Paddington movie review

Featuring: Paddington the bear, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Nicole Kidman, Ben Whishaw
Director: Paul King
Screenwriters: Paul King, Hamish McColl
Movie website: www.paddington.com/gb/the-movie/
Australian release date: Thu 11 Dec

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A rare instance of technicals integrating seamlessly with art to create something approaching perfection – this is collaborative genius in action. Magical, marvellous, marmalicious!

Review:
Apparently the Paddington books were big with children in the 60s and 70s in the UK, and the Paddington teddy bears a huge merchandising success. Not so, in Australia. Although the image of the bear with the floppy hat was familiar due to an ABC TV cartoon series, the Paddington character was barely a blip on the radar of kids here. That’s about to change. In fact, if this absolute charmer of a movie puts the millions of little bums on cinema seats it deserves to, Paddington is about to become a cherished character for a generation of kids the world over, and this movie a magical and unforgettable childhood experience.

The story is simple, and built of all the right stuff: a messy, accident-prone, marmalade-loving, irresistibly endearing, talking orphaned bear hero for kids to identify with, an eccentric family who adopts him, a nasty villain, and of course an inevitably happy ending in which good triumphs over evil, with the bad guy – actually, gal – copping her just desserts in not too dire a manner. There is even a message of racial tolerance embedded, which is none too subtle but well managed and appropriate, and so brief in its overt manifestation that it is easily palatable. Actually, it’s hard to resist the compulsion to clap.

The movie opens with black-and-white archival film, the work of now deceased English explorer Montgomery Clyde, who discovered a family of intelligent bears deep in the Peruvian forest, taught them English and introduced them to the joys of marmalade. Years later, a fearful storm erupts and only little Paddington and his Aunt Lucy survives. With nothing left of his home and family, at his aunt’s urging Paddington stows away on a ship bound for London, with a huge cache of marmalade to keep him going (and provide a clever signifier of the passage of time as the empty jars stack up during the journey).

England is not the land of polite and welcoming folk Paddington anticipates, but things begin to look up when a kindly lady, Mrs Brown (a perfectly cast Sally Hawkins), notices him looking forlorn and lost at the train station (guess which one), and insists he must be put up at the family home, much to the displeasure of Mr Brown (Hugh Bonneville). Despite bringing chaos to the household through clumsiness that puts Peter Sellers at his hilarious slapstick best to shame, and misunderstanding the function of items like toothbrushes, with which he removes great plugs of wax from his ears, the family decides to adopt him – again, to the ignored protests of Mr Brown.

When Montgomery Clyde’s embittered taxidermist daughter Millicent (played with relish by Nicole Kidman) targets Paddington as a prize exhibit in her stuffed animal collection, the stage is set for a good vs evil battle in which the tension is ratcheted up while the humour that runs through the piece prevails. The only weapon that features is Millicent’s lethally aimed anaesthetic dart gun. A thrilling cartoonish chase takes the movie to its climax, and although the outcome is never in doubt, with the adorable Paddington’s life under threat the emotional stakes are sky high.

There is nothing extraordinary about the narrative per se, but it is beautifully put together, every element locking in place like a jigsaw puzzle. The dialogue, too, is brilliantly managed, as is the characterisation, and the actors thrive as a result. You get the feeling they had great fun during the shoot.

The star of this show, though, is Paddington (wonderfully voiced by Ben Whishaw). Through surely the most brilliant combination of CGI and animatronics in cinema history, he lives! This is a rare instance of technicals integrating perfectly with art to achieve something approaching perfection. It really is collaborative genius in action – as is the entire film, which gels beautifully on every level.

The adult sub-text that has become de rigueur in kids’ movies is so well integrated here that it is not really a sub-text at all, in that it speaks to both kids and adults, but in different ways. For example, a flashback showing Mr Brown’s instant transformation on the birth of his first child from youthful hellraiser on a motor bike to Volvo-driving responsible new Dad will have parents chuckling in recognition, while kids will find the contrast between the young and older Mr Browns equally amusing – the humour works for both generations, but for different reasons.

Kids of all ages (yeah, even those with grey – or no – hair) will love Paddington. It brought back the magic of film as I experienced it in childhood. There can be no higher praise than that.

Folies Bergère movie review

Featuring: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Michael Nyqvist, Marina Foïs, Audrey Dana, Pio Marmaï, Clément Métayer, Anaïs Demoustier
Writer/director: Marc Fitouss
Movie website: www.palacefilms.com.au/foliesbergere/
Australian release date: Thu 11 Dec

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Feel-good with substance. One of the most enjoyable – and moving – films of the year.

Review:
Long married couple Brigette (Isabelle Huppert) and Xavier (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) make a good living as cattle breeders in rural France. While they are comfortable, their marriage has lost its spark, and with the children having left home, Brigette is restless. Some flattering attention from a young Parisian attending a party on the neighbouring property prompts her to set off on her own for a couple of days in Paris, supposedly to attend a medical specialist about a persistent rash. She strikes up a conversation with a charming Danish businessman (Michael Nyqvist) staying at her hotel, and one thing leads to another.

The result of her dalliance is not quite as might be expected of a setup like this. The direction the film ultimately pursues is far more rewarding than would generally be the case in an American rom com, for example – but then, this is France, and attitudes towards extra-marital affairs are less hysterical than in the Anglo world. Further, the movie is more fable than rom-com, and more realist than fantasy in the ways it deals with its characters and the situations in which they find themselves.

That said, this is an old-fashioned piece in its dramatic structure and conceits – ie: there are coincidences that would be unlikely in the real world, the narrative is well thought out and fits together like a jigsaw puzzle, loose ends are elegantly tied up, sub-plots resolved. Further, it is wonderfully performed without exception, with the incandescent Huppert the standout. Not all her work is as arresting and endearing as this, but she’s irresistible here. Darroussin is a marvellous foil as her dour, mostly taciturn husband.

In other words, all the dramatic fundamentals have been well attended to – and yay to that, I say. And yes, true to genre orientation, this is feel-good-ending territory, which is just how it should be. There is no sense of corniness. It’s just right. AND, most importantly in my view, because the film works beautifully on all the important levels it is emotionally engaging.

Those who spurn feel-good movies might be feeling a little put off. Don’t be! There is plenty of meat on the bone here, and lots to ponder on and take away that is applicable to life outside the movie – particularly for those who have encountered the dangers of complacency in a long-term relationship.

Folies Bergère is generally light-hearted in tone, but dismiss it as froth and you’ll miss one of the most enjoyable – and moving – films of the year.

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Zero Motivation movie review

Featuring: Dana Ivgy, Nelly Tagar, Shani Klein
Screenwriter/Director: Talya Lavie

2014-15 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Joondalup Pines: 9-14 Dec, 8pm

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Well-acted, well-crafted, irreverent and fun, the humour tempered by quietly subversive undertones that never detract from the film’s sheer entertainment value.

Review:
Seinfeld’s “comedy about nothing” catch-line might well be applied to this languidly paced satirical piece on the penpusher side of army life from the perspective of female Israeli soldiers counting down time on their compulsory military service in a remote outpost. The closest they get to military action is in their daily competing to set records in a computer game entitled “Minesweeper”, their only acts of hostility towards each other – and then, mostly in the form of boredom-inspired paying out.

Occasionally, aspiring military careerist Commanding Officer Rama (Shani Klein) induces some office work out of them through threat of punishment, but it’s a battle, since her subordinates are blatantly (and amusingly) disrespectful of her authority – and, indeed, the army that has removed them from civilian life.

While the set-up rings obvious bells (M*A*S*H, Hogan’s Heroes, Stripes), this is different in presenting the points of view of female characters, via a female writer/director (Talya Lavie), on the trials and tedium of Israeli army life in a bureaucracy far removed from sites of military action. There are multiple reminders issued to the girls by CO Rama that Israel is at war, but the only shot fired in anger is by one of the women warning off a sexually aggressive Israeli male soldier about to have his way with out-of-her-depth virgin Zohar (Dana Ivgy).

In its slow pacing, the film captures the sense of grind that characterises the women’s mandatory sentence in the army, but it remains entertaining throughout (it’s not all comedy though – there is a tragic occurrence that continues to resonate thereafter). The mostly lightweight nature of the material belies a sly chipping away at the sanctity of the Israeli military – rarely the target of satire among Israeli filmmakers. Forget patriotism. For these girls, their stint in service is a pain in the arse, resentfully endured, and here’s betting that behind the scenes is some real raised-middle-finger anger and anti-military attitude on the part of the cast and director.

Well-acted, well-crafted, irreverent and fun, the humour tempered by quiet but distinctly subversive undertones that never detract from the film’s sheer entertainment value, this is refreshing stuff that is unlikely to surface in Perth cinemas after the Festival. See it while you can.

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Exodus: God and Kings movie review

Featuring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Adam Cooper, Ben Mendelsohn, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Maria Valverde
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenwriter: Ridley Scott, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian
Movie website: www.exodus-godsandkings.com.au/#home
Australian release date: 4 December 2014

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A Biblical extravaganza big on CGI/3D-driven spectacle, but short on dramatic and emotional clout.

Review:
Big budget + Biblical epic + 21st century Hollywood technical whizzbangery = spectacle on a grand scale. Director Ridley Scott delivers big-time on that equation. Plus he has assembled a stellar cast. It ain’t enough.

This is a massive big-budget swing at a box office home run, and if that’s the primary objective it may well succeed. However, might ain’t necessarily right, and truth to tell, there’s a lot about Exodus: God and Kings that is wrong.

We’re talking serious shortcomings here. For a start, it’s all too-too, grandiose rather than grand (like the film’s title). And perversely, while ancient Egypt is imagined into glorious being through CGI and 3D, and catastrophic weather events, locust plagues and the like are impressively staged, some of the dramatically-charged iconography the viewer has every right to anticipate with high expectations in a contemporary Hollywood re-telling of the Moses story are side-stepped! Think the Burning Bush, the Ten Commandments and the parting of the Red Sea – all curiously underwhelming.

Then there’s the representation of God as a supercilious pre-pubescent schoolboy with a whiney-toned English accent (as if there were not already a credibility gap deriving from the English-speaking American-accented cast). Granted, the God of the Old Testament does behave in the manner of a nasty, petulant, vengeful little shit, but surely having Him as a Pommy schoolboy is many, many metaphoric steps too far!

The Biblical narrative on Moses is short on detail, so any feature length movie version must necessarily take some liberties to fatten up the lean tale. In this case, the relationship between Moses (Christian Bale) and Egyptian pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton) takes centre stage. Adopted into royalty as a baby, Moses has grown up with Ramses and they are best buddies, although philosophically at odds: Moses is a sceptic, dismissing the Egyptian deities and prophets as hocus pocus; Ramses believes in the Egyptian gods, and self-servingly, in the Pharaoh as supreme deity. The relationship sours, then deteriorates into bitter enmity when – ironically – Moses is identified by a Hebrew as the prophesised leader who will liberate his people from slavery and lead them to their homeland. His ready acceptance of the word of a slave (all the Hebrews are depicted as such) and speedy transition from sceptic to believer in his own prophesised holy destiny is a glaring weakness in the narrative.

The performances are secondary in a visually dominant piece like this, but it has to be said that Christian Bale lacks the gravitas of a credible Moses, especially in his youthful phase. Edgerton does better as Ramses. As Zipporah, Moses’ wife, Maria Valverde doesn’t have a lot to say, but is stunningly beautiful (her headgear is glorious!). There are lots of cameo roles from name actors. Watch for Aaron Paul as Joshua – the lad’s a looong way removed from his Jesse character in Breaking Bad!

I’m not a fan of 3D, but it adds to the spectacle here – and that’s the name of this game. If pyrotechnics are your thing, this extravaganza will do it for you. Those who dare to ask for more will leave the cinema less than replete.

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A Thousand Times Goodnight movie review

Featuring: Juliette Binoche, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lauryn Canny
Director: Erik Poppe
Screenwriter:Erik Poppe, Harald Rosenløw Eeg
Movie website: 1000timesgoodnight.com/
Australian release date: now showing at Luna

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A well-executed and at times extremely powerful drama inquiring into the personal costs and morality of war photo-journalism.

Review:
The opening to this movie is gripping and shocking, depicting the rituals preceding a young woman’s suicide bombing mission in Afghanistan, then the moral dilemma of war photojournalist Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) who has been allowed to document proceedings right to the busy town attack site. Fleeing the suicide car when the explosion is imminent, she watches on, knowing that passersby including children are about to be killed and maimed. Only at the last moment is she unable to resist the compulsion to signal the danger to the public, then all hell breaks loose…

Suffering serious injury in the blast, Rebecca returns home to Ireland to her husband Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and their two daughters. During her rehabilitation, she is confronted with stark evidence of the emotional strain she is placing on her family, culminating in Marcus demanding that she choose between her career and family. She makes the obvious decision, but the conviction that her photography is important in exposing the ugly realities of warfare nags at her. Teen daughter Steph (Lauryn Canny) begins to understand her mother’s philosophical position, and begs to accompany her on a short stint photographing a refugee camp in Kenya that is considered safe. The reality is otherwise, and as Steph is driven away from marauding terrorists in the nick of time, Rebecca insists on staying behind, compelled to answer her career calling once again, whatever the cost.

This is a pivotal moment, taking away her options and propelling the narrative to a powerful and profound resolution that perfectly bookends the beginning. The material in between is not as strong, although the clash between family and career – a universal jostling of priorities with which many viewers will identify – is for the most part well managed by director and performers. Lauryn Canny, in particular, is outstanding as the sensitive, torn Steph.

The low point of the piece is an all-too-obvious instance of screenwriter sermonising: Rebecca is reduced to a political mouthpiece when she blames multinational corporations for the militarism and terrorism afflicting the war-ravaged areas she covers in her work. Regardless of the veracity of these claims, this authorial intrusion is undisciplined and indulgent, and the dialogue excruciating.

Thankfully, this is only a momentary lapse in a film that is otherwise well executed and worth chasing down.

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