Janet Zucker

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Mental Review


Good

Even for a riotous Australian black comedy, this film packs in just a bit too much chaos. It's consistently smart and funny, with lively characters and especially witty dialog, but some of the sideroads never go anywhere. Still, there's so much terrific material in here that it's well worth a look for fans of the genre. And it's great to see Collette return home to reunite with her Muriel's Wedding director P.J. Hogan nearly 20 years after they launched their careers.

The story centres on suburban housewife Shirley (Gibney), who is obsessed with The Sound of Music and wishes her unruly family was more like the Von Trapps. But no, her husband (LaPaglia) is the town's philandering mayor, and their five daughters all think they're mentally ill. Then when Shirley herself ends up in a psych ward, Dad brings in the drifter Shaz (Collette) to watch the girls. She takes no prisoners, whipping them into shape while trying to give them some self-respect. She also shows them that the people society considers "normal" are probably crazier than they are. Meanwhile, eldest daughter Coral (Sullivan) gets a job at a shark exhibit run by a salty fisherman (Schreiber) who has a connection with Shaz.

Writer-director Hogan packs the film with rude references to The Sound of Music, from a pastiche pre-title sequence to Shaz's unconventional Maria-like approach to child-rearing (with heavy overtones of Mary Poppins). The film is colourful and sometimes too hyperactive, with Collette often going way over-the-top as the wildly unhinged Shaz, who also upends the life of their compulsive next-door neighbour (Fox). Much of this is simply too wacky for us to go along with, but other scenes are quietly insightful and very, very funny. Often at the same time.

Continue reading: Mental Review

Friends With Benefits Review


OK
A smart, witty script and a likable cast help overcome the deep-seated rom-com cliches the filmmakers set out to deconstruct. But the central couple's strong chemistry and a stream of lively side characters keep us involved and entertained.

After a humiliating breakup, Dylan (Timberlake) meets with high-achieving headhunter Jamie (Kunis) about a new job. Friendship blossoms, and since Jamie is emotionally damaged after a recent split and Dylan is emotionally unavailable, they decide to sleep together without any deeper attachment.

Meanwhile, they get increasingly involved in each others' lives, most notably as Dylan and his sister (Elfman) cope with their senile father (Jenkins). Of course, the main question is whether Dylan and Jamie can remain friends even if they have sex.

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Fair Game Review


OK
This provocative, fascinating true story is told with so much righteous rage that the politics overwhelm the personal drama. Terrific acting and a sharp, brainy script hold our interest, but we never properly feel the emotional punch.

Valerie Plame (Watts) is a high-level CIA operative juggling teams in a variety of locations. In the wake of 9/11, her focus is on investigating Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons programme. Her husband, Joe Wilson (Penn), is the expert sent to Niger to investigate uranium rumours, but he finds no evidence.

And this is backed up by Valerie's discoveries from scientists in Iraq. So when Joe hears George W Bush lying in a State of the Union address, he writes a rebuttal. Enraged, Bush administration official Scooter Libby (Andrews) releases Valerie's identity.

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Rat Race Review


Good
Crazies, Lucille Ball impersonators, redneck garage mechanics, neo-Nazis, dykes on bikes, cross-dressers, electrified dogs, flying cows, vomit contests, vindictive girlfriends, and Rowan Atkinson's horrible Italian accent are the elements of success for Rat Race, the latest hilarious remake of It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

I know how bad it sounds. But thanks to the comedic talents of Jon Lovitz, Atkinson, John Cleese, and Whoopi Goldberg, plus a sharp script written by Andy Breckman (a writer for TV Funhouse and one of the best Richard Pryor movies, Moving) Rat Race is much better than it should be. In the end, it's summer junk food for the soul.

Continue reading: Rat Race Review

Janet Zucker

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