Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Natalie Dormer, Stephen Mangan
AUSTRALIA’S latest popular Hollywood export, Chris Hemsworth, ditches the armour and hammer of Thor fame, but keeps the ripped body and long hair for his depiction of British Formula Three racer James Hunt who has a love of fast cars and faster women. Despite presenting the perplexing reality of how the hell he managed to fit into the cramped cockpit of the various Grand Prix cars, Hemsworth plays Hunt well and has an engaging competitive chemistry with Daniel Brühl’s take on Austrian speedster Niki Lauda.
The duo first cross slipstreams at Formula Three level, but when Lauda uses his savings to step up to the coveted Formula One division, Hunt drops a gear and follows suit. Initially, Lauda uses his cunning to strip down and rebuild his car to gain a competitive edge on Hunt, but the Brit’s daredevil approach to racing has him biting at the heels of the Austrian. Lauda takes home one world championship, but the bulk of the film is focused on the following year where the rivals are neck and neck for points, and the stakes are raised as one of the racers is involved in a harrowing crash.
Despite burning rubber through a couple of years of events, director Ron Howard ensures that the needle is on the right side of pace rather than the disjointed mess it could have been. There’s a refreshing emphasis and balance on the behind-the-scenes lives of Hunt and Lauda, as personal events drive the rivals both on and off the track.
The always-dependable composer Hans Zimmer delivers a soundtrack that effortlessly rises and falls in intensity depending on whether Hunt is chasing skirt off the track or pursuing Lauda’s world championship on the bitumen. Rush has an infectious energy that keeps off-track scenes engaging and ensures you’re not counting down the minutes until the next racing sequence.
As far as sports films go, Rush stands as one of the most entertaining examples in years and is well worth seeing on the big screen. Even if the drama doesn’t interest you, the sights and sounds of the high-adrenaline racing scenes alone are worth the price of admission.
RUSH is in cinemas on the now.
Review: Nathan Lawrence
Director: Alan Taylor
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston
CHRIS Hemsworth is a popular man on the big screen at the moment, with Rush still in cinemas and the Thor sequel bursting onto screens. While the original film was a necessary introduction for the Thor character in the lead-up to the hugely successful The Avengers film, it was the weakest of Marvel’s ‘Phase One’ movies.
The biggest problem with Thor’s character and mythology is it tries to inject grounded fantasy next to other Marvel characters such as Iron Man and the Hulk that are firmly set in sci-fi. This was a glaring issue with the original Thor film, but The Dark World sets out to bridge the gap by pulling Asgard (Thor’s home world) closer to a sci-fi depiction instead of a heavenly fantasy realm.
As far as the plot goes, it’s definitely bare bones, but serves well enough to shift the film through increasingly escalating action set pieces. When Jane Foster (Portman), scientist and Thor’s (Hemsworth) love interest, discovers an inter-dimensional portal in London, she inadvertently awakens an ancient threat in the form of Malekith (Eccleston), leader of the Dark Elves.
As the Dark Elves hunt Foster, Thor seeks to protect her by bringing her to Asgard, much to the displeasure of his father Odin (Hopkins). It’s not long before the Dark Elves track Foster to Asgard, lives are lost and Thor is reluctantly forced to call upon the aid of his deceitful brother Loki (Hiddleston) to save Jane and protect the nine realms from the Dark Elves.
As the title implies, the film is quite dark, marking a welcome departure from the flippant tone of the preceding film. At the halfway point, however, the darkness is replaced by epic action spliced with a whole lot of comedy. The jokes hits the mark for the most part, but it makes The Dark World feel, tonally, like two separate films. There’s no denying it’s entertaining as hell, but the tone shift is instantly noticeable and jarring.
With a reported budget above the $200-million mark, director Alan Taylor (of Game of Thrones fame) ensures every dollar is visible on screen as the film travels between visually distinct realms. Asgard, in particular, is explored more this time around, and some of the best action sequences involve Star Wars-like spaceship battles: an unexpected inclusion after the fantasy-fuelled Thor, but a welcome one that brings the film closer in line with the Marvel Universe’s overarching sci-fi motif, even if it does initially feel out of place.
In many respects, Thor: The Dark World is a fantastic date film. It has plenty of big laughs and bigger set pieces, along with a tolerable love story to keep the romantic types entertained. Thor may be more of a background character as the film tries to flesh out a talented supporting cast, but he doesn’t disappoint in the several instances he has to take up the hammer. It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD is in cinemas on the now.
Review: Nathan Lawrence
Director: Joshua Michael Stern
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, J.K. Simmons, Lukas Haas
IT’S a little eerie to understand that production on Jobs, the film biopic of Apple founder Steve Jobs, began before he lost his battle against pancreatic cancer. As fascinating as the prospect of getting a closer look at the man behind one of the most renowned technology companies in the world is, it still feels a little inappropriate that such a film would be released a mere two years after his death.
Ashton Kutcher tests his range in the sneakers of Steve Jobs, as we’re introduced to a college dropout with a curious mind, a love of women and a free spirit who doesn’t mind dabbling in mind-altering drugs. Bored with life as just another employee at Atari, ambitious Jobs takes on the seemingly impossible task of debugging a troublesome game in an impossibly short time.
Ever the middleman, Jobs brings in his friend Steve Wozniak (Gad) to help him get the task done after hours, promising him a small fraction of the total amount he’s getting paid to complete the job. From here, a budding business partnership forms when Jobs notices Wozniak’s tech project: building a self-contained computer. As the company grows from a garage to a more professional setup, it becomes clear that Jobs’ ambition outweighs his fiscal responsibility, and his insistence on having it his own way causes tensions in both his professional and personal life.
The best thing about Jobs is Kutcher’s depiction of the man in his younger years. He’s clearly spent a lot of time studying the Apple icon’s mannerisms and presents a believable and often engaging onscreen transformation. The biggest problem, though, is the lightning pace of the plot, which fixates on seemingly mundane moments and glosses over others that could have been more interesting.
A particularly poignant scene that paints Jobs as a heartless businessman who will push anyone away that stands in his way leads on to a quirky sequence that forgets about what just went before. Covering 20 years of anyone’s life isn’t easy on a two-hour running time, but it does make the less interesting and publically accessible moments feel like wasted opportunities for a bigger emphasis on what was happening behind the scenes.
Jobs could have been a whole lot more. As it stands, it’s a great portfolio addition for Kutcher’s dramatic acting skills, but there’s not a whole lot more to encourage you to pay the price of admission.
JOBS is in cinemas on the now.
Review: Nathan Lawrence
Director: Louis Leterrier
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman
ON paper, Now You See Me is a terrific film, thanks to the combination of talented director Louis Leterrier (Unleashed, The Incredible Hulk), a solid cast and a tantalising premise: magicians who use illusions to rob banks. Unfortunately, while there are certainly moments where this promising film shines through, the result is convoluted and lacks a compelling ‘tada’ conclusion.
FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) is begrudgingly put on a seemingly implausible case: a ragtag group of magicians appear to have mysteriously robbed a bank on the other side of the world. Without proper evidence, Rhodes is forced to release the so-called “Four Horsemen”—J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Fisher) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco)—who pledge to up the ante and perform even bigger heists.
To further complicate matters, Rhodes is forced to partner up with Interpol Agent Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent) who seems to know more than she lets on about a potential shady bigger story behind what’s really going on. A simple logic-versus-(potential)-magic heist film becomes more convoluted when ex-magician Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) appears with nefarious intentions, while Horsemen sponsor and casino owner Arthur Tessler (Caine) seems to be a key part in the puzzle of what the film promises to be the ultimate trick.
A tacked-on romantic subplot wastes precious screen time, while the presence of underlying mysterious Illuminati-like magic overseers also distracts from the cool core premise of a magic heist film. To help balance things out, Now You See Me is a visual treat, as Leterrier continues to prove that he has a fantastic eye for detail, even if the script doesn’t support his vision (he also directed the 2010 adaptation of Clash of the Titans). Couple this with some unique action set pieces—including a magical, albeit totally believable, fight that’s both brutal and entertaining—and solid acting across the board, and it’s certainly easy to add some noteworthy ticks to the film’s pros column.
The unfortunate side of these positives, though, is it ultimately leaves you wondering what could have been if they’d stripped back the unnecessarily complicated elements before shooting. Fingers crossed they can reach into their hats and pull this off for the already-announced sequel.
NOW YOU SEE ME is in cinemas now.
Review: Nathan Lawrence
Directors: Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes
Cast: Damon Herriman, Angus Sampson, Anna McGahan, Oliver Ackland, Jamie Kristian
AUSSIE cinema tends to be renowned for two things in the 21st Century: hard-hitting, often left-field drama, and horror. There is the odd comedy that doesn’t even tend to fare well in our borders (let alone the rest of the world), but it’s safe to say that running off to see a home-grown film nowadays is a coin toss in terms of entertainment value. For every Burning Man or The Hunter there’s a less-than-stellar Bait or Any Questions for Ben? to offset the goodwill.
100 Bloody Acres is a horror/comedy that never takes itself too seriously, but also never quite delivers on the promise of horror, either. Reg (Herriman) and Lindsay Moran (Sampson) are small-town brothers that run an organic fertiliser business. They’re late on an important delivery, when naïve Reg stumbles upon a solitary car crash and loads up the sole occupant for a secret ingredient in the brothers’ latest batch of mulch. Meanwhile, free-spirit Sophie (McGahan), bumbling James (Ackland) and loose-cannon Wesley (Kristian) are on the way to a music festival when their car breaks down.
Despite his better judgement, Reg stops to help the stranded trio and all hell breaks loose when they get back to the controlling and foul-mouthed Lindsay. The fractured trio must work together to escape, while Reg and Lindsay rush to make a time-sensitive fertiliser delivery that may cost the stranded music-goers their lives.
The main problem with 100 Bloody Acres is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. There are occasional moments of gore, but it doesn’t register on the Saw or Hostel levels of torture porn, and nor does it seem to be going for that vibe. In fact, the only truly horrific scene comes late in the piece, and even then it has nothing to do with loss of limb or fear of mortality. Unfortunately, the comedic elements mostly fall flat, too, with the exception of a couple of genuinely clever reveals and the occasional chuckle-worthy moment.
100 Bloody Acres is okay viewing, but it really only starts to show the potential of its formula towards the end of the film. If you have a patriotic urge to support local cinema, 100 Bloody Acres may be worth your time, but if you’re looking for a rewarding horror/comedy, go watch Cabin in the Woods instead.
100 BLOODY ACRES is in cinemas now.
Review: Nathan Lawrence
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Hal Yamanouchi, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova
20TH CENTURY FOX
THE semi-sequel to the X-Men spin-off film X-Men Origins: Wolverine feels as though it’s been a long-time coming, but mostly because it promised, on paper at least, to rectify the flaws of the previous film. Such was the potential of The Wolverine it had visionary director Darren Aronofsky attached to helm the tale that follows fan-favourite X-Man Wolverine’s (Jackman) temporary exodus to Japan.
The film starts off with backstory, as World War II-prisoner Logan (aka Wolverine) is locked in a hole at a prison camp on the outskirts of Nagasaki on that fateful day in August, 1945. Logan saves the life of young Yashida (Yamanouchi), who goes on to become the head of a massive corporation in Japan. As a film that respects the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan has seemingly given up on life, drifting from town to town and minimising human contact as he’s haunted by dreams of a particular love from his past.
He’s tracked down by fellow mutant Yukio (Fukushima) who implores the Wolverine to travel back with her to Japan to grant her employer’s dying wish. The ageing Yashida, it seems, isn’t ready to die, and offers to switch his mortality with Wolverine’s mutant longevity: a gift Logan is reluctant to give, despite his near-suicidal tendencies. When Wolverine is stripped of his powers, though, he must fight to reclaim his immortality and protect Mariko, the daughter of Yashida.
While there are certainly some impressive action sequences in The Wolverine, the bulk of them fall flat, mostly thanks to a surprisingly boring story, despite the exotic setting. It doesn’t help that certain supposedly Tokyo-set locations have been shot in Sydney, making them eerily familiar to people familiar with the Aussie city.
The real problem, though, is the middle half of the film, which is filled mostly with an awkward love story that stands at ends with the haunted love story that’s happening in Logan’s dreams. In many ways, the short dream sequences are infinitely more interesting and dramatic than the forced love tale that unfolds between Logan and Miko. Unfortunately, as the main redemptive drive of the plot, the flat romance feels bolted on and doesn’t add emotional oomph to even the cleverest of action sequences. It’s doubly disturbing because it’s the same problem that the last Wolverine film had.
Jackman is still perfectly cast as the perpetually angry Wolverine, but it’s tough to watch the talented Aussie actor not get a chance to flex his dramatic muscles. It’s by no means a terrible film, and it does offer a nice lead-up to 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, but the urge to revisit X-Men Origins: Wolverine after seeing The Wolverine doesn’t exactly bode well for the overall engagement of this spin-off sequel.
THE WOLVERINE is in cinemas now.
Review: Nathan Lawrence
THE importance of fresh breath cannot be understated. Whether you’re on a hot date with your girlfriend, trying to score with a sexy stranger or getting friendly with the dancers at your local gentlemen’s club, you don’t want a case of bastard halitosis to ruin your evening.
That’s where Breath Pearls come in. Gluten-free and containing no artificial flavours, preservatives, alcohol or sugar, Breath Pearls are the 100 per cent natural solution to the common problem of bad breath. At least that’s what is says on the bottle. To test the company’s claims, the Australian Penthouse staff trialled Breath Pearls over several weeks, and below are the results.
A combination of peppermint and parsley in a soft-gel capsule, the Original variety is made to be swallowed. The claim that the peppermint acts to soothe the stomach proved true, and they certainly freshen the breath, even though it takes a little while for them to take effect. In fact, we recommend swallowing 1-2 capsules BEFORE you eat – once you’ve finished your meal, the Pearls will have already started working to combat any nasty odours. Just be prepared for a few pepperminty burps!
With the added and proven benefits of ginger, these little beauties also relieve minor nausea. They’re the same in every other way to Breath Pearls Original.
For those traditionalists who prefer to chew their breath mints, the Chewable variety is the ideal companion to a boozy lunch or garlic-laden dinner. But be warned: these things are strong! They provide an intense burst of peppermint flavour that stays with you for at least an hour.
So there you have it. Next time you need a hit of freshness, give Australian made and owned Breath Pearls a try. The entire range is available at www.breathpearls.com.au and Penthouse readers can get 10 per cent off any order over $50 simply by entering the coupon code ‘penthouse’ at checkout.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Max Martini
WRITER/director Guillermo del Toro is certainly no stranger to the exploration of weird and wonderful worlds, with screen credits that include two Hellboy films, Blade II and Pan’s Labyrinth. Pacific Rim is no different, as del Toro wastes no time establishing a world that’s overrun by gargantuan monsters from another universe that wreak havoc upon the coastal cities of the Earth of tomorrow.
Earth’s united solution is both swift and entertaining: giant mechanised fighting robots. This provides the premise for some fantastic fight sequences and also, as del Toro so aptly describes it, immediately converts the audience into 10-year-old children. There’s no denying the simplicity of the setup and the ensuing script, which is, for all intents and purposes, rather silly; but the quiet moments and so-so human drama plays second fiddle to each subsequent countdown to the escalating awesomeness of each showdown between organic and mechanical monsters.
What does work outside of the eye candy of clashing titans is that del Toro makes you believe that the Kaiju (the Japanese name for the giant inter-dimensional beings) are a global threat, instead of the usual blockbuster fare that pits Americans as saviours of the world. While there are some tender beats that work half the time, you really are getting your money’s worth in terms of the amount of running-time real estate dedicated to visually breathtaking fights between monster and machine.
This is a film that warrants the price of a 3D ticket, too, as del Toro doesn’t fall into the trap of shooting his fight sequences with a shaky camera. A lot of the combat is shot at a wide angle where it’s easy to track combatants, while close-ups are used to accentuate the brutality of some of the bigger hits. And there are plenty of these before the credits roll.
Pacific Rim may not be the smartest blockbuster that’s ever hit the big screen, but it’s certainly one that pulls no punches in unashamedly delivering the type of film it promises in posters, trailers and in the simplest of ‘robots versus monsters’ premises.
PACIFIC RIM is in cinemas now.
Review: Nathan Lawrence
Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter
WHEN you reunite a lot of the key team members behind the Pirates of the Caribbean films, you can expect a lot of similarities between the two as Disney tries to strike gold again on a similar formula. Instead of being inspired by a Disneyland theme park ride this time around, though, the stimulus is a transmedia offering that started as early as a 1933 radio show (and eventually went on to be a popular television show).
The main storyline is bookended and permeated by an older Tonto (Depp) talking to a young boy about the birth of the Lone Ranger. At a run time of 149 minutes, this is one of the key inclusions that could have been cut to provide a tighter blockbuster film. As with Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lone Ranger attempts to walk a line between dark themes and whimsical moments.
The darkness of The Lone Ranger makes Pirates look like a Pixar film by comparison, with bad guy Butch Cavendish (Fichtner) particularly gruesome in how he likes to dispatch his prey. This makes some of the lighter scenes seem ridiculous by comparison, but there are plenty of moments when Verbinski finds the elusive sweet spot and the seemingly opposing themes work in unison for some satisfying big-screen entertainment.
Armie Hammer holds his own as the titular Lone Ranger, even though Johnny Depp has clearly been given a lot of rope to push his character in weird and often hilarious directions. The push-pull buddy chemistry between the two really helps to carry the film, which is more than can be said about the tacked-on romantic sub-plot and the bizarre inclusion of Helena Bonham Carter’s character.
Gripes aside, The Lone Ranger is actually a hell of a lot of fun when it works, with some inventive set-pieces and a healthy smattering of larger-than-life action sequences. The creative team has tried to forge a product that offers something for everyone, which may not always work but, when it does, it grabs your attention and doesn’t rein it in.
THE LONE RANGER is in cinemas on the 4th of July.
Review: Nathan Lawrence
Director: Alex Gibney
Cast: Julian Assange, Adrian Lamo, Bradley Manning, James Ball, Michael Hayden
IT seems like just the other day that the Melbournian creator of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, had his face plastered all over almost every major news outlet. Fast-forward a few years to today and We Steal Secrets is a candid and encompassing documentary that covers the rise of Assange from relative obscurity to champion of freedom of speech, only to ultimately have this apparent freedom-loving ascent tainted by allegations of sexual assault.
But Assange’s story, it seems, starts decades ago; at least, that’s what the documentary will have you believe. The film opens with the 1989 WANK worm attack on NASA computers, which threatened the launch of the Galileo spacecraft. The documentary suggests this may have been Assange’s first high-profile instance of international hacking, even though he was never convicted.
Obviously, the real meat of We Steal Secrets is found in the controversy surrounding the leak of classified US Military images, reports and videos. Bradley Manning, the intelligence officer who was arrested for leaking the sensitive data, is a core focus of the film, which takes a closer look at the personal struggles of a man who rarely felt like he belonged.
The majority of the rest of the film focuses on Assange, who is a fascinating character no matter what you think of him. We Steal Secrets initially paints him as a hero of the people, but there’s a strong suggestion—from both old interview footage and interviews with some of his key staff—that he is intensely paranoid and that he is also incredibly vain.
Initially, his moral commitment to spreading the truth at any cost via WikiLeaks is unflinching but, as the documentary continues to shine a light on more information, it appears as though Assange may have broken his own golden rule when it comes to how he now treats his secret-sharing website.
We Steal Secrets feels at least half an hour too long, but it still manages to offer engaging viewing throughout the majority of the running time. Considering how widely spread the various details of Assange’s saga are, it’s a real accomplishment that writer/director Alex Gibney has managed to shed so much new light on the human stories behind the topic.
WE STEAL SECRETS is in cinemas on the 4th of July.
Review: Nathan Lawrence