Movie Review ~ The Sapphires

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The Facts:

Synopsis: It’s 1968, and four young, talented Australian Aboriginal girls learn about love, friendship and war when their all girl group The Sapphires entertain the US troops in Vietnam.

Stars: Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell

Director: Wayne Blair

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  Make no doubt about it; The Sapphires is a movie with a mission.  It’s a film that wants so badly to appease its audience and appeal to the masses that it sacrifices some chances to let a more honest story develop.  What the film does have is a healthy dose of charm that helps propel the movie to a viewing experience that’s nigh-joyful if not completely memorable as the days go by.

In 1968, three Aboriginal sisters from the Australian Outback team up with their cousin to form The Sapphires, a girl group managed by Dave Lovelace (O’Dowd, Bridesmaids).  Together, the five travel to Vietnam to perform for the troops, face old feuds, and discover themselves in a country torn apart by war.

A true life tale adapted from a stage play penned as a tribute to relatives of the author, The Sapphires transitions easily to the screen with the help of director Blair and screenwriter Tony Briggs.  Original cast member Mailman was a wise choice to bring along for the film version because she brings an earthy realness as the eldest sister that takes on a mother hen tough love role for the group.  There’s a barely there subplot about some family turmoil but the film excels when it’s focused on the rise of the group from singing in local bars to belting out R&B tunes of the day to soldiers on the front lines.

In addition to Mailman there’s fine work from Australian Idol finalist Mauboy as the youngest sister with the best voice and biggest attitude.  Tapsell is a hoot as the sister that never gets her way while Sebbens is less effective in an underwritten role.  That leaves O’Dowd who many critics credit with giving the film its best shot at mainstream appeal.  I don’t think O’Dowd is a noticeable enough star to pack ‘em in but his game performance is very appealing.  Like Bridesmaids, I think he benefits greatly from having a confident female in a leading role for him to play off of – I didn’t find much chemistry between O’Dowd and Mailman though the movie tries it damndest to create some sort of spark.

The musical numbers are staged well making the film not simply Dreamgirls Down Under and several moments create the kind of giddy excitement that doesn’t come around much in film these days.  Yet underneath it all is a manipulative presence suggesting the film is gung-ho about having its cake and eating it too.  It’s smaller budget make some of the Vietnam sequences look fairly fake and I liked the film most when it was exploring the origins of The Sapphires and utilizing some local color for a reality check.

The Sapphires swept the Australian version of the Oscars this year, winning 11 of its 12 nominations and becoming one of the biggest box office hits of the year.  While the film has struggled to find an audience outside of Australia, the Weinstein Company (who, as Miramax, had a nice run of Australian imports like Muriel’s Wedding in the mid 90’s) is throwing some cash behind it to see if it can catch fire here as well.  It’s an enjoyable film and one I wanted to root for but with its predictable contrivances it falls just shy of being the crowd-pleasing home run it so wants to be.  Going along with the baseball metaphor, let’s call this one a base hit…maybe a double if you factor in some strong performances.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Mermaids

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An unconventional single mother relocates with her two daughters to a small Massachusetts town in 1963, where a number of events and relationships both challenge and strengthen their familial bonds.

Stars: Cher, Bob Hoskins, Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci, Michael Schoeffling

Director: Richard Benjamin

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Maybe not so much a hidden gem as an underappreciated one, Mermaids is a quirky comedy about an eccentric single mom nomadically raising her daughters in the early 1960’s.  The film was a perfect fit for the talent involved…though there were several key players that weren’t originally signed on when the movie moved into production.

First off, director Richard Benjamin was the third director of the movie after Lasse Hallström and Frank Oz both were ix-nayed by star Cher.  Speaking of being replaced, blonde brit Emily Lloyd was supposed to play Ryder’s role until it became clear that Lloyd bore little resemblance to the woman supposed to be playing her mother.  So Benjamin and Ryder stepped in and I can’t imagine the film any other way.

For all the jokes and jibes Cher has received over the years, she’s a damn fine actress and hasn’t really turned in a performance that was an embarrassment.  As Mrs. Flax, she’s relaxed and carefree…keeping the kind of home we’d probably like to visit if she was the mom of our best friend.  A bit of a man-eater, she meets her match when she arrives in a small New England town and takes up with Hoskins’ lovable sh0e-salesman.

The story is seen through the eyes of Charlotte (Ryder, Frankenweenie) as she struggles with her love of all things holy and a burgeoning attraction to a local caretaker (Schoeffling).  Not wanting to turn out like her mother and feeling like she has to be a surrogate parent to her sister Kate (Ricci, in her first film), Charlotte takes several missteps that have ramifications both humorous and dramatic.

Based on a novel, Mermaids has a fair share of laughs that go in tandem with some serious exchanges.  Cher and Hoskins have an opposites attract chemistry that glows as does Ryder with the handsome Schoeffling who knows how to play conflicted with the best of ‘em.

With Benjamin’s sensitive direction, a nice attention to the early 60’s time-period, and a greatest hits soundtrack, Mermaids is received swimmingly whether it’s your first or thirty first viewing.

The Silver Bullet ~ White House Down

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Synopsis: While on a tour of the White House with his young daughter, a Capitol policeman springs into action to save his child and protect the president from a heavily armed group of paramilitary invaders.

Release Date:  June 28, 2013

Thoughts: Hot on the heels of February’s Olympus Has Fallen is White House Down, another action-thriller involving the hostile take-over of the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.  June’s White House Down is directed by Roland Emmerich who started off with the campy and enjoyable Universal Solider/Stargate one-two punch and has gradually gone the Michael Bay route of heading up pictures that were full of sound of fury and signifying nothing.  The presence of in-demand star Channing Tatum (Magic Mike, Side Effects, The Vow) can’t hurt the chances of this taking down the competition at the box office in its first weekend – but let’s see if the film has any substance to go along with the explosions.