The trailer for WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, from FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS alumni Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi, and newcomer Jonathan Brugh about vampires sharing a flat in Wellington, New Zealand. And yes that's Rhys Darby turning up as a werewolf. 

It received a very warm reception at Sundance, and looking at this it's easy to see why.

Madman films have promised Australian audiences a release "soon..."

Review: LIVING IS EASY WITH EYES CLOSED and Australia’s 2014 Spanish Film Festival

Australia’s Spanish Film Festival kicks off another strong and eclectic season with what may be the lightest and most accessible of the programme, David Trueba’s multi Goya-winning LIVING IS EASY WITH EYES CLOSED.

It’s 1966, and Beatlemaniac English teacher Antonio, who uses the band’s lyrics in his classroom, has learned that John Lennon is in Almeria starring in HOW I WON THE WAR, and sets out on the nearly impossible journey to meet one of the most famous people alive. Driving along the southern coast of Franco’s Spain to the film’s location set, he picks up two hitchhiking teenage runaways – unwed mother-to-be Belén, and sensitive soul Juanjo. Sure enough, along the way each of the three have things to learn from the other two.

Trueba’s touch as a director is so slight you might be mistaken for thinking this is an airy, superficial exercise without any real modern relevance, but with patience his film's weight and validity gently snowballs; and the lack of subtextual sledgehammering is refreshing.

LIVING IS EASY WITH EYES CLOSED is released in Australia as part of the Spanish Film Festival in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth and Byron Bay. Full programme and dates can be found here.


With just his second feature, writer/director/cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier made one of the highlights of the 2013 festival circuit (including the FIRPRESCI prize at Cannes): BLUE RUIN is a must-see for fans of gritty, intimate drama.

Dwight (Macon Blair) is living rough – sleeping in his car, eating out of bins, breaking into houses for a bath. A friendly visit from the police suddenly changes that when a concerned officer advises Dwight that “he” is going to be released. A switch in Dwight’s brain is flicked, who immediately drives off to confront “him”.

Saulnier’s extraordinary achievement is to look past what many would feel is the traditional narrative arc of the genre, and focus instead on the drama of the aftermath, effectively turning it on its head. Revenge is messy, and Dwight’s poorly thought-through actions deliver an avalanche of unexpected repercussions and twists to his story.

The screenwriting is concise and sparse, the cinematography is often beautifully calculated (its hues brought MEMENTO back to mind). The direction and editing are tremendously economical, and the low-key central performance from Blair (also invested in the film as an executive producer) holds it all together. BLUE RUIN never reveals a single detail artificially, which makes it all the more riveting. For some, this will be a highlight of their movie-going year – I can’t urge you strongly enough to find out if you are one of them.

BLUE RUIN is released April 25 in the US, and May 2 in the UK.


Older fans of Jim Henson's beloved, felty friends could be forgiven for feeling a little bit of deja-vu developing here. 1979’s THE MUPPET MOVIE – the Muppets’ original origin story - was a relatively simple, modest character-driven piece as compared with the plot heavy adventures that followed (THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER; THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN, etc.) So too, three years after THE MUPPETS re-introduced the characters to a whole new generation of kids with another (albeit revisionist) ‘who we are’ story, they now move onto a bigger adventure with more plot, gags and star cameos.

Picking up literally where the last movie left off, the Muppets are convinced by dodgy promoter Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) to capitalize on the success of their reunion show, and immediately take their revue on an international tour. Turns out this is a bad idea, as it’s all part of a nefarious plan by Constantin, the world’s most dangerous frog, who escapes from a Russian gulag, then manages to steal Kermit’s identity and have our amphibious hero sent back to Siberia in the master criminal’s place. And that’s just the beginning – there’s also subplots involving Tina Fey as the gulag warden and Modern Family’s Ty Burrell going ‘full Clouseau’ on the trail of a series of master burglaries that just seem to be happening right next to wherever the Muppets have performed.

If it all sounds like a lot for younglings to absorb, you’d be right. The six year-olds in the row in front of me were just hanging on, and any younger than that were getting lost. Fortunately there are easily enough musical numbers (Bret McKenzie returns as songwriter) peppered in there to keep any poor baffled littlies looking at the screen even they aren’t completely following it. For adults, the filmmakers have rectified the dearth of appearances by famous humans in the last movie, and MUPPETS MOST WANTED has a great procession of ‘ooh, look who it is!’ moments. It’s also important to mention that within all that plot, there’s a boatload of wonderfully cheesy gags.

It’s also got grand scope, and charm to match. It may occasionally have trouble keeping all of its plates spinning, but it’s never dull, and even if this isn’t quite it, MUPPETS MOST WANTED certainly feels like they’re getting ever closer to discovering the formula for the perfect Muppet movie.

MUPPETS MOST WANTED is released March 28 in the US, March 28 in the UK, and April 10 in Australia and New Zealand.


Hats off to writing/directing partners Chris Miller and Phil Lord – three times now they’ve picked up existing properties thought to have Hollywood screenwriting’s equivalent worth of junk bonds, and three times they’ve turned said properties into spun gold for their employing studios. First it was CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, then with 21 JUMP STREET, and now based on that most open-ended, plotless of children’s learning toys, THE LEGO MOVIE.

The brilliant thing about Lego – as anyone who grew up playing with it will attest – is that it’s what you make of it that counts. Sure, each kit has instructions on how you could piece together the blocks inside the box to resemble the picture on the outside, but eventually, inevitably, all those kits end up together in one bigger box. Then imagination takes over, and the sky’s the limit - which in a way is also the age old battle between order and chaos, and that's precisely what Miller and Lord pick up on as their central theme, beautifully disguised as the simplest of stories.

The plot moves with the scatological energy of a five year-old’s creative writing assignment, yet adheres to a straightforward hero’s journey - centring around Emmett (voiced by Chris Pratt), a happy, naïve and optimistic construction lemming who is unexceptional in every way, until he is deemed by wise, blind mystic Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) to be ‘The Special’, which plunges him into an adventure to save the world from the evil scheming of President Business (Will Ferrell), with help from an assortment of heroes and rebels including WyldStyle (think Trinity from THE MATRIX, voiced by Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), the pirate Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) and 'nineteen-eighty-something space guy' Benny (Charlie Day). As I said: kid’s stuff, right…?

Well, the veneer may be kid's stuff, but a lot of near-miraculous inspiration has gone into making a tone like this work. The pitch of THE LEGO MOVIE is near perfect, but its red cordial-levels of energy alone wouldn’t be enough to get it over the line. In fact, how long you can stay focused on the craziness of the first two acts will probably depend on your age, but fear not - the storytellers have a third act kicker (which I’ll not spoil) that renders all of the delirium that came before entirely earned.

Even the animation style - CG masquerading as stop motion – is perfectly judged and finely executed, with the clunky, staccato movement of the ‘bricks’ and characters resulting in some of the funniest moments.

In the end though, THE LEGO MOVIE works so well because it has so much heart: for the young it works entirely as a superficial story they can relate to and understand, but there’s also satirical detail to burn, as well as a palpable tidal wave of nostalgia for older viewers. All credit to the creators, who have matched brick for brick the storytelling investment we made every time we played with it. I'm avoiding the 'A' word here, so let's say it's pre-CARS Pixar great.

Review: THE RAID 2

First thing’s first: you’re not going to see a better out-and-out action film this year. Truly, THE RAID 2 is excellent; head and shoulders above anything else in its genre - just buy your ticket now. Done? Okay…

It’s been three years since writer/director Gareth Evans unleashed THE RAID on a largely unsuspecting world. He’s been working on this sequel pretty much ever since, and he doesn’t appear to have wasted a second of that time. THE RAID 2 is certainly more ambitious and absolutely far bigger than its predecessor, but whether it is actually better is entirely up for discussion.

The first of the sequel’s huge set pieces turns out to be a very good barometer for what is to follow. A prison yard has been turned into a mud-pit by a monsoon, but that doesn’t stop about fifty men in two rival gangs from trying to kill each other in it. A small army of prison guards soon join the fray. It’s abject chaos; utter limb-snapping, stabby carnage. With mud caked all over them, we’ve very little idea of who is who or what they’re fighting for. Now this is presumably only intended as a metaphor for the story as a whole, but it’s also unfortunately fitting of what will soon become an over-burdened story. But dayum if it isn’t a huge buzz to watch in the moment.

What once again elevates Evans’ work above your average actioner is a magnificently sustained, genuine push at the boundaries of filmed fight choreography (which if you know even a little of this well-worn genre, you’ll appreciate is not nearly as easy as it seems), and he continues to do it with aplomb. No longer limited to fighting in corridors of a high-rise, the story has now spilled out into greater Jakarta; we fight in the mud, in nightclubs and restaurant kitchens, on trains, in cars moving at speed. The melees are every bit as punishing and intense as the first film, and again, often literally breathtaking. You can see the effort and hard graft in every sequence, and for that he deserves unlimited praise.

Admittedly, it’s not quite all hyperbole and skittles: the shaky-cam is this time just too much, feeling like a sneaky technical band-aid being written off as a stylistic choice. But as far as the action goes, that’s about the only criticism you can level at it.

Any of THE RAID 2’s problems only surface in the ‘other bits’ of the film, when it pauses for breath/builds its plot. Whereas its predecessor’s story can be described in a sentence (cops find themselves locked in a drug kingpin’s tower block and have to fight their way out), enabling a delicious, lean purity for the action to stand front and centre, with THE RAID 2 Evans expands the story to include a messy knot of higher-level gangsters, their henchmen and their rivals, as well as police corruption. It’s at times unnecessarily dense and over-populated with superfluous, not-terribly-sensical characters - some of whom feel crowbarred in quite late into the story - which inevitably creates pacing issues as the film goes on.

And go on it does - clocking in at 150 minutes, Evans has essentially created a 90 minute gangster film with a solid extra hour of pure, highest quality action stabbed into it at various brief intervals, rather than the beautifully streamlined moulding of the first film. It is a sequel weighed down by its own determination that bigger is better; measured against the pure-adrenalin economy of the first film, it feels just a bit overweight.

But you’re still not going to see a better action film all year.

Why is only one of these actors scantily clad in the new poster for SEX TAPE?

This is the first poster for Sony Pictures' forthcoming comedy SEX TAPE. This is the first I've heard of the movie, and I have no idea if it's going to be any good or not (directed by Jake Kasdan who did ZERO EFFECT and THE TV SET, so fingers crossed), but that isn't my qualm.

I've no problem with Cameron Diaz being in a state of partial undress - that's part of the movie's premise and part of the central joke on which they're trying to sell the film.

But why is Jason Segel fully clothed?

a) He's no stranger to going tackle out (not that he needed to go the full monty for the poster anyway).

b) A man in only socks and underpants is the funniest of all clothing combinations - that's science.

c) It just looks weird and contrary to the aims of the film to have him in anything more than his durps.

A curious double-standard...


There are movies that have lazy screenplays, and then there’s NEED FOR SPEED – a movie so cretinous you sit there wondering if its merely grossly incompetent, or cynically holding its audience in contempt; this is the summer movie equivalent of Rebekah Brooks.

It’s not like screenwriter George Gatins needed to reinvent the wheel here – throw the superficialities of EA’s cash cow video game series (which I’ve not played, but look like a damn sight more fun than this) around a few genre staples, and let the appropriate visual departments take care of the rest.

But no. Gatins chooses instead to vomit up an array of irritating characters full of unnecessary ‘quirks’ - and he has as much difficulty remembering their backstories and motivations as he does joining up the story's positively epileptic tonal shifts. Even from a wider story perspective, it’s obvious that George and brother John (who only gets a ‘story’ credit – he should be thankful) have simply thrown every genre cliché at the wall. Trouble is it all stuck, and neither sibling bothered to wipe any of it off, so we’re left with about 40 more minutes of this shit than was ever needed.

Short version: I’ve farted better scripts than this.

Stunt man-turned director Scott Waugh still has a lot to learn about virtually every aspect of directing other than stunt work. As it is, Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Imogen Poots (FILTH), Dominic Cooper (THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE) and Michael Keaton (who between this and ROBOCOP must have bought himself something lovely and/or very expensive in the last 12 months) struggle through this half-hearted toss - lesser actors would have drowned completely.

But we’re not here to see a good script, or great performances, right? (Wrong actually, but I’ll let that slide for now.) We’re here to see the cars, and what can be done with them. And the cars are pretty, I’ll give Dreamworks that much. Also, to Waugh's credit the in-camera stunt work is largely impressive, yet a ‘big moment’ (used in the TV spots) climaxes in a laughably poor CG job – bitter irony for a movie based on a computer game. Similarly, all that money on effects and they put Keaton in front of a thoroughly unconvincing bit of green screen…? (But then again, by that point who cares?)

Don’t get me wrong - I love car movies, so to those who might watch this under the pretense they were until now too young or too ignorant of the genre to know any better: if you want to see a good one, watch BULLITT (referenced in NFS), watch THE FRENCH CONNECTION, watch MAD MAX 2, watch THE BLUES BROTHERS, watch VANISHING POINT, watch DEATH PROOF, watch FAST 5 again – hell, go and play more of whichever is the best NEED FOR SPEED game in the series, but stay away from this piss-poor wannabe.

NEED FOR SPEED opens March 12 in the UK, March 13 in Australia, March 14 in the USA and March 20 in New Zealand.

Review: 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

“Meanwhile, elsewhere in Greece…” is the premise of 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. Not so much what happened next, but the bigger story going on in the rest of the nation before, during and after Gerard Butler and his band of Spartans got their dramatically outnumbered arses handed to them at Thermopylae.

Our hero this time is the Athenian, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) who slays Persian king Darius, leading to Darius’ son Xerxes literally (and conveniently) reinventing himself as a 15ft tall golden ‘God-king’ before returning to Greece with his merciless naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green) - who similarly has some very deep-seeded revenge against the entire Greek population in mind.

Stylistically, RISE OF AN EMPIRE marries very successfully to the original 300, with all of the successes of the first film intact, and even some improvements. Whatever you may think of comic book writer/artist Frank Miller, he’s still one of the best and most stylish in his field, and invariably RISE OF AN EMPIRE’s finest moments are obviously faithful recreations of panels from Miller’s not-yet-released book serving as storyboards (see: an unconscious Themistocles and bits of Athenian warship drifting to the bottom of the sea after a particularly costly miscalculation, lit by flaming oil on the waterline above). The CG blood is still there, but with a mandate for violence even stronger than the first film, each spurt, splat and chunk of gore is deployed with greater creativity and artistry this time around.

Special mention too, for the excellent 3D; the continued use of almost entirely green screen environments enables a great deal of control over objects in 3D (much the same as AVATAR), and the artists and technicians have done a bang-up job.

If only script and storytelling received the same attention. Director Noam Murro gets lost in the tsunami of set pieces, losing sight of all but the most basic brush strokes of the bigger picture. It’s a particular shame, given the amount of narrative drive RISE OF AN EMPIRE HAS has in comparison to its predecessor, but between the myriad flying cameras gliding across battlegrounds and relentless over/undercranking of virtually every bit of weapon-on-body contact, we’re left not with an exciting movie full of engrossing twists and developments, but what feels too often like a plot made of hackneyed video game cut-scenes, almost defying you to care about the story until the next action scene arrives.

The nadir is when anyone speaks - which as you can imagine, is quite often. Whether any given audience member finds the dialogue of Zack Snyder’s script to be rancid ham or a delightful cheese buffet will be very much down their mood, but be warned – he gives George Lucas on a bad day a run for his money, and no-one gets away clean.

Despite this, the performers struggle through what must have been referred to on set as the ‘talking bits’ as best they can. Green walks away with the most memorable turn, even if that does include possibly the most ludicrous sex scene you will see this year. Stapleton meanwhile, gets the sharp end of the spear – a lead role that gives back very little, and certainly provides no career-launching “THIS IS SPARTA!” moment.

RISE OF AN EMPIRE will likely divide audiences by their attention span; an experience that is exciting and absorbing in the moment, but only memorable any time after leaving your seat for a few ‘that bit where’s, rather than as a satisfying whole.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is released March 6 in Australia and New Zealand, and March 7 in the UK and USA.

Review: NON-STOP

"Hands up if you think the old lady's in on it?"

There is a point in NON-STOP where it starts becoming entertaining – some way into the second act, the chaos and conspiracy around Federal Air Marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) keeps ratcheting up, mid-flight, someway past the point of ridiculous. Here, the film is buzzing on its Hitchcockian inspirations/aspirations, and it’s all the more fun for it.

Sadly that brief high is book-ended by a trudging set-up (something about a terrorist trying to extort $150 million by killing someone on board every 20 minutes, etc.), and an ending that manages to be both ‘meh’ and not completely logically sound.

Neeson can do the gruff, grizzled “I will find you, and I will punch a hole in your face” action thing in his sleep by now – and more power to him for that, but nothing here is a stretch for him. Likewise, there’s nothing particularly new or exciting in the script, except for the seemed-ok-on-paper idea to have Marks communicating with his nemesis exclusively via text message (TV’s Sherlock does it better) for at least three quarters of the film.

This is director Jaume Collet-Serra’s second movie with Neeson, after UNKNOWN. Both films more twisty thrillers than TAKEN-style actioners, but because TAKEN took a boatload of cash, both have been marketed to resemble that predecessor. It’s not worth getting your knickers in a twist and demanding your money back from the box office, though – whichever way you cut it, NON-STOP is a perfunctory experience not unlike a long-haul flight: by the end, you’re just glad it’s done.

But one interesting point: keep an eye on the loveable old lady who is briefly one of Marks’ suspects – for all NON-STOP bothers to explain, she may very well have been in on it after all. Sequel...? Dun-dun-DUUUUUUUH...!

NON-STOP is released pretty much everywhere from February 27.