichés. From the hard-nosed cop boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) to the mothering supervisor (Roma Maffia) and Breslin's hysterical- and often irritating- damsel in distress, the supporting cast is empty and undervalued. Michael Eklund makes a solid baddie, but suffers from awful dialogue, while curious civilian Alan (Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos and Goodfellas fame) is fun, but exits far too early courtesy of a half-homage to Scorsese's 1990 gangster masterpiece.

The film draws parallels to Morgan O'Neill's The Factory for its misguided attempt to blend the police procedural of Cold Case with the torture porn of Saw. The difference is that O'Neill's film knew its audience, shooting straight to DVD while Anderson's groan-fest damn near insults its cinema audience with an avalanche of plot holes, inconsistencies and just plain dopey behaviour from characters who really should know better. Let it ring out, because this call isn't worth answering.

*There's nothing I love more than a bit of feedback, good or bad. So drop me a line on and let me know what you thought of my review. If you're looking for a writer for your movie website or other publication, I'd also love to hear from you.*

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