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New release movie reviews - 16 November
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 ***1/2 (115 minutes) M
The big payoff to the Twilight saga is a solidly mounted, carefully directed exercise in franchise box-ticking. To wit: there's plenty of angsty acting from the hot young cast, an overload of teen romantic melodrama and a generous amount of that highly polished, easily digestible digital violence the series has become famous for. Even the decapitations in BD2 are done tastefully. The last time we saw freshly-turned vampire Bella (Kristen Stewart) she was gaunt and pale and drinking blood to feed the ravenous human/vampire embryo rapidly gestating inside her - easily one of the coolest things we'd seen in a vampire film since Gary Oldman's rat-morphing in Dracula (1992). The fast-moving grand finale finds Bella fully turned; she's super strong, has super senses and is something of a super mum to her hybrid daughter Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy). You don't even joke about threatening her. So when the evil Volturi - the nasty vampire overlords lead by the grinning, ashen-faced Aro (Michael Sheen) - express disapproval over the new-age vampire tyke in their ranks, it's game on. There's still tension between Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), but having to confront a common enemy keeps their sneering exchanges to a minimum. The film churns through the final stretch of the story very promptly - it sure doesn't feel like a two-hour movie - and is mindful not to allow the smattering of very well-placed jokes derail the saga's serious, Gothic tone. Of all the things that distinguish the Twilight saga from other franchises, most remarkable is how much of this closing chapter is shot in close-up, with the visages of its alabaster cast presented in such detail you can almost see Lautner's nose hairs. No other major new-century movie series has focused so much on faces. Director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters; Dreamgirls) certainly delivers the action with proficiency and big-screen pizzazz (those giant werewolves look better than ever), but his dramatic skills and the obvious demands he put on his leads to do more than grimace help sell Breaking Dawn II as being as much about motherhood as it is about new-fashioned vampires. The film also deals a sound backhander to critics who have questioned Twilight's feminist cred: one of the central delights of the film is the contrast between the helpless early Bella from Twilight (2008) and the boulder-smashing Bella we see here. It's enough to suggest that perhaps Twilight author Stephenie Meyer (who serves as a producer on the film) isn't such a Mormon square after all.
ROBOT & FRANK *** 89 minutes) M
Here's the latest example of a movie robot having more character and personality than most leading actors today. In a surprisingly lo-tech near-future, forgetful ex-con Frank (veteran Frank Langella) has a docile domestic robot with a congenial set of artificial manners foisted upon him by his loving, over-protective son (James Marsden) and daughter (Liv Tyler). The bot is only meant to help with errand and chores, but Frank promptly embroils it in a burglary caper, even though his memory is getting increasing sketchy. Opposite the lovable automaton, Langella (Frost/Nixon; Dracula) is the warm centre of this beautiful little film, with Susan Sarandon - still recovering from her participation in Adam Sandler's That's My Boy - chiming in with strong support as the local small-town librarian. First-time director Jake Schreier never forces the gentle emotional undertow that explores aging and dementia, the result being a charming, touching ode to elderly people and the humanist potential of technology.
(See our Top Ten Robots with Feeling.)
GOD BLESS AMERICA *** (105 minutes) MA
In this raucous, appreciably edgy satirical jaunt by writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait, a middle-aged suburban loser, (Joel Murray, brother of Bill) teams up with an angry teenage girl (Tara Lynne Barr) to embark on a cross-country shooting spree. Their motive: in a culture drowning in bile-driven reality TV judging panels, a wholesale lack of common courtesy and people who take up more parking space than they need, they decide to off those who offend them. Enjoyable, over-the-top, and nowhere near as black as the premise sounds, God Bless America is essentially an extended comic op-ed piece, with much of the dialogue devoted to rattling off the long list of Goldthwait's pet peeves. Once famous as Zed, the growling cop in the Police Academy films, Goldthwait has become a comedy director of note. His debut Shakes the Clown (1992) was famously described as "The Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies" (by Betsy Sherman of The Boston Globe); his recent film World's Greatest Dad is an eye-opening black comedy about honesty featuring Robin Williams in one of the better latter-day films.
DEAD EUROPE * (84 minutes; part-subtitled) MA
In this mordant, depressing dirge of a film, morose photographer Isaac (Ewen Leslie) defies warnings from his parents about a family curse and goes to Greece to attend an exhibition of his work. The family's dark past increasingly haunts him, which he investigates between bouts of casual sex, drug taking and a lot of moping. Drearily directed with a leaden hand by Tony Krawitz (The Tall Man) and based on the novel by Christos Tsiolkas (The Slap; Head On), it's a self-consciously heavy slog, more an endurance test than the rewarding family drama it could have been. Talented young actor Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In; The Road) appears in support.
TWO LITTLE BOYS *1/2 (101 minutes) MA
Limp comedy from New Zealand about Nigel (Bret McKenzie) and Deano (Hamish Blake), two unkempt losers who need to dispose of backpacker's dead body. The downbeat mode might be typical of Kiwi humour, but the energy level is too low and the pace of the increasingly loopy train of events never kicks out of first gear. The blustery landscape looks pretty, but McKenzie (from Flight of the Conchords) and Blake are far from magnetic. Wait for DVD.