With a sweeping, picturesque setting and emotive performances, this dramatic epic will appeal to moviegoers who enjoy beautiful imagery and weepy romance. On the other hand, those who get easily annoyed at melodrama will find all of this a bit thin and pushy. Still, no one will deny that it looks gorgeous, and that the cast performs with raw emotional intensity.
Set just after the Great War, the film follows shellshocked veteran Tom (Michael Fassbender), who has taken over the job as the lighthouse keeper and sole resident of the tiny island of Janus, where the Pacific and Atlantic meet. In the nearest town, 100 miles across the sea, he meets the beautiful Isabel (Alicia Vikander), marries her and moves her to the island with him. But their blissful happiness is shaken when she suffers two harrowing miscarriages. So it seems like fate is intervening when a boat washes ashore with a crying baby, which Tom and Isabel secretly adopt and pass off as their own daughter. Then a few years later Tom discovers the baby's real mother Hannah (Rachel Weisz) in town, and they're forced to grapple with the moral issues.
Tom, Isabel and Hannah all face increasingly difficult decisions as this story unfolds, and the events push every button carefully, removing much of the complexity from the situation. It's painfully clear what must happen, and many scenes are darkly disturbing as a result, especially as characters turn on each other, making some very selfish choices and showing unexpected compassion and understanding. Nothing that happens here is easy, and the actors invest the characters with plenty of passion, plus the complexity that's lacking in the script. Fassbender is stoic, Vikander is wrenching and Weisz trumps them both with her sympathetic yearning. There's also a terrific scene-stealing turn from the young Florence Clery as the daughter in question.
Continue reading: The Light Between Oceans Review
This tightly wound drama evokes a strikingly inventive sense of the Wild West in the Australian Outback. Since filmmaker Ivan Sen refuses to crank up even a hint of suspense, he cleverly subverts the usual cliches, refusing to indulge in action-movie exaggeration. But this leaves the film feeling very sleepy, depending on audiences to connect with the central character's internal voyage rather than anything that happens on-screen.
The focus is on Jay (Aaron Pederson), a beefy police detective who moves back home to rural Queensland after several years as a cop in the big city. He's a local boy in this dusty Outback town, but now he's also considered an outsider. His first case involves the murder of a young Aboriginal girl who seems to have been part of a drugs and prostitution ring. This sparks an extra level of concern for Jay because his estranged teen daughter knew the victim. And as Jay digs into the case, he begins to understand that there's a dark criminal element woven right into the fabric of the community. It's so endemic that the last policeman who tried to investigate it turned up dead.
This is an exploration of the dark layers of bigotry and evil that worm their way into any group of people, often far beneath the seemingly peaceful surface. Intriguingly, the film isn't actually about the murder; it's about Jay's journey to discover his own personal history, how his past connects with a present he can barely bring himself to imagine. Pederson is a magnetic presence at the centre of the story as a man dealing with rather a lot of abuse while trying to help solve a nasty situation and understand his own place in this world. Around him the supporting cast add colour to each scene, with notable contributions from the superb Hugo Weaving, Aussie veteran Jack Thompson and True Blood's Ryan Kwanten.
Continue reading: Mystery Road Review
Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) is the perfect director to take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's iconic novel about the American dream, simply because he's an expert at showing the emptiness of hyperactive excess. The film is a feast for the eye from start to finish, but it also eats away at us with its bleak story of people who live the high life even though it leaves them naggingly unsatisfied.
The tale is told by Nick (Maguire), trying to work through his life-changing summer in 1922 Long Island, where he rented a small cottage across the sound from his wealthy cousin Daisy (Mulligan), who is married to his college pal Tom (Edgerton), an all-American sportsman with an eye for other women. Next door to Nick's cottage is the vast mansion owned by reclusive millionaire Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), who throws outrageously raucous parties for New York's celebrity class. But Nick realises that Jay only does this to catch the eye of Daisy, because he's still in love with her after a romance five years earlier. Now he wants to take her away from Tom, and he needs Nick's help.
It's tricky to know whether Luhrmann is celebrating Gatsby's luxuriant lifestyle or offering a cautionary tale about the emptiness of materialism. Obviously, the story is trying to do both, and Luhrmann fills the surfaces with decadent extravagance, filling the air with wafting fabric, buckets of glitter and exploding fireworks. Like a lavish 3D pop-up book, the party scenes are wildly over-the-top, as are smaller gatherings in opulent city flats or roaring open-top cars. These people's lives are so vacuous that they live at top speed, always in search of the next thrill. And it's difficult not to see Gatsby's earnest quest as just another greedy acquisition.
Continue reading: The Great Gatsby Review
When Nick Carraway moved from the Midwest to New York in 1922 to kick start his business career, he unknowingly rents a house right next door to one of the most influential yet elusive characters in the land. The mysterious and great Gatsby who regularly hosts extravagant parties ends up drawing Carroway into his world of sparkle, glamour, wealth and honour with ease as he is already drawn to the overindulgence and luxury of the city. But why does Gatsby, a man known for enjoying his own company, wish to open his doors to the stranger that is Carroway? Nick happens to be the cousin of the Daisy who lives across the bay and that connection gives Gatsby a way in to rekindle an old relationship that has been etched in his mind for several long years. Despite Nick's initial awe of Gatsby's whole existence, he soon begins to have his suspicions of him and starts to uncover the real corrupt and manipulative world of the upper-class.
'The Great Gatsby' has been directed and produced by Baz Luhrmann ('Moulin Rouge', 'Romeo + Juliet'); a man known for his use of glamour and breathtaking splendour in his dramatic flicks. It is a truly remarkable adaptation of the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and is full to bursting with the glamour, scandal, deceit, romance and tragedy of the 1920's high class world. It is set to be released on May 17th 2013.
Starring: Leonardo Dicaprio, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Callan McAuliffe, Gemma Ward, Amitabh Bachchan, Jason Clarke, Jack Thompson, Jacek Koman, Vince Colosimo, Max Cullen, Barry Otto, Felix Williamson, Stephen James King,
Continue: The Great Gatsby Trailer
It is 1922 and Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner who moved to New York to kick off his career, rents a house next door to the mysterious Gatsby who regularly hosts extravagant parties. Everything is different to how it was; bigger buildings, drinking and parties more prevalent; and Nick finds himself becoming increasingly fascinated by the elusive and wealthy character that is Gatsby. Nick's cousin Daisy and her unfaithful, aristocratic husband live across the bay and, after Nick attends a party of his, Gatsby recognises his connection with Daisy and requests a meeting with her hoping to rekindle an old relationship. Nick bears witness to the corrupt and manipulative world of the upper-class and the tragedy and obsession that threatens to collapse their worlds.
Continue: The Great Gatsby Trailer
Shy, artistic 8-year-old Sally (Madison) moves across the country to live with her architect dad Alex (Pearce) and his designer girlfriend Kim (Holmes) in a massive old Rhode Island mansion. But she soon starts hearing strange noises, and after discovering a boarded-up basement studio, things start getting a bit freaky. But how can she convince her sceptical father and the stepmum she doesn't trust that there's something in the house that wants to tear the family apart? Even after the handyman (Thompson) is attacked, Alex continues his renovations so he can lure a buyer (Dale).
Continue reading: Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark Review
Moving into a new house is a fun and exciting time for most kids, finding new places to explore and play there's always lots of dark corners to go and hide in, but what if there's something else hiding in those dark corners? When a young girl called Sally moves in with her father and his partner it quickly becomes apparent that sometimes things aren't just in your head and sometimes monsters really do jump out and get you.
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At 165 minutes, Australia is ambitious to a point -- and then, to a fault. You can actually point to two movies jockeying for position on screen (well, one full story and the seeds of another). And while I quite liked the primary story, the third-act coda struck me as fodder for a potential sequel I wasn't prepared to sit through at the time.
Continue reading: Australia Review
Spider-Man's hype and box office may have stolen some of Episode II's thunder, but Attack of the Clones finally arrives, three years after its predecessor, The Phantom Menace, and picking up the story 10 years after that installment let off.
The story is considerably more convoluted this time out. Former Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) is now a senator in the Republic, and nefarious parties are repeatedly attempting to have her assassinated. Assigned to protect her are Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and a growing-up Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), now Obi-Wan's apprentice. Soon, Jedi bosses Yoda and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) split the two up: Obi-Wan is tasked with tracking down the bounty hunter who tried to kill Amidala (which turns out to be Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), father/clone of young Boba Fett). Anakin is tasked with serving as Amidala's bodyguard.
Obi-Wan scours a "secret" watery planet (there discovering a massing clone army allegedly purchased for the Republic ten years ago), and then tracks Jango to another planet, where he finds the opposition led by (try not to snicker) Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), who is amassing a droid army for war against the Republic.
Meanwhile, Amidala and Anakin fall in love (awwwwwwwwwwwww), but since she's a politician and he's a Jedi (bound to supress emotion -- which just ain't takin'), they have to keep their romance a secret (just like in The Bodyguard!).
Side stories galore take characters all over the galaxy far, far away... including the inevitable stop on Tatooine to help Anakin's mother and long spells on Coruscant, the 100%-urban capital planet.
On to the nagging questions: Foremost, Jar-Jar is back, and his part is not insubstantial; the character is as grating as ever. But all eyes are on Christensen, and he fills the shoes of Skywalker admirably, though he has apparently been given the sole direction to act like a really bratty teenager.
The use of CGI is on overload, and while many of the sets (real or digital) are quite successful, many of the backdrops are not -- notably the cheesy oceans on the clone planet and an especially flat cathedral-like hallway Yoda scoots through. When the CGI interacts with real-world elements (like when Anakin rides a fat sheep-like creature), the effect is about as believable as Barney being a real dinosaur.
Also out of place is the movie's silly patriotism, with frequent pontification about loving democracy (and this from a former queen -- albeit an "elected" queen... uh, okay) and the Republic. One speech actually includes the earnestly corny line, "The day we stop believing in democracy is the day we lose it!" I say the day Star Wars becomes nothing more than a political platform is the day we lose it.
At 2 1/2 hours in length, this installment is a bit long-winded and bladder-challenging (compared to 2:13 for Episode I and a little over 2 hours for A New Hope), but the decision to go "epic" at least makes room for lots of action when Amidala and Anakin aren't busy smooching. The action starts right at the beginning, with an impressive skycar chase through Coruscant, and ends with an equally smashing "big battle scene" that easily outdoes the one in Menace. Best of all, though, is the already famous Yoda light-saber battle, which is as funny as it is thrilling. That said, the pod race in Phantom is still probably the best action sequence in the series so far.
Less impressive are the talky parts, which haltingly attempt to create a romance between Amidala and Anakin. The love story just doesn't work and it's very awkward, maybe because George Lucas is simply out of touch with the realities of youthful romance, or maybe because the leads didn't have chemistry. I don't know for sure. I do know, however, that if Anakin Skywalker is going to play the cool outcast he shouldn't act like a baby around his would-be girlfriend. And Amidala's 11th hour confession of love comes completely out of left field, a necessary plot point because we know she has to eventually bear two kids by the guy.
In fact, much of Episode II feels like it's ticking off items to make sure we get to the appropriate state of the galaxy by the end of 2005's Episode III. There's still a long way to go -- Anakin has to turn evil and disfigured; Amidala has to have two kids, split them up, and have one become the princess of a planet still not introduced in the series; Yoda and Obi-Wan have to become hermits; and then there's the matter of the Death Star, which has to be built. Episode III is either going to be a complete disaster or a work of genius.
Altogether, the movie is enjoyable despite its nagging script inadequacies and crummy "down" scenes. The action is fun, the acting is good enough, and the direction is capable, if not inspired. If you're a die-hard Star Wars fan, you will like this better than Episode I (though I grade them roughly equal), but it still won't hold a candle to the earlier films.
But chances are when it's said and done, you aren't going to be talking about Episode II for its good things. An impromptu conversation with another filmcritic.com staffer set us off on a number of incongruities and simply baffling moments that might be pointing to Lucas's senility. For example: When did R2-D2 become able to fly? When did Obi-Wan become afraid of flying (or afraid of anything for that matter)? What's with Jimmy Smits and his Elizabethan collar? Since when does a Jedi Knight have to go to a library to figure out where a planet is? And why didn't Lucas get the hint about Jar-Jar Binks the first time around?
Mysteries of the universe, I tell ya.
The DVD answers few of these mysteries, with eight deleted scenes (see Natalie Portman lose her accent!) and various effects-oriented documentaries. There's even a trailer for a mockumentary about R2-D2. Amusing.
Teddy bears' picnic.
The climactic lightsaber duel in "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" has to be seen to be believed. It puts the awesome Darth Maul/Obi-Wan fight in "The Phantom Menace" to shame, and it's one of the big pluses in a mixed blessing of a movie that is a vast improvement over its immediate predecessor, but sometimes in fits and starts.
Any fan will have the same reaction to this showdown: As it's about to begin, you'll laugh, because with the characters involved the idea seems almost absurd. Then you'll cheer, because George Lucas knows you're laughing, and plays into it beautifully. Then your mouth will drop open in amazement. How did he pull this off? This is so cool!
Suffice it to say, this scene -- and the huge battle that surrounds it as the fabled Clone War begins -- is worth the price of admission all by itself.
Continue reading: Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones Review
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