REVIEWS: 'Before The Devil Knows You're Dead', 'Speed Racer', and 'Kung Fu Panda'

Sidney Lumet's newest film deemed near-perfect, Speed Racer deemed dull and slow, while fighting animals found to be very, very entertaining.

> Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris, Amy Ryan.

Rating: (R16)
4 stars (out of 5)

Review by Mark Orton

Rarely, if ever, does Phillip Seymour Hoffman get the opportunity to tear up the screen in a sex scene.

Playing a sicko in Happiness aside, Hoffman's rotund frame doesn't really lend itself to the carnal gymnastics of the contemporary leading man.

So, when Before The Devil Knows You're Dead hits you smack between the eyes with Hoffman's heaving hulk of a figure, something sinister and possibly very special might be up.

There is simply no American actor better at getting the best out of a script or his collegues. Hoffman's ability to glide with ease into diverse and difficult characters must make him a drawcard for any director up for the challenge.

And at 84 years young, veteran director Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon) knows a thing or two about extracting good performances.

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead is pretty much as good as modern cinema gets. Using the Rashomon technique of spinning the same yarn from multiple perspectives, this clever crime piece is stylistically similar to Tarantino's Jackie Brown.

The plain-vanilla crime is of lesser importance than the way the individuals digest and then self-destruct as details become clear.

As two brothers planning to fix financial woes by robbing their parent's jewellery store, Andy (Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) are not exactly likeable characters.

Long story short: the heist goes spectacularly wrong and sets the wheels in motion for a world of paranoia and deception. With each subsequent scene the tension is ratcheted up a few notches.

Whoever thought of casting Hawke as the schmuck next to Hoffman's nihilist deserves a medal. Quite simply, Hawke has never been better and, along with Albert Finney as suspicious dad Charles, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead is a masterclass in ensemble set-ups.

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead is a dark brooding meditation on relationships, delivered to excellence by some heavyweight talent. Not quite perfect, but not far from it.


> Speed Racer

Director: Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Nicholas Elia, Mathew Fox, Scott Porter, Benno Furmann.

Rating: (PG)
2 stars (out of 5)

Review by Christine Powley

Speed Racer (Hoyts) was a Japanese children's anime, that achieved some popularity. But whether you remember the cartoon or not is not that important.

What matters is how much fun it is to watch super-stylised computer graphics merged with live actors in high-speed racing action.

Sadly, it's not as much as you would think. In fact, during the final all-out big race I realised that there is more genuine tension to be had watching Top Gear's "celebrity in a reasonably priced car" segment.

Speed Racer is directed by the Wachowski brothers, the guys responsible for the Matrix movies, so we know they can move large objects at high speeds in an entertaining manner.

But can they get anyone to really act among all the blue screen?

They have the cast list to pull it off but that is no excuse for going crazy with emotional moments. Looks may not be everything, but when they are the best thing you have, you should trust them more.

Instead, Speed Racer frequently whips us out of racing action to explain motivations. At the start I was horrified to learn that Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) has a back story. His brother Rex (Scott Porter) was killed trying to take racing back from the corporations controlling it.

Now he is an adult, Speed has to decide for himself. Will he take the smart but soul-destroying route of corporate lackey or will he stay true to the independence and integrity of the Racer family?

It is no contest, but turning down the corporations sets the might of the industry against them.

Speed Racer was not made for lady film critics. It is for young boys who love to play race-car drivers.

Yet all the hyper-colours, stylised action and even a cute chimp hamming it up during the lulls does not disguise the fact that at over two hours, Speed Racer does not work. It is too slow and heartfelt for the kids and too cheesy for the adults.

The boys are going to enjoy it best when they buy it on disk and fast-forward past all the endless plot points.



> Kung Fu Panda

Director: John Stevenson, Mark Osborne
Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Michael Clarke Duncan.

Rating: (PG)
4 stars (out of 5)

Review by Kalem Blackley

Kung Fu Panda is the story of Po, a friendly, clumsy panda who dreams of becoming one of the "Famous Five" - a Kung Fu Warrior.

Po's Dad has dreams of him taking over the family business, but when Po hears that the Famous Five are looking for a new ninja, he sets out to prove he really can be more than just a noodle boy.

Kung Fu Panda is a great movie with a real "believe in yourself message". It has heaps of laughs, action and everyone in the family will enjoy it.

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