Movie Review: ParaNorman


ParaNorman follows a young man, Norman Babcock in the town of Blithe Hollow (a town name made up as an amalgam of two other witch story towns) who grows up wondering why he is the only one who can see dead people. Call it 6th Sense for 12 year-olds but the floating dead folk are more humorous than scary. ParaNorman opens with our soon to be hero talking to his dead Grandmother on the couch at home which only infuriates his family, isolating him and giving us a sense of the loneliness he feels. Grandma, who is beautifully voiced by veteran Actress Elaine Stritch, tells Norman she feels she is hanging around to look after him.

ParaNorman just isn’t your normal Pixar style animation. In fact it comes from the stop-motion genius of the people at Laika who created Coraline. This is where Writer/Director Chris Butler received some of his experience working on the Coraline project. It’s in the art department of other darker animations like Corpse Bride that Butler was able to craft the quirky morbid humour that would be needed for ParaNorman however quirky needed a dash more humour for this outing. To get the recipe right it’s clear that this co-directed movie needed a lighter input and this came from fellow director Sam Fell. His resume included a more cheesy set of children’s animations with great mouse tales like The Tale of Despereaux and Flushed Away.

ParaNorman has its own distinctive animation style as the stop-motion design of the characters mixes with sets that have a reach out and touch feel about them while being in cartoonish dimensions. Blend this with ghostly stop-motion floating apparitions and you start to get the idea. The quality of the on screen result is superb after the team took a unique approach of designing 3D stop-animation by filming each set-up on a Canon DSLR by first taking a shot and then moving the camera on a slide to take a second shot to give the 3D perspective. A tireless endeavour rewarded with a great onscreen result.

The 16yo Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee brings experience from working with Viggo Mortensen on The Road and Eric Bana in the drama Romulus, My Father to voice the key character of Norman. He has a few friends, but only best mate Neil the red-head, played by Tucker Albrizzi, reaches out to truly understand Norman. Together they become inseparable like Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee.

The pretext of our story finds Norman living in a town which has based its history and tourism sector around the century old story of a witch killed by the town’s folk. While no one believes Norman’s tales it’s the weird Uncle played by John Goodman who trusts Norman with information that will change the town’s history and Norman for ever. Without giving the game away let’s say that things always have to get worse before they get better. With just the wrong spin on a perfect plan we see cursed zombies let loose on the town.

It’s fair to say that most of these characters are more funny than furious and most children probably from 8-10 and over should deal with the plastercine like characters dropping body parts along the way. Most of the zombies simply moan across the screen like docile children who’ve just woken up but the lead is voiced by a long-dead Judge played by Lord of the Rings actor, Bernard Hill. However there is another character in the movie that throws a supernatural temper tantrum that can be quite dramatic. I watched the movie with two 12yo boys and their recommendation was that the film was suited to 10-12 and over which I thought was right in the zone.

Parents who have a concern with supernatural themes like Witchcraft, the Afterlife and Zombies will probably want to preview the movie first or be prepared to talk through the empathy given to the supernatural characters as well as the visual imagery that is brought to screen. The movie also deals with some great themes from death of a loved one and loneliness through to character issues like believing in yourself and others. Norman shows the depth of character in the story making some wise decisions, digging deep against the bullies and finally has the adults having to catch up with his sensibilities.

The chase to solve the towns riddle looks a little like a Scooby Doo mystery at times with Casey Affleck playing Neil’s buff but dim older brother Mitch. Norman’s unusually hour-glass shaped sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) tries her wiles on Mitch only to be rebuffed at the end in a joke that seemed out of place in a kids flick as Mitch announces he’s gay in the closing minutes. Throw all the characters in a van and head off in search of adventure and you’d swear all we’re missing is a Great Dane and Shagggy. In fact if your kids aren’t took spooked by a Scooby Doo mystery with the added environment of 3D in a dark room you’re probably on to an exciting holiday movie.

With a few parental warnings that make this recommendation a little different from a typical cartoon kids movie ParaNorman is a great story and a movie worthy of 3.5 popcorns out of 5.



Movie Review: Skyfall


Skyfall, the 23rd Bond, releases in New Zealand just as we hear the news that Daniel Craig has been signed for two more episodes and a staggering purse of 31 millions pounds. (Approximately 60 million New Zealand dollars) Its incredible faith in an actor who was once despised for introducing us to a ‘Blonde Bond’. That said the critics are saying this could be the film that gives Bond his first Oscar, an insight into the quality of this outing and a fan base that has grown to love the intensity that Craig pushes into every scene.

Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have crafted a distinctly different Bond for Skyfall. This episode seems to be a fork in the road however as Purvis and Wade depart the franchise to leave Bond 24 in the hands of co-writer John Logan for 2014. What they leave on the screen appears to be a Bond with a deeper vulnerability. It’s within the scars of this character that we find the mastery of how the writers have repositioned the character back to a classic spy. Over the years we have seen the character evolve with culture, fashion and gadgetry but in Skyfall the circle appears to be coming around to being less about the panache on the surface and more about the strength of character in the man.

Skyfall Aston Martin DB5It is in Skyfall that we see a more haggard agent struggling to keep up in the field. For Craig there seemed to be a realism to the portrayal as the 44yo actor took his third walk in the spy’s tuxedo. Keep in mind Sean Connery was 41 when he ‘finished as Bond although he returned at 52 for Never Say Never again. Roger Moore was probably the oldest Bond playing the spy up until he was 57 in A View to a Kill. As the story gains momentum we see Bond having to assess his ability to ‘save the day’. This presents an ideal opportunity for the writers to make all things old new again and the introduction of some classic characters gives the Bond story a soft reboot. But less about anything bordering on a spoiler.

Our story surrounds a turned agent bent on revenge. The character of Silva is distinctively played by Javier Bardem. The Spanish actor best known to our audience as the lead in the Coen Brothers 2007 film No Country for Old Men owns the stage when he brings on the creepy European charm. What is superb about this story is how the antagonist is not a destroyer of worlds with seconds to disarm a nuclear bomb but here it’s a personal vendetta and Bond and ‘M’ are in the cross-hairs from beginning to end.

Ralph Fiennes drops in as Gareth Mallory and for a while you wonder whose side he’s on. Although it becomes blatantly clear where he stands the role is still a surprise option for Fiennes at this point in his career. Dame Judi Dench brings her stoic resilience to the role of ‘M’ and a pleasant find was seeing Albert Finney involved in the resistance needed to help Bond survive to spy another day.

One thing we often overlook after we’ve taken apart the Director and Actors is the Editing and Cinematography. This is one Bond where we won’t make that mistake. Here the calibre is high. Sam Mendes has crafted a fine film well worth sitting alongside his Directing credits on his CV of headline movies like Jarhead, Road to Perdition and American Beauty. In bringing on board more UK stalwarts like Stuart Baird to handle editing and Roger Deakins for Cinematography this produces a film that has ‘Michelin for Movies’ written all over it. Baird brings his sharp editing skills that many would have enjoyed in unique action movies like Salt and Vantage Point while Deakins was Director of Photography on classics like The Shawshank Redemption and A Beautiful Mind.

Sean Connery DB5For the 23rd Bond celebrating 50 years of Spydom the Skyfall movie is a celebration. The script is excellent, the acting admirable and the cinematography is sublime. You will enjoy the story from beginning to end while having the occasional smirk if you were old enough to have seen the original ‘Connery’ era whether at the cinema or from your DVD collection. Enjoy the highly recommended Skyfall for all it celebrates in the Bond journey and how well it positions the character for his next mission.

4.5 out of 5 popcorns


Movie Review: DREDD 3D

Judge Dredd 3D

I still remember saving my paper run money to afford my own subscription to 2000AD. The coloured fish and chip paper comic from the UK never looked so good as when Judge Dredd was on the cover. In the 1995 movie we saw Sylvester Stallone don the eagle shoulder pads and push his jaw beyond the dark polished visor of the helmet to give us the first glimpse of the Mega City cop. Most fans found the film an offence. If it wasn’t the ultimate no-no of Sly taking off the helmet it was the plasticised glowing future that didn’t match the dark side of the comic’s Mega City life.

In this new 3D edition movie of the UK comic’s lawman, we have kiwi Karl Urban giving us a rawer meaty version of the law known as Judge Dredd. Urban gives a superb jawline that ensures he fits the costume down to the chin. Like Hugo Weaving in ‘V for Vendetta’, this is a hard piece to act behind a mask. Kudos has already been given to Urban for the voice that characterises the cold focussed lawman that is Judge Dredd. The rest of the performance comes down to the clinical killing off of citizens who simply ‘do not comply’.

This version deserves its R18 rating on the death count score. With some very visual death pieces and some nudity it isn’t a movie for Mum, Dad and the kids. While the previous 1995 version was criticised for the US influence on a UK storyline, this outing has South Africa written all over it. The production happened in Cape Town and the nuances of atmosphere are more than coincidentally in sync with the feeling of the urban desert backdrop we saw in District 9.

While the South Africa connections for the production have given us an amazing backdrop and a superb production set on an incredibly Scottish budget, the results shout techno class to the max. Estimates say that the movie was made for $45million which in the tech and effects world buys you a pastrami on rye hold the mayo. Here we get the caviar thrown in with a glass of vino. Director Pete Travis first impressed me with Vantage Point as an innovative thriller. As a Pom he now had a lot to live up to for this movie and I think he ticked all the fan’s boxes.

Our story reintroduces us to the Judge system of the lawmen. In this universe the post-apocalyptic world sees Judges invested with the ability to investigate, sentence and if necessary execute offenders. They patrol the communities of the future on their Lawmaster bikes equipped with every weaponry and their personal side arm is DNA assigned to their grip insuring no tampering from the public.

On this ‘case’ Dredd has to take along Cassandra Anderson played by Olivia Thirlby. This newbie who may fail the Judge system for lack of conviction needs the Judge of all Judges to test her mettle in the field. At the end of the day he will force a pass or fail on the career of one so promising. Fans will recognise the character as Judge Anderson from Psi Division and that’s about all I have to say about that.

The storyline sits well in Mega City One, a post-apocalyptic city where 200 story high-rises become homes for life to hundreds of thousands of citizens. While a home to countless, we the observers see what would look like a ‘Shutter Island’ detention block for the insane or a darker form of the Zion city we saw in the Matrix trilogy. Here amongst the urban dependants lives Ma-Ma. The scarred former prostitute turned leader of the most notorious drug gang rules her hordes with violence and drug habituates. Lena Headey works this role in a vulgar arrogant fashion. She who must be obeyed, must be feared and she deserves the latter.

When Dredd and Anderson are called to the high-rise block known ironically as Peach Trees we see the inner landscape of the slum. The lifeblood and poison of the people is a new drug aptly called Slo-Mo. This beast draws its users into a psychedelic world where everything stands still so you can count the colours as they mess with your reality. Needless to say the drug’s attributes leave the film makers lots of creativity for death at half speed.

This is not a pleasant world and shows life for what the original comic book writers intended. Some have linked the story with The Raid where a SWAT team are trapped in a high-rise against a mobster’s goons. There are similarities but there can only be one Judge Dredd.

For cinematic excellence to the Dredd fanlore it deserves I’m giving DREDD 4 out of 5 popcorns.

In New Zealand Cinemas Thursday, 4th Octber, 2012

R18 Graphic violence and offensive language.


Movie Review: Coriolanus

Coriolanus - Ralph Fiennes

What do Shakespeare and Chechnya have in common? Not a lot until Ralph Fiennes decided to take the Shakespearean play Coriolanus and interpret it through the modern eyes of urban warfare. Although written around 1605 the story line takes us into the days of Rome as the people are revolting for lack of food and the powers of the day have enforced a military regime.

As well as directing Fiennes sits well in the leading role as Caius Martius the saviour of the people. He has returned a champion of the day in the quarters of battle. Now as the victor he is transported into the lofty seats of power in part because of the pushing of his ambitious mother Volumnia played by an intense Vanessa Redgrave.

Through the process of politics an undermined Caius is driven out of town by the spin doctors. Here he does the unthinkable and engages with the enemy to war against Rome. His skills of war are well received in the rebellion and Rome begins to panic at the potential onslaught of their favourite son.

Leading the Volscian army is the commander Tullus Aufidius played by Gerard Butler. As sworn enemies who had often met many times on the field of war Tullus and Caius are happy to spill blood for their cause. So when Caius comes into the enemy camp with cap in hand to fight with the Volscians the scene is set for betrayal and survival.

This directorial debut is a winning effort from the English actor and gives us exciting potential for the future. The script is Shakespearean but the deliveries are timed to perfection to give a beautifully paced drama. The backdrop is modern European civil war and the warriors arm up as urban soldiers weaponised with modern guns and grenades. The rebels give a sense of being the peoples defenders sourced from a skin head convention but equally are to the task of tactical man to man combat in settings that would make a battle worn Kosovo look chic. The concept of Shakespeare’s sonnets meeting Call of Duty can be a bump in the road to your thinking but it’s a great clash.

While this may be a triumph for Ralph Fiennes as a Director it shouldn’t be overlooked that he owns the screen in this movie. If you thought classical theatre was boring, wait until you sense the passion and righteous anger in the face of Fiennes. This won’t be the last we see of Fiennes behind the camera. He already has an intriguing title in the works with the scheduled 2013 release of The Invisible Woman, a tale of Charles Dickens.

As you consider whether to see this modern Shakespearean plot, take a risk, love the drama and be amazed that a story can live in any time and any place.


Movie Review: The Grey

Movie Review - The Grey

So how does a survival movie fare with a pack of hungry wolves hunting their human prey? How do the audience feel when the humans are low on respect for life, their fellow man and themselves? Despite the feel that this movie had only one way to turn we still went along for the ride. Similar to the Titanic you feel you know what’s going to happen but you simply can’t look away and want to see it through to the end.
Looking at reviews prior to attending a movie review is considered wrong by most reviewers. I agree, the whole idea of attending the review is to judge the unobstructed impact on yourself and the audience. So what drew me to investigate “The Grey” prior to attending this review I don’t know. Possibly the topic matter of humans on the run from wolves meant I wanted to check the ‘scare’ factor to see who I would invite along for the ride. This presented me with a conundrum as the movie was rating over average but the general public who had seen it were split at the extremes. Some saw it as an existential masterpiece and scored it 9 or 10 out of 10 while others couldn’t believe the stupidity and scores ranking in the 1s and 2s followed.
The storyline takes us along with some of the roughest scum on the planet as they leave their work in the Alaskan oil fields to fly out for a break back in civilisation. After a plane crash puts them down in an artic wilderness its survival time with a the local wolf pack guarding their territory against the quibbling intruders. Liam Neeson plays Ottway, a hunter who’s been hiding from life in a job where his role has been to protect the pipeline workers from the hungry wildlife who stalk the workers. He’s a mixed up bag as he saves others but seems bent on his own destruction. After the plane crash he starts to try and bring direction and unity to the surviving band of misfits with no purpose. They are less than impressed with being told what to do and like any organisation, their disunity brings decay and decay brings death.
I’m not going to tell you the outcomes blow by blow, that’s the nature of this style of movie as one event leads to another as the ‘red-shirt’ members of the party fight to live. So why did the audiences love or hate this release. Was it the expected ending, the cast or worse the soundtrack. Director Joe Carnahan has proven himself a great director and for those who have enjoyed The A-Team and Smokin’ Aces its easy to see he’s putting out some good content as both writer and director.
[quote type=”center”] I’m concerned audiences are starting to see him as gravy beef [/quote]
If you’ve seen both of these previous productions you’d also be aware that their story-lines have their fair share of humour. That I think is where Joe went wrong even if it was without intention. The movie is visually impressive. The tension builds well as the cast look to avoid becoming top of the wolf menu and there is a reasonable amount of both humanity and distain built around the cast to make you want to see them survive or die. Where the movie fell on its face is a couple of times where the physical or visual result on screen was so outside realism that the tense audience burst out laughing. The story then lost momentum and I don’t think it recovered. It didn’t matter then how much strong language, gutsy characters or grotesque scenes you threw in, it still was off pace with the rest of the movie. All up a great movie spoilt by two episodes that probably take up one minute of the whole film.
Joe Carnahan has lots more to offer so I hope he learns from this outing. Another person I hope learns a lesson is Liam Neeson. He must be considered the ‘rabbits foot’ of the movie industry at the moment. The number of movies that require the ‘Neeson’ attachement is astounding. Since 2008 he has been in at least 18 movies and three TV productions of which three were voice roles. You can’t get away from the fact he is a talent but I’m concerned audiences are starting to see him as gravy beef because of the volume of appearances when he should be the scotch fillet. Lets get back to the quality we know and expect when we remember Schindler’s List.
All up a good experience if you like your movie on the edge.
3 out of 5 popcorns


Movie Review: The Avengers

The Avengers - Movie Review

Assemble! Get your 3D glasses on and come save the world with the Avengers. It’s a film project I didn’t think would come off but the genius of Joss Whedon has directed a mega blockbuster for the Marvel franchise. The question of whether an ensemble cast would work in a Superhero movie was often overshadowed by the question of storyline. How could you thread seven key characters together not to mention the ‘sidekicks’ and the evil doers. Rest assured the story is well written, paced and delivered. You are going to love this movie like a 7 year old on too much raspberry cordial.

So how do you create a situation that demands the best superheroes to drop their personal ego off at the door and come together as one unit. It takes a little celestial help from Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and a race of beings aimed at Earth’s destruction to force the team to focus. The tension very quickly rises when the global security organisation known as SHIELD loses its extra-terrestrial power source, a device they had hoped would be Earth’s security blanket against alien attack. Clint Barton as Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is already on the scene as security to the project but he loses the opening battle and a global catastrophe is in the making. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) convinces the ‘committee’ that his team of self-obsessed misfits is the answer to the problem and so the call to assemble is issued.

[quote type=center]I can say be careful when you eat your popcorn because I had a few close choke calls[/quote]

The threads of the superhero backstories are brought together superbly in the opening half hour to capture the character and position in time that brings our cast together. From Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr) rising star in his own mind to Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo) self-imposed exile to hide the green monster from the public, the tapestry very quickly takes shape. My favourite of the opening storylines goes to Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) as Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) finds her ‘at work’ in Russia and has to convince her that the time is now to come in. One of the only plot holes occurs when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) re-enters the fray to deal with half-brother Loki. We’re not sure how they sorted the whole Bifröst bridge thing that allowed him back to earth but hey, small issue. 

This movie is a total ride from beginning to end of the 142 minutes and keeps the story humming the whole time. What brought me the greatest pleasure though was to hear the breakouts of laughter in the audience who were continually stunned and shocked by the barrage of one-liners from the superheroes in character with their approach to life. While we expect Iron Man’s Tony Stark to drop in an inappropriate comment it’s the subtle pieces from other cast members as well as some great visual humour that brought the comedy home. I can say be careful when you eat your popcorn because I had a few close choke calls.

Special effects go without saying in a superhero ‘grab your tights’ and hang on for the ride style feature but the real kudos goes to the cast on this one. Sure its visually impressive but compared to a few 3D CGI filled movies I’ve seen lately this one is about the people on screen holding your attention to their story in time. There is one ‘over the top’ scene that believe it or not seemed like it was in the wrong summer block buster, but aside from that this is in your face as a real ‘how do we save the world and live’ scenario as it gets.

Different parts of the story see the Avengers team having to work through personal prejudices and learn that even superheroes need to take one for the team. I enjoyed how the unassuming Steve Rogers as Captain America (Chris Evans) comes out of a very long retirement and steps up as a leader and coordinated the tactics in the midst of the fight. Classic line amongst many goes to new entrant Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk when he picks up where the green guy left off and says “Want to know my secret? I’m always angry”.

The provision of themed 3D glasses based on your favourite Avenger was a nice touch. When push comes to shove, who is your favourite Avenger? I picked up a pair of ‘Thor’ glasses and I must confess the ‘Hulk’ versions seemed a little too Elton John for me. I’m looking forward to where they can take this franchise. There should be some very happy Marvel fans coming out of theatres who can’t wait for Thor 2 or Iron Man 3.

4.5 out of 5 popcorns!!


Movie Review: J Edgar

J Edgar - Movie Review

The latest screen masterpiece from Clint Eastwood is the life story of a figure called the second most powerful man in America. After all who could hold their position in charge of a nation’s law and order system for nearly 50 years serving the needs of America and keeping the favour of eight Presidents? J Edgar tells the story of John Edgar Hoover, the man who from a young age with a law degree in his back pocket took the helm of the Bureau of Investigation and turned it into the FBI in 1935. Under his watch methods of crime investigation grew in leaps and bounds through technology and innovation while the scrutiny of the public was managed and the favour of Congress and Presidents was controlled. It was said J. Edgar’s private files held America to ransom.

At first introduction I could be forgiven for thinking this was a Martin Scorsese production after all the starring role went to Leornardo DeCaprio. Picking up that Clint Eastwood directs this biopic and casting aside the Freudian slip the 137min movie walks us back and forth through the corridors of the FBI’s history as seen by J. Edgar. It highlights the character of different generations from 1919 through to 1972 and shows a changing nation with one constant, J. Edgar Hoover.

The constant flashback aspect can be a distraction from the timeline and one of the strengths of the movie actually makes it hard at first to see who’s who. This strength is the physical transformation of a real life 37 year-old Leornardo DeCaprio to play ages from 23 through to a highly make-up laden 70 year-old and it is impressive. In the first minutes of the film this leads to the challenge of connecting the dots however the onscreen physical presence and makeup both make a telling presentation and help confirm the legacy aspect of this man’s life.

Keep in mind that J. Edgar Hoover was involved in the Communist conspiracies of the 1919 era through to calling Robert Kennedy to inform him of JFK’s death and finished his time under Nixon. The controversy of his life didn’t just have a public face. The man who led a country into a Federal law and order system in the wake of the Lindenberg baby ‘Crime of the Century’ kidnapping never married and was domineered by his mother who he lived with till her death. A courtship in the movie is our introduction to Helen Gandy played by Naomi Watts. While love wasn’t in the air it was this flirtation that formed a career long professional engagement as his Personal Assistant keeping track as well as lock and key on his private files.

The trio of influence in J. Edgar’s life is complete once his mother played by Judi Dench and Naomi Watts are joined by Deputy FBI head Clyde Tolson. Armie Hammer from The Social Network fame steps in as the dapper law graduate from J Edgar’s own college. The two become inseparable as J. Edgar finds refuge in a solitary trustworthy male figure who later becomes Deputy head of the FBI. It’s from this relationship that writer Dustin Lance Black has drawn his key thread. The writer of other movies with an emphasis on gay history like Milk and Pedro tantalises this urban legend aspect of J. Edgar’s life just enough to ask the questions unanswered by closed doors. Controversy has always surrounded the history of a man who held America’s morals to ransom yet may have been involved in areas that at that time would be condemned by liberal and conservative thinkers alike. The issue of whether J. Edgar was homosexual are dealt with front and centre in the script and can’t be ignored from a man who spent much of his personal life at the side of Clyde Tolson to the extent they held hands in public, holidayed together and in the end his estate was bequested to Tolson on his death in 1972.

The history and life of J. Edgar are the tease to buy a ticket to this movie and Eastwood’s craft and DeCaprio’s acting brilliance are the reason’s to see it to the end. This for me is a turning point movie for DeCaprio. His ability to bring age and youth, conflict and condescension to the same character is extraordinary. The directing is superb although a little hard to follow in some areas by nature of the flashback script over a 48 year career. One thing is for sure J.Edgar was controversial. Here was a man determined to bring order to the outside world from his organisation of the Library of Congress through to the introduction of fingerprinting and cataloguing a nation of criminals. Internally he couldn’t put either morals or relationships in any form of sequence and maybe that’s why the movie reflects this aspect of a conflicted personality living with a few close friends yet forever alone.

3 out of 5 popcorns


Mission Impossible : Ghost Protocol

Nobody could understand what Tom Cruise was doing with this production of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Why take a monotonous story line and recycle the cliche on sequel number four since the 60s TV series first hit the big screen in 1996. The concern should have had a glimmer of hope when JJ Abrams came on side with the Bad Robot team. But how was this going to work? Lead in with a dramatic rescue, add in some betrayal and stage a comeback from against impossible odds. Isn't that the standard script for the Mission Impossible franchise? Right but also wrong! This movie has resurrected the spy team model with a superbly packaged holiday blockbuster directed by Mr Incredible, Brad Bird.
So how do you jump start a dead battery in a stalled franchise? Positioning the opening scene in Budapest gives you that cold war feel to set the tone. Then prime member of the IMF team, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) reopens his account on the franchise with a well planned extract from prison with a Russian tagging along for the ride. Its a superb opening and the rescuers are introduced as agents Benji (Simon Pegg) with his Bachelor's degree in Gadegtry and Jane (Paula Patton) as the femme fatale. Quickly we're into the story picking up the threads from Hunt's background and meshing that with a back story of where Pegg and Patton have come from in order to make the opening rescue. It's one of those cliche phrases but when Cruise then says "Light the fuse" to kick things into gear with the opening credits you have no idea how big a payload this movie will detonate.
Without giving the highlights of the game away we find that the IMF team become isolated to face the world alone when they are framed for an unprovoked attack on Russian soil. With no one at their back the President disavows any knowledge of the IMF team and the hunt for redemption begins. The trail leads a global chase but the highlight of the movie comes when Dubai is the centre of engagement. East meets west when a strategic exchange brings the world's tallest building with all its shining glass majesty right into the foreground of the stark desert backdrop. At this point anyone who can see MI4 in an IMAX theatre should make it a priority for the jaw dropping intensity of Cruise doing his glass climbing gig at 130 stories above the sand-pit.
The majesty of the shots particularly in one chase sequence aren't over-awed by CGi adding to scenes that draw you into the tension of the chase. Sure there is some cliche routines with an evil genius five cans short of a six pack but that's the game. I couldn't believe that the plot line could have such an old basis in spydom movies but this script takes the old fish and works some magic to deliver it as fresh caviar  Add some superb gadgetry, a concept BMW sports car with touchscreen windscreen and a few throw backs to previous Mission Impossible stunts and you will feel both comfortable and on edge in the same seat.
Simon Pegg has found his comedic balance with the right pinch of levity in the film and bounces well against the staunch characters played by Cruise and Jeremy Renner's Brandt. For anyone who's seen the trailers you're wondering who you can trust in the cast and I'm not about to give away secrets on the tension between Cruise and Renner. Lets just say that MI4 needs team players and that's what keeps everyone on their toes asking the question of not only the enemy but you know that constantly evaluating loyalties is what will keep a good agent alive.
The cast of MI4 is well supported in key areas. For those who were disturbed by the host of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in Slumdog Millionaire then watch for Anil Kapoor in this one. Léa Seydoux who you may remember as the love interest of Prince John in Russell Crowe's Robin Hood plays the walk-in assassin. Josh Holloway from LOST makes an appearance to set the motivation for Paula Patton's lovers revenge while cameos from Tom Wilkinson and Ving Rhames add to the round out a superb ensemble cast.
So why was it so good when sequels traditionally are so bad? Why did my friend who came with me say he was gripping the hand rail and hadn't felt on edge like this before in a movie? Why did the recipe work this time when the same ingredients had produced average results previously? In short it comes down to creativity and a free licence. The genius of Cruise, Abrams and Bird have reinvented the model by taking calculated risks. They played to the Mission Impossible franchise strengths, didn't shy away from cliche and added some new style and edge where the old model was worn. Add to that a cast that connected on screen and you have the prime x-factor ingredient for a movie; it was believable. You wanted the IMF team to survive, protect and save the world one more time.
Its worth seeing again!
4.5 out 5 on the popcorn Richter scale.

Movie Review: Puss in Boots

Recipe for removing stress:
Take a weekend morning and head to the St. Lukes Vmax cinema to relax watching Puss n Boots 3D with your wife and two children in a theatre full of parents and primary age kids. This was the result I came away with after sitting through the preview of the latest offering from the team who brought us the Shrek franchise.

Now that reference to the green ogre is where it ends. This movie stands alone as a backstory to the lovable rogue we have come to know again through Shrek’s introduction. Antonio Banderas returns to voice the feline Casanova and captures the humour and charisma of this sword wielding kitty. The Spanish accent proves they are one up on the French when it comes to the sound of love. This was a true cinema experience where the world fell away and you were able to enjoy a world where cat’s dance, fight and romance while a talking egg can roll your eyes.

The new storyline is ignited by characters like Salma Hayek’s Kitty Softpaws who provides both the love interest and the damsel in distress. Even director Guillermo del Toro makes a cameo as the Commandante. Zach Galifianakis fresh out of Hangover 2 and Due Date gives Humpty Dumpty a fresh approach with some eggcellent vocal talent. OK, I did it once and I apologise. No pun intended it was an eggception! But two of the ‘way out’ characters are how the movie interprets Jack and Jill the nursery rhyme favourites. In this setting Jack and Jill come across as country bumpkin trolls rather than the cute brother and sister who went to fetch a pale of water. The roles are perfectly voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris as they drive their stagecoach tank pulled by seven red-eyed hogs through the dusty sunsets and cow poke trails.

The movie itself has a great storyline which has enough happening to keep the adults guessing and the kids wondering. While we may traditionally know Puss in Boots as an Englishman’s tale of a cat in London this movie works the Spanish angle in order to Americanise the classic with a set that could have been 18th century California or down Mexico way. Along the way the writer allows us to experience betrayal and forgiveness in order to prove what real friendship is all about. We see each of the main characters come to terms with the fact that their past doesn’t define their future and tomorrows choices start with today’s decisions.

Director Chris Miller has moved into the commanders chair well and does a superb job on this production as well as throwing in a few voices like Little Boy Blue. It’s a big move from being a voice over artist however he obviously has learned his craft well since directing of Shrek the Third as this is a step up. The influence of New Zealander Andrew Adamson continues to feature in his capacity as Executive Producer.

This movie was probably the best quality 3D animation I have seen and with a 130 million dollar budget it obviously used all the right toys. Lighting is superb and the use of 3D effects in line with the story creates just the right ride with the occasional roller coaster loop. The clarity of detail in the production was both beautiful and impacting. What you take away when the special effects end though is a story and the characters in Puss in Boots live on for another adventure. From my first Toy Story experience in 1995 to this production we have come a long way in animated story telling and I’m excited where we are heading.

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Movie Review: Contagion

In an increasingly mobile world where people and news travel fast, Contagion is a timely reflection on this brave new world. The conspiracy theorists will look to the movie for vindication while the script has a shot across the bow of everyone from the pharmaceutical conglomerate to the independent blogger. It plays on our fears and ask questions of recent events including the swine flu epidemic and a world where super bugs crawl and adapt.

Looking at the movie poster you could be forgiven for thinking we’ve ended up back in the era of the 70s movie making. Remember ‘disaster greats’ like 1974’s Towering Inferno? You look down the cast list and see Newman, Wagner, McQueen, Astaire, Dunaway and even O J Simpson! That was the feel I had for Contagion with a cast list that reads like a red carpet who’s who to includes Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Lawrence Fishburne and Kate Winslet.

Now I’ve got that little retro flashback off my chest let’s look beyond the poster and ask how the ensemble cast measured up under Steven Soderbergh’s direction. The direction of this movie is superb. While taking a ‘real world’ plot and fleshing it out to a world changing event, Soderbergh has woven the credible with the personal. The opening scenes involving Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and their child played by Griffin Kane will challenge anyone not to be connected to the plot and a possible personal outcome when in touch with a virus that infects, spreads, adapts and kills.

Steven-Soderbergh - Contagion

The pivot point of the movie is based around Paltrow’s character, a global executive who acts as courier of disaster. Her relationship with Husband Matt Damon is called into question and the links that build a chain to ground zero construct a superb script. The lines of communication between those trying to protect us from imminent annihilation and the man on the street are well drawn. Along the journey we are asked to question our own morality as we look through the eyes of everyone from the academic elite to the solo dad scared his son may die in the wake.

Many of those in the review screening will have not have been lost on the irony of watching a movie concerned with public contact enhancing the danger of the spread of disease while in the a confined movie theatre sharing air-conditioning. The cinema scene from the 1995 hit ‘Outbreak’ sprang to mind as an occasional cough during the screening sent a nervous ripple through the audience.

The conflict in this movie happens at several levels. Health authorities argue about budgets, not lives. A nun volunteers in the face of death while nurses strike waiting for protocols to be delivered. The police chase down looters while the hungry don’t want to touch the food they find for fear of contamination. Add to that a father protecting his daughter from the boyfriend with disease status ‘unknown’ and you have the tension required to be both frustrated and annoyed at our ability to deal with our inability to control this undervalued asset we call ‘life’.

Some may call Contagion a herald of control, others a beacon on the rocks. It’s all about your perspective and you will be asked to question yours. One underlying question movies like this do it ask “What is man capable of?” This movie comes up trumps for walking you out of the cinema with questions to be answered. Ask yourself these questions. “If my child was dying would I fight for their life, their food, a cure?” “If a global outbreak took place would I trust the local government or global authorities?” These are the kind of questions you should be willing to ask and live with after seeing Contagion.

At the end of the evening people left alone, not arm in arm. Hands were in pockets and as I approached the underground carpark an attendee from the movie was holding the door open for others with his hand sheaved in his sleeve. No touching of public door handles for this movie audience.