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New release movie reviews - September 20
RUBY SPARKS ***1/2 (104 minutes) M
With his debut best-seller hitting its 10th anniversary, blocked writer Calvin (Paul Dano from There Will Be Blood) alleviates his loneliness by creating the perfect dream girl on paper. She then appears in his house, her personality and behaviour subject to his whim. But is total control over a person any way to run a meaningful relationship? It's a great premise, beautifully played out. Zoe Kazan, who wrote the screenplay, puts in a remarkable performance that demands much more than the standard rom-com ditz. The first film from husband and wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris since their 2006 sleeper hit Little Miss Sunshine, it proves - as does Seeking a Friend for the End of the World - how romantic comedies that go off road can hit deeper than formula fodder. (See our list of Imaginary Friends in Film.)
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID - DOG DAYS *** (94 minutes) PG
As the summer school break gets into full swing, slacker tweenager Greg (played by a rapidly growing Zachary Gordon) keeps his dad (Steve Zahn) happy by pretending to get a job at the swanky country club where his best pal Rowley (the lovably chubby Robert Capron) is a member. As luck would have it, the object of Greg's prepubescent affections, Holly (Peyton List, from the second film), is also a member. But in keeping with the chief theme of this series (based on the hugely popular books by Jeff Kinney), Greg can't help himself from letting his self-interest spoil things. As high-spirited as the film is - veteran funnyman Zahn deserves more credit than he gets as the video game-hating dad - Greg is a late-learner when it comes to valuing friendship and being honest. With his goofy, mock-gothic brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) again stealing his fair share of scenes, this third adventure holds up nicely with its breezy comic energy and kid-friendly messages about respecting people you allegedly care about. As the clips over the final credits show, Zachary Gordon has grown a lot since the first film in 2010, so if there are going to be any more Wimpy films, they'll no doubt have to incorporate issues such as shaving and kissing and the breaking of voices. Wimpy3 is snappily directed by David Bowers, who did the previous film.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA ** (91 minutes) PG
The manager of a hotel designed to give ghouls and monsters a break from dealing with intolerant humans, Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) pulls double-duty as an over-protective single father to Mavis (Selena Gomez), whose desire to see the outside world is fired when a dopey American backpacker (Andy Samberg) stumbles in. An incredibly average animated kids film, the 3D is uninteresting and the stuttering story suffers from being largely set in the one locale. Dracula's hammy, exaggerated gesticulations seem to beg for laughs while the film's static story feels like it went into production with the first draft of a screenplay that needed a second act quite badly.
A MONSTER IN PARIS *** (90 minutes) G
Set in the pastel-coloured, slightly flooded Paris of 1910, this lovely French animated period comedy offers a monster story with a charming difference. Two pals stumble into a science lab, accidentally mix up some chemicals and produce a giant cockroach-like beast that, because of its human DNA, has things on its mind other than scaring people. A flighty, enjoyable confection and very pretty to look at, the film - which is in English, with matching mouth movements - nonetheless highlights an increasingly vexing issue with digital animation. Unless special attention has been paid, the faces of human characters in so many films resemble each other, all bearing a strikingly similar sheen, with big eyes, rounded heads and perfectly smooth skin. The default look, also evident in Hotel Transylvania, harks back to the early days of digital cartooning, with many characters looking like relatives of Woody and Sid from Toy Story.
BAIT 3D ** (93 minutes) MA
A fabulously rendered computer-animated tsunami hits the Gold Coast, trapping one group of characters in a supermarket, and another in the accompanying underground car park. Trapped with them are two large, very hungry sharks (also fabulously rendered). Sounds like loads of fun - and it should have been. Unfortunately, each location seems to belong to a different film. The couple in the car park go for comedy while the mob in the supermarket play it painfully straight. Director Kimble Rendall and his team should have taken the lead of Piranha 3D by junking the strained drama and flooring the comedy pedal. The 3D looks great - Australian filmmakers are world-standard in this regard - but the action and tone in Bait is far too uneven, with a stop-start pace failing to generate sufficient tension. We care about the car park people, but the rest just come across as shark food with bad dialogue. And here's an interesting, inexplicable side note: one of Bait's few big surprise moments is featured in the trailer. Way to spoil your own film, guys.
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY **** (92 minutes; part-subtitled) M
The struggle for free speech in China is given sharp, sobering, disturbing voice through the struggles of cutting edge, digitally savvy, Twitter-loving artist Ai Weiwei. A self-styled, prolific renegade, his story is defined by flipping the bird to oppression - then suffering the consequences. Alternately self-effacing and brazen, the film follows Weiwei on jaunts to London and New York while documenting the escalating difficulties he encounters when he tries officially complaining about being koshed on the head by a Chinese cop during a dubious raid. This is a terrific film about a brave artist who has trouble shutting up. Directed by Alison Klayman, the film took the Special Jury Prize at Sundance.
LORE * (104 minutes; subtitled) MA
In director Cate Shortland's lugubrious, snail-paced, dramatically inert wartime drama, the unlikeable children of a Nazi couple go on the lam across the pretty German countryside as the war in Europe reaches its endgame. It's rare that sound design crops up as a central flaw in a film, yet Lore deserves recognition for featuring what must be the quietest depiction of the Allied invasion in cinema history. Also, the Americans appear to have done their bit with little more than a single truck. This is Shortland's first theatrical feature since her multi AFI award-winning 2004 drama Somersault (starring Abbie Cornish). It has received festival plaudits at Sydney and Toronto and is lining up for a shot at being nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar. A German/Australian co-production.
MAKE HUMMUS NOT WAR ***1/2 (77 minutes; part-subtitled) Exempt
Can the banality of the unending conflict between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East be demonstrated by investigating which team invented...hummus? That's the theme underlying Trevor Graham's lively, humourous documentary, a journey across the troubled land that uses hummus to highlight how Jews and Arabs have much more in common than liking a plate of quality dip. The film could have been called Chickpeas for Peace such is the emphasis on harmony, and Graham deserves kudos for nabbing some high-profile people among his long list of passionate interviewees. The film also makes pretty clear how awful and ugly that wall is.