The Reef Review, The “Spooky” Workers and TV’s Alcatraz

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 21st February 2012.

I’d like to thank everybody who washed their car or mowed their lawn over the weekend. Now it’s raining again.

I like to support Australian cinema as much as possible. Unfortunately this weekend I chose to watch The Reef, a humourless thriller involving two good looking couples, a yacht and a hungry shark. Can you guess what happens? Whilst beautifully shot in Queensland, the plodding storyline makes the 88 minute run time seem much longer. The bland characters were paper thin, making it very difficult to care as they are picked off by Jaws one by one. Just like the characters, all I wanted to do was endure the experience and make it to the end. None of the promotional material for the movie suggested a feel good film so I suppose I wasn’t deceived. After all, the uplifting tagline on the box was, “Pray you drown first.” If you want to see your favourite actors from McLeod’s Daughters and Underbelly become fish food then The Reef is definitely for you. Avoid if your holiday later this year is at the beach.

 

Speaking of scary movies, have you noticed that the Southern Cross Ten kiddie bedtime commercial starring The Workers has been reshot? A bizarre hybrid of The Wiggles, Hi-5 and The Village People, these children’s entertainers managed to film the creepiest goodnight jingle ever, complete with creepy death stares straight into the camera, toothy robotic smiles and horrible harmonies. Not surprisingly, a newly refilmed version of their ad appeared a few weeks ago. Gone is the weirdness. Instead, none of The Workers look at the camera at all, opting to sing to each other instead. So are they putting themselves to bed, or the kids at home? For my money, make kiddie entertainment come in the form of men in skivvies, fairies or singing and dancing clones. Leave occupational stereotypes for their teenage years when you put them to work at a fast food joint to pay for their Proactiv.

 

Have you checked out Alcatraz, the latest TV series from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot, the production house responsible for head scratcher Lost? Starring Sam Neill (in boggle eyed, “you must eat meat” mode) and the rotund guy from Lost, Jorge Garcia, the series follows a team of investigators searching for the population of guards and prisoners who mysteriously “disappeared” from the famous prison island in 1963. As the inmates reappear in their former cells one by one and resume their former evil ways, the team have to track them down and work out who or what is behind this event. Whilst I am enjoying the show, I have some major problems with the storyline.

If the team’s HQ is underneath the prison on the island, why don’t they just close the tourist attraction? The prisoners will reappear in their cells and be caught immediately, instead of catching the ferry back to mainland to cause trouble. And why do we never see the team on a boat travelling to and from Alcatraz? If you’re not going to close the island, then why inconvenience yourself with a boat ride several times a day? Do they have to wait for the hourly tourist ferry each time? If Lost has taught us anything, only time and a polar bear will tell, perhaps.

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 07:31  Leave a Comment  
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The Year in Film: 2011’s Best

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday  27th December 2011.

In my annual wrap up of the year in cinema, we’ve so far waded through the stinkers and underrated gems that disgraced and graced the silver screen. After much deliberation (at least five minutes), it’s now time to announce my best films of 2011. Drum roll please.

3. Captain America: The First Avenger In the final lead up to The Avengers, the ultimate Marvel superhero team up, this year saw the release of Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and the far superior Captain America. Directed by Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Jurassic Park III), this action adventure got the mix just right. A likeable hero (Chris Evans) and a charismatic baddie (Hugo Weaving channelling Werner Herzog), combined with some amazing special effects to render Evans as a pre-transformation weakling, plus a not too complicated storyline all made for an enjoyable ride. The setting of the film in World War 2 gave the flick some real stakes too. The final five minutes of the film were essentially an ad for the next film but I was having so much fun to care. The 3D effects were OK too.

2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes “Rotpota”, as it has become known, was really the little film that could this year. Dismissed pre-release as another unnecessary remake, à la Footloose, this reboot of the original sci-fi classic franchise was a taut thriller that features the best motion capture performance so far. Starring as the CGI chimpanzee Caesar, Andy Serkis was a revelation and brought true gravitas to what was essentially a bunch of pixels. He truly deserves a much touted Oscar nomination, the first for such a performance. Directed by Rupert Wyatt, this is a seamless blend of live action and CGI.

1. Super 8 J.J. Abrams’ homage to the eighties films of Steven Spielberg was simply magical. A throwback to a time when movies for children were allowed to be scary, this was The Goonies, Gremlins and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial all rolled into one. Abrams managed to elicit the most natural child actor performances from stars Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning since Henry Thomas left a trail of Reece’s Pieces to attract a certain alien. All of the Spielberg hallmarks were present: the single parent family, the military and the monster wanting to find its way home. In one hundred and twelve superb minutes, Abrams manages to encapsulate the wonder of childhood.

My notable mentions for this year are: Thor, Bridesmaids, Fast Five and X-Men: First Class.

2011 also saw the release of twenty eight sequels (that’s right, twenty eight). It shows that in the current financial climate, the major studios are not prepared to bet on original ideas when there are less risky properties and franchises to build upon.

2012 is already looking interesting with The Adventures of Tintin, Warhorse, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Muppets on the schedule in the first weeks of January. Have a great cinematic 2012!

The Year in Film: 2011’s Worst Movies

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 6th December 2011.

With 2011 almost done and dusted, it’s time once again to review the cinematic good, the bad and the ugly of the past eleven months and 6 days. Admittedly, I didn’t frequent the cinema or video shop as much as in previous years but that didn’t help me to avoid these clunkers. Over the next few weeks, let’s start from the bottom and work our way to the top. Here are my worst films of 2011.

There were two fighting robots movies released this year and the one you should have missed was Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Directed with the subtlety of a Jeremy Clarkson rant by Michael Bay, this sequel was more than a two hour toy commercial, it was also a sales pitch for paracetamol. Robots clashed, people ran, things exploded, people ran some more and all in eye smashing, headache inducing 3D.

Shea LaBeef and Fergie’s husband returned for a payday, alongside franchise newcomers McDreamy, the guy from Being John Malkovich and Oscar winner Frances McDormand. Megan “so hot in 2004” Fox was canned from the production for apparently saying negative things about the director. I guess I’m out of contention for Transformers 4 now too.

After several stalled attempts, The Green Hornet finally arrived in January. Written by funny man Seth Rogan and directed by the imaginative Michael Gondry, The Green Hornet was strangely neither funny nor imaginative. Also starring as the titular super hero, aka Britt Reid, Rogan was obviously overstretched as he forgot to make his character likeable. Oscar winner Christoph Waltz lazily reprised his villainous character from Inglorious Basterds and I have no idea what Cameron Diaz was doing in this film.

The Green Hornet was also presented in pointless 3D. You know your 3D is terrible when the end credit sequence looks better than the rest of the movie.

Director Zack Snyder of 300 fame is another hack who doesn’t like to let story get in the way of the action. His effort for this year, Sucker Punch, is virtually unwatchable. Featuring Aussie actresses Emily Browning and Abbie Cornish, alongside High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens, the film follows an institutionalised girl who escapes into an imaginary alternate world where she joins her fellow inmates as a team of kick ass fighters.

This misogynistic and violent tale is hard to watch and will make you want to escape into an imaginary alternate world where, well, you know the rest.

Finally, from the director of the original Twilight came Red Riding Hood. Would you like your movie with extra cheese? Starring doe eyed Amanda Seyfried as the doe eyed Valerie, this very silly film is set in a village menaced by werewolves. Torn between two suitors, Valerie seeks to unravel the source of the lycan menace alongside werewolf hunter Solomon, overplayed by Gary Oldman.

Did I mention that this film is sensual and romantic? That’s how I prefer my fairy tales. Director Catherine Hardwicke proves that lightning can’t strike twice with this retread of her previous sensual and romantic adaption of Twilight.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 09:20  Leave a Comment  
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Star Wars on Blu-ray: how many times do I have to buy the same movie?

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 6 September 2011.

If you’re a Star Wars fan, this month has been a long time coming. Wednesday 14 September will see both the original and prequel trilogies released on blu-ray. Finally we’ll be able to see that extra tall (or clumsy) Stormtrooper bang his head on the rising door in A New Hope in stunning high definition.

For around $120, you’ll get nine discs and over thirty hours of bonus features. Thirty hours! That is a lot of commitment, even for a Jedi. Don’t expect to see any nerds around town until the Saturday after its release at the earliest.

I’ve been doing my sums to work out how much money I have spent on purchasing and repurchasing Star Wars movies in my lifetime so far. There was the original VHS copy that I bought way back when owning a VHS (or Beta) player was a luxury and you needed to insert the tapes in the top. Renting a video then set you back $10 a shot, so buying Episode IV outright was easily $100.

Then there was the original trilogy that I purchased with my saved up pocket money from the now defunct HMV store in Parramatta Mall in the late eighties. Box sets didn’t exist then so that’s three movies at $30 each.

In the early nineties, I was working for my local Video Ezy store when Lucasfilm announced that they would be releasing the original films for the very last time so I purchased them again on VHS, this time in widescreen. Of course, television screens were still square shaped then so I got to watch my favourite movies in a small rectangle with dirty black bars above and below. That’s another three movies at $30 each.

What the clever folks at Lucasfilm didn’t mention during that promotion was the reason the original films were available for the “last time” was due to the imminent release of the Special Edition which included revised special effects and a little too much tampering on George Lucas’ behalf, such as changing the cantina scene to have Greedo shoot first in order to make Han Solo seem less ruthless. After duly seeing them on the big screen in 1997, I also bought the Special Edition VHS box set at say, $100. Are you noticing a pattern here?

In 2004, Star Wars Episodes IV – VI finally came out on DVD, this time in a box set complete with an awesome feature length documentary. The Force was strong in that one so I bought it too. Add another $100 at least to the tab.

The original, unaltered films were released again, this time on DVD, in 2006. I felt a little sore about this. Didn’t Lucasfilm say that the original trilogy would no longer be available? I guess they meant no longer available on video. Not a bad Jedi mind trick, but no bingo.

The prequel movies were released on the big screen from 1999 – 2005 and subsequently made their way to DVD. I only bought Episode III, largely due to the fact that the first two are mind numbingly awful. One DVD, $30 spent, fast forward through the Jar Jar scene.

Let’s face it. History shows that I’m going to buy the new Star Wars blu-ray box set. I love high definition films. Blu-ray movies look sharper and clearer to me than looking out the window. How is that possible?

So later this month, my total Star Wars expenditure will be $630. That’s not including buying cinema tickets, action figures, video games, books, magazines, the Princess Leia shampoo that you need to take her head off to get the shampoo out or tickets to see Carrie Fisher live. That’s $630 buying the same product over and over again. Despite his inability to direct actors or write decent dialogue, George Lucas is a marketing genius. Make that a ridiculously rich billionaire marketing genius.

I suppose I can’t complain. Star Wars has been an important part of my life in the past, and if I try to watch all of the new extra features it will probably be my actual life for a couple of days in the near future.

So thank you George Lucas. I hope you remember that 17% of one of the bricks in your solid gold mansion was paid for by me. But remember, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice twice plus one, this better be the last time. And I don’t mean a John Farnham “The Last Time” last time.

May the force be with you and your wallet.

Published in: on September 9, 2011 at 08:30  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: Super 8

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 14th June 2011.

This year’s crop of summer blockbusters features a dearth of truly original material. We have sequels a go-go with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Hangover Part II, Kung Fu Panda 2, Cars 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. There are prequels in X-Men: First Class as well as remakes such as Conan the Barbarian. From the pages of comic books will come Green Lantern and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Arguably the only original tent pole movie release of the season, the much anticipated Super 8 hit screens worldwide last week. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, who had major success with TV series Lost and Alias, before moving to the big screen with Star Trek (2009) and Mission Impossible 3 (2006), the movie follows the adventures of a group of kids in small town seventies America as they attempt to shoot a home grown zombie film amidst the arrival of a strange creature, and the military, via a devastating train crash.

The film is openly a homage to the work of Steven Spielberg, who came on board as producer for Super 8, with inspiration drawn from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and The Goonies (1985).

Most remarkable about this film, which I’m glad is not available in 3D, are the performances from the young actors. As the lead character Joe Lamb, struggling with the death of his mother and his emerging hormones, fifteen year old Joel Courtney is marvellous with a sincere, everyman performance that is not surprisingly reminiscent of Henry Thomas as Elliott in E.T.

The real discovery of the film is Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota, as Alice, Joe’s love interest. An early scene where her character demonstrates a natural ability to act in the shooting of the movie within the movie is a revelation. This is a career to watch.

The creature itself is deliberately hidden throughout the early stages of the film. The breathtaking train crash which frees “Cooper”, as he was named by the director during the making of the picture, is breathtaking. It may be an annoyance initially to some as the monster is obviously seen by characters but obscured to the audience but the suspense worked for me. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that once Cooper is revealed, the stakes drop a little, quite similarly to another creature feature, the J.J. Abrams produced Cloverfield (2008).

In particular, Generation X’ers will feel a strong sense of nostalgia for eighties cinema, where kids on the big screen went on adventures uninhibited by mobile phone, computers and parents. A sense of wonder about the world, combined with a couple of scary bits, will make you want to go straight home after the credits and relive some similar gems such as Gremlins (1984) and Stand By Me (1986).

Venturing into slightly saccharine territory at the end, the heart of Super 8 is the relationships between the kids. The performances of the young cast are worth the price of admission alone. Make sure you stay during the credits for the full zombie mini-movie.

Although not a perfect film, Super 8 comes highly recommended and is my favourite film of the year so far.