Archive | July, 2013

Mr and Mrs Murder

23 Jul

mrandmrsmurder Murder is a messy business, but after the cops have collected the clues, who cleans it all up? Enter Charlie and Nicola Buchanan (Shaun Micallef and Kat Stewart) crime scene cleaners in blue coveralls who mop up the blood, tidy up the furniture and have a good old snoop to try to solve the crime themselves.

Set in Melbourne, this 13-part series locates the crimes in imaginative spots including an art gallery, a theatre, a heritage bathing box, a cabaret and a zoo.

mrandmrsmurder_pic Micallef draws on his comedic skills as the quirky, affectionate Charlie, while Stewart (Offspring) sparkles as his wife Nicola, whose irrepressible nosiness and empathy allows her to wriggle her way into suspects’ confidence. Jonny Pasvolsky (Cops LAC) stars as homicide detective Peter Vinetti, while Gen-Y is represented by the Buchanan’s  niece Jess (Lucy Honigman), who is dragged in to participate in elaborate murder scene re-enactments.

Created by Micallef and Jason Stephens (Newstopia) this charming whodunit features a host of well-known guest stars including Vince Colosimo, Home & Away‘s Kate Ritchie, comedian Merrick Watts and The Slap’s Anthony Hayes. As cosy as a Miss Marple mystery with an Aussie accent, Mr & Mrs Murder is a treat for any armchair detective.

2013, M, FremantleMedia, 780 mins

Advertisements

The Hobbit

23 Jul

hobbit Peter Jackson welcomes us back to Middle Earth, this time bringing to life J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s fantasy novel, The Hobbit. Set against sweeping natural vistas, The Hobbit is a classic adventure tale that unfortunately suffers from being split into three parts.

However this lengthy first instalment still bristles with cracking fight scenes and death-defying escapes as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) joins Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a band of rowdy dwarves on a quest to rescue a lost dwarf kingdom from a marauding dragon.

British actor Freeman (The Office) is an intriguing choice as the young Bilbo, but he imparts an endearing sense of bemusement to the fish-out-of-water role – such as when he embarks on the adventure with his heavily armed comrades and panics when he realises he has forgotten his pocket handkerchief.

hobbit_pic Considerable effort has gone into endowing the 13 dwarves with distinguishing features – a room full of squat, hairy, beer-quaffing men have a tendency to blend together. The more memorable characters are the rotund Bombur (Stephen Hunter), quirky Bofur (James Nesbitt) and the devastatingly handsome leader Thorin, (Richard Armitage), who exudes a smouldering sexuality (pictured) that I don’t recall from the book.

Some old favourites from LOTR make a reappearance; Cate Blanchett shimmers as statuesque elf queen Galadriel, Hugo Weaving maintains a haughty grandeur as elf lord Elrond, and veteran bad-guy Christopher Lee makes a sinister cameo as the wizard Saruman. Gollum (Andy Serkis) features in one of the film’s best scenes when Bilbo stumbles across a mysterious ring in a cave and is forced into a deadly game of riddles with the twisted creature to survive.

The jolly tone of Tolkien’s original work is evoked in scenes of the dwarves carousing and a close encounter with the grotesque Great Goblin, played by Barry Humphries. However, the terrifying Orcs astride hyena-like Wargs may frighten younger children, so the M rating is well warranted.

While the cracking pace is often weighed down by lengthy dialogue, the charm of the original story shines through, mostly due to the wonderful set design,  the obsessive attention to detail that characterised The Lord of the Rings, and the talented Freeman and McKellen in the lead roles.

2012, M, 169 mins, MGM

Parade’s End

23 Jul

paradesend One is obliged when discussing a post-Edwardian costume drama to compare it with Downton Abbey, so let’s get that over with. Yes, this five-part British miniseries is staged against the backdrop of the Great War, teems with pretty dresses and simmers with romantic tension, but there the comparison ends. Where Downton sallies into schmaltzy soap opera territory (in a highly addictive way, let’s admit), Parade’s End remains stark, cold and brutal.

Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars as priggish aristocrat Christopher Tietjens, a brilliant government statistician desperately clinging to conservative Edwardian values as his beloved Britain is rocked by war and social upheaval.

paradesend_pic Frustrated by his moral rectitude, his charmingly flippant wife Sylvia (Rebecca Hall, pictured with Cumberbatch), a stunning Catholic socialite, torments him by boasting about her many lurid love affairs. He endures her infidelity with a stiff upper lip but his own feelings are thrown into conflict when he meets Valentine Wannop (Australian actor Adelaide Clemens, Love My Way), a feisty young suffragette with cropped blonde hair and a passion for social change.

Based on the novels by Ford Madox Ford and adapted by Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love), Parade’s End depicts the end of an era, sweeping us from glorious British landscapes and aristocratic drawing rooms into the mud and blood-spattered trenches of France, as Christopher wrestles with his sense of duty both to his country and his marriage. The upper classes depicted here may not make any attempts to befriend their butlers, but impeccable period details and a stellar cast led by the inimitable Cumberbatch make this a highly watchable and thoughtful alternative to Downton‘s frothy fare.

M, 2013, 360 minutes, BBC/HBO

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple

23 Jul

missmarple Joan Hickson stars as the titular character in this Agatha Christie television series made in the 1980s. Featuring three murder mysteries, this three-disc collection opens with the three-part Body in the Library, where Miss Marple is called in to help after her friend Dolly Bantry discovers the body of a peroxide blonde young woman in her house. However, it is not until a second body turns up that the case takes an unexpected turn.

In The Moving Finger, Miss Marple visits the seemingly peaceful village of Lymston to investigate a nasty case of poison pen letters. Is it a local gossip venting her spleen or is the motive far more sinister?

In A Murder is Announced, the townsfolk are amused to read a notice in the local paper announcing that a murder will take place next Friday at 7pm. However the party game turns terrifying when a real corpse turns up, and no one seems to be telling the truth.

Compared to more recent productions, this series looks a little dated but at 400 minutes of playing time, it certainly offers good value. Described as the “definitive Miss Marple”, Joan Hickson seems born to play the spinster detective, with her faded blue eyes and deceptively fluffy exterior.

While recent Miss Marples including Geraldine McEwan and Julie McKenzie have won accolades, Hickson is probably the only actor to boast of receiving a letter from Christie herself, expressing a wish that she play the coveted role.

PG, 400 mins, BBC

Holy Motors

23 Jul

holymotors Defying genre, convention and sometimes belief, French experiment Holy Motors takes us on a wild and cheeky romp through film history.

Leos Carax’s first feature film since 1999’s Pola X, Holy Motors follows the mysterious Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), a chameleon character who flits from scene to scene in a series of roles, from a well-heeled banker to a filthy itinerant, a concerned father and a trained assassin. Travelling between “appointments” in a black limousine – driven by Edith Scob, star of 1960 French horror Eyes Without a Face – Oscar uses the limo as his change room to switch costumes and slap on elaborate cosmetics and wigs.

Oscar’s exploits take him from the bizarre to the comical – the scene in which he plays lunatic tramp Monsieur Merde, chomping on flowers and kidnapping a supermodel (Eva Mendes), is both hilarious and grotesque.

holymotors_pic

Pop princess Kylie Minogue makes a cameo as Oscar’s former lover, in a scene where she breaks into song with full orchestral backing. Slyly self-referential, her appearance is flagged in a previous scene when we hear her pop hit Can’t Get You Out of My Head.

Casting aside traditional narrative and exposition, Carax aligns the cinematic experience with the surreal landscape of dreams, exploring the death and rebirth of cinema while referencing avant-garde filmmakers such as Jean Cocteau, French New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard and surrealist David Lynch, as well as his own films.

Startlingly original, yet steeped in film history, Holy Motors is a unique and bewildering experience that, like Minogue’s pop tunes, will be hard to get out of your head.

MA, 2012, Icon, 116 minutes

Friends with Kids

23 Jul

friendswithkids It’s hard to deny that friendships change when people get  married and have kids. Late-night carousing gives way to late-night nappy changes, tempers fray, relationships break down and there is little time for socialising. There is plenty of comedy gold to be mined from this premise, but writer-director Jennifer Westfeldt’s offering fails to sparkle.

Watching their friends Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd) and Missy and Ben (Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm) descend into marriage hell, fun-loving besties Jason and Julie (Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt, pictured) decide to avoid the angst and stay single. However Julie’s biological clock is calling for a kid of her own, but she’s worried she won’t find Mr Right in time.

friendswithkids_picJason offers to help and the two plan to enjoy the best of both worlds by having a baby together, while remaining friends and dating other people. The pregnancy and birth go to plan and as the two take turns with babysitting duties, Julie meets perfect husband material Kurt (Edward Burns) while Jason launches a steamy romance with sexy Mary Jane (Megan Fox). Everything seems to be rosy, but this is Hollywood, and a looming plot twist threatens their cosy arrangement.

Written and directed by Westfeldt, who penned 2001’s Kissing Jessica Stein, the biggest problem with this movie is that the fabulous cast is weighed down by the miserable script. The hilarious Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), is unable to elicit laughs in her role as a depressed wife who hates her husband, played by Mad Men‘s gorgeous Jon Hamm, who himself is thoroughly unlikeable as a cranky alcoholic. Comedian Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires), who revealed a romantic side in Bridesmaids, fails to charm as the lazy, slobbish husband of Leslie (Maya Rudolph), a stressed mum who is pertually screaming at her other half.

While the film’s assumption that kids will ruin your life is offensively simplistic, the hardest part to swallow (aside from the romance between Megan Fox and dorky Adam Scott) is that any grown-up person could believe that having a kid with your best friend while dating other people is a good idea.

2011, 107 mins, MA15+

Brave

23 Jul

brave“Brave” is an excellent word to describe the decision by Pixar studios to set this gripping fantasy adventure in Scotland, complete with broad Scottish accents. Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire) voices impetuous young princess Merida, who scorns the kingdom’s tradition of marrying a lord’s son and yearns to choose her own freedom. However her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), demands she comply with the time-honoured rituals to maintain the balance of the kingdom.

Desperate to escape marriage to one of the three very undesirable kilt-clad young lordlings on offer, Merida seeks help from a witch (Julie Walters), who lands Merida in hot water by granting her wish. Meanwhile, Merida’s brawny father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) busy keeping the peace between the kingdom’s brawling lords, while keeping a paranoid eye out for the terrifying bear who roams the country and once bit off his leg. With its trademark Pixar sense of humour, this blends old-fashioned storytelling and fresh twists, and is one of the more original animations to emerge in recent years.

brave_pic1A further brave choice is placing a girl in the lead role and imbuing her with the feisty courage and deadly archery skills more reminiscent of The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen than any simpering Disney princess. Brave’s male characters are hugely entertaining but very flawed, and the movie’s chief strength is derived from Merida and her mother Elinor, and their complex relationship.

The animation is spectacular – the Brave kingdom skilfully straddles realism and fantasy, from the sumptuous landscapes to the glowing blue will-o’-the-wisps that lead Merida to adventure. Merida’s gorgeous flame-red locks are almost a character in their own right – Pixar created a new simulator to create the marvellous depth and movement of the 1500 tumbling fiery strands that shine against the rugged countryside.

A cast of skilful voice actors including The Late Late Show‘s Craig Ferguson and Robbie Coltrane keep the tone lively, and while some of the scary scenes may alarm smaller children, this is a clever reimagining of old-fashioned storytelling that will delight both boys and girls.

PG, 100 mins, Disney/Pixar