New release movie reviews - August 29

JOBS ***1/2 (127 minutes) M

If The Social Network was the first notable period film about the digital era, Jobs chimes in as the second with its detailed, entrancing, often critical biopic of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Wiry, bearded and just that little bit too temperamental, Ashton Kutcher does a very fine job as Jobs, portraying him less as a technological wizard and more as a business visionary who realised his out-of-the-box ideas by surrounding himself with people who were admittedly more talented than he was. Josh Gad provides strong support as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in one of the best, most solidly entertaining business films since Wall Street.

Fun fact: The real Steve Wozniak is working with Aaron Sorkin (West Wing; The Social Network; The Newsroom; Moneyball) on a Steve Jobs film at Sony. He was approached to consult on this film but, according to Kutcher, he refused to take part. According to Wozniak, however, though he didn't like the script he told  Bloomberg Television that Kutcher "could have called me and consulted over the phone any time."  

RED 2 ** (116 minutes) M

The team of superannuated assassins is back for another round of improbable action and hammy acting, only this time around the spring has gone out of their geriatric lock-step.

On the hunt for a rogue nuclear weapon, Bruce Willis (more lethargic than usual), John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker and Brian Cox knock heads with Anthony Hopkins, a great actor who, to his credit, is the only cast member who brings any zest to the proceedings. Nobody plays psychopathic menace with such cool or class. If only the rest of the gang had risen to his bar.

The cookie-cutter action sequences - car chases, fireballs, shoot-outs - are so-so and whereas the first film had a giddy cheekiness to it, the vibe here just feels forced, a common trait of sequels we really weren't hankering for.

And yet, ladies and germs, a third RED is already being put together. Film companies really should conduct exit polls asking if punters actually want another sequel, rather than presuming anything. And if there is to be a RED 3, there ought to be a scene where the RED cast run into the peeps from The Expendables at a 7-11 or a  laundromat or something. Just an idea.      

STOKER ***1/2 (99 minutes) MA

Every family fears The Weird Uncle. In Stoker, the recently bereaved titular family comprising of mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) are delivered a ripper in the form of Charlie (Matthew Goode). He's the well-travelled brother of Stoker patriarch Richard (Dermot Mulroney), who died in a car crash.

Uncle Charlie is attractive, caring, but has a distinctly Stepford glare about him, something Evelyn finds appealing and India finds repulsive - at first, at least.

The first English-language film from South Korean firebrand Park Chan-wook (Thirst; Oldboy), Stoker is a pungent mood piece spiced with mystery, murder and plenty of unsettling emotions. In this regard, Wasikowska earns special kudos as her feelings for Uncle become increasingly warped.

Mesmeric and menacing, it shows Goode (so good in Match Point and The Burning Man) as a great New-Gen British actor and Kidman as the most risk-loving A-grade actress around. The film was written by Wentworth Miller, better known as the actor from the TV series Prison Break. To his credit, he used the pseudonym Ted Foulke to let the script stand on its own.

THE BEST OFFER **** (131 minutes) M

Clearly at a phase in his career where he can do no wrong, Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech; Shine, Quills, Munich, etc) is the aloof, germaphobic, magnetic core of a beguiling tale about fine art, art auctions, fake paintings, antique automatons and wealthy urban hermits. Directed by Hollywood-loving Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), the film is a delicious package of surprises, blessed with top-notch performances and an increasing sense of intrigue. It's great stuff that really squeezes the story nice and dry.

Fun fact: Geoffrey Rush's sweet spot is about to get sweeter: his upcoming film The Book Thief, in which he plays a foster father who harbours a Jewish refugee in Nazi Germany, is already gathering Oscar buzz. Look for it in November. 

THE ROCKET *** (92 minutes) M

Trekking through the dangerous jungles of Laos, 10-year old Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) is determined to convince his superstitious family that he is not a lightning rod for bad luck.

Blessed with a nutty uncle obsessed with James Brown (Thep Phongam) and caught in the middle of a village relocation program over the building of a dam, Ahlo's eventful journey takes him through the scarred landscape of his home, littered with Vietnam-era bombs that are still waiting to go off.

Australian writer/director Kim Mordaunt was inspired to make this wistful, often lyrical film after his 2007 documentary Bomb Harvest, which told of the annual toll claimed by the unexploded bombs in Laos.

Thankfully he layers the unavoidable political notes with real warmth, humour and character, a quality that clearly benefited from using a mix of professional and non-professional actors. Mordaunt also knows how to use irony without pushing it; as Ahlo aims to prove his worth at a big rocket festival, we're reminded that The Rocket is not a political allegory, it's an offbeat, celebratory coming-of-age story about a kid.

YOU'RE NEXT ***1/2 (94 minutes) MA

Much as we like slice-and-dice cinema, there's always the danger of filmmakers becoming blase and blandly delivering the blood-soaked tropes audiences demand. You're Next certainly embraces the gory conventions of your standard psychos-vs-family scenario, only this ripping little numbers is spiced by a juicy family drama, a few neat twists and a terrific performance by Aussie Sharni Vinson, who maintains her accent in the American setting. Amidst all the slashing and killing, director Adam Wingard (working off a script by Simon Barrett) injects a good deal of dark fun into the proceedings, especially when it comes to unmasking the psychos terrorising the family.


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