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New Release movie reviews -September 5

Posted by: Jim Schembri | 5 September, 2013 - 5:20 PM
White House Down

WHITE HOUSE DOWN ***1/2 (137 minutes) M

It's America vs America as the White House gets taken down by yet another group of ingenious terrorists who cover every contingency except for the inevitable presence of a rogue hero who can shoot straighter and faster than they can. Sound familiar? Hey, the film could have been Die Hard Does Washington.

With buffed Channing Tatum as the failed secret service applicant (who every woman in the film wants to bed, apart from his ex-wife) and an amusingly miscast Jamie Foxx as the president, maestro of mayhem director Roland Emmerich (ID4; 2012; Godzilla) presents the usual cinematic flash cards - muzzle flash, tumbling cars, smoke, fireballs, chopper crashes, shouting and so forth - as Tatum (whose daughter is one of the hostages taken by the bad guys) tumbles through the increasingly distressed White House set.

While the film is exactly as silly as Anthony Fuqua's recent Olympus Has Fallen - which had exactly the same premise - it admittedly has a lot more fun with the cheeseball, post-9/11 patriotism that underlies the lark. That's the real saving grace here for a film that is essentially a carbon of a carbon of a carbon.

The film's comedy might grind against the movie's massive body count - it's getting to the point where the minor characters we expect to get shot do get shot - but there are a few cute gags, some of which appear to poke fun at the film's largesse.   

It's enjoyable trash, but one wishes the makers could have injected just a few fresh ideas into the orgiastic demolition. As technically impressive as the digitally enhanced action set-pieces are, they do share the production-line feel we see in almost every big Hollywood action burger.

The aerial shots of the smouldering Capitol Building dome are designed to evoke the footage from 9/11, but that's the only real dramatic imprint the film's pyrotechnics seem interested in. It's as though there's a film factory somewhere that just churns out generic action templates that producers then buy from a catalogue and tweak for their own films.  

The film also sports that all-too-common problem of being at least 30 minutes too long. Ladies and gentlemen, this is getting ridiculous. There is simply no reason for a time-killing popcorn pusher so self-consciously inconsequential to run more than 100 minutes.

Come on, Big Hollywood. Tighten up.

BLUE JASMINE **** (98 minutes) M

Woody Allen's latter films just seems to get better and better.

In Blue Jasmine - another A-grade movie to join Match Point, Midnight in Paris and Vicky Cristina Barcelona - a superb Cate Blanchett does some of her best film work to date as Jasmine, a high life-loving New York socialite whose life turns upside down when her wheeler dealer husband (Alec Baldwin) gets busted.

Forced to move in with Ginger, her working-class sister - played by an equally forceful Sally Hawkins - she confronts the new milieu with a mixture of contempt, revulsion and embarrassment, especially when confronting Ginger's ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) who blames her for ruining his life and marriage.

Allen effortlessly and skillfully toggles between Jasmine's past and present life, contrasting the laziness of the kept woman she was with the hard-up, desperate, hard-to-like wreck she has become. And while Blanchett is the centrepiece of the story, Allen again proves himself America's best living ensemble director by eliciting beautifully etched performances from a great supporting cast.

This includes: Bobby Cannavale (as Ginger's new beau); Louis C.K.; Clay (who really hits home with his handful of scenes); and Peter Sarsgaard, who is great as the new boyfriend through whom Jasmine planes to reclaim her high-flying life.

Much has been said about Blanchett's chances for an Oscar nod for Blue Jasmine, and it's not hype. It's a great, grinding portrayal of a woman dropped into a financial and moral crisis where compromise and self-criticism are the first things she needs to confront, and the last things she wants to.

The only major quibble is how digitally illiterate Jasmine is; despite being set present-day she doesn't know anything about computers, Google, email, mobile phones or tablets, and even has to take lengthy computer classes to bone up. Surely a socially active kept woman with such a love of brands and shopping would be very online-savvy, even if it was via a personal assistant.

It's a pretty big plausibility gap in an otherwise terrific film, and thankfully it's not central to the story. It's a little strange, and perhaps telling of Woody Allen's revered status as a director, that nobody seems to have pulled him up on it.

THE GATEKEEPERS ***1/2 (101 minutes) M

Very good, very hard talking-heads documentary by Dror Moreh about the questionable conduct of Shin Bet, Israel's super-secret security service. Divided into chapters - Moreh was inspired by Errol Morris and The Fog of War - six former heads of the organisation discuss its formation in the wake of the Six Day War and the extraordinary license they had to safeguard Israel's security, a power they admit to exercising beyond reason.

The film bravely pulls focus on Israel's behaviour as an occupying power, the treatment of the Palestinians and joins the growing list of recent films - The Other Son, Waltz With Bashir, Lemon Tree, 5 Broken Cameras, Defamation - that cast a critical eye over a subject that was once deemed too thorny to question.

THE WIZARD OF OZ - 3D (98 minutes) G

The timelessly enchanting 1939 children's classic gets a first-class 3D retro-fit to commemorate the film's 75th birthday.

For those unfamiliar with the film - welcome back from Mars - the tale, based on the classic 1900 book by Frank L Baum, tells of a Kansas farm girl, Dorothy (Judy Garland), who travels to the magical land of Oz. There, she meets up with a Tin Man (Jack Haley), a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) and a Lion (Bert Lahr), goes to visit the Wizard (Frank Morgan) and confronts the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton, the definitive movie witch) whose sister, the Wicked Witch of the East, Dorothy killed upon arrival.

The Wizard of Oz is the cinematic equivalent of high-end wine, in that it gets better with age. The crucial difference, though, is that while wine must remain unopened to increase in value, the swelling cultural currency of The Wizard of Oz positively thrives on it being tasted and shared over and over and over.

(Check out our list of Fast Facts from The Wizard of Oz.)

THE ENVIRONMENTAL FILM FESTIVAL runs from tonight until Friday 13 September at the Kino cinemas. Two highlights from the diverse program are:

THE FRUIT HUNTERS *** (95 minutes; screens Saturday 8.10pm). At first whiff a feature-length doco about the world of fruit might not sound all that exciting. After all, how much is there to say about apples, oranges, pears and bananas? Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang nonetheless conjures up a visually delicious odyssey through the passionate world of fruit lovers, its chief message being that there is more to fruit than apples, oranges, pears and bananas. Exploring the all-but-infinite variety of fruit around the world - the film is nothing if not a travelogue to exotic places such as Borneo and South America - 

the film's celebration is grounded by the efforts of fruit connoisseur and actor Bill Pullman (ID4; Lost Highway) to establish a communal fruit orchard in the middle of Hollywood. 

THE FIFTH SEASON *** (93 minutes; subtitled; screens Friday, 8.30pm) The line-dancing members of a tiny farming community gather to light a giant bonfire to mark the end of Winter and the onset of Spring. Alas, the fire won't take and, sure enough, Winter hangs on, casting a pall over the lives and livelihoods of the townsfolk. A French/Belgian/Dutch production borrowing elements from The Wicker Man, it's a brooding, unsettling meditation about superstition and nature, with very little dialogue and plenty of long shots that look beautiful at first, but which slowly become oppressive as minds gradually warp. 

The Imax film The Earth Wins and the festival's closing night feature Heritage Fight will be reviewed next week.

SALINGER ***** (129 minutes) M

The strongest possible recommendation one could make about Shane Salerno's absorbing, extraordinary bio-doc about the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye is that it's precisely the type of exploratory, revelatory, personal profile J.D Salinger would have hated.

Salinger, who died in 2010 at age 91, withdrew from the public eye after the phenomenal success of Catcher in 1951. Consequently, as the book grew in stature and influence, so too did the mystique around the man living in the New Hampshire woods who had little interest in talking to a world so desperate to talk to him.

Working, largely in secret for five years, Salerno has produced a film that is about as complete a profile as one could reasonably wish for. As well as documenting the book's cultural import, it is wall-to-wall with surprises and insights about Salinger's formative years in the army during World War 2, his relationships, dogged perfectionism, other writings, his family and his commitment to words.

Salinger is a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in The Catcher in the Rye and the issue of how art can take on an uncontrollable life of its own once it is given to the public.

Of particular interest to film lovers is Salinger's relationship with Hollywood and why he steadfastly refused repeated offers from such directing giants as Elia Kazan and Billy Wilder to turn the book into a film. Seems Salinger thought the movie people create in their minds as they read his words far surpassed anything a director could do.

The one intriguing aspect of the Salinger story the film doesn't delve too deeply into is how he was able to create such an unbreakable bubble of solitude. It's a singular scenario: on the one hand, it protected him from the prying probings of the media yet, on the other, allowed him to live a fairly normal rustic life in the small town of Cornish.

Having the community on his side was clearly a big help, as the film demonstrates, and it would have been great to learn how such an arrangement was achieved, or even possible.

It's as big a riddle as how Salerno managed to keep the film secret for so long. Even some exhibitors couldn't see the completed film until recently. In conjunction with the film, Salerno co-wrote with New York Times writer David Shields a 700-page biography on Salinger, designed, presumably, to cover all the stuff he couldn't cram into a film already rich with information and archival gold.

Movies with Jim Schembri

Jimmy S Jim Schembri is one of Australia's most respected film critics. Click here for all your Jim Schembri film reviews, top ten lists, interviews with Australian and Hollywood talent and much much more.


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