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New release movie reviews - 15 March

Posted by: Jim Schembri | 15 March, 2013 - 11:36 AM
Mama.

MAMA ***1/2 (100 minutes) M

One of the principles of movie horror that always holds true is just how creepy kids can be. It's a philosophy of fright that is applied with full force in this chilling, masterfully composed, slow-burning spookfest.

Child-loathing rock chick Annabel (Jessica Chastain, proving herself one of the most versatile movie actresses alive) is charged with caring for two little girls who grew up in the wild with nobody to watch over them - but for an imaginary, brilliantine guardian figure they call "Mama".

But is "Mama" a figment of their tortured imagination or something more tangible and dangerous?

Working at the opposite end of the horror spectrum where splatter and gore reside, director Andres Muschietti (under the eye of fantasy/horror specialist Guillermo del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth fame) subtly builds a palpable sense of menace, teasing us into a state of jittery unease before dialling up an onslaught of scares that he delivers without mercy or relent.

But just how scary is Mama? Put it this way; if you're suffering from constipation, this'll cure you.

Fun fact: While Jessica Chastain has received kudos for her sterling performance in the Oscar-nominated Zero Dark Thirty, Mama has proved the bigger hit thus far. ZDT has taken $107 million worldwide; Mama has hoovered up $113 million, driven mostly by word-of-mouth.

GODDESS *** PG (104 minutes) PG

This bright, locally made, rice cracker-thin musical comedy is a pleasant, diverting way to kill two hours.

Stuck in a domestic rut raising a family in the postcard-pretty Tasmanian 'burbs, frustrated songstress Elspeth Dickens (Laura Michelle Kelly) battles the loneliness caused by her ever-absent, whale-saving greenie husband (Ronan Keating) by singing into a webcam from her kitchen.

She thinks nobody is watching. She turns out to be wrong.

With the help of advertising powerhouse Cassandra Wolfe (Magda Szubanski) Elspeth becomes an overnight internet sensation, only to be backed into a choice between her blossoming media career and her family.

Some thoughtful scenes about the dilemma women too-often face between personal and professional success - Szubanski delivers a cutting diatribe on the issue - help ground the film's breezy, joyful tone.

Fun Fact: Amongst the film's supporting cast is Natalie Tran, who is something of a YouTube sensation with her cleverly self-made skits on CommunityChannel. She's very funny. Check her out at: http://tinyurl.com/cl3g478

PERFORMANCE *** (106 minutes) M

The delicate balance of temperament and talent required to keep a New York quartet alive is challenged when various personal developments crash into its sacred rehearsal space.

Terminal illness, sex, infidelity and old-fashioned professional envy disrupt the relationships between four long-time partners, played with shades of grace and frustration by Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir.

Walken shows a soft side that touches deeply as he faces mortality while the ever-impressive Hoffman - as effortlessly good an ensemble player as he is a leading man - stands out as the flawed violinist who has trouble controlling his id.

Fun fact: The film's original title A Late Quartet was changed for local release to avoid confusion with the hugely successful Dustin Hoffman film Quartet.

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE ** (100 minutes) M

With their tongues a little too deeply planted in their cheeks, Steve Carell (The Office) and Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) play Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, two once-popular Las Vegas magicians who must change their act to keep up with the times.

The threat to their comfy livelihood comes in the form of new-age magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey, partly basing his character on Criss Angel), who specialises in stunts and self harm more than magic.

What a wash-out this film is. It should have been a killer slapstick, ensemble comedy. Sadly, and in yet another example supporting the Theory of Comedy Negation, the great casting mysteriously works against itself to produce far-from-great comedy.

The sparks that should fly from the friction between Carell and Carrey - what a dream combination that should have been! - simply do not materialise. Buscemi has too little to do; the brilliant Alan Arkin (Catch-22) is all-but-wasted; the B-story involving their reluctant assistant, blandly played by Olivia Munn (who beat out Sarah Silverman for the role) is woefully under-cooked.

Haphazardly helmed by TV director Don Scardino (Ed; 30 Rock; Cosby), the film is passably funny as a Friday-night time killer, though it does confirm something we have suspected for several films now; namely, that the once-hilarious Jim Carrey has apparently lost his comedy mojo.

There are a few flashes of his former brilliance, but his signature face-pulling here often looks tired and forced, as though he was upset at not landing one of the leads.

Fun fact: Uber-illusionist David Copperfield puts in a pretty funny cameo.

21 & OVER **1/2 (93 minutes) MA

Two irresponsible life-long buddies (Miles Teller - Footloose; Project X & Skylar Astin - Pitch Perfect) crash in on their Chinese-American pal (Justin Chon) on the night before his med school interview to celebrate his 21st birthday.

Defying his strict dad, they go out for what is supposed to be a harmless drink but end up on a campus misadventure involving drinking, swearing, fighting, sex, the police and more drinking.

Written and directed by Hangover writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, it's crude, gross, tasteless and made with an almost alarming degree of drive and conviction.

Looking and feeling for all the world like it was made in the early 1980s - the height of the post-Animal House campus comedy era - the film is undeniably lewd, but can't be faulted for being boring or politically correct, especially when it comes to exploiting cheap laughs. And you have to somehow admire that.

Fun fact: To secure release in the lucrative Chinese movie market, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore agreed to produce a very different version of the film where Western values of independence are condemned rather than celebrated. Scenes shot in China - that do not appear in the Western version - reframe the story as one about the attempted cultural corruption of a Chinese exchange student who comes to learn the value of family tradition. Here's praying we see it on the DVD.

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