THE OTHER WOMAN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Nick Cassavetes

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton, Nicholas Coster-Waldau, Don Johnson, Taylor Kinney, David Thornton, Nicky Minaj, Victor Cruz.

First bimbos club?

Written by first time feature film writer Melissa Stack, The Other Woman initially seems like another variation on The First Wives Club, but rather than three middle-aged divorcees combining forces to seek revenge on the husbands who dumped them for younger more attractive trophy wives, this laboured and terribly dull comedy sees three women gang up on the one man who played with their affections and betrayed them romantically.

Cameron Diaz, fresh from committing an unnatural sex act with a Ferrari in the awful The Counselor, plays Carly, a successful and strong corporate lawyer who has had a string of boyfriends during her search for the elusive Mr Right. But she has one firm rule – she won’t sleep with a married man! Imagine her surprise then when she accidentally discovers that her latest squeeze, the successful and handsome Mark (played by Games Of Thrones‘ Nicholas Coster-Waldau) is actually married to the demure and insecure Kate (Leslie Mann).

But after their first awkward meeting, Carly and Kate become friends, and over a few drinking and bonding sessions they decide to get their revenge on the two timing Mark. At first Kate resorts to such petty acts as slipping hormones into his drinks and lacing his shampoo with a hair removal treatment. But when Carly and Kate follow him to the Hamptons one weekend they discover the presence of yet another mistress in the voluptuous form of the beautiful, much younger and spectacularly well endowed Amber (former Sports Illustrated model Kate Upton, from Tower Heist, etc).

The three then team up to bring Mark down. That he is a bit of a bastard, an unrepentant sleazebag and womaniser who is also embezzling funds from his own company makes him an unsympathetic character, ripe for some payback. The big chance comes when the three women discover where he is hiding his money and set out to strip him of his ill-gotten fortune. And here is where the film becomes bogged down in a succession of cliched and clunky business that is frankly not that funny or original.

The first rule of a comedy is that it should be funny and make us laugh. Unfortunately it’s a rule that writer Stark, director Nick Cassavetes and the cast of this horribly laboured and dull comedy seem to have forgotten. Cassavetes is the son of the legendary independent American filmmaker the late John Cassavetes (Death Of A Chinese Bookie, etc), but he is better known for his dramas that deal with serious themes, like The Notebook, one of those rare tearjerkers that blokes can blubber at unashamedly as well. But with this raunchy comedy he is out of his depth and it shows with his ham fisted and heavy handed approach to the sub-Judd Apatow-like adult-oriented comedy. Another Bridesmaids this female centric raunchy comedy certainly isn’t!

Lots of the film falls flat, and jokes just lie there dying, gasping for oxygen. I think I laughed only once during the whole thing! And it drags on for far too long, becoming predictable and outstaying its welcome. Compare this dull 109 minutes of alleged comedy with the infectious and endlessly inventive humour that Wes Anderson crams into a mere 100 minutes with his The Grand Budapest Hotel, easily the best comedy released for quite some time.

Diaz seems to want it both ways – she likes to find good, strong and confident roles for females on screen, but she also plays sexually voracious creatures well. Here she spends much of the time in skimpy outfits or in bikinis. Cassavetes previously worked with Diaz on the tearjerker drama My Sister’s Keeper, drawing a much more nuanced and subtle performance from her then. Mann, who has appeared in superior comedies like her husband’s Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, etc, seems to be playing a stereotypical character that has become part of her repertoire. She has a grating presence here as Kate, whose shrill voice and lack of self esteem becomes increasingly grating as the film progresses. Upton looks good, but her performance is a bit too stiff and wooden and one-dimensional.

Coster-Waldau seems like a good sport as he suffers a lot of indignities in his role here. And Don Johnson (of Miami Vice fame, etc) is wasted in a small and thankless role as Carly’s father.

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THE GOOD THE BAD THE UGLY FILM SHOW PODCAST EPISODE #75

The Good The Bad The Ugly Film Show

This week on The Good The Bad The Ugly Film Show Adam, Dave, Nick and Greg take a look at new release films ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, ‘Divergent’, ‘Any Day Now’ and ‘Muppets: Most Wanted’. The boys also take a special look at The Amazing Spider-Man 2: The Rise Of Electro, which they had seen just an hour before.This episode also features interviews with Wes Anderson and Ricky Gervais.

Also make sure you listen for your chance to win a copy of Ender’s Game on DVD thanks to Icon Distribution.

To listen to the show you can download it for free from our Podcast Channel – Listen/Download here

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MUPPETS MOST WANTED

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: James Bobin

Stars: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Tony Bennett, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Hugh Bonneville, Jermaine Clement, Sean Combs, Frank Langella, James McAvoy, Loki himself Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hollander, Rob Corddry, Chloe Grace Moretz, Miranda Richardson, Stanley Tucci, Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, Salma Hayek, Christoph Waltz, Usher Raymond, Zach Galifianakis, Josh Groban, Toby Jones, Saoirse Ronan, Mackenzie Crook, voices of Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Groelz, Matt Vogel, Bill Barretta, David Rudman.

I quite enjoyed the 2011 reboot of Jim Henson’s popular hand puppet Muppet characters, which was made by Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel, who were fans of the original Muppets and wanted to pay homage to the characters who had been virtually absent from screens for a decade. Stoller and Segel were better known for their raunchy adult comedies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and they brought a slight edge to the familiar Muppet characters, who always had an endearing air of innocence about them and their comic mayhem.

That self-referential quality, sense of nostalgia and edge is missing from this inevitable sequel, which is made for older audiences who probably grew up with the Muppets on television rather than the younger audiences of today. James Bobin, who also directed the original Muppet Movie from two years ago, returns giving the film some consistency. But while Muppets Most Wanted is a bit more ambitious than its predecessor, it somehow lacks that sense of freshness and the nostalgic touch that was a big part of its appeal. It’s not as bad as 1999′s Muppets From Space, but there are some moments that do fall flat.

Following the triumphant reunion of the Muppets and their return to the limelight the gang wonder what is next for them. They are approached by the dubious promoter Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who offers to manage them on a world tour. He has apparently arranged for them to play in some of the world’s major theatres. The Muppets agree, unaware that Badguy is actually a master criminal intent on robbing some of the world’s most prestigious museums, which are conveniently located next door to these theatres. Badguy is following a trail of clues that will eventually lead him to the key to unlocking the Crown Jewels of London.

Badguy is in league with Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog (voiced by Matt Vogel), who resembles our hero Kermit, apart from a prominent mole on his right cheek. Constantine is incarcerated in a Siberian gulag, but manages to escape and make his way to Berlin to meet Badguy. There he arranges to have the lookalike Kermit (voiced by Steve Whitmire) kidnapped and sent to the gulag in his place. Constantine replaces Kermit for the tour, and gives the rest of the Muppets the creative freedom to do whatever they want on stage. None of his fellow Muppets are suspicious that Kermit now speaks with a strange and heavy accent.

Following the trail of museum break-ins though are Sam the Eagle and the incompetent Interpol agent Jean-Pierre Napoleon (Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell), a cheap Inspector Clouseau clone, and parallels to the Pink Panther series of movies are obvious. And the film seems to be copying some plot devices from 1981′s The Great Muppet Caper which saw the characters caught up in a jewel heist.

While the Muppets continue their tour of some of Europe’s most picturesque cities, Kermit is stuck in the gulag in the middle of nowhere. The strict prison supervisor Nadya (Tina Fey) is infatuated with Kermit and forced him to oversee rehearsals for the annual revue. Amongst the prisoners are tough guys like Danny Trejo (Machete himself), who looks uncomfortable singing and dancing, and Ray Liotta, who also seems a little nonplussed.

Meanwhile Miss Piggy (voiced by Eric Jacobson) is heartened by Kermit’s new attitude and is still keen to get married. It seems that wedding bells are in the air and Miss Piggy is about to realise her dream. Eventually though Fozzie, Animal and Walter realise that Kermit is an imposter and set out to find and rescue their friend and restore order to the Muppet troupe.

One of the highlights of the Muppets television series was the roster of big name guest stars who regularly appeared and who seemed willing to play around with their image while they were treated with irreverence. Muppets Most Wanted features a huge roster of guest stars, most of who will be unknown to the younger members of the audience. We get cameos from the likes of crooner Tony Bennett, Celine Dion and Lady Gaga essentially playing themselves, while Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville, Flight Of The Conchords‘ Jermaine Clement, rapper Sean Combs, Frank Langella, James McAvoy, Loki himself Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hollander, Rob Corddry, Chloe Grace Moretz, Miranda Richardson and Stanley Tucci appear in blink and you miss them moments.

But there seems to be no real inspiration behind these celebrity cameos and they seem forced. There’s a brief gag about hip hop singer Usher Raymond being an usher at a wedding, while poor Christoph Waltz is trotted out to perform a waltz, and the hapless Salma Hayek participates in an indoor running of the bulls act as part of the Muppets stage show.

Through his television work in The Office and various hosting gigs, Gervais has perfected a sardonic style of humour, and the role of the villainous Badguy suits him well. There is a healthy rivalry between him and Constantine as to who is the biggest and baddest criminal mastermind. But it occasionally seems as if Gervais is merely going through the motions here, and is not fully engaged with his character.

Muppets Most Wanted contains some cheap, groan inducing puns which older audiences may appreciate, while younger audiences will enjoy the silly sight gags. There are also a couple of quite decent and catchy songs here written by Conchords’ Bret McKenzie. But the film lacks the freshness and creative spark of its predecessor. It’s almost as if the thought of doing an obligatory sequel has rendered the material a little flat.

There is some great scenery though and Don Burgess’ cinematography looks good, as the Muppets travelling stage show moves through some of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

At heart Muppets Most Wanted is an energetic and farcical caper comedy, but the movie also spoofs a number of other movie genres here, including the prison genre. However, the send up of Bergman’s existential drama The Seventh Seal will probably be lost to most in the audience. And that is part of the problem with the film – while it is light and enjoyable enough, some of it is just not that funny! Waldorf and Statler’s putdowns here lack bite.

★★☆

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DIVERGENT

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Neal Burger

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Zoe Kravitz, Ray Stevenson, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Christian Madsen, Amy Newbold.

Yet another young adult novel set in a dystopian future and featuring a feisty heroine challenging the status quo and rebelling against the strict structure and authoritarian government makes its way to the screen. Comparisons to The Hunger Games will be inevitable, and while Divergent doesn’t quite have the same compelling narrative and power it will certainly appeal to its target demographic.

Divergent borrows elements and themes from many of the other YA novels that have found their way to the screen – it is a coming of age story set in a dystopian world, and the story deals with outsiders finding their place in a strange new world, and explores rich themes of identity, conformity, independence and individuality, heroism and rebellion, power struggles, power and ambition, and the concept of female empowerment.

Divergent is based on the popular, bestselling trilogy written by Veronica Roth, which has sold over eleven million copies. The screenplay from Evan Daugherty (Snow White And The Huntsman, etc) and Vanessa Taylor (a tv writer whose work includes episodes of Alias, Jack And Bobby, and the romcom Hope Springs, etc) remains reasonably faithful to the source material.

The film is set in a future, 100 years after a war devastated the planet. The action takes place in Chicago, which has been ravaged by the apocalyptic events of the past, and the crumbling city now lies enclosed by an electrified fence. To try and maintain order in this brave new world, the authorities have devised a scheme whereby society has been divided into five factions, each with its own identity and purpose. But as we well know, once you start introducing factions or cliques into a society trouble is not far away.

The five factions here are Erudite, the clever people, the thinkers; Amity are kind and peaceful and help people, they grow crops and help provide for the other factions; Candour are honest and they dress in black and white (a deliberately ironic colour scheme?); Abnegation are selfless and do not value power or ambition or wealth; while Dauntless are the fearless protectors of the city, known for their bravery, and they act as an unofficial police force.

In this world when children turn 16 they undergo aptitude tests to determine which faction they belong to. Although they have free will to choose any faction, 95% of them tend to choose their parent’s faction, ensuring that the system and the status quo works. And once they have chosen their faction they undergo a rigorous initiation to ensure that they belong. If they fail the initiation period they are driven out of the faction and forced to live on the streets, homeless and unwanted. Their families are unable to take them back.

The selection ceremony whereby the children announce which faction they are joining seems like something out of Harry Potter, albeit without the sorting hat nonsense.

But there are occasionally divergents, children with special abilities and who are capable of independent thought and who has qualities of several different factions. They are considered a threat to the established order and are hunted down and killed. Usually they are forced to remain quiet about their abilities and try their best to fit in.

One such divergent is Beatrice Prior (played  by Shailene Woodley, best known for playing George Clooney’s daughter in The Descendants). Her parents belong to the selfless Abnegation faction. When Tris, as she prefers to be called, undergoes testing, the results are “inconclusive”, according to a sympathetic tester (Maggie Q). Tris joins the Dauntless faction, and thus undergoes a fairly grueling 10 week initiation program. Eric (Jai Courtney, from the A Good Day To Die Hard, etc) is the ruthless leader of the faction, and he seems to take an instant dislike to Tris, pushing her hard in the hopes that she will fail. But she finds support from his offsider, Marcus (Theo James, from Underworld: Awakening, etc), known as Four.

Tris’ voice over narration takes us into this unfamiliar world and the opening minutes are quite heavy with exposition as she tries to explain the internal logic of this world. It doesn’t quite make a lot of sense, and older audiences may well find themselves left with more questions than answers.

But there is something sinister happening behind the scenes, as Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), the powerful leader of Erudite, is planning to mount a coup to wipe out Abnegation and take over the government. Eventually Tris leads the rebellion to thwart Matthews’ plan, which sets her in direct opposition to Eric and Dauntless. Tris is a heroine clearly drawn in the same mold as Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games series. Rising young star Woodley delivers a solid performance here in a fairly physical and demanding role, and although she lacks the charisma of Jennifer Lawrence this film series should catapult her to a similar level of stardom.

There is good chemistry between Woodley and James, and the love story between the pair is less saccharine and twee than that between the central characters in the increasingly bland Twilight series. James is good as the mysterious Four, and his backstory makes him a more sympathetic character. James’ character is heavily tattooed and it apparently took three hours of makeup to apply them. Winslet is icy as the villain of the piece, and makes the most of a small but important role. Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn (replacing original choice Aaron Eckhart) play Tris’ parents, and are given little of substance to do until the exciting climax. Divergent also reunites Woodley with Miles Teller, her costar from the romantic drama The Spectacular Now, who plays Peter, a member of Erudite but who is a nasty piece of work.

There is a hunky supporting cast who are given little of note to do, although they acquit themselves well enough with the physical demands of the material.

Technical credits throughout are excellent. Carlo Poggiol’s costumes perfectly reflect this post-apocalyptic dystopian society that values conformity rather than individuality. Alwin Kuchler’s cinematography captures the crumbled grey and bleak vision of this ruined Chicago. Hans Zimmer’s score is evocative and unsettling at times, but it moves the action along.

Director Neal Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist, etc) handles the action sequences quite effectively here, although the film takes a good deal of time in establishing this unique world at the expense of the tension and drama. The editing from Richard Francis-Burke and Nancy Richardson is sharp and keeps most of the action scenes uncluttered. But while he has handled the material well, Burger won’t be returning for the inevitable sequel.

And like the Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games series, the producers have announced that Allegiant, the final film in the series, will be released in two installments. While Divergent lacks the muscle and darker tone of The Hunger Games, it is hoped that the second film in the series will be a bit stronger and more compelling.

Divergent is a high concept fantasy, but ultimately it seems a bit cliched and generic, and many of its elements will seem familiar. For all its flaws though, Divergent is another example of the popular young adult fiction that is turning a generation of adolescent girls (and boys) into readers, and that can’t be a bad thing!

★★★

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THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Wes Anderson

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F Murray Abraham, Mathieu Almaric, Bill Muray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Lea Seydoux, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Bob Balaban, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Saoirse Ronan, Larry Pine, Neal Huff, Fisher Stevens.

Fans of the films of idiosyncratic American filmmaker Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore, The Fantastic Mr Fox, etc), will find much to enjoy in his eighth feature film The Grand Budapest Hotel which is, arguably, his best and most accessible work to date. The film is loosely based on the writing of Austrian author and playwright Stefan Zweig, who fled the Nazi regime in the 30s and lived in exile in Rio de Janeiro until he committed suicide in 1942.

The Grand Budapest Hotel recounts the adventures of Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge at the famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend and loyal protege. Most of the events unfold from the perspective of the teenaged Zero, an orphan who is a refugee from an unnamed country.

The film is set in the fictitious Eastern European country of Zubrowka in the years between the two world wars. In 1932 the Grand Budapest Hotel was at its decadent peak. It was run with smooth efficiency by the concierge the impeccably mannered and fastidious M Gustave H, who ran a tight ship and attended to the guests’ every need. He would wine and dine, and even bed, the wealthy elderly dowagers who regularly visited the hotel during the holiday season.

His favourite was the elderly countess Madame D (played by an unrecogniseable Tilda Swinton). When she dies under mysterious circumstances, her will reveals that she has left a priceless Renaissance painting to Gustave, much to the chagrin of her son, the greedy and ungrateful Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and three spiteful daughters. Gustave quickly discovers that he has been framed for Madame D’s murder. Thus sets in motion a rather convoluted plot that involves art theft, murder, a frantic cross country chase, and even a daring prison escape.

Anderson maintains a frenetic pace throughout, and he crams a lot into the film’s brisk 100 minutes. It is genuinely laugh out loud hilarious in  places. The cross country chase here recalls the old style silent slapstick comedies of yesteryear. But the film plays out with most of Anderson’s signature stylistic touches – the droll dialogue, the still performances, and the meticulous attention to detail. Anderson is known for the wonderfully offbeat and artificial worlds he creates, the eccentric gallery of characters, many of whom are outcasts, his unique visual style, his sense of whimsy, period settings, a strong sense of nostalgia, and effective use of colours and patterns.

Anderson has shot the film with his usual eye for visual compositions – each scene is deliberately framed and shot, with a distinctive colour scheme that heightens the mood and tone. He even uses different screen ratios to reflect the various eras of the film, hence those scenes set in the 30s are shot in the old box aspect ratio of the times. The pastel coloured production design by Adam Stockhausen, a regular collaborator with Anderson, is superb. Alexandre Desplat’s jaunty score (particularly over the end credits) and the gorgeous cinematography from regular Robert D Yeoman contribute enormously to Anderson’s unique and stylish vision. However, an air of melancholy hangs over the frivolity as the film looks at the changing nature of Europe between the wars and a hedonistic lifestyle that has ultimately disappeared.

Fiennes, who is not renowned for his comedic chops, is superb as the usually loquacious, urbane, insouciant and unflappable M Gustave, one of Anderson’s most memorable creations. Amongst his dry wit though he shows sparks of discomfort and occasionally swears like a trooper. But Fiennes’ light touch and comic timing is impeccable, and he shows a flair for physical comedy here that harks back to the old style British farce of yesteryear. Newcomer Revolori is also great as Zero, the naive young lobby boy who eventually ends up owning the hotel and overseeing it through its decline during the Soviet regime of the 60s.

Angela Lansbury was initially cast as Madame D, but due to commitments with the stage production of Driving Miss Daisy she had to be replaced by the much younger Swinton, who underwent extensive make-up session to transform her into the 84 year old dowager. F Murray Abraham lends gravitas to his role as the adult Zero; Edward Norton as Henckels, a conscientious police officer whose role changes as war draws nearer; Willem Dafoe is menacing as a ruthless assassin; Jeff Goldblum as Kovacks, the executor of Madame D’s estate; an unrecogniseable Harvey Keitel as a prisoner; Saoirse Ronan (From Atonement, etc) as Zero’s first love Agatha, a pastry shop baker with a distinctive birthmark on her cheek.

Anderson has populated the film with many of his regulars, including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban and Jason Schwartzman in small roles, who bring the quirky characters to life. Rounding out the rich supporting cast are Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, and Mathieu Almaric.

Light and breezy in tone, and endlessly inventive, The Grand Budapest Hotel is quintessential Anderson, and a constant delight from start to finish. This is one hotel you want to make a reservation to check into as soon as possible.

★★★★☆

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World Premiere of DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition at ACMI

by GREG KING

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image as part of Melbourne Winter Masterpieces presents the  World Premiere of DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition Opening at ACMI, Thursday 10 April 2014

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and Los Angeles-based studio, DreamWorks Animation, today launched the world premiere DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition, the studio’s first ever large-scale international exhibition, as part of the Victorian Government’s Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series.

DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition , ACMI’s largest ever exhibition, features over 400 items including, neverbefore-seen concept drawings, interviews, models and original artworks, and interactive experiences to entertain both children and adults. Charting the creative journey of a DreamWorks Animation film from the first idea sketched on a Post-It note, through to the final completed project, the exhibition includes everything from storyboards, to interactive animation software, to creative reconstructions of DreamWorks’ real-life workspaces and newly commissioned immersive and interactive environments.

Curated by ACMI in collaboration with DreamWorks Animation, the exhibition brings together Melbourne-based curators and creatives, and the animators, artists and producers of a major international studio for the first time.

The exhibition will premiere in Melbourne before embarking on an international tour, taking the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces brand to the world.

ACMI Director and CEO, Tony Sweeney, said the unique collaboration brings together two like-minded organisations to create a world first cultural experience, providing a rare insight into the workings of the much loved studio.

“Through a deep shared commitment to the moving image as a dynamic area of creative practice, we’ve come together to create something very special. And while our two cities are separated by the Pacific Ocean, this common passion and dedication to the art of film has been a powerful bridge to exchange ideas, skills and perspectives as bedrock of the project,” Tony said. “At ACMI, we’re constantly excited by the prospect of inviting our visitors to go beyond the surface, to delve much more deeply into the subject matter that we love and champion and DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition is the perfect way to do this”.

Speaking at the launch at ACMI in Melbourne today, Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO and co-founder of DreamWorks Animation said the world-first exhibition is a fitting commemoration to mark the studio’s 20th anniversary in 2014.

“It has been a tremendous pleasure working with ACMI. They are an amazing team who have nurtured and guided this project every step of the way,” said DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. “For me, this exhibition is especially exciting. After spending three decades loving how animated films are made, it will be thrilling to see people of all ages be exposed to this amazing process.”

Across three sections, Character, Story and World, the exhibition showcases DreamWorks Animation’s four major film series:

Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda, along with early hand-drawn and hybrid 2D and 3D animations, such as The Prince of Egypt (1998)  and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002). The entire back catalogue of 29 DreamWorks Animation feature films is represented in the exhibition, including The Croods (2013), and the most recent theatrical release, Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014).

From ACMI’s Flinders Street facade, penguins Skipper and Private smile and wave at passers-by, while their Madagascar co-star, a 5.5 towering metre high giraffe, Melman, peers curiously through the window of the ACMI Lightwell. The star of How to Train Your Dragon, Toothless the Dragon, soars high above, welcoming visitors ahead of their exhibition experience.

A highlight of the exhibition is Dragon Flight: a Dragon’s-Eye View of Berk, a spectacular, 180-degree environment offering never-before-seen vision of Berk, the Viking township from How to Train Your Dragon. Dragon Flight takes visitors on an exhilarating panoramic dragon ride on the back of Toothless, as the Isle of Berk builds around them.

Completing the exhibition experience is a dedicated drawing room where visitors create their own animations using a simplified version of DreamWorks’ own software. Visitors learn the basic principles of animation to create their own short films, which can be e-mailed and shared with friends.

Alongside the exhibition, ACMI presents a program of live events including, on Thursday 10 April,  In Conversation with Jeffrey Katzenberg and, later that evening, Inside the Studio, an opportunity to go behind the scenes with members of the DreamWorks Animation creative team, Bill Damaschke (Chief Creative Officer), Kendal Cronkhite (Production Designer), Christophe Lautrette (Production Designer) and Doug Cooper (Visual Effects Supervisor). On Friday 11 April, Kendal, Christophe, and Doug, will be joined by Jason Schleifer (Character Animator) in the DreamWorks Industry Masterclass. Throughout the season, ACMI will present an extensive program of talks and workshops, screen DreamWorks Animation feature films, offer educational experiences and, to coincide with late openings on Thursday nights, present live entertainment.

DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition will have its world premiere at ACMI on Thursday 10 April and will run until Sunday 5 October 2014, before touring the world. For tickets and more information, please visit acmi.net.au/dreamworks

About the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces Series: From its inception in 2004 until 2013, the series has attracted attendances of 4.3 million, including more than 372,000 interstate and international visitors who have come to Victoria specifically to attend a Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition. The series has delivered more than $359 million in economic benefits for Victoria.

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ANY DAY NOW

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Travis Fine

Stars: Alan Cumming, Garrett Dillahunt, Isaac Leyva, Chris Mulkey, Kelli Williams, Jane Anne Allman, Frances Fisher, Alan Rachins, Don Franklin, Gregg Henry, Mindy Sterling, Doug Spearman, Randy Roberts, Michael Nouri.

For his Movies At Dusk program on 3WBC 94.1FM, Greg King spoke to director Travis Fine about the film Any Day Now. To hear the interview, click on the link below:

http://www.mediafire.com/listen/f4w4w9l9tn4ax7s/190325_001.MP3

 

Based on a true story, Any Day Now is a heartwrenching, poignant and powerfully moving film about a gay couple who try to adopt an abandoned teenager who has Downs Syndrome, and find themselves battling homophobia, an uncaring bureaucracy, and an intransigent legal system that believes it is acting in the best interests of the child.

The film is set in West Hollywood in 1979, but what is most remarkable is how slowly attitudes have changed since then. There is still suspicion regarding gay couples and gay parents even in the 21st century.

Any Day Now was written in the early 80s by screenwriter George Arthur Bloom, who had personal knowledge of some of the people involve in the events depicted. Bloom is a prolific scriptwriter of television, animated films and live action films like Disney’s The Last Flight Of Noah’s Ark, etc. Originally actors of the calibre of Jon Voight were attached to the project but for numerous reasons the film never got off the ground. Bloom’s script languished in a drawer somewhere until it found its way into the hands of Travis Fine (The Spaces Between, tv series The Young Riders, etc), an actor turned director, who loved the themes and ideas and fleshed out the details more. He has retained the 70s setting, which makes the emotional impact of the story more resonant.

Any Day Now boasts a superb, career best performance from Alan Cumming, familiar to many through his ongoing role in the popular tv series The Good Wife, etc. Here he plays Rudy, a flamboyant drag queen performing in a second rate cabaret act and who is struggling to make ends meet. He lives in a squalid apartment block in West Hollywood, where drug deals are an everyday occurence. One night his neighbour (Jamie Anne Allman) is arrested on drugs charges and carted off to jail, leaving behind her teenaged son Marco (newcomer Isaac Leyva). Marco is afflicted with Downs Syndrome and left home alone he becomes confused and terrified. Rudy takes him into his place to tend to him while he can work out the best solution.

He approaches Paul (Garrett Dillahunt, from Looper, 12 Years A Slave, etc), a casual acquaintance and closeted lawyer with the DAs office to seek advice. Paul convinces Marco’s mother to sign over temporary custody to Rudy. Paul and Rudy move in to Paul’s more spacious and comfortable house to provide Marco with a more secure and loving environment and begin to raise him. They even find him a good school that caters to children with special needs, and under the sympathetic tutelage of Miss Flemming (Kelli Williams) Marco begins to blossom.

But when the nature of the relationship between Rudy and Paul is accidentally revealed they find themselves with a fight on their hands to retain custody of Marco. Paul’s homophobic and vindictive boss DA Williams (Chris Mulkey, from First Blood, Captain Phillips, etc) makes it his personal mission to remove Marco from their care. The odds are stacked against them, and there are lots of dramatic fireworks and emotional outbursts during the courtroom scenes.

Fine has cast his film with care. Cumming is superb and perfectly cast as the flamboyant, volatile and outspoken Rudy who wears his heart on his sleeve.  Dillahunt, who normally plays tough guys and villains, is cast against type here, and his performance as the level headed and articulate lawyer who finds himself up against institutionalised homophobia and blatant prejudice combines compassion, sympathy and a steely determination. And Leyva is a real find, bringing vulnerability and a natural quality to his performance.

Even the small roles are cast with an eye for authenticity, with Frances Fisher particularly good and memorable as a hard nosed judge whose prejudices are obvious.

Fine has a good idea for period details as well, and the film has the look and feel of many of those gritty dramas from the 70s thanks to Rachel Morrison’s evocative cinematography. And the songs that Rudy chooses for his cabaret act are very revealing and enhance the film’s themes of tolerance, love and family. The film explores issues of homophobia and what it takes to be a good parent in intelligent and sympathetic fashion, which makes its downbeat ending all the more moving and hard hitting.

Like Kramer Vs Kramer, which ironically enough was one of the big emotional blockbusters of 1979, Any Day Now is an unashamed tear jerker, and a crowd pleasing film that unfortunately is not playing to the broader audience it deserves.

★★★★

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NOAH

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Nick Nolter, Frank Langella, Mark Margolis, Kevin Durand, Marton Csokas, Gavin Casdegno, Nolan Gross, Dakota Goyo.

Darren Aronofsky’s films have often been concerned with themes of obsession and tortured characters (The Fountain, Black Swan, etc), and his seriously flawed take on the Biblical parable of Noah is no exception. But this is not the tale of Noah and his ark as you might remember from Sunday school readings. Rather, Aronofsky and his regular collaborator Ari Handler have taken liberties of Biblical proportions with the familiar tale that occupied a mere 97 verses in the book of Genesis.

According to the accepted Biblical story Noah was a sort of prophet who was commanded by God to build an ark to save all manner of wildlife from the apocalyptic flood that he was going to send to wipe out mankind and its wickedness from the face of his earth. Noah was aware of the inherent evil nature of man from an early age when he witnessed his father brutally killed by a group of hunters. And he has seen how rapacious humans have laid waste to the land.

So when the vengeful God decides to send down a massive flood to wipe the planet clean and start all over again, Noah is the one chosen to play a key role. He builds a massive ark and stocks it full of every species of animal. He also takes his family aboard. Then the flood waters come. There is a growing sense of dread in the second half of the film as Noah and his family await deliverance from the flood.

But Aronofsky’s unorthodox retelling borrows liberally from a number of other different versions of the story as well, and it has earned the ire of many conservative Christian groups. And several Islamic countries have already banned the film. While it is not as compelling or as visceral as Mel Gibson’s bloody The Passion Of The Christ nor as controversial or potentially blasphemous as Martin Scorsese’s The Last temptation Of Christ, nonetheless Aronofsky’s Noah is an ambitious film in both scope and themes. At 138 minutes though it is a bit too long and the pace flags in the middle

But it is also downright borderline bonkers, and Aronofsky’s direction is at times heavy handed. One of the more bizarre elements of the film is the inclusion of rock creatures known as the Nephilim, supposedly fallen angels, who help Noah build his massive ark. But these prehistoric creatures resemble something out of Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth or The Neverending Story, or prehistoric ancestors of Transformers, but some shonky special effects renders them unbelievable creatures. They are voiced by the distinctly gravelly tones of Nick Nolte and Frank Langella. And there is no mention of God anywhere in the film; rather he is referred to only as “the Creator.” Noah is also full of blatantly environmentally friendly messages that would make Bob Brown and his like green with envy.

The early parts of the film are full of numerous references to other characters from the Old Testament, and an early montage sequence depicting the creation of the world in seven days resembles something out of Terrence Malick’s Tree Of Life.

Noah was filmed in Iceland, and its bleak and alien looking landscapes suit the cold and unforgiving tone of Aronofsky’s vision. His view of this ancient world is almost dystopian in its bleak depiction of a harsh landscape devoid of vegetation and life. And the bleak, greyish cinematography from Matthew Labitique enhances this grim tone.

The ark itself is quite spectacular, and some of the film’s rumoured $125 million budget went on building a life size replica of the ark. There is no chance that Noah is going to need a bigger boat here! The flood itself has been created through some special effects from the Industrial Light & Magic firm, although the digitally recreated flood waters and succession of digitally created animals do not look very real.

Noah has been played many times before on both the big screen and the small screen, most memorably by the stentorian John Huston in the star studded 1966 epic The Bible, Jon Voight in a 1999 television miniseries, and even by Lorne Greene of Bonanza fame in 1986. But Oscar winner Russell Crowe stamps his own commanding presence on the role here, portraying him as an obsessed character who is almost driven to madness by his actions, even to the point of considering sacrificing his grandchildren to ensure the future of God’s unspoiled world. Noah is apparently chosen for his grand mission not for his compassion but for his strength and unwavering sense of purpose.

Crowe has a strong, sullen presence and a surly attitude that at times recalls his avenging, wronged hero from Gladiator, and there are a couple of scenes here where he is called upon to flex his muscles to fight off enemies. But he also seems cold and detached, and his Noah comes across as an unsympathetic figure weighed down by the burden of saving the world. Aronofsky apparently sold Crowe on the concept of the film by assuring him that he wouldn’t be standing shoulder to shoulder with giraffes and elephants. He obviously forgot to mention that he would be interacting with those CGI-developed creatures known as the Nephilim though.

Aronofsky has assembled a great cast to flesh out the rest of the characters. Anthony Hopkins cashes in another pay cheque with his one dimensional and batty reading of Methuselah, the Bible’s oldest man and Noah’s supposedly wise grandfather. Ray Winstone has a formidable presence and he brings a ruthless, vicious quality to his role as Noah’s main nemesis Tubal-cain, a self-styled king who plans to take the ark by force. He also becomes the world’s first stowaway.

Jennifer Connelly, who previously worked with the director on his Requiem For A Dream and who doesn’t seem to have aged much in the years since, plays Noah’s patient and long suffering wife Naameh. Although it is something of an underdeveloped role, Connelly manages to bring some real emotion to the role. Connelly also appeared opposite Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, but here the pair do not display the same rapport or chemistry.

Douglas Booth plays Noah’s oldest son Shem, but he is a rather bland and passive character (and Booth is currently playing a rather bland Romeo in the umpteenth screen version of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy).  Emma Watson (from the Harry Potter series) plays Ila, Noah’s adopted daughter-in-law who is supposedly infertile but undergoes a miraculous pregnancy that creates some tension. Logan Lerman (from the Percy Jackson series) plays Noah’s son Ham, a virginal lad swayed by the charismatic and brutal Tubal-Cain. He is selfish, rebellious and full of teenage angst, and Lerman actually makes his complex character work.

Aronofsky is certainly an idiosyncratic film maker with grand ambitions. His massive flop The Fountain was a frustratingly oblique Christian allegory, but his take on a more straightforward Christian parable is just as frustrating. He has given this epic Biblical film a 21st century sensibility. Noah is a far cry from those epic Biblical films of the 50s and 60s which were much more reverential of the source material.

The production was apparently beset by a number of problems and this is reflected in the uneven tone of the film. The studio behind Noah has been forced to defend its controversial treatment of the Biblical story by issuing a press release that stated that the film was only inspired by the story of Noah, and that while it may have taken liberties it has remained true to the “essence and values” of the source. What film goers will make of it is anybody’s guess. And as both Scorsese and Gibson can attest, a little bit of controversy goes a long way in stirring up interest in a biblical story.

★★☆

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