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Rated M

Director: Robert Luketic

Stars: Harvey Keitel, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Zac Efron, David Schwimmer, Amy Adams, Halle Berry, Kenan Thompson, Gong Li, Shakira, Michael Caine, Daniel Day Lewis, Miley Cyrus, Jessica Alba, Cate Blanchett, Luis Guzman

THE PLOT: Ten intertwining stories of love and romance, in which ten different couples face a terrible crisis in their relationship when the woman suspects the man of infidelity, only for it to be hilariously revealed – ten times – that it was actually his sister she saw him with.

***

In Robert Luketic’s latest feather-light slice of sugary rom-com, based on a napkin stolen from Richard Curtis’s pocket, a dazzling all-star cast bring big laughs and touching moments of tenderness, as the Australian auteur directs like a master puppeteer, skilfully manipulating all the diverse strands before finally bringing them together in a finale at the Taj Mahal that plays out like a hyper-realistic interpretation of David Lean’s version of Don Quixote, in a surprisingly literal way.

As is only natural in a multi-narrative film like this one, some stories come through more strongly than others, and in particular, the revelations that the supposed mistress is in fact the hero’s sister vary from stunning, moving and uproarious to dull and viciously racist. For example, the story strand following Harvey Keitel’s dishevelled circus acrobat and Ellen Burstyn’s haughty Tongan princess on a quest to find a Zurich chocolate shops snaps and crackles with screwball dialogue and sizzling chemistry, only enhanced by the denouement wherein Keitel makes a miraculous recovery from ebola; whereas on the other hand the story of Danny DeVito trying to win back the heart of Miley Cyrus by becoming an astronaut coms across as both unrealistic and gratuitously pornographic, although there are laughs to be had in Miley’s cringe-inducing stint in an Amsterdam brothel window.

Other highlights include Kenan Thompson and Cate Blanchett’s tense two-hander in a torture dungeon, and Gong Li, Shakira and Daniel Day-Lewis playing out a heart-rending love triangle over the course of a charity fun run, while the weakest section all in all is probably Luis Guzman and Zac Efron’s gay Bedouins, with Jessica Alba totally unconvincing as an elderly camel driver, and Michael Caine’s sudden appearance as Alfred from Batman Begins confusing to say the least.

And yet, in the end, That’s My Sister! succeeds on the basis of its enormous heart, good-natured skewering of human foibles, and inreasingly foul-mouthed humour. The perfect way to spend a Saturday night for all lovers of wacky misunderstandings.

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Rated PG

Director: Garry Marshall

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock, Rip Torn, Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Patricia Clarkson, Glenn Close, Zac Efron

THE PLOT: Eddie Staines (Quaid) is a suburban no-hoper, stuck in a dead-end job at the post office, but with dreams of one day joining the CIA and marrying his boss, Madame Sikorski (Hathaway). When his bicycle explodes, leaving him unable to get to his CIA entry exam, it seems all his dreams have evaporated. Until, that is, the entry of the mysterious Leningrad Slim…

Every once in a while, a movie comes along. This is, basically, how the film industry works, and is no great revelation. In fact, if anything, the “once in a while” part is quite an understatement, given that film releases are pretty frequent. But the point is, if they gave out Oscars for movies, Leningrad Slim is exactly the kind of movie that would in all likelihood fulfil all the basic criteria.

There’s a lot to like about Leningrad Slim, not least Dennis Quaid’s heartbreaking turn as the non-titular hero. Eschewing showy melodramatics in favour of slow-burning internal turmoil, Quaid lets every tiny nuance of his character – a raised eyebrow, a sudden shouted obscenity, the unexplained development of a limp which continually switches legs – reveal to us a little more of the pain Eddie is in, so that by the end of the movie, we feel we know him intimately, and want him to go away. So immersive is Quaid’s performance that ten minutes in we have completely forgotten that he is playing an 18-year-old, and instead focus on the existential issues he has to deal with.

Anne Hathaway, as the beautiful Madame Sikorski, has a more thankless task, struggling with her Russian accent and the cardboard box she wears throughout the film. Yet she still has her moments, including one exquisite set-piece involving a sexually aroused orangutan and an ergonomic sofa that is as visually witty as it is horrifyingly inappropriate for a PG movie. Overall, however, one can’t help feeling she would have been better served without the accent, or the box.

As a mood piece, Leningrad Slim works reasonably well, with flat spots quickly addressed with hilarious celebrity cameos, although one migh argue that Marshall has pushed this too far when the entire second act is taken up by movie stars entering Eddie’s office one by one to play a succession of emotionally retarded aspiring postmen – although special mention must be made of Glenn Close, who pulls of a beautifully-mounted song and dance number without once falling off her donkey. Zac Efron also impresses as a transsexual rapist who wants to be loved.

If there is a criticism of the movie, though, it is that it is a tad overlong at 287 minutes, and that it takes too long to reach the climax. Indeed, Leningrad Slim himself only appears on screen five minutes before the end, and Eddie’s plunge into the world of international organised crime and espionage and quest to foil a terrorist plot at Slim’s behest before wooing and bedding Madame Sikorski therefore seems a little rushed. Most of the movie, then, is simply watching Eddie’s daily routine at the post office, including over six hundred close-ups of stamps, and listening to him sigh and occasionally sneeze. Perhaps if Leningrad Slim had at least been mentioned earlier, or if Eddie had in any way indicated his desire for a more exciting life prior to those last five minutes, it would have dragged a little less.

Nevertheless, Quaid’s performance, some stunning camerawork, and a beautiful sepia tone combine to make this a movie that you might as well see, given there’s very little else worthwhile doing in life. Which is really the movie’s message, after all.

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Here’s a quick sneak peek at the hottest must-see summer blockbusters, just to give you a taste of what’s in store next time you hit up the local cinema:

Aged in Oak – A grizzled wine merchant, grieving for his dead wife, learns to open his heart when fate throws him together with a feisty eight-year-old girl with no head. Together they travel to Canada in a mobile home to buy a wooden prosthesis, and learn the value of intimate perversions. Starring Vin Diesel and Raven Symone, with Nick Nolte as Charles Dickens.
 
Things of Grub – David Lynch writes and directs a strange, surreal journey through the mind of a fiery Spanish elm tree. A comment of the dark side of contemporary America, with Steve Carell as the Nipple Queen and David Schwimmer as Black Beauty.
 
Greg – A hilarious romp, with Freddie Prinze Sr bringing the house down as a wacky corpse who sets out to win the heart of Julia Roberts, played by Demi Moore. Directed by Willie Nelson.
 
How to Molest A Girl in Ten Days – The long-awaited sequel to smash hit Bicentennial Man sees kd lang turn in a searing performance as Elwood the retired electrician, who finds a new purpose in life by entering strangers’ homes and fingering sleeping women.
 
Lazy Susan – Nicholas Cage (not to be confused with the actor) plays Jean-Marie Denouille, a French aristocrat struggling to bring up a severely crippled sea lion. Helen Hunt pops up as Napoleon, while director Penny Marshall plays both herself and the Peninsular Army.
 
The Life and Times of Henri Bergson – Deceptively titled biopic about the career of Ira Gershwin. Meg Ryan is in top form as Harpo Marx, and the musical score, by Joan Cusack, is gorgeous. Watch for a hilarious cameo by Billy Crystal as Ira’s famous composer brother Richard Rodgers.
 
The Hit – Whoopi Goldberg’s first foray into hardcore pornography showcases Tom Hank’s distinctive cinematography and Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller’s star turn as J.Edgar Hoover and his identical twin father Ann-Marie.
 
Hard Rock Pet Shop – It’s been years since we’ve seen anything new from Katharine Hepburn, and this film is no exception. Down-on-his-luck Ralph Fiennes buys a run-down pet shop and employs a former rock drummer (Michael Bolton) as his assistant. Together they come up with a scheme to prevent an evil developer (Anna Paquin) from anally raping them.
 
Austin Powers: The World is Not A Muff – Mike Myers reprises his roles as Austin Powers, Dr Evil, Fat Bastard, and adds portrayals of Gordon Nemo, Captain Grit, Stacey Leechback, Mickey Stifford, The Great Malkeeno, Nola Suckoff, Vladamir Mulkipin Rohypnovitch, Lassie, Aileen Quinn, President Gray van der Snuff, Maureen Snug, the Ghost of Christmas Past, Eddie Murphy and Little Nell. Powers is assigned to protect a beautiful scientist (Kathy Bates) who claims that the world is not a muff. Everyone on Earth agress with her, and they spend the next hour and half doing nothing at all.
 
Blood and Ham – Ethan Hawke assumes directorial duties in this adaptation of Helen Fielding’s novel. Emma Thompson does a passable British accent while parachuting into German abattoirs and slaughtering everyone with an axe, in the mistaken belief that WWII is still on. Co-stars George C. Scott as Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Gaby Hoffman as Atticus Finch.
 
Starsky and Hutch – A pair of funky cops (Drew Barrymore and James Earl Jones) develop fatal brain diseases and slowly choke to death on their own mucus. Riveting.
 
Tobey Maguire’s Dracula – An evil Transylvanian vampire (Paul Rudd) visits an old movie theatre (Al Pacino) and discovers a magic ticket (Shelley Long) that allows him to enter an action movie (Paul Mecurio) and befriend Arnold Schwarzenegger (Halle Berry). Meanwhile he must get to London (Lucy Liu) in time to stop his evil minions (S Club 7) from carrying out his misheard orders to suck the Queen of England’s (Portia de Rossi) cud (Ricki Lake), as predigested hay is deadly to vampires. Not John Woo’s best effort, especially since it was directed by Baz Luhrmann.
 
Nifty Pixies – Catherine Zeta-Jones visits Santa’s village, and thereby becomes the NBA’s number one coach.

There you go – something for everyone, and I can already hear you slavering in anticipation of the treats in store.

Some of these will get the full Make This Movie review treatment – which ones are up to YOU! Vote in comments for which of these you want to see reviewed in extended form! Fabulous prizes on offer for voters!

Honest!

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Rated MA

Director: Tony Scott

Stars: John Travolta, Ellen Degeneres, Eric Roberts

The Taking of Pelham 123 drew mixed reviews, but critics were united on one point: John Travolta’s villain had a small beard. So it was only logical that the Hollywood money men would try to parlay that beard into a franchise. And so Travolta and director Scott were persuaded to go around again.

This time, though, the would up the stakes – Travolta’s mad, bad baldie Ryder would hijack a plane – an elephant hunt to the first film’s grouse shoot. And no doubt, having decided on this plotline, both Scott and Travolta’s brains hit upon an even more exciting idea – what if Ryder hijacked John Travolta’s private jet? And what if Travolta played himself as well as Ryder?

And so we see Travolta, giving Eddie Murphy a run for his money, playing Ryder, himself, the president, an arrogant young rookie TV journalist, a stewardess, and in a triumphant melding of live-action and CGI, the plane, which speaks telepathically to Travolta throughout the film, giving him advice and building his self-esteem with well-timed compliments.

The really amazing thing is that, although Travolta refuses to change his appearance or vocal delivery in any way when switching characters, every one comes across as totally believable and sympathetic. And so we see the reporter, Harris, convincing all of us that he really does come from a broken home and is determined to get a scoop even at the cost of his cameraman’s life, to impress his irascible father – even though he looks and sounds like an overweight middle-aged movie star, and is in fact wearing the exact same clothes that Travolta is on board the plane, and indeed the same as Ryder as he brandishes his gun, and the stewardess as she panics and faints. They are all marvellous, allowing us to gloss over the question of why the stewardess is even there, or how Ryder manages to jimmy open a window and slip in unnoticed halfway through a trans-Atlantic flight.

The only possible quibble is with Travolta’s president, although this is less to do with the authentically Travolta-esque  performance and more to do with Scott’s insistence on shooting him only from underneath with a dark blue filter. It tends to make the Oval Office appear somewhat ridiculous, but all this is forgotten when we cut back to one of over forty extended fist-fights between Travolta and Ryder, and one steamy love scene between same.

Good support comes from Ellen Degeneres’s maverick air-force ace, and Eric Roberts’s mysterious Arab sheikh, who team up halfway through in an hilarious homage to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which may seem tonally inconsistent to some viewers, but does serve the important purpose of explaining what happened to Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston, who in the first scene wanders aimlessly out of shot and is never seen again.

Overall, Travolta 345 is quite an improvement on Pelham 123, mainly because where the first film was mostly empty flash and soulless action sequences, this one is mainly John Travolta talking to himself and making filthy jokes directly to camera. Also there’s a lot of good in-flight sequences, including one where Travolta escapes Ryder by going back in time and shooting down the Wright Brothers. Ryder himself has some good moments too, mainly featuring him talking to himself and making filthy jokes directly to camera.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a strong example of the lesser Scott’s ability to craft slick, intelligent action thrillers, and a welcome reminder of how good a film can be when a director simply lets a great actor let loose in a variety of different roles played exactly the same way down to the last detail.

***

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Rated: MA

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Starring: Tom Hanks, Giovanni Ribisi, Sean Penn, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel McAdams, Alan Dale

Mash-ups have long been a staple of popular cinema. We’ve had Alien vs Predator, Freddie vs Jason; even in the Golden Age of Hollywood crowds flocked to see hit mash-ups like Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy and Frankenstein vs Mrs Miniver.

But with this gut-wrenching thrill ride, Russian auteur Bekmambetov has delivered the dream mash-up to make even the most jaded cinema-goer salivate with anticipation, bringing together the A-Team of mentally disabled box-office titans together in an explosive action-adventure romp.

Adapted from an abandoned first draft by Alan Moore in which a group of mental patients pose nude for a charity calendar to raise money for Jack the Ripper’s legal defence, the story begins with mysterious Down’s Syndrome femme fatale Madame Catani (McAdams, in a career-making role) recruits a series of differently-abled heroes for a vaguely-defined secret mission.

The first act, in which Catani travels the globe, convincing the often-reluctant gentlemen to get on board, often with bribery and/or blackmail, is well-handled, the audience enjoying the reacquaintance with Forrest Gump (Hanks), Sam Dawson (Penn), The Guy From The Other Sister (Ribisi), and Rain Man (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, filling in for Hoffman, who turned down the opportunity to reprise his most iconic role). The recruitment, ranging from the hilarious – Catani’s visit to an alpaca farm where Gump is working – to the touching – Dawson’s inner turmoil as he decides whether he should take a risk and quit his job as a minor-league baseball catcher to chase one last shot at glory – never seem forced or tedious.

Nevertheless, the movie really picks up the pace as the team enter their training phase on a remote Indian Ocean island, and we see the unique talents for which Catani has selected them – Gump’s speed, The Guy’s irresistible charm, Dawson’s Beatles impressions, Rain Man’s ability to control the weather.

From there we move into the mission, and several sequences of heart-pounding tension as the team parachutes into deep jungle to infiltrate the secret lair of Lord D’Tard (TV star Dale, performing an impressive array of various accents, often within the same sentence), who is amassing an army to take over the world’s water supply and infuse it with mind-altering drugs for his own sinister entertainment.

The action set-pieces are exquisitely staged, Bekmambetov combining wire-work, seamless CGI, slow-motion and spectacular pyrotechnics in a wondrous ballet of violence and disability that doesn’t let up until almost the last frame. Each Gentleman gets his chance to shine, with routinely good performances across the board as their unique talents come in useful at each juncture of their journey. Johnson is perhaps the most impressive, stepping up manfully into Hoffman’s shoes and delivering a sensitive yet muscular take on Raymond Babbitt that delivers equal parts astounding mathematical talent, moving interpersonal disconnection, and furious-fist beatdowns. And his “Ten minutes to Wapnering your ass” just may be the catchphrase of the year.

But it’s far from a one-man show, with Hanks hitting top form as Gump, the calm, Hannibal Smith-like leader of the troupe, while Penn provides emotional ballast with his frequent monologues and sudden outbursts of self-harm, and Ribisi brings the comic relief with a series of pratfalls and hysterical misunderstandings of everyday social niceties that reminds us just how funny disability can be.

It’s not perfect – there are times when the plot stretches credibility, as when the intellectually disabled Sam Dawson hacks into the Pentagon’s computer system and redirects the Iraqi invasion force to D’Tard’s hideout; or when Forrest Gump throws an armoured car through the window of the Louvre – but overall the story is credible, exciting, and incredibly adorable, Bekmambetov proving himself a master at bringing out the innate cuteness of the handicapped, even as they’re gunning down bad guys and snapping necks like twigs.

The climax, with the Gentleman facing off against D’Tard in an enormous underground kitchen, as Madame Catani reveals her true identity and purpose, is almost perfect in its fusing of pathos and  knife-throwing, and the fifty-five minute coda as the protagonists kick back on the beach provides a satisfying polish to a story that never lets up on the thrills or the feeling.

If you’ve always found disabled people adorable, but wished they had a bit more get-up-and-go, this is the film for you.

****

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Rated M

Director: Nick Cassavetes

Stars: Jeff Bridges, Rachel Weisz, Chiewetel Ejiofor, Tim Robbins

Roderick (Bridges), a jaded infomercial host disillusioned with his craft, has suddenly found himself without a job, without a wife and sitting at home, drinking himself to death in an orgy of self-pity. Until a meeting with a mysterious gypsy woman (Robbins) causes him to pursue happiness through his new, selfless purpose – stabbing random strangers in the eyes.

Cassavetes, who last tugged at our heartstrings with his gritty story of black market organ trading My Sister’s Keeper, has here crafted a quiet personal drama of rare power. His long, lingering close-ups suit the subject matter perfectly, particularly a touching ten-minute sequence where Roderick pokes tentatively at a pair of disembodied eyeballs to find out “how gooey they are” – Cassavetes lets his camera stay fixed on Bridges’s tortured-yet-giggling expression for the entire time, risking derision and even sleep for his audience in pursuit of the ultimate emotional pay-off.

The director is well-served by his brilliant cast. Bridges, as the depressed middle-aged man finding himself, is stunning. Having reportedly trained full-time for six months for the role, he utterly convinces the audience that he can throw a knitting needle with uncanny accuracy. His transformation from cynical, world-weary TV mop-seller to rejuvenated, inspirational eye-poker is portrayed with a subtlety and quiet strength rarely seen in big-budget blockbusters these days (the reported final budget was over $200 million, most of it on prosthetic eyeballs). The childlike wonder he displays at his first, almost-accidental blinding, makes us laugh and “awwww” in equal measure, while his climactic “Your eyes have made me see” speech, delivered whilst balancing precariously atop the Swiss National Museum, will soon take its place beside Braveheart and Return of the King in the honour roll of inspirational movie orations.

Not that Bridges is alone. Rachel Weisz, as the sassy single mother who falls for Roderick after he breaks into her house and blinds her toddler daughter, is a delight, pulling off a flawless Chinese accent and showing that she can tap dance with the best of them. Ejiofor, as Bridges’s Olympic swimmer best friend, steals several scenes with his high-pitched whine and extravagant hand gestures, while Robbins is perfectly cast as the gypsy woman who turns Roderick’s life around, but whose insatiable sexual appetite makes him doubt himself at the crucial moment. There are also nice minor turns from Andie MacDowell as Roderick’s ex-wife and Zac Efron as a conniving US Senator.

By turns poignant, tragic, hilarious, tense and uplifting, Random Acts of Blindness is a superior adult-oriented drama that will make you believe in the eternal capacity of human beings for change, growth, and horrific graphic violence.

****

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Good evening and welcome to a new era in hypothetical filmmaking. I am your host, Ben Pobjie, and this blog is here to help.

How often do you go to the movies full of anticipation at the coming entertainment treat, only to walk out of the cinema complex and immediately commit suicide? Not often, perhaps, but more often than you’d like? I thought so. The reason for this is the remarkably poor quality of modern moviemaking. Gone is the Golden Age of Hollywood, gone the giants – Tyrone Power, Jessie Matthews, Keenan Wynn – who bestrode our imaginations like Leviathan.

Take the recent film “Avatar”, for example, by well-known “director”, James “Cameron”. Perhaps I am alone, but I felt woefully let down by this film. Not only was the dialogue unrealistic, the plot incoherent and the helicopters aerodynamically sub-optimal, the special effects were woeful. Presumably budget constraints were responsible for this, but I think from a major Hollywood blockbuster we can expect more than miserly corner-cutting. Surely, in post-production, someone must have noticed that most of the major characters were coming out blue?

Whose fault was it? Who knows? Perhaps it was the editor, perhaps it was the CG team, perhaps it was poor lighting, but it didn’t stop there. Not only did the post snafu result in a most unrealistic blue tinge to characters’ skins, some of them appeared ridiculously large – about nine feet tall, which looked especially ridiculous when they stood next to other characters who remained normal size. Why didn’t Cameron pick up the inconsistency and demand all characters be made the same size? And at one point I saw a dog with six legs. Come on!

And it’s this kind of shoddy make-do attitude that I am confronting with this blog. This blog is for those who like to dream. To dream of a better world. Lots of blogs feature reviews of current movies on release. Some even feature reviews of famous or forgotten films of yesteryear.

Not this blog. This blog is for reviews of the movies that might be. The movies that as yet exist only in our imagination, but hopefully, with some gentle nudging of the cinematic elite, particularly from myself, will someday come to pass.

In essence, this is a blog which will be devoted to honest, hard-hitting reviews of movies that don’t yet exist, but which – God-willing, once the reviews have been disseminated – will do so in the not too distant future.

And of course, when they do, you will be well-armed, via reading this blog, with all the information you need to tell you which of them are likely to take your fancy.

Think of it as a window and a guide to the future. Your future. At the movies.

Grab your popcorn and settle in. It’s time to have a sneak-peek at the must-see movie events of who-knows-when?

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