Welcome to the movies at PS News.
Each week, PS News’s film critic Victor Rebikoff will highlight the latest offerings from the silver screen and share his expert commentary for our information and guidance.
The Ugly Truth
Director: Robert Luketic, Lakeshore Entertainment, Rated M, 96 mins
Australian filmmaker, Robert Luketic of Legally Blonde fame directs this Battle of the Sexes romantic comedy.
The script, written by Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz, and Kirsten Smith, follows a morning TV producer whose show takes a downturn in the ratings, forcing the station bosses to bring in an expert to help her turn things around.
Enter Gerald Butler (P.S I Love You) as the male chauvinist character Mike Chadway.
Chadway’s brashness and ‘straight-forwardness’ results in him hosting The Ugly Truth Program, which soon becomes one of television’s most popular shows, irritating young producer Abby Richter further (played by the delightful Katherine Heigl from 27 Dresses).
Richter also resents Chadway’s blokey attitude to women and his vulgarity, especially his antics demonstrated in one particular scene- resulting in a huge increase in the TV ratings.
And, as is the case in many romantic comedies, despite being offered gratuitous advice from Chadway in relation to Richter’s involvement with a young doctor, Colin (played by Eric Winter), cupid’s arrow doesn’t always pierce the heart of the chosen one.
It is quite clear that Luketic’s approach in The Ugly Truth is not the typical romantic comedy in the Doris Day tradition but rather one with a daring use of language and sexual innuendo that he believes will provide for a modern insight into male/female relationships, with a considerable degree of crudeness thrown into the mix.
Furthermore it is apparent that the weak script contributed to the way the story depicted female/male stereotypes which lessened the entertainment value of the movie.
That said Heigl’s uncomfortable performance is still a delight to watch, while Butler’s usual charm is somewhat tainted through the portrayal of his lewd character.
Luketic’s direction is full of energy and mischief in order to fit in with a script that is rather risqué.
The artificial performances of some of the lead characters and the crudity of the storyline are not usually depicted in romantic comedies that are generally entertaining to watch, such as Last Chance Harvey, and that unfortunately, is the ugly truth!
VIC'S VERDICT: 2 ½ Rubber Stamps
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Release Date 2 September 2009
Director: Mark Herman, Rated M, 91 mins
Mark Herman has written and directed an extraordinary movie based on John Boyne’s internationally best-selling novel of the same name.
The story is actually a holocaust movie set during World War II, and is seen through the innocent eyes of Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the eight-year-old son of a Nazi commandant (David Thewlis) at a concentration camp.
Bruno’s forbidden friendship with a Jewish boy named Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) on the other side of the camp fence has startling and unexpected consequences.
Disney’s soon to be released DVD, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is an emotionally charged and uplifting experience, full of realism and stunning performances from an ensemble cast, especially from Vera Farmiga as Bruno’s mother.
Despite the tragedy of the subject matter, Herman has shot a truly beautiful and memorable movie that could be considered a classic example of humanity’s injustice set against the innocence of two boys from different sides of the racial fence.
Together with its special features, this is one DVD that belongs in the library at home.
VIC'S VERDICT: 4½ Rubber Stamps
The Secret Life of Bees
Release 16 September 2009
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood, Rated M, 114 mins
The Secret Life of Bees is based on Sue Monk Kidd’s best-selling novel which is set in 1964 in the American Deep South.
It offers a heart-rending account of Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning, Charlotte’s Web) a 14 year-old girl who is haunted by the memory and death of her late mother.
To escape her lonely life and troubled relationship with her father (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind), Lily flees with her only friend Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls) to a South Carolina town that holds the secret to her mother's past.
In addition to directing, Gina Prince-Bythewood also wrote the screenplay for this powerful movie that takes place against a background of the tense racial divide between black and white Americans.
This is dramatically demonstrated in the beating Rosaleen receives from a group of ‘nasty rednecks’, which, coupled with her father’s unpleasant treatment, cause both women to run off and seek refuge in the home of the three African-American sisters who own a large farm, raising bees and selling honey for a living.
The oldest of the sisters is August (Queen Latifah, Chicago), who is kind and understanding, followed by June (Alicia Keys, Smokin Aces), a strong-willed woman who is hesitant about bringing strangers into the home and lastly, the gentle but simple-minded May (Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda), an incredibly sensitive and easily hurt woman.
Taken in by the understanding sisters, Lily finds solace in their mesmerizing world of beekeeping.
Anyone watching this wonderful DVD will be overwhelmed by the powerful performances of the ensemble cast, especially from Fanning, Latifah and Bettany.
The Secret Life of Bees is truly heartfelt, poignant and refreshing.
For those interested in owning this superb 20th Century Fox film, there is more than an hour of extras including the story of how the novel got adapted, actor and character profiles, eight deleted scenes, a guided tour of the pink house with author Sue Monk Kidd, on-set video diaries, and footage from the world premiere in Toronto.
In addition there are two audio commentaries, both feature writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood.
VIC'S VERDICT: 4½ Rubber Stamps
Release 9 September 2009
Director: John Polson, Rated MA, 101 mins
In Sony’s yet to be released DVD, Australian actor Russell Crowe (The Gladiator) stars as a semi-retired cop in an adaptation of a Robert Cormier novel.
Tenderness was directed by anotherAustralian, John Polson who made an earlier movie with Crowe in 1994, titled The Sum of Us.
Crowe’s role is that of Detective Cristofuoro, who is convinced that Eric (Jon Foster), the young man he sent to juvenile detention for the brutal murder of his parents will kill again following his release on his eighteenth birthday.
Cristofuoro isn’t the only one stalking Eric as he finds himself the unhealthy focus of a 16-year old teenager, Lori (Sophie Traub), who appears to have a death wish after persuading Eric to take to the road together-pursued by an obsessive Cristofuoro who is certain that Lori will be Eric’s next victim.
Despite some average performances from the rest of the cast, Crowe’s role is certainly likeable as the semi-retired detective while his performance is only plausible, with the only other star of note being Laura Dern (Jurassic Park), who plays only a cameo role as Eric’s Aunt Teresa.
Though initially an intense and interesting movie, the story appears to falter in parts possibly due to the difficulty experienced by scriptwriter Emil Stern in adapting Cormier’s complex novel to the screen and fleshing out the major characters involved in what is an average crime thriller.
Also included in Sony’s DVD is a range of special features.
VIC'S VERDICT: 3 Rubber Stamps
Two Fists One Heart
Release end of August
Director: Shawn Seet, Rated M, 105 mins
Walt Disney’s latest DVD release is a new Australian movie set in modern day Perth.
Two Fists One Heart tells the story of Anthony Argo (Daniel Amalm, Underbelly), a young Australian-Italian boxer being pushed to the limit by his hardened Sicilian father and trainer, Joe (played magnificently by Italian actor Ennio Fantastichini).
Joe wants Anthony to achieve the success in the ring he was denied as a young man.
When Anthony forms a relationship with a university student named Kate (Jessica Marais), he begins to see his life and the role of violence in a different light.
Ultimately, broader considerations and motivations draw him back into the ring.
In the opening scenes director Shawn Seet provides the setting for his dramatic story, with Anthony’s father Joe, seen holding his son under water and then bringing him up to the surface.
Joe’s approach is to provide his son with strong lungs for when he becomes a boxer.
Many years later Joe still attempts to hold this smothering grasp over his son by running a gym and teaching boxing.
Anthony has many flaws in his fighting technique and is more concerned with his job as a nightclub bouncer.
Inspired by Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, screenwriter Rai Fazio was an Australian amateur boxing champion and brings to life his own upbringing as a young boxer in a script that attracted and inspired Australian producer David Elfick (Newsfront and Rabbit Proof Fence).
Fazio also recalls the advice he received from his Sicilian father which became the title of the movie, “Do not be afraid son, he is just like you, with two fists and one heart’’.
Fazio also co-stars in the movie as Nico, Anthony’s arch enemy.
What makes this movie memorable are the believable performances of the lead actors set against the backdrop of the community's cultural diversity, showing plenty of heart to be worthy of such a title.
It is also a visually vibrant story, bringing out the beauty of Perth as well as the contrasting charm and ugliness of Australian society.
In addition to the movie there is a fascinating array of features on the DVD which offer a compelling reason to add it to your movie library.
VIC'S VERDICT: 3 Rubber Stamps