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The Sapphires

23 Jul

sapphires

The year is 1968, the dresses are sparkly and the hair bouffant. Inspired by a true story, this film follows four indigenous women: sisters Julie (Jessica Mauboy), Gail (Deborah Mailman) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), who with half-Irish cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) are plucked from the outback by talent scout (Chris O’Dowd) and sent to entertain the troops in Vietnam. It’s the trip of a lifetime, but along the way they are confronted with issues such as racism, the legacy of the Stolen Generation and the horrors of war. Director Wayne Blair, however, ensures that the grittier themes are touched on only lightly as we kick on to the next upbeat tune or romantic plot point.

Mauboy dazzles as passionate frontwoman Julie, belting out soul hits with feeling as the girls perform on stage for raucous army audiences. Newcomers Sebbens and Tapsell enliven the screen with their humour and sass, while Irish funnyman O’Dowd (The IT Crowd) meets his match in a bristling Mailman as protective older sister Gail.

sapphires_pic2While the sentimental writing occasionally hits a bum note, the sheer exuberance of the cast keeps things humming, while the spine-tingling soundtrack, including hits such as What a Man and I Heard it on the Grapevine, suits the girls’ voices perfectly.

Australian films of late seem to have rejected the ocker comedies such as Crocodile Dundee and Muriel’s Wedding, plumbing darker territory such as Snowtown’s grim bodies-in-the-barrels murders, Beautiful Kate’s incest theme, and Samson and Delilah, which while hauntingly beautiful, starkly drove home the plight of petrol sniffers. While these films have a lot to recommend them, it’s occasionally a relief to watch an Australian film that celebrates life. Filled with laugh-out-loud moments, standout scenes include the high-energy concert performances and the humorous montage as O’Dowd tries to transform the girls from awkward country singers into sultry soul stars. This feelgood film is sure to endure as a classic with wide appeal.

2012, 103 mins, PG, Hopscotch Films

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

23 Jul

sherlock Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous literary detective is yanked out of his armchair in Baker Street for a second action-packed adventure by director Guy Ritchie. This time around, sidekick Dr Watson (Jude Law) is about to wed fiancee Mary (Kelly Reilly), and Holmes is despondent over the impending break-up of their sleuthing partnership.

However there is no time to dwell on this, as Holmes suspects that his evil nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), has masterminded a spate of crimes around Europe. When Moriarty targets Watson as his next victim, Holmes hijacks the newlyweds’ honeymoon and drags Watson away to help him solve an international intrigue.

sherlock_picThe duo’s escapades take them to exotic locations in Paris, Germany and Switzerland, as they enlist the help of mysterious gypsy Simza (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Simza’s missing brother Rene is embroiled in Moriarty’s scheme, and the detectives discover that their foe is plotting to spark a war.

Sherlock traditionalists may complain that the thoughtful deduction of the books has given way to dramatic action sequences and plenty of banter, but there is plenty of joy to be had in Guy Ritchie’s super slo-mo fight scenes. The repartee between Holmes and Watson is the other enjoyable part of Ritchie’s film, and the demure, moustachioed Law is the perfect match for Downey’s eccentric Holmes.

The gorgeous Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler departs the proceedings early on, but Stephen Fry adds a welcome touch of British humour as Holmes’ pompous brother Mycroft, especially in one scene when he walks around completely nude, to the discomfort of Watson’s wife, Mary. Meanwhile, Mary, who dared to disrupt Holmes’ happiness by marrying his sidekick, is literally knocked out of the film by Holmes in a particularly hilarious cross-dressing scene on a steam train.

With plenty of slapstick humour, a rip-roaring pace and lush Victorian atmosphere, it may not be the deerstalker-and-pipe Holmes of yore, but it makes for a delicious romp.

M, 2012, 129 mins, Warner Bros

The Adventures of Tintin

22 Jul

tintin_series The red-headed reporter with a nose for trouble may have received a 3D Hollywood makeover in 2011 thanks to Steven Spielberg, but many of us still fondly recall Tintin’s humble comic book beginnings, brought to life here in this animated DVD series.

Created by Belgian comic book artist and writer Herge between 1929 until his death in 1983, Tintin’s adventure stories took eager young readers into the ancient tombs of Egypt, the snowy peaks of Tibet, in search of pirate treasure, and even on a rocket to the Moon. By Tintin’s side was his trusty terrier Snowy, who, let’s face it, was often more astute than Tintin at sensing danger and getting the pair out of scrapes. Tintin’s cantankerous seafaring pal Captain Haddock was always ready to join Tintin on his missions, and the team often found themselves having to rescue their absent-minded scientist friend Professor Calculus, while hapless twin detectives Thompson and Thomson were never far behind.

For kids, growing up with the Tintin stories was a fascinating way to learn about foreign countries and ways of life, and while some of Herge’s depictions were later deemed culturally insensitive or outright racist, behind every story is a genuine interest in broadening the reader’s horizons.

tintin_series_picSeveral live action adaptations of Tintin’s adventures have been made over the years, with varying success, but there is something comfortingly familiar about the bright colours of Herge’s original drawings, which are faithfully animated in this series. Spread over five discs, 21 of Tintin’s classic escapades are brought to life, including The Secret of the Unicorn, The Calculus Affair and Cigars of the Pharaoh.

There’s no doubt the most recent big-screen version will be far more exciting and eye-popping than these old-fashioned cartoons. However, if Spielberg’s uncannily lifelike rendering of the eponymous hero makes you a little nostalgic for the original, this series is for you.

G, 1991, 39 x 30 min episodes, Madman

QI – Complete series 1-3

22 Jul

Image What Caravaggio did on a tennis court? What would you do with a pencil and a lesser anteater? If you just can’t get enough of this zany quiz show hosted by the absurdly intelligent Stephen Fry, this DVD comprising the first three seasons is guaranteed to tantalise the grey matter and tickle the funny bone.

Points are awarded to panellists who give correct or interesting answers, while points are deducted from those who give incorrect or pathetically obvious answers. Which generally means that regular sidekick Alan Davies racks up about minus forty points during each episode, with his impish inability to restrain himself from blurting out the wrong answer, or as Fry describes it: “rushes headlong like a puppy into the wall of ignorance.”

Drawing on some of the world’s most interesting comedians and personalities, the variety of witty panellists who grapple with the tricky questions include Bill Bailey, Hugh Laurie, Rob Brydon, Top Gear‘s Jeremy Clarkson and Australian comedian Julia Morris. Each episode has a theme and while the panellists often embark on rambling tangents, quizmaster Fry always brings the conversation back on topic with a wry remark and a sardonically raised eyebrow.

The Next Three Days

22 Jul

Image Russell Crowe stars in this action thriller remake about a man who plans to break his wife out of jail. Life is idyllic for John and Lara Brennan (Crowe and Elizabeth Banks) and their young son Luke (Ty Simpkins), until the cops bust through the door one morning and arrest Lara for murdering her boss. Convinced of her innocence, John, a teacher at a community college, dedicates himself to her appeal, until his lawyer (Daniel Stern) tells him the appeal will fail. Lara turns suicidal at this grim news, and John decides to abandon legal action and instead break her out of jail.

Heading to the library, John researches the ins and outs of prisons, and learns some underworld skills from YouTube videos, such as how to make a “bump key” to force locks. While John maps out an elaborate plan to rescue his wife, the stakes are upped when Lara finds she is going to be moved to a high security prison in three days.

What starts out as a desperate but noble plan turns increasingly violent, as, a few scenes later, John emerges bloodied from a drug dealer’s house he has robbed to get funds for their escape. As the body count grows, we begin to wonder whether freeing Lara, whose innocence is never completely proved, is worth all this bloodshed, and whether Rusty should just hook up with sexy schoolmum Nicole (Olivia Wilde) who’s been giving him the eye in the playground.

Written and directed by Paul Haggis, whose impressive credits include the Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby and Crash, as well as slick Bond flick Casino Royale, this torpid remake lacks the adrenaline of the French original, Anything For Her.

While there are a few action-packed sequences, the tension is watered down by repetitive scenes of John visiting a weary Lara in jail, while son Luke peers out impassively from under his Dulux dog haircut. At just over two hours long, this film is more of a prison sentence than the wild ride it tries to be.

A cameo from Liam Neeson as intriguing ex-con Damon Pennington, who gives John some tips on jail-breaking, is all too short. Special features include a video about how to make a “bump key”, in case you too have a loved one you need to break out of jail.

Rated M, 2010, 128 mins, Lionsgate