REVIEWED: THE SWITCH

The Switch

If only Jason Bateman had been more like Patrick Bateman here.

It is a sad sign that the number of good rom-coms released this year can be counted on one hand – in fact, pretty much one finger – for aside from the fun Heartbreaker, the admittedly more action-orientated Knight and Day, and the flawed if tolerable The Rebound, the docket has been filled with the insultingly simple-minded likes of Leap Year, Valentine’s Day, When in Rome, The Bounty Hunter and The Back-Up Plan. Following in the footsteps of the aforementioned J-Lo starring turkey baster comedy, The Switch tackles the ever-relevant artificial insemination debate, and while peppered with tonal issues, it is at least thoughtful and not as condescending as its platitude-slathered sisters.

Kassie Singleton (Jennifer Aniston) is an independent-minded, single New Yorker who wishes to have a baby. Tired of trying to find Mr. Right, she decides to go it alone via chiselled, charming sperm donor Roland (Patrick Wilson). However, Kassie’s neurotic friend Wally (Jason Bateman), who harbours feelings for her, advises against it, and when she hosts an artificial insemination party, Wally accidentally spills Roland’s sample, and drunkenly replaces it with his own. Seven years later, after Kassie and Wally have fallen out of touch, she returns to New York, and Wally must decide what to do about both the product of his sperm – Kassie’s similarly neurotic six year-old son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) – and Roland, who is now dating Kassie.

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REVIEWED: THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE

The Girl Who Played with Fire

As if Lisbeth wasn't enough of an oddball...

Among the few critics not to fall in love with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘s unnecessarily distended runtime and sub-CSI storyline, I was nevertheless compelled by the performances of both Noomi Rapace as the titular femme and Michael Nyqvist as her journalist confidante. Although still compromised by many of the original film’s problems, this sequel is more level-headed and willing to admit that, in fact, Shakespeare it ain’t, and both Rapace and Nyqvist are still fabulous in their roles, even if their chemistry together is not exploited for the sake of accuracy to the source novel.

Reconvening roughly one year after the first film’s events, Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) is returning to Sweden and trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life. However, she has a few loose ends to tie off first, namely her continued blackmail of her guardian Bjurman, who wants revenge for her literally branding him as a sex pest. Millenium magazine journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) has since been exonerated and sees Lisbeth only very rarely, instead working on a story about sex trafficking with avid pHD student Dag Stevensson (Hans Christian Thulin). However, when Dag and his girlfriend wind up dead prior to publishing a list of known sex trade customers, Lisbeth’s prints are found on the gun, and suspecting a frame-up, Mikael must attempt to clear her name before it is too late.

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REVIEWED: GROWN UPS

Grown Ups

Grown Ups is one of the year's worst comedies.

Adam Sandler has never exactly been a difficult target to knock down. Counting myself in the minority of critics who tend to actually enjoy most of his films, it is disheartening when, after several brave ventures in the last few years – namely two remarkable turns in the 9/11-centric drama Reign Over Me and the ambitious if painfully overlong Funny People – he seems to have, with Grown Ups, reverted back to the sort of role that earned him a justified critical skewering. And this isn’t bad as many might think of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan or Anger Management as bad; this is Bedtime Stories bad, in as much as it similarly guts and leaves for dead Sandler’s crass goofball personality, slaps an imposing rating on it, and expects good things which, of course, there just aren’t here.

The film begins with five boys winning their junior high basketball championship in 1978, led by their trusty coach Buzzer (Blake Clark). Cut to 2010; Buzzer has unfortunately died, causing the five estranged friends, who had a strong emotional bond with Buzzer, to reunite and scatter his ashes. The group consists of Lenny (Adam Sandler), a successful Hollywood agent, Eric (Kevin James), a co-owner of a lawn furniture company, Kurt (Chris Rock), an emasculated stay-at-home dad, Rob (Rob Schneider), a hippie, and Marcus (David Spade), a drunkard and womaniser. Over the next few days, they learn a lot about themselves and their failures, as they must finally transition from their present states of arrested development into, you’ve got it, grown ups.

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REVIEWED: DIARY OF A WIMPY KID

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is light and fun, if a touch too "icky".

In the opening moments of Thor Freudenthal’s adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s hugely popular children’s novel series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a strange pang of familiarity hits. Of course, coming-of-age stories centred around a nerd trying to survive school are nothing new, but in the film’s first scene, as Zachory Gordon’s protagonist attempts to skip school while his older sibling pesters him, it is a moment incredibly reminiscent of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Not to mention Gordon, with his cocksure smirk and tousled black hair, is Matthew Broderick’s spitting image.

Though aimed squarely at kids and slapped with a PG rating, don’t be fooled that this is another homogenised, family-friendly film free of personality, because Wimpy Kid, while not always a thoroughly rousing comic outing, is often brimming with charm. More reassuringly for older audiences, there is a real cheekiness to it all, with a few subversively naughty jokes managing to sneak their way in, particularly from Steve Zahn’s father character and Devon Bostick as the older brother.

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REVIEWED: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Gamers and comic nuts alike will love Scott Pilgrim.

Despite countless attempts to directly adapt various video game franchises, the only two films based on the medium that have actually done so with a good degree of success ironically have not been based on video games at all. Joining Neveldine and Taylor’s Crank films as arguably the only works of cinema to adequately understand and engage with the attention-deficit style and idiosyncratic tone of video games, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is an exhilarating breath of fresh air that balances its alternative sensibilities with a surprising degree of reflexive self-awareness. In short, it’s one of the most inventive and explosively entertaining films of the year.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a hip 22 year-old living in Toronto, playing in his indie band Sex Bob-Omb and currently dating high schooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). However, when he meets Amazon delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he becomes obsessed, quickly losing interest in Knives and pursuing a relationship with Ramona. There is one small catch; she has seven evil ex-boyfriends, and Scott will have to defeat each of them in turn in order to win Ramona once and for all.

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REVIEWED: PIRANHA 3D

Piranha 3D

A very fun mix of ridiculous gore and sexy ladies.

It it said that at such a high level of proficiency, almost anything can be made an art of. To that effect, splatter maestro Alexandre Aja might just have made a veritable installation at the Guggenheim with his unapologetically exploitative gore-and-skin-fest remake Piranha 3D. Most sensible filmgoers will have quite rightly dismissed the film the second they saw the title, let alone sat through the trailer, yet there’s an odd sense of craft and diligence at play here, for Aja has perfectly replicated the style and tone of classic exploitation in a way filmmakers tap into now generally only through irony. Make no mistake, Piranha 3D is hilarious, but its tongue-in-cheek demeanour is perfectly balanced with strictly old-school gore and nudity. Simply, this is as joyous an exercise in pure gratuity as you’re likely to see this year, possibly next year, and maybe even a few after that. Given that this year alone has had The Expendables and has Machete incoming, that’s no coy statement.

The title tells you everything you need know about the plot; as the Spring Break party erupts in Arizona and thousands of alcohol-addled teens descend upon Lake Victoria, an angry swarm of hungry, prehistoric piranhas escape their imprisonment beneath, and begin tearing anyone they can find to pieces. Meanwhile, well-to-do Sheriff Julie Forester (Elizabeth Shue) tries to maintain order alongside Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames), while hoping that her hormone-infused teen son Jake (Steven R. McQueen) will stay out of the water and babysit his siblings, despite promising to scout locations for porn director Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell). Jake, tempted by the gorgeous star of Derrick’s show, Danni (Kelly Brook), disobeys his mother, heading off on a boat with Derrick and company, leaving his siblings at home to their own devices. Naturally, things go wrong, and everyone winds up in mortal danger as the famished beasties approach.

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REVIEWED: SALT

Salt

One of the film's better, sillier moments.

Decent spy thrillers are increasingly hard to come by these days, and in a post-Bourne landscape, anything short of intensely gritty action and a politically current logline makes for tough viewing. The latest attempt to replicate the success of Matt Damon’s stunning trio of spy pics is Salt, a peculiar and enticing effort that is too often by-the-book, but the sheer star power of Angelina Jolie and some clever toying with audience expectations makes for a mildly engaging ride.

The first time we see Evelyn Salt (Jolie), she is screaming “I am not a spy!” while being tortured in a North Korean prison. Whether she is a spy or not – and for whom – forms the crux of Salt‘s intrigue, for in fact, Salt is a respected and revered CIA agent, though that is about to change. During an interrogation, a Russian defector explains that people are plotting to assassinate both the Russian and American Presidents, and that the assassin, of course, is Salt herself. After the defector’s neural scans indicate that he is telling the truth, Salt’s superiors – her friend and colleague, Winter (Liev Schreiber), and the more skeptical ONCIX agent, Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) – must decide who to believe. However, once the defector escapes, Salt gives chase, knowing that she can clear her own name quicker than a fleet of pencil-pushing bureaucrats. Her escape is interpretted by Peabody as an admission of guilt, and so Salt must steer clear of the authorities while trying to find the real traitor.

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