THE DARK KNIGHT (NOLAN’S 2ND BATMAN EFFORT)

And might I add, a very good second effort!

A great absense of posting (end of semester, an editing gig, a family va-cay) has made me lacklusture about goldstars but after a viewing of The Dark Knight (somewhat later than I would have liked) I feel all inspired to return to the world of blog.

 

THE SET UP?

Following the beginning of Batman just a few years ago Bruce Wayne is continuing to live his playboy lifestyle by day (and dusk) and donning the black cape and horns at night. But it seems that the streets of Gotham are being cleaned up – mainly through the efforts of the new District Attorney Harvey Dent, who is “with” Bruce’s sweetheart Rachel. BUT there’s a new villain in town, guess who. You’ve all probably seen it by now but still I won’t give anymore away.

 

THE CAST?

Heath Ledger – The Joker. I can’t help but putting him first. He is amazing. Really. It may not be the most endearing character to be ultimately remembered for, but in terms of his acting legacy – this film leaves it solid.

Christian Bale – Bruce Wayne/Batman. Bale takes a back seat in this one to Ledger, Eckhart and even Freeman. So in a way its tricky to evaluate his performance. As much as I love Bale as an actor he didn’t really stand out in this at all.

Aaron Eckhart – Harvey Dent/Two Face. The scariest Two Face ever – but that’s more down to the make up department. Eckhart is good in this. He’s not a standout, he’s solid. I didn’t find the transition from Harvey Dent to Two Face in terms of the personality of the character all that convincing. 

Michael Caine – Alfred. Gotta love Alfred. Caine delivers a brilliant performance as ever. He is given some of the better lines in the film, but he does an excellent job as ever in his role. 

Morgan Freeman – Lucius Fox. Its so nice to have Freeman in a film role where he doesn’t double as the narrator these days – its getting rarer and rarer. He is good in this, not excellent but still good.

Maggie Gyllenhaal – Rachel Dawes. I have great respect for Maggie Gyllenhaal as an actor, however, I’m not really happy with her replacement as Rachel Dawes after Katie Holmes decided she didn’t want to reprise her role (bet she’s regretting that now!). There are very few similarities with the two actors’ portrayal of the character and it makes Gyllenhaal as Dawes harder to believe – it seems more like a totally new character.

Gary Oldman – Lt. James Gordon. Another fine older actor. Oldman plays Gordon real and believable.

 

WHY SHOULD YOU SEE THIS FILM?

I feel this is the first film that I blog about that I don’t really have to try to convince you to see. By the stats already released about The Dark Knight it would seem most of you have already seen it (in its first three days it outsold the entire cinema run of Batman Begins). EVEN SO – here are the reasons: Ledger – you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t make it to the cinema to catch this phenomenal actors last complete film performance- , the imagination of the astonishingly brilliant director- Christopher Nolan – having directed and (co) wrote for The Dark Knight Nolan serves up a treat for the audience. Even if Batman, action, violence and psychopaths isn’t your cup of tea I believe you will be entertained by this film – every aspect of it nears perfection. That being said it seems a bit of a waste to use two old school Batman villains in the one film. It meant that the film stretched out to 2.5 hours (not necessarily a bad thing) and each actor had a lot less screen time than in the first film. In that way, I hate to do this, but it reminded me a bit of Spiderman 3. 

 

WHO SHOULD YOU SEE IT WITH? 

Even though I practically said go see this film even if you don’t like film action, violence etc I doubt any of you would go take a five year old (or young kids in general) to this one – and you shouldn’t. Also, maybe mum and the grandparents aren’t a good idea either. 

 

ANY BITS?

Action. Violence. Psychopaths. But on the upside – limited to no swearing and no raunchy scenes.Yet again on the flip side – this is the scariest Two Face EVER – and even I kind of squinted when he was on screen. It is quite full on. 

 

THIS FILM GETS 4.25 GOLD STARS.

SPEED RACER

I know what you’re all thinking…

This will be… stupid.

And depending on your particular tastes in film you could be right…

But I must say I thought Speed Racer a masterpiece of digital film making. 

 

THE SET UP? Speed Racer, yes that’s his actual name, has been obsessed with car racing and nothing else since childhood. Race car driving for his family is like a religion. But when Speed’s older brother (Rex Racer), the greatest driver, like, ever, dies in a dangerous race the family grows cynical and steps back a bit from their zealous ways. But not entirely, as a few years later Speed emerges as the hottest new driver on the circuit. 

After corporate flirting Speed discovers what the industry is really about and decides the powers who control and fix the races need to be brought to justice. He goes with the help of his family, girlfriend (oooh!) and the mysterious Racer X. 


THE CAST? 

Emile Hirsch – this guy is good. He is excellent as Speed Racer. Similarly to Robert Downey Jr. inIronman (and yes I did just compare an actor you’ve probably never heard of to the great Downey Jr.). Hirsch brings credibility and authenticity to a character in an especially artificial (READ: “blue screen”) world.

Christina Ricci – where did she come from, again? Ricci plays the loyal and supportive, one-of-the-family girl beside Speed’s side. Her performance is quality. She has an adorable chemistry with Hirsch (note: but entirely ok for the younger kids). 

Susan Sarandon – Mom Racer. Sarandon is splendid in whatever she does. She can more or less do no wrong. Her beautiful character in Speed Racer is no exception. Though this is a “kids” movie, she almost made me cry in one scene.

John Goodman – Pops Racer. Nice to see the big guy back on the big screen. He’s great and entirely appropriate as Speed’s dad. He adds pathos to his character, especially when it comes to his relationship with his two racing sons and the speedy spor without it seeming out of place for this genre. (-which I’m still trying to define).

Kick Gurry – gets no billing but I’d like to give the Aussie come kudos here. He sits within the boxy character of Sparky, the Racer’s mechanic well. Sparky’s character swings between goof and pensive reflector and Gurry keeps up with ease. Looking forward to seeing more from this guy!

Matthew Fox – Racer X. Do-do-Do-do-Do-do (meant to sound mysterious…). Hmm… Fox isn’t great. He sits below his fellow actors in Speed Racer, he almost feels like a miscast.

 

WHY SHOULD YOU SEE THIS FILM? 

I could spend a while writing this, coz there are a lot of reasons to make it to the cinema for this one. But I think you should know why, or else you could be disappointed. So I’ll keep it to dot points, shall I? Okay…

– The racing sequences. They really call for the big screen. The effects are great, and if you’re at all keen on looking at different camera angles you’ll love it!

– The acting.

– The wacky editing. Its a bit different, but just enjoy its DIFFERENCE, rather than wishing it was … normal. 

– The narrative of seeing something wrong in the world (an injustice) and using your gifts to fight that wrong. Its a great metaphor. I found it encouraging on that level.

– So you can join my special club of people who get teased for seeing, and liking, Speed Racer. Current membership is 1.

 

WHO SHOULD YOU SEE IT WITH? 

As long as you don’t drag grandma and pa, anyone. Probably especially kids or people who enjoy slightly alternative cinema. The kids will love the colours, the wacky costumes and settings, and the fast cars, even the youngens will get something out of it!

 

ANY BITS? 

No. Unless fast driving freaks you out. Even the kiss is, well, I won’t spoil the surprise. (He he, I like being annoying.) 

 

THIS FILM GETS 4 GOLD STARS – As I said, watch it and enjoy its difference, its what it is, and it does what it does well. If you don’t try and wish this film was something else, you’d give it 4 Gold Stars too. 

IRONMAN

I went into Ironman with average expectations, and the expectations I did have were mainly pinned on the casting of the brilliant Robert Downey Jr. as the “super hero”. Unexpectedly I thoroughly enjoyed this “super hero movie”.

SET UP? Ironman isn’t your average super hero. Similarly to Batman, he has no special powers and his heroic behaviour comes out of a personal experience.

At the start of the film we meet the cocky, arrogant Tony Stark, a weapons developer running the family business (Stark Industries) selling unmatched military “goods” exclusively to the US government. However when Stark is kidnapped on a routine Stark Industries demonstration in Afghanistan he gets up close and personal with the good and mostly bad of those he usually bombs from afar. In order to escape the clutches of his terrorist captors he develops a big “iron” suit. After his escape he seeks to change the face of his company and continues to develop the iron get-up with the administrational support of the peppy Pepper Potts.

CAST?

Robert Downey Jr is Tony Stark/Ironman – director Jon Favreau noted that in most super hero films the character of the protagonist defines the actor but with the casting of Downey, the actor would define the character. A keen observation by Favreau! – Downey Jr is great in this role. I love him as the puffed up, arrogant, rich geek who gets the puff taken out of him and becomes who he was meant to be – without losing too much cynicism. Although I couldn’t help feeling it was more or less Harry Lockhart.

Gwyneth Paltrow as P.P. (as I like to call her). Agh. Hmmmm…. Well lets just say she did an okay job considering the scope of the underwritten, yet deserving character.

Terrance Howard as Stark’s BFF Col. James Rhodes – I kinda love Howard so nothing bad to say here. His performance is good. Good! Unlike Paltrow he does wonders with the character written for him, and through his performance the audience develops a real attachment with the character – which I suppose was strategic as super hero movie is code for mega-movie franchise.

Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane. Bridges is nice in this role. I just like listening to this old guy’s wise and deep sounding voice. Not really a stand out performance.

WHY YOU SHOULD SEE THIS FILM? I’m tipping most of you have already but if you haven’t, can I suggest you do? Its far from a movie for everyone (still haven’t found one of those). But as far as a super hero movie goes, Ironman is pretty much as good as your gonna get (although I love Nolan’s Batman Begins).

I loved Downey Jr’s portrayal and the terrorist stuff wasn’t entirely black and white which is nice in such a mainstream film (especially one of this genre) and the dynamic between Downey Jr and Paltrow is somewhat endearing, or at least, different and interesting.

Bottom line, for Downey Jr’s performance alone, this film is worth an entrance fee of up to $14 (or more if you don’t have to pay).

 

WATCH IT WITH… Anyone really. ‘Cept little kids, but you know that already.

ANY BITS? The trailer will spell it out for you, but beyond the expected violence, nothing much.

THIS FILM GETS 3.75 GOLD STARS.

RENDITION

posterNow I, once again, feel at pains (mainly a pain to me) to say that I missed the first little bit of this film and unlike 3:10 this film is directed by a non-american and therefore is arguably more intelligent (oh!) and refused to adequately recap for us tardy folk.So I’ll do my best to review this film, however it won’t be a wholly whole and accurate review…

The Set up? Egyptian born chemical engineer (Anwar) living in the US with a green card and am American wife and son is taken by officials at an airport as he’s returning home. Anwar El-Ibrahimi is suspected of being involved in a bombing that occurred in an Islamic country (that killed many including an American CIA operative). Under US legislation passed under the Clinton administration the American government give themselves the right to hold suspects indefinitely outside the US in order to extract terrorist related information. Anwar is stolen away to the country of the crime and his wife Isabella searches for answers. There’s also an intriguing subplot that I think you’ll get a lot more out of if I say – .

 

CAST? 

Omar Metwally is Anwar – though he doesn’t feature in the film’s propaganda and doesn’t get billing I rate him as the stand out in this film. He also plays the character the film is based around.walking and talking

Resse Witherspoon plays his wife Isabella. I used to love Reese but ever since the Oscar she seems to be dawdling. She’s good in this but not great. She doesn’t hit the my-husband’s-been-taken-away-by-my-government-on-the-basis-of-exactly-no-hard-evidence-and-I’m-“cheesed”-off nail on the head. She was probably distracted by her new love interest…(not that I buy into all that crap)

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Douglas Freeman, the CIA agent who takes over from his colleague who was killed in the bomb blast. He oversees the ‘interrogation’ of Anwar resulting in self-loathing but ultimately compassion. Gyllenhaal pulls this off well. He’s proving himself to be quite a fine actor, but similarly to his sister – he often plays abnormal characters – they’re always the same shade of abnormal.

Peter Sarsgaard plays Alan Smith, assistant to Senator Hawkins and formal college mate of Isabella and Anwar. He’s the first person Isabella comes to when she seeks to find out what happened to her husband. It is plain to the audience that Alan still holds a torch for Isabella. As usual, Sarsgaard pulls out the good stuff – hitting the perfect pitch in his performance.

Alan Arkin plays Hawkins,  the left-wing sympathising Senator who seems keen for social change but only if and when it will actually work.And of course we can’t forget the ever-bloody-brilliant

Meryl Streep who is Corrine Whitman, head of the CIA and defender of the greater good. Streep is icy cold and straight down the line as Whitman – did I mention brilliant?! (But when isn’t she?).

German posterWHY SHOULD YOU SEE THIS FILM? Well if I’ve got my timing wrong – which I think I do on this occasion – you’ll either already have seen it or will have to wait until DVD by now. But you should see this film if you enjoy/get something out of looking at the politiking and state of current events in our world. Although you might not get that much out of it. Without wanting to give it away – I agree with David Stratton (of At The Movies – oh, totally podcastable!) that the movie would be far better if it was less ambiguous as to the guilt (or lack thereof) of Anwar. It makes it too neat, too perfect in the end and therefore true blue lefties won’t like it. Its a bit too one sided in the end – doesn’t give the other side of the argument a proper hearing – narratively speaking.

WHO SHOULD YOU SEE IT WITH? Doesn’t really matter so much for this one. But save it for the over 16’s would be my suggestion.

ANY BITS?  Ummm….did I mention “interrogation”? Put on Uncle Sam’s hat and use your imagination.

 

THIS FILM GETS 3.5 GOLD STARS.

THE KINGDOM

posterI finally saw this film on DVD the other day. When I first saw the trailer I was intrigued. I love movies that explore topical issues, especially if they are coming from the Hollywood machine.

Then there was the thing that Michael Mann was one of the producers. As a director I have really appreciated his work so I started to get excited about The Kingdom.

Then I heard it was basically a action film so I lost interest and, yeah, only saw it the other day on DVD.

I wished I had seen it on the big screen.

THE SET UP? After an attack in an American compound by radical Islamic suicide bombers in Saudi Arabia, four FBI agents head to the Kingdom to find the masterminds behind the bombing(s) and bring them to justice (read: killing them). Things get complicated when they end up in harms way.

THE CAST?
Jamie Foxx is doing his thing as Ronald Fleury, the FBI division leader who takes the team to Saudi Arabia.
farisAshraf Barhom – I wanna give guy the billing he deserves, in the film (and consequently on IMDB) he got billing after the four actors playing FBI agents. This actor you’ve never heard of is exceptional in this film. I had never seen him in anything before The Kingdom but look out for more from this talented actor in the future. Barhom plays Colonel Faris Al Ghazi, the Saudi police officer charged with ‘babysitting’ the FBI agents. Barhom is able to invoke such empathy in the audience for his character and his character’s situation – more than any other actor in the film.
the crew> Chris Cooper is near his Adaptation-best as bomb expert Grant Sykes.
Jennifer Garner does her best to be un-Sydney Bristow -like as CSI type Janey Mayes. Garner is quite good in this, she shows that she is capable of acting outside of her type-cast, though that may sound hard to believe (considering the genre of this film) and not be the central character.
Jason Bateman plays computer/analyst geek Adam Leavitt. I like Bateman, he can practically do no wrong – he does seem slightly out of place in this film because of his comedic and irreverent recent past, but he still does the job well.
Jeremy Piven does HIS thing as fast talking US diplomat on the ground in the Kingdom, there to get the FBI agents out and back on home asap.
Piven has the best line in the film: [to Janet Mayes while preparing her to meet the Saudi Prince] Can we dial down the boobies? [Mayes is wearing a cream tank top (presumably with t-shirt bra) and cargo pants].

WHY YOU SHOULD SEE THIS FILM? While this film could be described as primarily an action film, it was never intended that way – it was intended to be an exploration into Middle Eastern politics and the extent of US involvement in the oil riddled lands. This film shows both sides to the issue, looking at what it all means for the Americans and the muslims (this is the Middle Eastern perspective shown in the film). The final lines of the film are exquisite in their irony and respective selfish perspectives. Merely as an exercise in learning more about the world we live in I’d recommend The Kingdom. All technical aspects of the film are also well done.

poster 2 WHO SHOULD YOU SEE IT WITH? Anyone who likes controversial films or action films. However it would be better to see it with people who enjoy controversial films so you can have a debrief about it afterwards.

ANY BITS TO KNOW ABOUT? Lots of action – bombs, gunfire. There is a reasonable amount of swearing thrown around – but it is highly amusing to see how the Saudi police officers react to the ‘profanities’.

THIS FILM GETS 3.5 GOLD STARS

Sorry it took so long

logoI hope you all out there will indulge this very Australian-centric post.Today, after decades of waiting Australia’s indigenous population will finally hear an official apology from the current Australian government for previous Australian governments policies of removing aboriginal children from their families. This was government policy and happened for half a century in Australia and was the leading cause of the degradation of their culture.Unlike some commonwealth and colonised countries, Australia shuns its indigenous peoples and has up until now failed to officially acknowledge the irrevocable damage caused by its governmental policies.Today this is changing. Thank God.poster There has been very few Australian films (full stop, but especially) that have dealt with issues of aboriginality. It would seem. not only do we want them ignored in our “multicultural” society but also in our entertainment. However there is one film that comes to mind, by the skilled and experienced Australian director Phillip Noyce: Rabbit Proof Fence.If you haven’t seen this film I encourage you to see it, depending on where you live it may be hard to find it. There are also several clips of the film on youtube.Last year I wrote a paper for my Australian cinema class about how aboriginality has been shown throughout Australia’s film history. Here is an excerpt:”The media is often a reflection of the dominant attitudes and values of a society; the medium of film is no exception. Through looking at Australian films of the last century we are able learn something of the attitudes that existed towards the indigenous population. Firstly it is important to note that it is only recently, in the last twenty years, that indigenous Australians have taken positions behind the camera. poster Since the 1920’s aboriginals have been in front of camera, blatantly portrayed, almost without exception, as savages. Exploitation of indigenous Australians in film was commonplace, further accentuating the belief of the aboriginal as ‘other’. They were either seen as part of the flora and fauna, mysterious forces to overcome, or ‘sub-hominids’. Racial prejudice continued into the 1970’s, perhaps in a more sophisticated fashion than in earlier days but was manifest in the misrepresentation of history, the aboriginal culture and oversimplifying moral and social issues. Indigenous characters were crafted to add to the stereotyped ideas about the aboriginal people rather than the characters being individuals who were also aboriginal. The use of aboriginals in film was never as protagonist, the aboriginal characters were never designed to be understood by the audiences, they served the function of savage, or noble savage.”…girls with neville“Films exploring indigenous issues in Australia do not come more perfectly realised than Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit Proof Fence. Noyce left Hollywood, where he had established himself as a prominent film director, to return to Australia and direct Christine Olsen’s adaptation of Doris Pilkington Garimare’s text Following the Rabbit Proof Fence. The story concerns three young “half-caste” girls, two sisters and their cousin, Molly, Daisy and Gracie (respectively) who were removed from their mothers in 1931 and taken to Moore River Native Settlement under the order of the chief protector of Western Australia A. O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), 1600 miles from their home in Jigalong. The eldest of the three girls, Molly (played by Everlyn Sampi) convinces her sister and cousin to escape and the three set out on the near impossible journey home. The rabbit-proof fence that stretched from the south of the continent to the north was their guide home. The two sisters made it back to their mother at Jigalong, but Gracie was recaptured and returned to Moore River. the tracker The three girls made their journey with the help of some aboriginals and Europeans along the way, pursued by the police and aboriginal tracker Moodoo played masterfully by David Gulpilil. Noyce says he was attracted to the project because it was an emotional and compelling story, but also because it was a true story and the films central protagonists are alive today. The film concludes with narration from the real Molly, in her native tongue, and footage of Molly and Daisy at Jigalong. The decision to conclude the film in this way was nothing short of inspired. Veteran American film reviewer Roger Ebert revealed that ‘not since the last shots of “Schindler’s List” have I been so overcome with the realization that real people, in recent historical times, had to undergo such inhumanity’. “

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR

PosterHaving high expectations for this movie, after watching the entrapping trailer, I set off to see Tom Hanks‘ newest film, Charlie Wilson’s War.

INITIAL RANTING: I should really say Mike Nichols‘ newest film shouldn’t I? But I figure people are going to see Forrest Gump’s aging face and decide whether or not to see the film based on the actors. I myself sometimes fall victim to the trappings of basing my decision to see a film based on the actors in it. Thankfully I got over my Tom Hanks’ phobia, focussing my attention on the fact that the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman was in Mike Nichols’ newest film. However, the promise the trailer offered of war-related controversy was what drove me to the theatre last night.

I was somewhat apprehensive, though, about seeing something from Nichols’, who I admired for Regarding Henry and Primary Colors but held in uncertain regard for Angels in America. That being said, I haven’t seen all of Angels in America, or even most of it. The one bit I saw when channel surfing was enough to turn me off, although my film senses were much underdeveloped then.

THE PLOT? The film is set during the 80’s, beginning in 1980. Charles Wilson is introduced a Texan congressman of limited importance with a taste for sexy administrative assistants and liquor. However through an old flame, Joanne Herring, he hears of a troubling situation in Afghanistan. Meanwhile the erratic CIA operative Gust Avrakotos is trying to work on a strategy to push the Communist Russians out of Afghanistan. The dialogue driven film begins to roll (and fast) when Wilson doubles the CIA allowance to deal with Avrakotos’ issue from $5 million to $10 million. And so it was that from such humble beginnings Wilson was eventually awarded with the honour of Esteemed Colleague (not a spoiler, its at the start of the film).

THE CAST?
Tom Hanks plays Charlie Wilson in a reasonable performance, though Hanks does convince the audience through the ownership of this likable character he is acted off the screen by his male co-star.
Julia Roberts is Joanne Herring, the conservative southern baptist philanthropist who has no scruples with sleeping with whoever enables her to further the greater good. Not judgement, just an interesting key to the character’s psyche. Roberts is a notch above average in this role. While I believe the woman can act, on odd occasion, the thing I liked most about her performance was the accent. It was funny!
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Gust Avrakotos, the agitated secret agent. Man, I just love watching this guy on screen! He is fantastic, and gives his much better known (and paid I would gather) co-actors a serious run around. The fact that this is a reasonably light hearted comedy doesn’t seem to faze this great actor, he embodies the character entirely.
Amy Adams, though not first billed, would be the next most central character. She plays Wilson’s chief admin assistant, and I had to give her a mention because my dad thought “she was lovely” and she did play “hot girl” in the Office.

WHY SHOULD YOU SEE IT? Besides Seymour Hoffman? Just kidding, there are other reasons. While the political and war controversy is in Hollywood doses (read: minimal) it still has some strong statements to say about the current political climate in Iraq, perhaps Nichols’, who tends to go for political material in his films, wanted to show the American public and the world what they did 20-30 years ago when war was occuring the middle east.
Also the internal journey of Hanks’ character, from a selfish and irresponsible congressman to an awakened and giving political figure is a compelling one. This journey is thanks to his would-be soul mate Joanne Herring who encourages him to go to Afghanistan and see the situation and the people for himself.

WHO SHOULD YOU SEE IT WITH? With this one, it doesn’t really matter, however because of some of the film’s content it may be good to go with someone you’re pretty comfortable and mature with.

ANY BITS TO BE WORRIED ABOUT? Some naked female parts at the start. Swearing is moderate, and pretty well placed in this one.

THIS FILM GETS 3.5 GOLD STARS