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Movies for the Weekend

Friday, 28 November 2008

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Amy Ryan, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan
Running Time: 141' 35"
Rating: ****
Classification: 16
Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Plot: Set in Los Angeles in 1928, Clint Eastwood's latest directorial effort finds a desperate mother (Angelina Jolie) searching for her missing son only for him to be mysteriously returned to her a few months later. However, she soon discovers that he's not her little boy at all.

Michael's Verdict: Clint Eastwood has delivered a gem of a movie that should make most of the running when the Oscars are handed out next February. Based on a true story, Changeling is a beautifully paced, superbly shot drama starring Angelina Jolie as a single mother in 1920s LA whose nine-year-old son goes missing. It's a wonderful lead role for any actress and Jolie is to be commended, not just for her convincing turn, but for the fact that she doesn't rely on histrionics to convey her subject's despair.

Other verdict: In the Changeling, Jolie bares her very soul in the unguarded and honest way typical of her performance style but also of Eastwood's methods. Jolie, who would already be considered American royalty, much like Hollywood starlets of yesteryear, is postured through out the film in facial close-ups, much like her royal predecessors. Lit like a visual song that only cinema can seem to capture, Jolie's face tells the story of Christine Collins' strength, suffering and hope. While in the golden age of cinema, a starlet needed to be fresh and youthful, Eastwood is more interested in gritty reality rather than glossy, imposed beautification. Jolie appears haggard, tired and imperfect as she suffers, though this is not exaggerated either.
From Unforgiven to Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood has found compelling stories of feminine inequality more than just a brave subtext. Eastwood's women are allegories for rebellion against the expected roles that women have played or been forced to play in an unequal and unjust past. Changeling is a tribute to an obscure and forgotten heroine who brought down a corrupt infrastructure by refusing to accept the label of a foolish, emotional woman. Much like Eastwood's directorial style, the truth of Christine Collins is much more pertinent than anything that could have been imagined.
Review by Lydia O'Connor for

Niko and the Way to the Stars
Directors: Michael Hegner, Kari Juusonen
Starring: Andrew McMahon, Morgan Jones, Paul Tylak, Aileen Mythen
Running Time: 80' 20"
Rating: ***
Classification: PG
Courtesy: Magma Films

Plot: A reindeer boy named Niko dreams about flying like his father, whom he has never met. Despite suffering from severe vertigo, he sneaks out of his home valley to take flying lessons from Julius, a rare member of a Finnish family of flying squirrels

Verdict: Charming festive drama from Finland (using Irish actors for voiceover) which tells the story of a young reindeer with aspirations of following in the hoove-steps of his father, Prancer, and getting to pull Santa's sleigh. A million miles form Tim Burton.

Other Verdict: This European animation (thankfully dubbed into English) is a cuddly, innocent and sweet adventure aimed at the very, very young. With Santa, Christmas, flying reindeers, wolves that pose enough menace to be a threat without being really scary, and a nice 'believe in yourself and your dreams will come through' message in the mix - what's not to like? Older kids used to 'busier' Pixar/Dreamworks/Disney animation with tons of pop culture references and tunes that were popular for five minutes ten years ago, might find Niko and the Way to the Stars a little slight and the story too simple to hold their attention, but there's no doubting that younger viewers will find magic and wonder in everything that's happening on screen. The opening volley of Christmas movies has arrived, and it's a good 'un.
Review by Gavin Burke for

What Just Happened
Barry Levinson
Starring: Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro Running Time: 103' 39"
Rating: ****
Classification: 15A
Courtesy: Pathe

Plot: Shackled with a star vehicle that culminates in the gangland execution of a cute dog, Hollywood producer Ben (De Niro) tries to save his career while battling ex-wives, whacked-out directors, arrogant stars and the industry itself.

Verdict: Robert De Niro is terrific as the Hollywood producer whose reputation is crumbling around him. Levinson takes swipes at all aspects of the movie business, from greedy agents, to fame-hungry ingénues, to over-sensitive directors and it's a hugely enjoyable experience

Other Verdict: To put it succinctly, this represents DeNiro's best screen work in years. He is at ease and entirely comfortable as a weary producer who deals with nut jobs on a daily basis, yet tries to get something on the screen that he can be proud of. It's an effort that is often at odds with the realities of the way Hollywood works. Perhaps it helps that the real producer, Art Linson, wrote the screenplay and produces this film as well. Keener deftly plays the bottom-line minded studio head, who threatens to shut everything down unless the maniacal director re-cuts the film to let a murdered dog live. Funniest scene in the film is a meeting in her office as his director throws a tortured hissy fit at the prospect of touching his sacred work at all. In the role of the crazy helmer, Wincott steals the show. Looking like Keith Richards and playing the diva artiste to the hilt, Wincott is downright hilarious. Brilliantly skewering themselves in extended cameos are Penn and Willis as demanding stars. Type casting? John Turturro shows up in an amusing bit as a thoroughly wimpy agent. Robin Wright Penn and Kristen Stewart give DeNiro's character a much needed personal side and mainly play it straight.
Review from

The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D
Directors: Tim Burton
Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara, William Hickey
Running Time: 74 mins
Rating: ****
Classification: PG
Courtesy: Walt Disney Pictures

Plot: Bored and unhappy with the life of being "The Pumpkin King" Jack Skellington of Halloween Town, Jack sets out to find something exciting. Jack discovers "Christmas Town" and takes it upon himself to take over the duties of Santa to deliver toys across the world to children.

Michael's Verdict: Welcome re-issue of Burton's black musical fantasy (this time in 3-D for added grit) in which the King of Halloweentown attempts to muscle in on Christmastown with disastrous effects. Spooky.

Other Verdict: What's this? Even if you missed this 3D version of Tim Burton's holiday mish-mash when it was released here last year, you've probably seen the original 1993 outing. But since it's coming to our 3D screens again this Christmas, a quick rundown of the plot won't hurt anyone: Jack Skellington (Sarandon speaking, Elfman singing) is the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown and usually revels in the macabre antics of his fellow townsfolk in the run up to the holiday. This year, however, he's not feeling it. After wandering the forest, he discovers a doorway to Christmasland and, falling in love with the warmth and love there, is determined to bring Christmas to his friends - by kidnapping Santa/Sandy Claus (Ivory). The new version isn't a director's cut: there's no scenes shaved or added, but the 3D makeover adds more depth and gives a wider scope to Burton's bizarre gothic world. It's also a good excuse to fork over a tenner for a re-release. The animation is short (really short), which means it doesn't outstay its welcome or leave you with a headache (it can be a lot on the eyes at times) and you'll get to keep a cheap pair of '80s style shades to boot!

Review by Gavin Burke for