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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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.