New release movie reviews - May 17

SNITCH  *** (112 minutes) M

In a welcome change of gear, over-sized action man Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) puts aside his usual repertoire of grunts, wisecracks, displays of oiled-up muscle cut and rampant machine gunning for a more downbeat, dramatic performance in this solid, fact-inspired tale.

And it works. Johnson, who co-produced the film, does a convincing job as John, a good-hearted, financially strapped dad who steps up to help his teenage son who's been sprung for drug-dealing.

Making a deal with the District Attorney (nice support from Susan Sarandon), John puts himself on the line, even though he knows he's way out of his depth. Even the well-staged action sequences from director Ric Roman Waugh (Felon, and a former stunt guy) have a more subdued tone than we normally get from a Rock movie.         

THE CALL **1/2 (94 minutes) MA

In a straight-forward, race-against-time thriller, Halle Berry tries hard to keep it together as an LAPD emergency call operator who must track down the whereabouts of a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin; Zombieland; Little Miss Sunshine).

She's desperately calling from the trunk of a car driven by a murderous psycho (Michael Eklund) who has a thing for teenage blondes. For most of its duration this is actually quite a tight little thriller, well-directed by Brad Anderson (Fringe; The Wire; The Machinist).

One major quibble, though: why so much blood? In an alternate universe, one imagines a disciple of Hitchcock making this film in real time and without any violence.

EVIL DEAD *** (91 minutes) R

Here is bloody proof that the amount of cliches in a film is never the issue; what matters is how well-executed they are.

A spookily effective remake of the ultra-low budget 1981 cult horror classic by director Sam Raimi, the gore and blood is so plentiful here it even falls from the sky. And the roster of horror-movie chestnuts is formidable: there's a cabin in the woods; dismemberment; knives; witches; spells; creaking doors; darkened basements; sudden stabs of music; things jumping into frame and so forth.

And it's all done with consummate love of horror conventions by first-timer Fede Alvarez. Although original director Sam Raimi (the Spider-man trilogy) and star Bruce Campbell (Burn Notice) have moved on, they both served as producers, giving this updated bloodbath a nice, warm feeling of nostalgia.

A must for fans, Evil Dead also affirms horror as the most remake-friendly genre going. It joins a long list that includes: The Omen; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; The Crazies; The Hills Have Eyes; The Amityville Horror; Willard; A Nightmare on Elm Street; When a Stranger Calls; The Hitcher; Sisters; Black Xmas; Fright Night; Prom Night; I Spit on Your Grave; The Last House on the Left; Dawn of the Dead; Halloween and Friday the 13th;And we've still got Carrie to come.

BROKEN *** (87 minutes) MA

As if to remind us that the British invented the kitchen-sink drama, this taut, engrossing domestic tale takes place in a cul-de-sac where a violent neighbour-on-neighbour attack provides the springboard for a strong story about secrets, lies and unravelling lives.

Fresh from his TV series Lie to Me, Tim Roth heads a solid ensemble including Cillian Murphy, Rory Kinnear and especially Eloise Laurence, a remarkable young actress making her movie debut.

First-time film director Rufus Norris (a noted theatre figure) deftly handles the undercurrents of anger and discontent, capturing how even broken families instinctively try to repair themselves.           

TABU ** (118 minutes; subtitled) MA

The first half of this lengthy black-and-white Portuguese film is pretty dull. Set in present-day Lisbon, it slowly brings together an old woman, Aurora (Laura Soveral), and an old man, Ventura (Henrique Espirinto Santo).

Their largely forgotten relationship is detailed in the far-more-interesting second part of the film as we flash back to a Portuguese colony in Africa.

Told in voice over, the younger versions of Aurora (Ana Moreira) and Ventura (Carloto Cotta) play out the early part of their forbidden romance in the heat and dust. There's more going on as we experience their lives of privilege and pleasure-based routine, but it's far-from-enthralling. Directed by Miguel Gomes.

ZARAFA *** (78 minutes; subtitled) 15+ (Children under 15 must be accompanmied by an adult)

Screens 2.30pm Sunday @ ACMI as part of the Human Rights Arts & Film Festival.

Maki, an escaped child slave, fights to protect Zafara, a baby giraffe, in this traditionally animated 2011 French fantasy. With the help of a balloonist and a desert prince, Maki takes an airborne trip to France where, well, things get pretty heavy as Maki faces down his tormentor.   

EDDIE ADAMS: SAIGON 68 *** (17 minutes) Unclassified 18+

Screens 6.30pm, Monday @ ACMI as part of the Human Rights Arts & Film Festival; followed by forum

The shocking still photograph of a South Vietnamese police chief summarily executing a bound North Vietnamese prisoner came to symbolise the chaos of the Vietnam war. Yet the divisive reputation of that image is deceptive.

This brief, punchy, pungent film provides the true background of the photo and of Eddie Adams (who died in 2004), whose life has been largely defined by a photo he came to resent.

RAWER *** (57 minutes) Unclassified 18+

Screens 8.30pm, Tuesday @ ACMI as part of the Human Rights Arts & Film Festival; followed by forum

When does a mother's love cross the line? Dutch mother Francis wants only the best for her 14-year old son Tom and so keeps him on a strict vegan diet of raw food while she home schools him.

He seems fine, but the courts want to know why he's so much shorter than other kids his age, and whether Tom's treatment constitutes a form of child abuse. A follow-up to the 2008 documentary Raw, director Anneloek Sollart intelligently explores some thorny issues while maintaining a clinical impartiality.


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