Movie Review: Olympus has Fallen

Movie Review: Olympus Has Fallen

Olympus has Fallen is more than a routine action genre movie outing. Director, Antoine Fuqua, does a superb job of orchestrating his cast from the personal confrontations to the plot’s cliff hanger precipice. The story surrounds a very topical assault on American soil by a North Korean militant rebellion force. Their target is to acquire the President in the White House and the American secret service seems to simply capitulate in their path.

Rewind the clock and we are introduced early on to top Secret Service agent and Presidential body guard, Mike Banning played by Gerard Butler. The Machine Gun Preacher has taken his gruff Scottish he-man and put the persona in a suit with an ear-piece. We see some relevant backstory when Banning makes a call that sees a key character die and the President’s reaction as he arranges for Banning to be out of sight and out of mind. The timing couldn’t be worse as our Terrorist forces hit with war like impact led by Kang to capture the President and key government members in the bunker of the White House. You may remember Kang played by Rick Yune from his role as the villain’s key 2nd in command in Die Another Day. This time he delivers a more commanding confident performance that should set him up for more roles in the future.

Butler is a superb ‘man against the world’ actor in a role that is reminiscent of John McClane only more believable. The violence of the movie is incessant and not for the faint of heart as first the North Korean forces make their attack on the White House taking down American civilians in a blatant display of disruptive power. Next the movie kicks down a gear in the dimensions of action but steps up the intensity as Banning goes one on one with anyone untrustworthy.

At the focus of our story is President Asher played by Aaron Earkhart. I’d vote for this guy on ‘chin’ presence alone! I’m seriously surprised he hasn’t had any super hero roles. Earkhart plays the diplomat, the staunch leader and the vulnerable family man in a great combination role.

In the backdrop we have a US government trying to regain control of a situation that could bring nuclear consequences to the world. The Speaker of the House played by Morgan Freeman keeps the military in check while Angela Bassett heads up the Secret Service and keeps the lines of communication going with Banning on the inside.

It’s a great formulaic action movie with a plot we’ve seen before but not with as great a commitment to the fine tuning of the whole movie experience. Kudos must go to Antoine Fuqua and Gerard Butler whose combined talent makes this a brilliant action genre movie that others should emulate.

Interesting that similar to another outing Fuqua had when he directed Mark Wahlberg in Shooter while another movie with similar story was being created in the same year with Wesley Snipes. This time there is another terrorist in the White House movie coming up with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx on board directed by Roland Emmerich and called White House Down. As always I recommend going first in any sport to set the bar high which Olympus Has Fallen has done. Let’s see what happens in round two.

3.5 out of 5 popcorns


Movie Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Movie Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

G.I. Joe: Retaliation opens this week to renew our love of unrealistic action adventures built around comic characters and buff heroes. “Easy”, you say as you wonder how hard I’m going to come down on this comic adventure. Well this might be a mixed review covered by a Dad and his 13 year-old son who together saw the 3D version from Step Up director Jon M. Chu.

With a line-up including Channing Tatum, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Bruce Willis you have a feel that this won’t be a thriller for the mind. To his credit I think Jon M. Chu caught the essence of the G.I. Joe character as more action comic than serious drama. The costumes, explosions and gun size all contribute to a not so real ride. While most of the stunts give a sense of martial arts wow factor some of the effects were so unreal you felt back in comic book mode.

Hasbro must be over the moon with the extra publicity their plastic super doll gets out of the G.I.Joe movie franchise. Even if its not quite targeted at a 7 year-old boy’s birthday party present list, the 28 year-old fathers and 52 year-old granddads will probably be buying all the right toys for the children and grand-children.

Our story follows a betrayed G.I. Joe division trying to recover from an event that depletes its numbers of super soldiers. In the backdrop this was all part of a plan by Cobra to put the safety of the world at risk and due for annihilation unless the leader’s of the nuclear world bow their heads to the evil overlord. All of the betrayal is washed in murky waters due to an evil President in part played by Jonathan Pryce with a psychitzo performance. World Leaders are running around with their heads cut off while the boys and girl in camouflage khaki renew their armoury from the kitchen cupboards of retired General Joe Colton played by Bruce Willis. Out of the kitchen and into the fire, the G.I. Joes start the road back to freedom and save the day.

The cast is dressed up by some ‘beautiful people’ performances from D J Cotrona as Flint and Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye. Elodie Yung as Jinx and Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow give us the martial arts performance and its the reliable Ray Park as Snake Eyes who gives us the strong silent type.

Be prepared to ask ‘Why’ when lead characters don’t last the distance. It was a reminder to me of when a lead actor on the movie poster left ‘Executive Decision’ in the first 15 minutes to keep an audience going… ‘What Happened!’ Equally another supposed lead actor might have had 30 seconds of screen time and half of that was as a photo on a computer screen. I’d love to know how much their paying for appearance money these days.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a mixed bag. The 3D is well filmed and plays right into the comic book style setting. The story isn’t strong but its always hard to write a script with seven one-liners and four explosions per page. All up it was a fun night out for a 13 year-old who said it wasn’t as good as Avengers but it was good!

3 out of 5 popcorns

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Movie Review: Broken City

Broken City

Honesty has a price and history is the debt collector. Broken City takes a cop who made a bad decisions then adds a Mayor keeping score and presents you with a recipe for deception. This is the position detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) finds himself in and the result means a seat on the bench until Mayor Nick Hostetler calls him up for the ‘end game’ days out from a re-election voting day. The Mayor suspecting his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) of being unfaithful calls a favour from Taggart and so the fuse is lit.

If there is one thing Broken City proved to me it’s that Mark Wahlberg may be a more versatile actor than Tom Cruise. Ouch, did that come out loud?! Now this may be the shock our sensibilities need but I think Mark Wahlberg would have been the better actor to have filled Jack Reacher’s shoes. If anything should be conceded it’s the fact that Wahlberg does ‘street rough’ better than Tom. Hey even Tom Cruise would concede he can’t do ‘moody’. That’s just something a Scientologist couldn’t admit too. Wahlberg can present an uneasy hero onscreen and it gives the audience both empathy and expectation. Both of these characteristics play well into a director’s hands as he can keep the audience rooting for the character to the end.

Of less worthy recognition was Russell Crowe. This was not an iconic role for the Gladiator. In all honesty I felt like he pulled the Jeffrey Wigand character back out of his 2000 movie, The Insider, gave it a tux and whisky glass to see if it would work. Even the voice was more Jeffrey Wigand and less New York native. It simply didn’t work and the movie suffered on producing the role it really needed to push the storyline to the limit.

I was expecting less from Broken City and yet it delivered so much more. Yes, a predictable political thriller in some respects, but actually it was true to the genre rather than boring by script. Like any good thriller there must be multiple suspects, false starts and dead ends to keep the movie from petering out at 60 minutes and thankfully we had both a script and a cast that didn’t disappoint. Watch for a superb performance from Jeffrey Wright as the Police Commissioner. His menacing grip on the politics and the way he plays off the other characters will keep the neurons itching to work out what is his motivation or who is pulling his strings. Catherine Zeta-Jones simply didn’t get enough screen time and she deserved it. The lady has class and should be picking up more roles that allow her to presence the screen rather than trying to dance hip-hop in Rock of Ages. Barry Pepper also continues to impress. I loved his Bobby Kennedy role in the TV mini-series, The Kennedys and this role of upstart Connecticut mayoral candidate Jack Valliant (yup, real name), was a role to play with for Pepper. There is one emotional cliff edge moment that he drives home in style. Brilliant performance.

Mark Wahlberg not only starred in but also produced this movie bringing in director Allen Hughes to pick up on the script from first-time writer Brian Tucker. Hughes enabled the movie to keep a dark yet foreboding story through some well-lit sets that mixed warmth and dark in an uneasy tango. It was an interesting mix that could keep an audience in a state of dilemma asking am I comfortable or simply being setup. Broken City has moments of brilliance thanks mainly to the supporting cast and enough of an entertaining maze to make it worth entering the front door of the theatre.

3 out of 5 popcorns


Movie Review: Cirque du Soleil – Worlds Away 3D

Cirque du Soleil - Worlds Away 3D Movie Review

I’ve always wanted to go to Cirque du Soleil but when I was living tantalisingly close to an Australian production the budget just didn’t allow for a heartfelt indulgence. Roll-up, roll-up to the movie edition and I’m there with ticket and popcorn in hand to enjoy the spectacular. My 13yo son and I went to see this movie with the same level of expectation as mesmerised gnats drawn to a flame.

The world-famous Cirque du Soleil team have been reinventing what we traditionally know as a Circus since the late 80s. Sure there continues to be daredevil acrobatics with all sorts of characters that embody the curious expression of a Clown but the animal menagerie is no longer a part of the visiting pantomime except for Chinese Dragon like puppets that can be a part of a production. The Canadian entertainment company have a number of unique shows currently operating around the globe and are constantly reinventing their ideas so that each is a spectacle that engages the senses, challenges perception and pulls an audience to the brink of concern.

Director Andrew Adamson of Shrek and Narnia fame wanted to bring us that childhood fantasy experience in a movie compendium of the Cirque du Soleil experience. Teaming up with James Cameron as a producer and they had the connections and technical wizardry to bring about the onscreen impact that would amaze and tantalise. The Kiwi was able to bring some of the production down under but the majority of the movie is an amalgam of the seven shows currently showing in Las Vegas. By weaving a story of Mia a young girl who falls in love with a circus aerialist the script is able to give the cinema goer a taste of the productions of ‘O’, Mystère, Kà, Love, Zumanity, Viva Elvis and Criss Angel Believe from some of the largest hotels in Las Vegas. As a 3D production it is engaging to the point of immersing you in what would typically be the circus round. The lighting and colour across the different productions and locations is compiled in consistent manner that sings from the darkness of the set.

Worlds Away can’t be taken too seriously as a story and should always be seen as a celebration of the physical acrobatic performances etched on dramatic sets that heave and wain with incredible colour and movement. At times you will be taken across and under the surface of large pools of water while next been sucked into a vortex of sand that must have had at least four truck loads sliding down the sink-hole. Some of the sets look the size of a tennis court that are tipped in numerous directions to facilitate a stage for the performers who are often vertical on ropes. One of the most impacting acts seemed to be a mix of rope work from The Matrix and then the performers are balancing on rods that have emitted from the floor of the stage while almost in a vertical position to dual in a battle of clowns vs. warriors.

The one thing Worlds Away can’t do though is put you on the edge of your seat at the same level as a live performance. While some of the aerial acts without safety nets will amaze you, your mind will still be compensating telling you it all ended well because you’re seeing the movie. When you sit in the audience of a live performance somehow part of the journey is the anticipation of danger and death that creates excitement and nervous applause. Throughout the movie my son kept asking “What’s going on?” and then saying “WOW!” followed by “That’s trippy”. All up those three phrases sum up the Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away experience so buy a ticket to your cinema’s “Big Top”.


Movie Review: Safe Haven

Safe Haven Movie Review

Safe Haven is launching in theatres on Valentine’s Day and for the Nicholas Sparks inspired movie this is prime position for another romantic drama to stand alongside his previous works like ‘A Walk to Remember’, ‘The Notebook’ and ‘The Lucky One’. My 15yo daughter was asking after the movie well in advance of its release, wanting to accompany her Dad to the review and for both of us it was a memorable night out. There’s no doubt that Sparks knows how to play the heartstrings and this feature film was always expecting to line up the romantically inclined for a ride. It was clear even from the preview crowd that this was well targeted to the female audience with only about six male members attending amongst a crowd of around 120.

The precept for this encounter surrounds a mysterious young lady on the run with fear in her eyes only to hide in a small American coastal town. Taking the name Katie, our damsel played by Julianne Hough, begins to trust the locals and falls for solo Dad Alex who is raising his two children after the death of his wife from cancer. With two broken people trying to find a fresh start the stage is set for hands edging together in the sand and sunlit backdrops to make you go ‘Aaaah’.

Director Lasse Hallström returns to the Sparks fold after his previous involvement heading up ‘Dear John’. Hallström is rightly revered for his works on Chocolat and The Cider House Rules and although this doesn’t quite draw out the same level of drama the production is very comfortable and meshes together the romantic aspects of a warm family friendly tale with some edgy thriller paced pieces in the story.

Julianne Hough is very ‘at home’ in this role as a woman with a past reaching out for protection and love. Its classic damsel stuff that needs a knight that stands tall in stature. Josh Duhamel is the right man for the job as Alex a Dad trying to raise a cute little lady who remembers the presence of her Mother before she passed away. It’s a role that takes him a long way from the Transformer’s franchise and one he seems settled to enjoy. This was a debut performance for Mimi Kirkland as little Lexie and one she handles well stealing scene after scene with sparkles of cuteness. Dad, Alex’s job is a lot harder dealing with his older child Josh played by Noah Lomax. Josh remembers his Mum and doesn’t want his Dad to forget the lady he remembers for the woman who is new on the scene.

While this could be the guy meets girl routine we do have a couple of surprises thanks to Katie’s past catching up with her. David Lyons gives us another great performance as Tierney and I enjoyed the power of his commitment that puts more edge in the story. If you’ve loved his maniacal side in the TV series REVOLUTION then you’re in for more of a treat. Sometimes we cling close for love and sometimes we cling
closer to hide the fear. Safe Haven will have to fight for its happy ending but it is definitely worth its Valentine’s Day release to enjoy a night out for the ladies.


Movie Review: Flight

Flight - Denzel Washington

The new Denzel Washington movie Flight will hurt you. It doesn’t matter what your expectations are this is a movie with a story that will make you ache and wish it would go away. It won’t be hard for you to agree with me that Denzel has always fallen squarely on the side of ‘good’ leading man. Sure we can talk about the mastery of playing the corrupt cop in 2001’s Training Day or the imperfect hero in the Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 but Denzel is the dependable rock of values and integrity. Until now! Moments into the film and your Mum is going to wish she’d never met that Denzel boy.

Flight is a story of brokenness. It stumbles through the life of ‘Whip’ Whitaker a domestic airline pilot on a daily grind getting passengers across continental USA. It’s something he does in his sleep. The trouble is some of that sleep is induced from a life falling apart on booze and kick-starts from cocaine. He’s got cracks where a man shouldn’t have cracks and it shows.

So as Whip boards a regular morning flight and punches the plane through a storm base all seems on the edge of normal. He’s in control, that is until disaster hits. The story of Flight surrounds the saviour spinning skills of a pilot under the influence of drink drugs and a hard night before. As the plane with 106 souls on board looks to meet terra firm without an introduction Whip pulls the wildcard out of his back pocket and saves the day with a manoeuvre that is definitely not in the training manual . The rest of the film will wind you through an aircraft crash investigation that asks was there a fault, a hero, a callous and indifferent initiator or ‘D’ all of the above.

Our cast of Flight provides a great tag team of dealing with the issues. Somehow ‘thrown together’ Whip meets a broken and drug dependant Nicole played by Kelly Reilly who you will remember as Watson’s fiancé in the Sherlock Holmes movies. We then ask can love save the day and should it. Don Cheadle makes the ideal corporate lawyer protecting the airline owner’s interest while trying to work with a sometimes out of control Washington. Bruce Greenwood shows the struggle of wanting to watch out for an old flying buddy as the airline’s union rep while recognising that sometimes people have to hit the wall on their own. The disturbingly well played role however goes to John Goodman for his 3min of screen time as Whittaker’s buddy and drug supplier. You’ll want to laugh but you know you’re not allowed.

It’s great to see Robert Zemeckis back to directing a real life movie after a thirteen year hiatus after he got Tom Hanks off Castaway island. The directing, cast and story is woven well for a movie supposedly made for just over $30million. The storyline came from writer and actor John Gatins. This unique talent has picked up a number of acting roles but it is definitely his recent writing works including Real Steel and Coach Carter and now Flight that are winning him a number of fans even producing the momentum for us to see Real Steel 2 now announced.

For Flight, you’ll be amazed at how hard it is to answer the morality question. You will keep being drawn in like a co-dependant housewife who’s abusive husband keeps coming home drunk. He apologises, brings roses and then lets you down again. As an audience you want Whip to win and so Denzel is the ideal focal point for the Whip Whittaker character. You see the hurt, the struggle and the occasional glimmer of hope but can it, should it work. Like the opening scene as Whip pilots the plane off the tarmac in a hairy electrical storm, you can see the gap in the black stormy madness and you want to punch through. The question is, will there be enough in the emotional tank to last the journey. Flight makes you hurt because you don’t see the rider on a white horse with a silver bullet. Maybe it’s more real, but it all felt more gritty and desperate. A great story that makes you wonder what happened.

For language, nudity and drug use Flight has been rated accordingly at R16. Now once you’ve seen Flight you will have the evidence before you and you will need to make a call as you leave the theatre. Should good overcome bad as we play the roulette wheel with morality chips. Can you forgive a fallen hero?

Rated: R16 for Offensive language, drug use & sexual themes

4 out of 5 popcorns


Movie Review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel & Gretel

If you follow the age-old tale, the children, Hansel & Gretel are taken in to the dark of the woods by their father after their stepmother orders them to be kicked out in order to leave enough food for the other children, hers. After their survival trail of breadcrumbs is lost they are left to survive in the deepest part of the terrifying night and all seems lost. However all doesn’t seem so bad when they stumble upon a house made of candy and chocolate and all seems to be right with the world. Enter the evil witch, kids kill the witch all ends happily ever after. Now isn’t that how fairy tales are meant to end so we can all go back to sleep!?

With the release of the 3D Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters to bring a ‘classic tale with a new twist’ the ‘kids’ will survive only to take up a career from that early workplace experience in witch killing. The twins head out into the world becoming witch hunting mercenaries. As our story will start we are in Augsburg where worried parents are wanting any sign of a witch expunged from their community. Hansel and Gretel enter to save the day but with the Blood Moon about to rise on the community we are one more child kidnapping away from a witch frenzy.

While the story could have some premise it never creates the tension to make you feel it could all end badly and set the platform for disaster or deliverance. This fairy tale really just becomes a nightmare on so many levels. The script is occasionally funny but not enough to be a comedy. Dropping in an occasional ‘F’ bomb is meant to make us laugh at the out of place culture shock from the medieval setting. Hansel’s constant injections to deal with the sweet tooth he got as a kid munching on the witch’s candy and gingerbread should be an infomercial for a diabetic’s organisation but that would be too interesting.

Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy! I like Jeremy Renner – a lot; but this was painful. Part of the buzz prior to release was because of Mr Renner’s involvement in the production but seriously Jeremy, what were you thinking. I hope someone sat his agent down and had a really good talk about any future productions involving fairy tales, witches or 3D. Yes, I want Jeremy Renner’s black leather jacket costume but the role can go to someone else.

This revamp, steampunk, gorefest version of the story just isn’t for kids and probably not for tasteful adults either. Norwegian director, Tommy Wirkola has brought together the acting talent and what could have been a unique telling of the old story and left it somewhere in the bad video game basket. It’s the kind of movie that gives 3D technology a bad name. The idea of having an immersive aspect to the movie theatre doesn’t mean keep throwing things out of the screen until the audience stop screaming. Sure, it’s meant to be ‘fantasy’ but the death by ogre routines were left over from Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained cutting room floor.

Gemma Arterton arms up as Gretel and sure she and Renner kick some witch butt, BUT it doesn’t help the movie. Arterton took Jennifer Lawrence’s bow and arrow routine up a level with a cross-bow on steroids while wearing leather pants that you should not be able to run in but it wasn’t enough. Famke Janssen put in a Phoenix style performance that actually works better when the special effects makeup isn’t in place. With Peter Stormare making an appearance I hoped for more high calibre bad guy but his character was stepped on reasonably early. We also have a small witchy poo role for kiwi actress Zoe Bell who has previously been a stunt double for Lucy Lawless as Xena and Urma Thurman in the Kill Bill series. Watch for her also in Django Unchained.

I wanted to like Hansel & Gretel, I really did. We’ll see in the rear view mirror what the public thinks, but I think the only money the studios may make out of this is by suing the other two 2013 releases that are also out under the name Hansel & Gretel. Sad, but not the fantasy action fare we had hoped for when the posters and trailer looked oh so good.

R16 – Violence, offensive language & horror.

2 out of 5 popcorns

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Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

If you loved The Hurt Locker you will be champing at the bit to find a seat and have everyone quiet down so you can immerse yourself in the movie Zero Dark Thirty. Director Kathryn Bigelow has taken the Hurt Locker experience to a new level as you won’t be sure whether you’re watching the six o’clock news or waiting with President Obama in a locked down situation room waiting for reports from the field. The movie opens brilliantly in pitch black with only the audio of armed forces radio as well as snippets of iconic media reports on the terrorist events we have heard and seen over the last twelve years. Don’t be late for the opening ten minutes.

Bigelow has again collaborated with Hurt Locker writer Mark Boal to craft a story that perfectly tracks through time from the 911 bombings to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. The Zero Dark Thirty story is one of a decade long frustration amongst a worn and tired group of operatives. Agents follow up on dead-end leads and try to determine if pre-911 tactics are still in use by al-Qaeda. The desperation builds as they watch time waft away sometimes for lack of evidence and then because of a bureaucracy that stops initiative. As the CIA struggles to deliver UBL (Usama bin Laden) mistakes are made and the agency begins to question its own direction.

To follow the connection points in time we join CIA operative Maya played by Jessica Chastain. Her recent work in dramatic endeavours like The Help and The Debt showcase an immeasurable talent that some would have seen at even deeper level in more art-house productions like The Tree of Life and Coriolanus. Chastain’s character is recorded as coming straight out of high school into the one project that will absorb her life and focus. Her youthful determination is initially idealistic and head strong but as the pain grows through lost colleagues and searching for the needle in the wrong terrorist haystack the quest begins to mount its toll.

While the movie primarily concentrates on a nation’s search for its hidden oppressor, it has a side benefit of showing the danger a nation and its citizens can fall into in their desire for justice. One of the strong outcomes of the movie is to show how terrorist suspects and collaborators were caught, caged and interrogated. Some very strong scenes in the early part of the movie will be difficult for many to watch. While the justification for dealing with one’s enemy is clear, the means through which justice is carried out is not.

By watching the torture to find answers we ask ourselves whether we are complicit and whether we would prefer this work was done by other members of our society. In fact we wish this was done in secret to allow us the peace of ignorance. Another interesting question asked through the eyes of the CIA agents is whether too much time at the front line of investigation and torturous interrogation is a step towards a tipping point where the despised tactics becomes the desired power.

The nature of the script calls for a strong supporting cast and with performances from Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Strong the movie is held in firm hands within every scene. While the movie is over two and a half hours long it’s the cast that carries it well from scene to scene. Joel Edgerton finally brings together the ground forces that will ultimately bring the prize home near the end of the story but not before James Gandolfini authorises the strike through the President in his role as CIA Director. I love seeing the occasional cameo from favourite actors given screen time on big event movies and seeing John Barrowman and a glimpse of Mark Valley in this outing was perfect.

One thing you won’t find in this review is the meaning behind the movie’s title. If you’re smart enough to know then don’t share and allow others to find it in the script. If you don’t know yourself then don’t look it up. See the movie and join the treasure hunt for the answers. For Zero Dark Thirty Bigelow and Boal have worked extremely well together as Director and Writer but also in the role of producers. Already the film is picking up awards for directing, writing, editing and as best film at critics and film festival events. Now we can watch for talk of Oscars for Zero Dark Thirty it’s really that good.

4 out of 5 popcorns.



Movie Review: Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

The tragic love story of Anna Karenina is a classic piece of literature from Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. The promotion of the period drama had been tempting me for some time. Aside from the trailers and incredible imagery the involvement of Joe Wright as director and a powerful ensemble cast meant the ingredients were all in place. All we needed to do was start the orchestra and see where this Russian rail journey would take us.

Our story finds a young woman in 19th century Russian aristocracy dealing with the dilemma of romance over commitment, the morality of passion and the value of consequences. It is quite a tail where several characters are faced with life changing decisions around events that may have seemed inconsequential at the time. Some will act with honour even if for a fleeting moment they wary in the face of assault on their values. Others take heed that their selfishness has caused them loss and so seek to pay penance by a life changed.

I’m not sure whether Tolstoy intended to challenge our judgements but this is superb story that juxtaposes our position with those on the receiving end of our intentions. Tolstoy was known for being a spiritual person with interests across the religious spectrum. One of the best lessons that Anna Karenina teaches us is that empathy and perspective should be the two guardians of passion.

While Joe Wright has previously steered romantic period pieces involving Keira Knightley like Atonement and Pride and Prejudice this new venture has a more unique visual style. In fact it is one of the most endearing characteristics of the movie. Without giving too much away, the creative scene transitions appear to merge reality with the changing backdrop of a stage performance. The beauty of the sets along with rich velvet and gold colourings give Anna Karenina a majestic visual palette.

The cast is without fault and Keira Knighlty continues to be at home in Haute couture and bustled dresses. Jude Law comes into a sense of royalty with a statesman like performance as Karenina’s husband Karenin. The screen stealing role however goes to Matthew Macfadyen as Anna’s brother Oblonsky. Macfadyen has straddled the void between television and film but roles like Athos in the Three Musketeers, the Sheriff in Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood and now this role, he must be up for some significant offers in the near future.

Anna Karenina is a beautiful piece of theatre but my feeling is it didn’t connect at a screenplay level. Tolstoy is renowned as detailed writer. A typical edition of Anna Karenina would go to over 1100 pages and his most famous work of War and Peace would be over 1200 pages. So when you consider that Peter Jackson can make three movies from a 300page work it was always going to be a challenge for screenplay writer Tom Stoppard to compile this drama into the two hour movie script it became. Rated R in its US release for sex and violence it may be a classic literature but it has a target audience of the young and romantically focussed.

Anna Karenina is a visual pleasure and for anyone who already knows the story it will connect all the dots. Sadly it is a difficult movie to follow for anyone not familiar with the full story. I’m giving Anna Karenina 3 out of 5 popcorns.


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Movie Review: Lincoln

Lincoln is the highly anticipated movie from Steven Spielberg that has had critics and fans watering at the mouth to see inside the life of the 16th President of the United States. Standing in office from 1861 till his assassination in 1865 Lincoln was set to leave his mark on American history as he chartered the waters of both the Civil War and his penultimate mark left with the abolition of slavery.

Our story starts as Lincoln is in the field of war addressing a number of young soldiers both black and white at the front of the Civil war amongst the dark, the rain and the mud. As the young soldiers gush forth with admiration they then prove their calibre by breaking forth into reciting Lincoln’s most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address. It paints a beautiful backdrop for the movie as President Lincoln is freshly elected for a second term and has an agenda item that history will remember him for. This is where the heart of our story is anchored as the movie tells the political strategy that Lincoln employed to land the 13th amendment through the American political system in such a way that the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished.

The movie has pulled together some of the biggest names in the industry who were more than happy to pick up a few minor lines in order to share the stage with Spielberg’s epic drama. When the starring role was awarded to mercurial Daniel Day-Lewis the anticipation grew to another level. Day-Lewis not only brings a couple of Oscars in his back pocket but the London based actor brought his 1.87cm stature to the role as well. While normally an actor can have their physical presence worked around there was no doubt that the historically tall Lincoln needed someone to match his 1.93cm (6’ 4”) presence. Add the superb make-up and hair and we found Lincoln had left his log cabin and was dramatic on screen with a wary swagger and an almost care-free approach to the mantle of being President.
The moody lighting and often confined sets speak of a dark time in American History but through it Daniel Day-Lewis charts a course with a performance that is full of care and levity. He portrays an astute strategist and a man of principle and depth of character.

“The minute you begin to approach him – and there are vast corridors that have been carved that lead you to an understanding of that man’s life, both through the great riches of his own writing and all the contemporary accounts and biographies – he feels immediately and surprisingly accessible. He draws you closer to him.” – Daniel Day-Lewis on playing Abraham Lincoln

The script for this drama is of such a high calibre that it isn’t hard to see that the authors must have a fine pedigree. The basis of the screenplay was taken from the book “Team of Rivals” by Pulitzer Prize winning prolific America History writer Doris Kearns Goodwin. It was then adapted into a screenplay by Spielberg’s Munich collaborator, another Pulitzer Prize winning author, Tony Kushner. While bringing the depth of history into the 150min of onscreen time was a masterpiece, the scripting that allowed us to meet a wide range of the personalities of the day was also exceptional. Across the political divide as well as the gap between races and generations, we have a snapshot of American Civil War History.

We see Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris) as he waits pensively with Lincoln’s son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the field for news of the 13th amendment vote. Lincoln aligns heavily with Secretary of State, William H. Seward (David Strathairn) but it’s the role of Republican power broker Thaddeus Stevens played by Tommy Lee-Jones that proves to be a pivot point for the story. Jones draws us deep into the character when at times we wonder which way the state of affairs will roll. This parallel storyline in the movie shows us the tactics based on political savvy and harnessed alliances that were necessary but the end result seen through Thaddeus Steven’s eyes reveals a very personal reward.

The supporting role of most significance however goes to Sally Field’s portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln. The First Lady to Lincoln walked a difficult path losing two children young in life, dealing with depression and migraines as well as the political pressure of living alongside a Republican President set on abolishing slavery while dealing with her family background from wealthy slave holders. Field is all encompassing from her ability to play the in control political strategist with cheek and power through to the weak minded wife suffering to support her husband. It’s a performance that critics will applaud for her ability to capture the heart while not stealing the show.

America will be proud to see Lincoln portrayed for his strength of determination. The rights that were wronged, the costs that were borne have given America a different future than the path they were on before Lincoln arrived. For pure class and a story worth following this is a 4 out of 5 popcorn historical event.