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New release movie reviews - 8 March
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL **** (130 minutes) PG
In one of the more inventive, visually rhapsodic examples of franchise filmmaking, director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man; Evil Dead) gives us the backstory of the titular character from the iconic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. And what a delight for the eyes it is.
James Franco plays a low-rent magician transported to Oz via tornado (as with Dorothy in the original). There he is tasked by the colourful locals to face down the Emerald City's wicked sister witches.
Disney's rich tradition of making evil women sexy continues here with the casting of Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz as Theodora and Evanora respectively, while a miscast Michelle Williams largely blands out as the Good Witch.
Harnessing his $200 million budget with great precision - the film was obviously story-boarded in exacting detail - Raimi fills every square centimetre of the frame with aggressively attractive images, dialling up the appeal of primary colours and photo-realistic digital dazzle to bring this lusciously surreal joyride to life.
Simply put, Oz is simply beautiful to behold.
Best of all, they haven't neglected to put heart in the midst of all the movement; Raimi's delicate realisation of the fragile China Girl, who accompanies the Wizard on his quest, proves that directorial finesse still has a place in big films.
Fun Fact: Due to the legalities over Warner Bros' ownership of imagery from the original film, Raimi could not reproduce certain key elements. So the Yellow Brick Road couldn't be shown in a swirl; even the shade of green on the witch's skin had to be sufficiently different!
BROKEN CITY *** (109 minutes) MA
An angry Mark Wahlberg and a smarmy Russell Crowe face off in this satisfying, by-the-numbers big-city detective story. Wahlberg plays an cop-turned-private investigator hired by Rusty's New York City mayor to investigate the mysterious movements of his wife, played by shifty-looking, and apparently ageless, Catherine Zeta-Jones.
As per formula, things are not as they first appear, and the deeper the investigation gets, the muddier and bloodier things become.
It is predictable procedural fodder - you can see the "twists" coming a mile away - but done with enough conviction to paper over the plot holes and cliches.
Crowe is very good as an ambitious, super-confident politician and director Allen Hughes knows how to stage a car chase at night, God bless him.
Fun Fact: This is the first solo directing gig for Allen Hughes. With brother Albert, he made: Menace II Society (1993); Dead Presidents (1995); From Hell (2001); and The Book of Eli (2010).
GREAT EXPECTATIONS ***1/2 (130 minutes) M
The classic tale by Charles Dickens comes in for a sumptuous, heartfelt, vibrantly performed remake courtesy of veteran British director Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco; Four Weddings and a Funeral; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and writer David Nicholls (And When Did You Last See Your Father?).
As Pip, the orphan whose life changes when an anonymous benefactor makes him rich, Jeremy Irvine (Warhorse) is a study in confused manhood; Holliday Grainger (The Borgias) is an emotionally fierce Estella; while Helena Bonham Carter does something with Miss Havisham that Martita Hunt couldn't quite manage in the brilliant 1946 David Lean film; namely, make it feel as though she never changed out of that damned wedding dress since being stood up at the altar.
Dickens fans will love the care and conviction put into this film, with Ralph Fiennes making a great Magwitch. (See our special interviews with Holliday Grainger and Mike Newell.)
BLINDER ** (119 minutes) M
Here's a prime example of a potentially good Aussie film that feels as if it went into production while the makers were still several drafts away from a finished screenplay.
The long-term repercussions of one bad night prompt former Aussie Rules player Tom (Oliver Ackland) to return to his provincial home to try and set things straight, both with his former mates and with local woman Rose (Anna Hutchison).
Ten years earlier he had a drunken dalliance with her. She was 15. Big mistake. The subsequent scandal derailed many lives, including hers, and crippled several promising careers. Great, meaty basis for a terrific sports film, surely. Yet it doesn't come off.
Clumsily flashbacking between 2013 and 2003, director Richard Gray (Summer Coda) has his hands full trying to do justice to the story's moral minefield while putting in enough slo-mo footy action to qualify as a sports film.
Regrettably, this results in a well-meaning muddle of a film that tries hard to untangle and resolve the complex issues it bravely raises. In other words, it fails to deliver on the promise it sets up in its strong opening half hour.
This could be a function of its length and jumbled structure; the narrative discipline that would have been required to make the film 30 minutes shorter would no doubt have sharpened the film's points about bad behaviour, culpability, regret and friendship. It also would have shortened (or shed) many of the film's blokey digressions. (As implied by Blaise Pascal's famous 1657 quote - "I have made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter" - being succinct is demanding!)
Jack Thompson, essentially reprising his famous role from 1980's The Club, is good here as the guts-or-glory coach. And to its credit, the film also shows the huge importance sport can have in a small town, something many fine American sports film have done.
Fun Fact: Bizarrely, Blinder has been slammed for being "misogynist" for its portrayal of Anne, proving that the term has now become so over-used of late it is now being invoked without recourse to a dictionary.
I GIVE IT A YEAR *** (97 minutes) M
Very good British rom com with Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall about a troubled marriage that hits the S-bend after only nine months. A dowdy Anna Faris and a suited up Simon Baker have fun with their supporting roles as romantic alternatives. As with Bridesmaids, Byrne proves herself to be naturally funny, and the film is definitely cliche-averse: there is no way the story's well-mounted final act would have survived the American test screening process.
Seriously "very good"? I thought this was the lamest piece of work I've seen in years - it lurched from one contrived scene to the next. Good actors; poor material. The final act was the saddest example of predictable lameness I've seen in years. A real dog of a film. A quality-free zone.Elizabeth M Friday 29 March, 2013 - 6:35 PM