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New release movie reviews - 10 January

Posted by: Jim Schembri | 10 January, 2013 - 5:56 PM

HITCHCOCK ***1/2 (99 minutes) M
The unalloyed joy of seeing one of the greatest actors of all time hamming it up as one of the greatest directors of all time is but one of the delights offered by this cheeky, deeply affectionate pic. As "master of suspense" Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins masters the master's jovial baritone and playful manner as he waddles around the Paramount set trying to make his seminal classic, the 1960 shocker Psycho. A glossy, easily digestible film that blends Hollywood nostalgia with an engaging narrative about the rough-and-tumble of old-school film-making, Hitchcock works smoothly as an entertaining triple tribute: to Hitchcock, who fought studios and censors to realise his desire to reinvent himself as a risky, provocative director after a string of hugely successful, safe Hollywood films; to Psycho, the peerless cinematic artwork that is to the horror genre what The Day the Earth Stood Still is to sci-fi; and, primarily, to Alma Reville, Hitchcock's wife, creative collaborator and - as hinted by Helen Mirren's sly, cutting, winning performance - his better half. First-time feature director Sacha Gervasi (Anvil) shoots and directs with a brightly-lit, pastel prettiness; his stylistic flourishes are a tad clunky (as when Hitch converses with Ed Gein, the inspiration for Psycho's Norman Bates), but it's not enough to mar this elongated valentine that successfully pulls focus on the smart woman who helped shape Hitchcock, both as an artist and as a man.

GANGSTER SQUAD *** (113 minutes) MA
Pretty much everything you'd want from a good gangster movie is dutifully delivered here: blazing machine guns; exploding cars; corrupt politicians; a nasty villain who wants to rule the city; dedicated cops happy to break the law in order to uphold it. Think Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, only without the artistic pretense. Frustrated cop Josh Brolin leads a group of bad boys - played by Michael Pena, Ryan Gosling,Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi and Robert Patrick - to bust the plans by Sean Penn's ambitious mobster to rule Los Angeles. Set just after the Second World War, director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland; the very funny, crude 30 Minutes or Less) frames the film's violence and fetishistic sequences relishing the firepower of Thompson sub-machine guns as a morally driven defense of the American Dream. The chief cops are war veterans who fought for freedom, only to see their city threatened by a wannabe dictator, so they see their fight on the streets as motivated by the same principle. A big-nosed Penn is at his scenery-chewing best as fact-based Mafia bad guy Mickey Cohen, Gosling relishes his turn as the cop who loves getting his hands dirty while Ribisi (soon to be seen as David Koresh in Waco) manages to make the film's most cliched character bearable (he's a tech expert with a loving family, so guess what happens to him?). The film was shot on hi-def video by the great Australian cinematographer Dion Beebe (Praise; Chicago; Collateral), and while it certainly doesn't look anywhere near as terrible as Michael Mann's gangster epic Public Enemies (2009), there is still a cartoony, saturated texture to many of the scenes. For the most part it serves the film's noir style well, but the format has its limitations - especially when shooting Emma Stone, who plays the film's love interest. Dolled up as she is as a gangster moll, video simply flattens and muddies what should glow - a far cry from the way noir femmes were filmed. Note: After the horrendous multiplex shooting in Aurora, Colorado on Friday July 20 2012, the film's initial release date (7 September) was shifted to January so that a scene featuring a shooting in a cinema could be excised and replaced.       

PARANORMAN ***1/2 (93 minutes) PG
In this superbly animated Goth story for tweens, middle-American bully bait Norman (voiced by Adelaide's Kodi Smit-McPhee) sees and speaks to dead people, an ability that puts him at the centre of the action when an old witch's curse results in zombies causing havoc in his small timber-locked town. Despite the dominance of digital, ParaNorman demonstrates - as did films such as Coraline, The Corpse Bride, Wallace & Gromit and The Nightmare Before Christmas - that stop-motion animation has a texture and warmth that can't (yet!) be replicated by computer. Regrettably though, while 2012 was a huge year for digitally animated features, it didn't fare so well for stop-motion works. While both Paranorman and Tim Burton's Frankenweenie share a visual beauty as well as reasonably low-budgets ($60m and $40m respectively), they did weakly, taking $100m and $66m apiece.


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