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New release movie reviews - 14 June
AFTER EARTH **1/2 (100 minutes) M
Despite the poor box office and critical blow darts it has received in the US, this Will Smith sci-fi film isn't anywhere nearly as dreadful as its homeland reception would suggest.
Set so far in the future that humans have forgotten where Earth is, a warrior father (Smith) and his wannabe-warrior son (Jaden Smith) find themselves the only survivors when their spaceship crashes on their long-vacated ancestral home.
Dad is injured with a broken leg, so it's up to his son to trek 100 kilometres through the wild forest to get to the other part of the ship, where resides the rescue beacon that must be activated. (Why such a device would not go off automatically is one of a myriad of story pin pricks that pepper the film.)
Though the ship broke up on its descent and landed with such a thud it killed everybody else, somehow all the on-board technology remains miraculously in tact, thus allowing dad to track his son during his trek, giving him advice about where dangers lurk and so forth.
By any fair measure, After Earth is actually quite a nifty, pacy adventure film, even though it was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who has not made a good film since his 1999 debut The Sixth Sense. (Unbreakable; Signs; The Village; Lady in the Water; The Happening; The Last Airbender - all of them stinkers.)
Having proved himself in the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid, Jaden Smith (Will's son) makes a stern, credible teen hero, defying his dad when he sees fit and doing battle with various digital beasties.
But two things hobble the film. As an over-disciplined soldier who shows no fear, Smith's performance, which is done mostly from a chair, is too flat and monotonal. Even when he gets angry he sounds constipated.
And though, like Oblivion, the film features some highly attractive and novel design work - the spaceship looks like an intergalactic banjo shark with a ribbed, skeletal interior - it does lack some vision about what the Earth would grow into without humans.
Essentially, once our lease is up, the world will apparently turn into one big national park populated by slightly bigger versions of familiar animals such as pumas, eagles and monkeys. It's a bit of a let down.
Was it really too much to expect that Jaden would run into something a little more challenging - such as a tribe of people living in the husk of an ancient shopping mall?
THE INTERNSHIP *1/2 (119 minutes) M
We are officially through the looking glass, people. We're quite used to seeing two hours of Hollywood movie with bits of product placement in it. Here we have two hours of product placement with bits of Hollywood movie in it.
Teaming up again after their 2005 hit comedy Wedding Crashers, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play two middle-aged, out-of-work salesmen who score non-paying internships at Google in the hope of scoring a job against all the brash, smart young bucks.
As formula dictates, their age makes them outsiders, so they team up with the other outsiders and promptly start working their way through a limp list of generation-gap gags, most of which rely on references to Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.
After a very strong start - Vaughn & Wilson are nothing if not great comedy improvisers - the film quickly flops back into a lazy nerds-vs-jocks campus comedy.
And the film's primary purpose is all-too-clear: if you didn't think that Google was best, sweetest, warmest, most benevolent corporation on Earth, you will by the credit crawl. Well, you're meant to, anyway.
If only it was edgier, funnier and not so sickeningly sycophantic. As it is, there's not one critical anti-Google gag in the whole thing, nothing about viral videos, inane YouTubers, the scourge of free-access porn or how much time people waste in front of their computer screens.
Unfortunately, the film itself turns out to be a waste of time in front of a screen.
Fun fact #1: In defending the film against charges that it is a glorifed ad for Google, Vince Vaughn has valiantly stated that the company didn't pay the production a cent.
Yet product placement deals don't necessarily involve money. Access to products, locations, services and expertise in exchange for screen time - and, preferably, a positive portrayal - also counts. Example: Apple provided products for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol; in return Apple products featured in a 10-minute sequence that had an advertising value of about $40 million. not too shabby.
Fun Fact #2: Most of the campus comedy cliches in The Internship also turn up in the upcoming Pixar film Monsters University.
* See our list of top product placement films.
MUD ***1/2 (130 minutes) M
Soaked in the humid atmosphere of the Mississippi backwaters, this moody, broody character-driven crime story is another fine step in the career redemption of Matthew McConaughey.
While exploring the vast network of rivers that form their playground, two adventure-hungry lads - Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) - discover an old boat stuck high in a tree.
It turns out to be a treehouse - or a boathouse - in which lives Mud (McConaughey), a haggard fugitive from the law, and a victim of passion. He's waiting for his girl (Reese Witherspoon, in a terrific piece of slum casting) so they can get away, but he needs the boys' help.
Writer/director Jeff Nichols (he made the quietly brilliant 2011 film Take Shelter) puts his love of the long shot and the slow burn to great use here as the boys wrestle with their elders (including a grizzled Sam Shepard) and over whether they're doing the right thing.
The kid actors are terrific - especially Sheridan - but it's McConaughey's magnetic, enigmatic performance as a good/bad man that drives the film.
And it's another lurch in the right direction. Having kicked off his career with a slew of strong films - Contact (1997); EDtv (1999); A Time To Kill (1996) - he allowed his oily good looks to suck him into rom-com hell.
These included such eternal classics as The Wedding Planner (2001), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), Failure to Launch (2006), Fool's Gold (2008) and the truly awful Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009). Most of these featured him taking his shirt off to brandish his abs.
Of late McConaughey has staged something of a quality recovery with such character-rich films as We Are Marshall (2006), The Paperboy (2012), The Lincoln Lawyer (2011), Bernie (2011), Killer Joe (2011) and Magic Mike (2012). Mud certainly reminds us what a good actor he is, even though he does take his shirt off briefly.
A LADY IN PARIS *** (91 minutes; subtitled) M
It must be written down somewhere in Movie Law that every actor in their senior years must play a crusty curmudgeon whose hard heart is softened by the presence of a younger person who just wants to help them. And so it is with 85 year-old French veteran Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim; Chimes at Midnight; Diary of a Chambermaid) who does a nicely barbed job playing rich old cow Frida opposite her long-suffering maid Anne (Laine Magi). Yes, it's predictable, but in the warmest way.
FAREWELL, MY QUEEN **1/2 (95 minutes; subtitled) M
Like the Americans, the French are infatuated with their history. They also love long close-ups of beautiful women in period costume. These elements combine in this painfully pretty period chamber piece recounting the onset of the French revolution as experienced by Queen Marie Antoinette (the beautiful Diane Kruger), her servant Sidonie Laborde (the even more beautiful Lea Seydoux) and Duchess of Polignac (the yet even more beautiful Virginie Ledoyen), who plays the Queen's platonic girlfriend.
There's much rushing around in cavernous, heritage-listed corridors as people talk about political upheavals, the unhappy populace who have just moved into Versailles and the list of people who need to be beheaded if France is to evolve into a nation that will eventually produce Les Miserables.
But it's the luminous presence of his leading ladies that director Benoit Jacquot seems most besotted by. His camera loves their faces, their heaving breasts, their glowing skin and, in one scene, a gratuitous glimpse of the naked Duchess as she sleeps. Chief problem with this handsome film is how abruptly it ends. It feels like there's a reel missing.
YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET (110 minutes) PG
A group of French actors and actresses are brought together in a grand mansion to hear the reading of the will left by their playwright friend. Addressing them via video, he plays back footage of the staging of Eurydice, which they then begin performing. Now, while that might sound turgid and dull...well, it is. Director Alain Resnais, now 91 and still at it, has made some great films, such as Hiroshima mon amour (1959; starring Amour's Emmanuelle Riva), Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and the harrowing Holocaust documentary short Night and Fog (1955). This isn't one of them. Pity.