This week at the movies, Australian writer-director Stuart Beattie’s adaptation of Tomorrow, When the War Began arrives to much anticipation; Drew Barrymore gets goofy alongside on/off beau Justin Long in rom-com Going the Distance; and local audiences finally get a look at one of the year’s hit indies, Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right. So, what do the critics have to say?
It’s that rarest of movie events — an Australian film that actually aims for commercial action, and toward a teenage market at that — and if the critics are anything to go by, Tomorrow, When the War Began looks like it might well succeed. Making his directorial debut, Australian Pirates of the Caribbean and Collateral writer Stuart Beattie has adapted the first episode of John Marsden’s popular young adult series of books, which revolve around a band of teenagers forced to take up arms when the country is invaded by a hostile, non-specific (we won’t say “South-East Asian”, ahem) army. Thus far, local reviewers — whose patriotic musings should usually be taken with a grain of salt — are fairly pleased with the film, saying Beattie’s flair for pace and action and the exciting premise could make for a sizeable hit, both here and (they hope) overseas. And the already strong opening box-office, second only to Happy Feet and Australia among local productions, would seem to confirm that.
A modern conundrum that many face: what do you do when you meet the person of your dreams — right before they relocate to a new city? It’s a concept that Going the Distance attempts to address, but unfortunately, critics say this so-so romantic comedy is light on substance and relies too heavily on the natural charm of its leads. Drew Barrymore and Justin Long star as two thirtysomethings on the verge of couplehood, but with a major stumbling block – she’s on the verge of moving to San Francisco. Can true love triumph over geographic obstacles? Critics say Going the Distance benefits greatly from the charm of Barrymore and Long, but it’s bogged down by raunchy dialogue and pop-culture references that undercuts the basic sweetness of the story. (Take a look at this week’s Total Recall, in which we run down Barrymore’s best-reviewed movies.)
Director Lisa Cholodenko’s latest has already been a solid hit in the US both critically and commercially, bathing in Sundance raves and maintaining a healthy, mid-range tenure at the box office. It’s not hard to see why: this affectionate, unassuming portrait of an unconventional Los Angeles family has struck a chord with audiences who’ve responded to its heart and excellent performances. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a couple whose kids — played by Josh Hutcherson and Alice in Wonderland Mia Wasikowska — decide to locate their surrogate dad (Mark Ruffalo). Critics are overwhelmingly fans of this one, calling Cholodenko’s film a funny, warm and well observed take on the ways modern families bond.
Also opening this week:
Lebanon, Samuel Maoz’s first person recollection of life inside an Israeli tank in 1982, is at 89 percent.
Furry Vengeance, Brendan Fraser’s latest disastrous foray into family-friendly (and this time furry… ewwwwww) entertainment, is at 8 percent.
The Tumbler, about an ex-con and an Afghani-Australian stumbling across the desert, is at 50 percent.