Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason

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The Water Diviner Review


Weak

For his directing debut, Russell Crowe tells a story so compelling that it almost obscures the rather clunky filmmaking. Based on the hint of a true story, the events are fascinating, moving and often thrilling, with some strikingly well-staged sequences along the way. But the earnest tone is sometimes distracting, as is an unnecessary romantic subplot that makes the whole movie feel like pure fiction.

It opens in 1919 Australia, where Connor (Crowe) is grieving the loss of his three sons in the 1915 battle of Gallipoli. Having vowed to bring them home before his wife dies, and with nothing else to do now, Connor heads to Turkey to find them. But the local British officer (Jai Courtney) doesn't want him anywhere near the battlefield, where experts are still identifying the remains of fallen soldiers. So with the help of local officer Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), Connor makes his own way to the site and, using his skills at discovering underwater wells, finds the bodies of two of his sons. Then he learns that the third (Ryan Corr) might have survived.

Alongside this story, Connor has a series of tentative romantic interludes with Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), the hot clerk at his Constantinople hotel, where she lives with her precocious 10-year-old son (Dylan Georgiades) while waiting for her husband to be declared one of the war dead. But if this happens, she will have to become her leery brother-in-law's third wife. This sideroad is so soapy that it constantly derails the rest of the movie, stealing focus from the more intriguing political tensions and Connor's own emotional journey. At least Crowe and Kurylenko are solid in their roles, even generating some chemistry in their tentative, unnecessary scenes. And Erdogan and Cem Yilmaz (as a rival Turkish officer) ground things nicely, connecting the rest of the film with the grisly well-recreated battle scenes.

Continue reading: The Water Diviner Review

I, Frankenstein Review


Weak

Even with its relentlessly cliched production design (trenchcoats and flickering candles galore), this raucous gothic thriller deploys enough visual flash to hold our attention. The gigantic effects-heavy action sequences are eye-catching and sometimes exciting, and there are elements of the story that almost begin to resonate before the script veers off in another more simplistic direction.

Based on a graphic novel, the story picks up where Mary Shelley's novel left off, as the monster (Eckhart) is attacked by demons that want to study his non-human existence. He's rescued by gargoyles, angelic protectors of humanity, and taken to their Queen Lenore (Miranda Otto), who names him Adam and enlists him in the demon-killing cause. Although her second-in-command (Courtney) isn't so sure. Over the next 200 years, Adam hones his skills before returning to Lenore just as the demon Prince Naberius (Nighy) is launching his evil plan to re-animate a dead army with the help of sexy scientist Terra (Strahovski) and Dr Frankenstein's journal. In other words, all hell is about to break loose.

Annoyingly, every time the plot begins to get interesting, writer-director Beattie indulges in another vacuous action set piece that's as irrelevant as the 3D. There's a decent story in here about the nature of the human soul, religious fervour and moral tenacity, but the film only uses these things as devices to make the dialog sound intelligent. Which is tricky since Beattie directs his cast to deliver their lines in growling, blurting monotone. Eckhart's voice-over narration is particularly dull. And this over-earnest tone leaves every potential relationship as a non-starter.

Continue reading: I, Frankenstein Review

Tomorrow, When the World Began Review


Good
Based on the first in John Marsdon's bestselling seven-novel series, this film is essentially an Australian version of 1984's Red Dawn. It's rather big on explosive action and short on real characterisation, but it's gripping and engaging.

Ellie (Stasey) is a typical 17-year-old in small-town Wirrawee, begging her parents to let her and her pal Corrie (Hurd-Wood) take a weekend camping trip to an isolated valley called Hell. They assemble a group with Corrie's boyfriend Kevin (Lewis), prankster Homer (Akdeniz), posh girl Fiona (Tonkin), Thai prodigy Lee (Pang) and good girl Robyn (Cummings). After a great few days, they come home to find their hometown overrun by an invading Asian army, with their family and friends being held in a prison camp. Now what? Do they run, hide or fight back?

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Dark City Review


Extraordinary
For all of the acclaim Dark City received after its initial, disastrous theatrical release in 1998 -- movie-of-the-year and DVD commentary honors from Roger Ebert; cult adoration; an eventual director's cut -- it probably still hasn't reached anywhere close to the number of people who saw, say, The Matrix (released just about a year later). Perhaps this has to do with the way the film shrouds its ideas in noir mystery rather than cyberpunk fashion; if The Matrix turned a broad audience into geeks who wanted to know kung fu, Dark City seemed ready-made for those whose geekery was established, though the film is broad enough to welcome nerds of the film, sci-fi, and perhaps even architecture varieties.

The Matrix is not a random comparison, mind you; the two films toy with similar ideas about the meaning of humanity, memory, and self-perception (they also share a second-unit director, though unless he is a brilliant stealth screenwriter, it is probably a coincidence). Dark City, directed by Alex Proyas, is less thrilling and sleek than its cousin, but equally imaginative, full of twisty images and clever synthesis of the movies that inspired it. It gives geeks a good name.

Continue reading: Dark City Review

Dark City Review


Extraordinary
For all of the acclaim Dark City received after its initial, disastrous theatrical release in 1998 -- movie-of-the-year and DVD commentary honors from Roger Ebert; cult adoration; an eventual director's cut -- it probably still hasn't reached anywhere close to the number of people who saw, say, The Matrix (released just about a year later). Perhaps this has to do with the way the film shrouds its ideas in noir mystery rather than cyberpunk fashion; if The Matrix turned a broad audience into geeks who wanted to know kung fu, Dark City seemed ready-made for those whose geekery was established, though the film is broad enough to welcome nerds of the film, sci-fi, and perhaps even architecture varieties.

The Matrix is not a random comparison, mind you; the two films toy with similar ideas about the meaning of humanity, memory, and self-perception (they also share a second-unit director, though unless he is a brilliant stealth screenwriter, it is probably a coincidence). Dark City, directed by Alex Proyas, is less thrilling and sleek than its cousin, but equally imaginative, full of twisty images and clever synthesis of the movies that inspired it. It gives geeks a good name.

Continue reading: Dark City Review

Silent Hill Review


Good
I have not played the video game upon which this film is based, and I assume that that's not a prerequisite. If the game is anywhere as creepy and odd as this movie, perhaps I should. The plot concerns a typical family with atypical problems, their young daughter Sharon (played by the J-horror-haired Jodelle Ferland) is a sleepwalker and it seems as though her somnambulistic journeys take her further and further from the safety of home (in the opening minutes of the movie we see her standing atop a particularly dangerous cliff face). Her parents Rose (Radha Mitchell) and the dour Christopher (Sean Bean) are at odds over what to do. Christopher opts for medication, while Rose decides to follow Sharon's lead. When she's dreaming, Sharon mentions a town called Silent Hill. Rose decides she'd better bring Sharon to the town and find out just what all the fuss is about. Turns out, Silent Hill is off limits - the place is a ghost town after a disastrous fire. And the fire still burns under its decaying crust.

A car accident, a nosy cop on a motorcycle (Deborah Kara Unger), and Sharon's escaping into the deserted town that rains ash, all collide in a chain reaction that leads Rose into a literal heart of darkness. Silent Hill, the town, inhabits a peculiar limbo - it is quite literally cut off from the rest of the world - where air raid sirens (surely some of the creepiest sound effects you're ever likely to hear in a film) precede the coming of a dark tide that washes over the ghost town with surprising regularity. With the arrival of the eldritch dark, the walls literally shred away, revealing an industrial hellscape that lies somewhere beneath the reality of the decaying town, populated by human-faced, screaming insects, twisted lava infants, and something called "Pyramid Head," that has an incredibly unwieldy helmet and one of the largest swords in cinema history. It's a brutal, dark, and hideous place and the highlight of the film.

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The Cave Review


Good
When I as a kid, there was no better place in Denver than Celebrity's Sports Center. I was not an athletic adolescent -- I spent more time reading books in my bedroom than I did tossing around the pigskin or chasing skirt -- but luckily for me Celebrity's Sports Center wasn't that type of "sports" place. It was a bowling alley/arcade/indoor water slide extravaganza where even the most geeky, awkward child could feel as though he or she was a star. What attracted me most to Celebrity's was the waterslides. There were three: the Dolphin, the Shark, and the Barracuda. Despite its often being referred to as the "baby" slide, or the "slow" one, I most enjoyed the Dolphin. Not because I was a lily-livered wuss, but because it was the one slide with rocky overhangs and waterfalls. For the two minutes that you drafted down the Dolphin you passed through a veritable equatorial jungle, replete with cascades, overhanging foliage and steep cliff faces -- all fake, of course.) And being in that slide, spiraling down to the warm pool, I often imagined myself an explorer making his way to some subterranean kingdom inhabited by monstrous creatures and lovely damsels in distress. (They tore Celebrity's down in the late '90s to make way for a Home Depot. Have people no respect?)

Watching The Cave I had that same feeling. The movie is like a multi-million dollar recreation of my boyhood fantasies on the Dolphin. And despite the many lapses in logic, the ridiculous plot twists, and the sketchy characterizations, I found myself giddy while watching The Cave.

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Danny Deckchair Review


Weak
In the game of life, Danny Morgan (Rhys Ifans) is a checkers piece sitting on a chess board. At his construction site job, he spends more time in the cement mixer than he does on the girders. His solution to just about any problem, no matter how complicated, is to hold a pancake breakfast. And his current dream in life is to tie multiple helium balloons to his deckchair to see if he can get off the ground.

Danny Deckchair is an unchallenging romantic comedy that begins with its quirky character's balloon-and-chair experiment but never flies as high as the film's leading man. Writer/director Jeff Balsmeyer injects his script with the universal desire to fit in, to be accepted despite one's obvious faults. It's familiar territory and relatively harmless, for sure, but it's also humorless and lacking in those all important grains of logical sense.

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