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New release movie reviews - Feb 28
SAVE YOUR LEGS **** (92 minutes ) M
In this fantastic, fabulously funny, feel-good Aussie comedy, a small suburban cricket team heads off on an eventful tour across a very colourful India. Mixing sport, romance, fraternal bonding and some good, old-fashioned rivalry from both inside and outside the team, director Boyd Hicklin and writer/star Brendan Cowell deliver a near-perfect blend of broad comedy and travelogue. The top-shelf ensemble cast includes David Lyons (the best thing in Safe Haven), Damon Gameau (so good in Balibo), Stephen Curry (aka Graham Kennedy in The King) and Perth-born, Melbourne-raised, Mumbai-based actress Pallavi Sharda as the love interest. Thankfully shot widescreen, the film was a sell-out hit at last year's Melbourne Film Festival and deserves a very big audience. It's also a timely reminder that, despite sport being such a big part of our national character, there are far too few Australian films about it.
CLOUD ATLAS **** (172 minutes) MA
After dazzling us with the ground-breaking Matrix trilogy and boring us senseless with Speed Racer (really, did anybody see it?), Lana and Andy Wachowski return with an epic, genre-hopping, unique adventure that effectively shoe-horns six films into one.
Best described as a cinematic buffet, the film features Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving playing several characters in stories that stretch across centuries, from the sea-faring 1800s, to the nuclear paranoid 1970s, to the glittering cities and dystopian jungles of the near future.
With a great and varied supporting cast including Britain's brilliant Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw and American up-and-comer Jim Sturgess, the film - co-directed with Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run) - tells its six stories in parallel and is very carefully structured to link all the narratives visually and thematically.
Cloud Atlas achieves that rarest of all things for a film this big: it is engaging and consistently entertaining as well as providing brain food.
Though the underlying message of this grand, compelling, boisterously imaginative odyssey is neatly crystallised in the poster's terse tagline - Everything is Connected - the film invites you to immerse yourself in its whirlpool of ideas about rebellion, self-determination and destiny.
Made outside the Hollywood Studio system in Germany for around $100 million - making it one of the most expensive independent films ever - Cloud Atlas has had a troubled journey both in its production (it's based on the 2004 book by David Mitchell, who loves the film) and marketing. Despite its bumpy road, it unspools as a unique anthology film that is as enjoyable and diverting as it is ambitious.
And, for the record, it's so great to finally see Halle Berry in a film that doesn't suck. Of her six roles, Berry's best turn is as a feisty 1970s newspaper reporter investigating the goings-on at a nuclear power plant. Terrific stuff.
SIDE EFFECTS ***1/2 (106 minutes) MA
In what is supposed to be the swansong from prolific, versatile director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic; Erin Brockovich; Ocean's 11 etc etc) comes this ripper psychological mystery-thriller.
Ambitious psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law, clearly enjoying his first lead role in years) prescribes a powerful drug to a troubled young woman Emily (Rooney Mara, still gaunt from Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), whose husband (the ubiquitous Channing Tatum) has just be released from a prison stretch for a white collar crime. Set in a chilly New York and with Catherine Zeta-Jones in knockout support, this is prime, sharply directed guessing game stuff full of plot surprises and great left turns.
THE PAPER BOY *** (107 minutes) MA
In the sweaty, swampy backwaters of 1969 white-trash Texas, Miami writer Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) returns to investigate a murder case in which he suspects the wrong man has been sent to death row. Rather than being a straight legal procedural, this beguiling film by director Lee Daniels (Precious) is more a showcase for some great, typecast-busting performances. As Ward's brother Jack, Zac Efron moves even further away from his High School Musical innocence as he swears, drops the N-word, fights and bonds with his black maid (Macy Gray in a fine performance). He also lusts after Charlotte, an over-sexed blonde played with gleeful abandon by a leathery, tanned Nicole Kidman. Judging by her edgier scenes - including a sexually graphic tease and a much-discussed moment where she saves Jack from jellyfish stings by relieving herself on him - Kidman is clearly uninterested in currying any favour at the multiplex. And all credit to her. It's also good to see McConaughey continue his quest for roles that don't involve showing off his abs. For good measure, John Cusack plays the accused man with whom Charlotte is infatuated. Racism is never pretty, but it's rarely as ugly as he presents it.