Saturday, October 31, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity
Year: 2007
Director: Oren Peli
Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

In My Own Words
Well, the famous “Paranormal Activity”. If you haven’t heard of this movie, you soon will. The film that cost $15 000 to make, made $9.1 million in its opening week in the USA and many people are saying it is the scariest of our time. It was these things that made me more terrified of whether the movie would let me down than what I would see on the screen. However I was not let down. Although I don’t think my fingernails will forgive me for awhile.

“Paranormal Activity” is not actually released in Australia until the 3rd of December, but being Halloween, Event Cinemas had an advance screening at 9:30pm. After how much I had heard about it and looking for something to do on the usually uneventful Halloween nights in Sydney, I jumped at the chance to go and see the film before everyone else. The one thing I regret about this is being in a cinema half full of teenagers who just went to giggle and scream. However, I still shook with fear and came out breathless, feeling like I had been holding my breath for the last 20 minutes. Here I am an hour later at home, with one of my friends who couldn’t bare to go home by herself. Instead we are continuing the Halloween festivities and watching a documentary on “The Amityville Horror”.

Will my three friends and I be able to sleep well tonight? Will we be hearing loud noises in the middle of the night? One thing I can say for certain, “Paranormal Activity” is the scariest movie I have ever seen at the cinemas.
These are my own words and here is my review.

Review“Paranormal Activity” is one of the most talked about movies of the year, and with good reason. It is indeed a movie that will scare the majority of people who will watch it. The movie is very clever and well done for the type of movie that it is. By saying this, it is not filmed like a traditional movie, but in the same style as such movies as “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield” with the hand held camera effect. This effect makes it more realistic and contributes to the terrifying nature of the film.

Katie and Micah are a young couple who have been experiencing strange happenings in their suburban home in San Diego. Katie is certain that something not human has been following her around for the majority of her life and that the house is not to blame. Micah then sets up a camera to record any activity that occurs around them as proof that Katie is telling the truth. What follows is a month of terror in which the paranormal activity goes from bad to worse.

This film is not only scary, but is also well made considering the circumstances. “Paranormal Activity” cost only $15 000 to make, was completely filmed in director Oren Peli’s house and used unknown actors, Kate Featherston and Micah Sloat. A film that is able to have such a low budget as this one did and cause such a sensation and be the source of nightmares for so many people is definitely a winner. The special effects are extremely realistic and the acting by Featherston and Sloat is both well done and convincing. Featherston is definitely the star of the film as the tormented student and one can only hope that she will have a career past this phenomenon. She overshadows Sloat, who is good in his role as her boyfriend, but not spectacular. Perhaps the worst performance is by Mark Frederichs who plays the psychic, who’s part is the most rehearsed in the film and doesn’t quite fit in with the overall scope of the movie.

The film may not be for everyone, especially those who are not into horror films and do not like being scared. However, those who don’t mind being scared a bit, should definitely go to see “Paranormal Activity”. Not only because it do definitely provide a scare, but it is worth seeing how such a low budget film can be so successful and low budgets don’t mean low quality. The script is carefully planned out, original and very clever. The way Peli has written and directed “Paranormal Activity” is perfectly laid out. A connection is made with the characters straight away and the audience knows Katie and Micah’s background in the perfect fashion for the circumstances.

As said before, this film may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is great for what it is. “Paranormal Activity” may not win any Oscars, but it will scare, entertain and audiences will enjoy the realistic qualities of the movie.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Couples Retreat

Year: 2009
Director: Peter Billingsley
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristin Davis, Kristen Bell

In My Own Words
‘Couples Retreat” wasn’t a movie I thought I would be seeing in the cinemas. I wasn’t even quite sure if I would be hiring it out on DVD. However, my other half reminded me that as a movie critic, I will have to go and see movies that I don’t personally want to see or would normally go and see. It’s not that I wouldn’t normally go and see a comedy like “Couples Retreat”, but more that I had heard mixed reviews about it. However, I’m not one to place too much emphasis on reviews until I’ve actually seen the movie, and then I’ll decide whether the review is true or not.
My intuition was pretty accurate. I wasn’t a big fan of the film. I felt it had some good underlying messages, but it was hard to decipher them due to the ridiculous goings on in the film. I didn’t think it was as funny as I thought it would be. Maybe it wasn’t my sense of humour, but I normally laugh at anything remotely funny. This is my first review I have written for here which I have written about a film that I didn’t like and I didn’t think was deserving of a good review. I have therefore found this review harder to write than the previous reviews I have done.
These are my own words and here is my review.

Review“Couples Retreat” is ultimately a comedy about marriage problems. Although there are lessons to be learned by watching this film, they are hard to find in amongst the attempts of comedy and a mediocre script and weak characters. The film had the potential to be a lot funnier than it actually was with such a strong group of actors, but fell short with only a few laughs. The film is focused around four adult couples, one of which is seriously contemplating divorce. They convince the other three couples to accompany them on a holiday to the resort, Eden which is especially for couples. All of the couples figure out that their marriages may be in trouble through couple bonding activities and counseling sessions.
The first thing one notices about the movie is that the script does not work. The scenarios that lead to the characters deciding to go on this retreat are extremely unrealistic. The main characters, Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie’s (Malin Akerman) two children speak like they are teenagers or even in young adulthood rather than young children and the technique that Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) use to brainwash the other couples is ridiculous. There are some laughs in the movie, such as Dave and Ronnie’s boy, Kevin’s toilet antics, but most of the comedic attempts are quite predictable. The movie itself is quite predictable and there is no real challenge in guessing who will stay together and who won’t. Where the background music is placed and the type of background music is also highly predictable.
The characters are weak and have very little character development, which really is a disappointment with such an ensemble of stars. Vaughn is not spectacular, but he does a good job. It is refreshing seeing Malin Akerman in a more mature role than her past roles in movies such as “27 Dresses”. There are really no horrible performances in the film, but it is by no means any of the actor’s finest performance.
The best thing about the film is the location in which it is filmed. Bora-Bora, Tahiti plays the role of Eden and is perhaps the best performance in the film. It is what makes the film worth watching and inspires the viewer to go on a holiday. The audience will find themselves watching the location more than the actors.
It is a shame that the script works against the movie as there are definitely marriage lessons to be learnt throughout the film, particularly in the last 20 minutes. These lessons may not be evident to everyone as a result of how the movie is pieced together, but they are definitely there if looked for.
“Couples Retreat” is by no means a movie that is what it could be, but is worth watching if you are a great fan of any of the stars, or if you are planning a trip to Bora-Bora in the near future.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mao's Last Dancer

Mao’s Last Dancer
Year: 2009
Director: Bruce Beresford
Cast: Chi Cao, Bruce Greenwood, Kyle McLachlan

In My Own Words
I admit, when I first heard about “Mao’s Last Dancer”, I knew absolutely nothing about the intriguing and amazing story of Li Cunxin. My other half and his mother were big fans of his though. Not just of Li Cunxin the ballet dancer, but of Li Cunxin the person, the survivor and the motivator. So they were both extremely excited about the movie.
After seeing the movie, I too am now a big fan of Li Cunxin. I went and bought his autobiography today and I really look forward to reading it. I have heard that the book is better than the movie, as is the case with many books. I could imagine how it would be as it is supposed to go into more detail than what is shown in the movie. As Cunxin wrote the book, I am also interested in hearing the story first hand, rather than see the story from an outsider’s perspective on the big screen.
By all means I did enjoy the movie, but I am actually expecting more from the book than the movie. The movie, however, is a must see for dancers, as well as those interested in eastern culture, specifically communist China. In this way, I found it extremely educational for both fields. The ballet is extremely entertaining and beautiful to watch on the big screen. People who would have seen the Australian Ballet before will recognize many of the dancers in the movie.
My favourite part of the movie was the finale, which I found particularly beautiful and moving, however, a little cliché. Yet, like my last movie review, it was a true story and the truth is the story.

There are my own words and here is my official review.

Many people will be familiar with the story of Li Cunxin and his amazing journey from communist China to the Houston Ballet Company in the USA. “Mao’s Last Dancer” is a film for those people and also for those who don’t know much about his tale.
Li Cunxin(Chi Cao) was taken from the poverty of his home in Qingdao, China and placed in the Beijing Dance Academy in the 1970’s. Cunxin, as a young dancer, experienced years of grueling training before he was selected to travel to the United States as an exchange student for three months. When he decided that he wanted to stay in the United States rather than return to China, he was part of a highly publicized detainment in the Chinese Embassy in which resulted in him being banned from ever returning to China to see his family. The film covers the twenty years of Cunxin’s life where he goes from childhood poverty to reaching international fame in his adulthood for his incredible dancing.
“Mao’s Last Dancer” chronicles the life of Li Cunxin well, as it extracts the most important parts of the dancers life and packs them into 117 minutes. Chi Cao, who looks uncannily like a young Cunxin himself, is brilliantly cast. He gives a wonderful performance as Cunxin and is a fantastic dancer in his own right. He captures the naivety and emotion of Cunxin throughout the movie and is definitely commendable in his role. Amanda Schull, who plays Cunxin’s once wife Elizabeth Mackey, is also a stand out in the movie. She is believable as the young dancer striving to find herself as well as support her lover. Australian viewers will also find delight in seeing Jack Thompson as the US Federal Judge, however brief his role.
The ballet performances in the movie are also a major highlight that ballet fans and those not familiar with ballet will find entertaining and beautiful. The producers of the film employed dancers from China, America and Australia The dancers are all spectacular and give breath-taking performances, and they should not be forgotten in the praise of this film
However, it does feel as though the film lacks depth in parts. The major part which there is a lack of depth are the scenes in China. The struggle of life in poverty does not transfer to the audience as much as it could and the audience does not feel as much sympathy for those in Qingdao as they could. Their hardships are not shown as there is little of Qingdao shown, while there should be more as to show where Cunxin came from and his reason to want to return so much. Fans of the book will be disappointed in the film for this reason.
“Mao’s Last Dancer” is indeed a beautiful movie with some amazing scenes, but it still could have gone further than it did. It may not be a film for everyone, but there are many people out there who will enjoy it immensely. The film is a fitting tribute to an amazing man and does him and his struggle justice, which is the most important thing.



The Internet Movie Database, Accessed: 19th October 2009,
The Official Site Of Li Cunxin, Accessed: 19th October 2009,

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Julie And Julia

Year: 2009
Director: Nora Ephron
Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci

In My Own Words
I had been looking forward to “Julie & Julia” for quite awhile, so I had high expectations. Both Meryl Streep and Amy Adams are two of my favourite actors of our time, both actors who are versatile and extremely talented. I’ve never been much of a cooker, so it wasn’t that part that excited me, I was even half worried that it would be boring. Could a movie starring both Streep and Adams really be boring? I was worried about being let down.

Luckily, the day “Julie & Julia” opened in Australia, I won a “Julie & Julia” pack from Cronulla Cinemas! How did I win it? By saying in 25 words or less what my cooking specialty was, I answered “Picking up the phone and ordering gnocchi Bolognese”. I hate to admit that that is true, but I don’t cook very much. Mainly because my boyfriend is such a good cook that he puts me to shame. But, Cronulla Cinemas seemed to like it! As a result, I won two free tickets, an apron, an oven mitt, a mulit-chopper, a peeler and a “My Life In Paris” book by Julia Child. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to read the book before I saw the movie. It didn’t matter though.

I wasn’t let down by the movie at all, thankyou Meryl and Amy! I found the movie fun, enjoyable and entertaining. From there, I went home and researched both Julia Child and Julie Powell. I am really eager to read the book which the movie is based on now and I will do that, as soon as I get through my pile of other books I have to read.

The movie did inspire me as well, as I mention that it will in the following review. It reminded me that you must never doubt your abilities because when you set your mind to something, you can reach for the stars. Believe it or not, I may even try my hand at cooking.

These are my own words, and here is my official review.

Whenever it is announced that Meryl Streep will be in a particular movie, the movie inherits a high level of expectation. Throw Amy Adams into the equation and there is another reason why “Julie & Julia” has so much to live up to. And as a result, the film is an absolute treat for food and movie lovers alike.

The two female stars of “Doubt” are reunited for the double story of Julia Child and Julie Powell. Streep stars as Child, the larger than life American woman who follows her husband to Paris in 1948 and undertakes cooking classes at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. From this beginning, she embarks on the journey that saw her becoming the pioneer of French cooking in the USA. Then in 2002 there is Julie Powell, the cubical worker who feels like she is stuck in her dead end job until she decides to undertake all the recipes in Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking in the space of one year and blog her experience. The movie covers the story of both women and their trials and tribulations with life and cooking.

“Julie & Julia” is an enjoyable piece of work, with many recipes and delightful images that will hunger and excite the audience. The choices Nora Ephron makes in for this film are commendable. Her choice of Streep for the role of Child is excellent, with Streep becoming the late Child down to the finest detail. Although Streep is nowhere near the 6’2 height that Child was, the camera is able to transform her so that she towers of her co-star, Stanley Tucci. The pairing of Streep and Tucci as husband and wife may seem like an odd pairing, but they replicate Julia and Paul Child and do it well. Adams is also note-worthy as Powell, making her character one that the audience can definitely relate to.

Audiences will enjoy the film for its script and story especially. The tale of these two women is one that many people will relate to and find inspiring. Both Julia Child and Julie Powell had goals in their lives (both based on cooking) which transfer the message to the audience that people are able to do something that they love and have a good life doing so. The audience should leave the cinema feeling inspired and eager to fulfil their dreams, just like the lead characters in the film. This film should also increase sales of Child’s novel “My Life In Paris” and Powell’s “Julie & Julia” for this reason.

The way in which marriages are portrayed in this film is particularly interesting. Both the Child’s and the Powell’s have seemingly happy marriages. Admittedly, it is not smooth sailing throughout the whole movie, but the majority represents husbands willing to support their wives in their chosen dreams. It is a wonderful thing to see happy marriages on the big screen, but is it too light for the audiences? Some may find it so, but considering it is based on true stories, one must accept that the two couples were in fact really happy and can be seen as an example of what makes a marriage work.

Overall, the film may not be a big contender for the 2010 Oscars, but it is definitely enjoyable and a delight to watch.

7 ½ /10

Barnes, B., 2009, “Full Stomachs , Full Marriages Too”, The New York Times, Published: July 31, 2009,
Bio. True Story, 2009, Accessed: 16th October 2009,
The Internet Movie Database, 2009, Accessed: 16th October 2009,