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New release movie reviews - June 27
THE THREE STOOGES *** (90 minutes) PG
It's pretty straightforward: anyone who has ever enjoyed so much as a guilty giggle from watching the cartoonish antics of The Three Stooges as they eye-poke, head-slap and gut-punch each other will get a major kick from this loving reboot from Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the dynamic directing duo who gave us There's Something About Mary (1998) and the Stooge-inspired Dumb & Dumber (1994). Updated to the present day and mimicking the mock-violence with close attention to detail - even the sound effects were taken from the original 1940s shorts - we meet Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (Sean Hayes) and Curly (Will Sasso) as kids in an orphanage. As adults they try saving the place from closure by raising $830,000 but get embroiled in a murder plot master-minded by a sexy gold-digger, played with admirable gusto and without airs or graces by Sofia Vergara (Modern Family). Though it probably wasn't strictly necessary for the Farrellys to lay in such a strong back-story to bond the Stooges as brothers, it does make their assaults on each other seem like exaggerated versions of the type of rough-housing siblings often engage in (though never with chainsaws). The three leads inhabit their stooges with studied devotion - Will Sasso is probably the most impressive as Curly - while Jane Lynch (Glee), Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) and Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm) chime in with terrific supporting turns as nuns. As with The Blues Brothers (1980), there's a latent, if back-handed, pro-Catholic theme here as the Stooges do their all to please the penguins who raised them. Wisely, there is a comic warning from the directors (played by actors) not to try any of this stuff at home - has the quality of modern parenting really degenerated to this point? - and please stick around for the credits, lest you miss the Stooges performing a musical number with Hudson. Good, clean, stupid fun.
ICE AGE 4: CONTINENTAL DRIFT *** (92 minutes) PG
Crowd-pleasing to a fault, the fourth installment of the seemingly endless Ice Age franchise is easily as charming as the previous three, though with a double dose of extra spice via some teen topicality and a lot of high-seas action. As the earth rapidly warms and the tectonic plates noisily move about, mammoth Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), sabre-tooth kitty Diego (Denis Leary) and sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) get separated from the rest of the family. Cast out to sea, they do battle with a band of iceberg-sailing pirates, lead by dentally challenged ape Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage). While Manny leads the struggle to return home, his better half Ellie (Queen Latifah) deals with their hormonally driven teenage daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer), who can't yet tell the difference between real friends and phonies. A surprisingly solid, funny yarn for a fourth chapter, the film comes with a pretty good 3D Simpsons short called the Longest Daycare, in which Maggie gets sent to the crappy half of a daycare centre and wages war with her mono-browed nemesis. So don't be late!
POLISSE **1/2 (122 minutes; subtitled) MA
Given its raw-nerve subject matter, you'd expect a film about the internal workings of a Parisian police unit specialising in child abuse to be far more involving and incident-packed than what is offered in Polisse. Director/actress Maiwenn, who also appears in the film's ensemble cast, is a dab hand at capturing day-to-day naturalism as the cops interview suspects, investigate cases and suffer inevitable outbursts of moral righteousness (was there really no way to avoid such predictable scenes?). When it comes to giving the many story threads and character arcs of Polisse a solid centre, however, her direction is as haphazard and erratic as the emotions of many of the cops. Though made as a feature film, Polisse looks suspiciously like a few episodes of medium-quality TV stapled together, tied up with a "shock" ending that actually comes over quite phoney It's never uninteresting, and the performances are good, but the critical plaudits Polisse has been receiving tags it as a contender for one of the most overrated films of 2012.
WHERE DO WE GO NOW? ***1/2 (98 minutes; subtitled) M
Men make war; women make peace. That's the strong, hard-to-argue-with message of this fabulous film fable from director Nadine Labaki, the Lebanese actress who gave us the wonderful Caramel in 2007. With a lightness of touch and a sharp eye for subtle humour, the story is set in a remote, dusty village where Muslims and Christians live harmoniously with each other. Centuries-old antagonisms surface, however, when the men choose to react to the politics of the outside world rather than respecting the nature of their own community. The stupidity of violence and the senselessness of religious hatred are beautifully boiled down into a microcosm of humanity that Labaki infuses with vibrant moments of laughter, music and an uneering sense of how differently men and women view the world. Full of knowing nods to the state of the world, Where Do We Go Now? is one of the few films directed by a woman who also reflects a real female sensibility.
ELENA *** (109 minutes; subtitled) M
With the outstanding 2003 Russian drama The Return, Andrey Zvyagintsev proved himself a prime social realist, and here again he proves he has the kitchen-sink skills of a young Mike Leigh. Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is a good woman trying hard to make the best of a bad situation. A woman of late-middle age, she has recently married the wealthy Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov), a likeable, elderly gent who keeps in good shape and likes sex. When it comes to helping out, however, he has his guard up. He's very moralistic about Elena's unemployed son Sergey (Alexey Rozin), whom he considers lazy. So when Elena asks for monetary aid, he shuts her down. Compounding her frustration is the callous attitude of his daughter Katerina (Elena Lyadova), a slacker who barely cares when Vladimir gets ill. Set mostly inside dimly lit rooms filled with quiet and little movement, Elena takes us into the mind of a woman who has been pushed by life into an uncomfortable corner where she has to choose between different kinds of love. It's very solid, intense drama, and the films photography certainly adds to the impression given by many modern-day films that Russian urban planners all got their formative training as designers in cardboard box factories.
FRANKENSTEIN ****1/2 (150 minutes)
The second version of Mary Shelley's genre-sparking morality tale about science and God is even better than the first, with Benedict Cumberbatch (TV's Sherlock) a perfect fit as borderline-mad scientist Victor Frankenstein and Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting) giving real soul to the love-starved creature assembled from body parts. As good as each actor was when the roles were reversed, this version casts them as they surely would be had this been a cinema feature. Their performances are somehow more soulful; the creature's loneliness is more pointed; Victor's innate cruelty comes into sharper relief. It's as if he created this man just so he can deny him joy. Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) also ramps up the horror aspect of the tale, especially as the final acts of revenge kick in. Filmed live at London's National Theatre, it screens as a special event at the Nova tonight (Tuesday 26 June) and Thursday at 6.45pm. Tickets are $25/$23 (for concession and members).