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New release movie reviews - 7 December
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE *** (111 minutes) M
With his old-man grumble and cynical grizzle in fine form, Clint Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, an aging old-school baseball scout whose use of instincts to pick prospects grinds against the computer-based methods favoured by his team's management. With his contract about to expire and a neglected lawyer-daughter (Amy Adams) joining him on a one-last-chance-to-prove-yourself road trip, it's not hard to see the cornball coming. Still, seeing new-millennium yuppies - what shall we call them? Nuppies? - with their iPhones and statistical breakdowns doing battle with Gus and his gut feelings is admittedly fun. Justin Timberlake is also along for the lesson-learning ride. Director Robert Lorenz - a long-time Eastwood producer having his first crack - does a proficient, if unremarkable job corralling all the cliches into a pleasing, predictable package, with its old-ways-is-best-ways message. (The film acts as a neat companion piece to Brad Pitt's Moneyball, which pushed the opposite philosophy.) Now 82, this is the first time since In the Line of Fire (1993; directed by Wolfgang Petersen) that Eastwood has acted in a film he didn't direct, and his first screen appearance since Gran Torino (2008). The work Eastwood is doing now behind the camera - knocking out great films at a rate of about one a year (Invictus; Hereafter; J. Edgar; Million Dollar Baby; Mystic River, etc) - is the best of his eight-decade career. Still, there's no denying the powerful presence he commands when he comes into frame, even when he's in the service of easily digestible multiplex mulch such as this. And let's face it, nobody serves out a big, well-deserved dose of comeuppance like Clint. Even without a gun.
PITCH PERFECT *** (112 minutes) M
There's girl-bonding aplenty in this upbeat comedy about a high-school a capella competition in which voice-only singing, envy and vomiting play key roles. Though designed as a starring vehicle for the icy charms of Anna Kendrick (Twilight; Oscar-nommed for Up in the Air) the cast is full of scene stealers. There is Australia's comically redoubtable Rebel Wilson - brandishing her own accent, no less - firing zingers all over the campus. As Aubrey, the strict leader of the group, Anna Camp (Mad Men; True Blood; The Good Wife; The Help), proves the most interesting character, having to reclaim her reputation after a mid-performance chundering incident that went viral. Intended as a compliment, Pitch Perfect is Glee with extra sass, a younger cousin of those 1980s films where "crews" would breakdance to see who's best. Elizabeth Banks, who plays a funny cameo as an contest commentator alongside John Michael Higgins, was one of the film's producers, and it is noteworthy to reflect on how rare a girl-lead movie comedies were before Bridesmaids. Even more noteworthy, though, is how the young people in the film regard the 1985 John Hughes film The Breakfast Club as an inspirational classic full of depth and meaning.
HERE COMES THE BOOM *** (105 minutes) M
The highly likeable Kevin James (The King of Queens; Paul Blart: Mall Cop; The Dilemma) headlines a highly likeable school/sports comedy lark in which he again plays a lovable oaf. Co-written by James and produced by the Adam Sandler hit factory (despite Jack and Jill and That's My Boy falling flat with fans), it's a by-the-numbers number about the importance of teachers, especially those in crummy schools where they're needed most. When funding cuts threaten the music program run by Henry Winkler's devoted teacher, James' biology teacher has to pull his thumb out of his behind to raise the money needed. So he becomes an extreme fighter, with the help from a wannabe citizen (played by real extreme fighter Bas Rutten). With Salma Hayek providing comically solid, not-quite-romantic support - and looking beautiful despite the film's muddy shot-on-video look - Sandler house director Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer; The Waterboy; Click; Zookeeper) keeps the pace and physical gags going just fast enough to paper over the predictability. And, to his credit, the final cage smackdown has an undeniably effective Rocky feel to it. Don't be hard on yourself if you get misty eyed.
THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS *** (95 minutes) MA
The fists, feet and digital blood go flying in this enjoyable, frenetic, largely forgettable chop-socky extravaganza about, well, about a man with iron fists who gets into lots of fights in old 19th century China. Produced by Quentin Tarantino and directed by first-timer RZA - the hip hopper musician and Wu-Tang Clan maestro - the film embellishes the old grindhouse style with nifty touches of new-century panache; the camera swirls through all the elaborate fight sequences and digital visuals add zest to all the casual carnage. Acting-wise, the best thing about the film is the inestimable Russell Crowe, who plays the girl-loving British soldier Jack Knife with a dash of posh understatement designed to be at odds with everything else in the film.