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The Castle (12)

The Kerrigans are simple folk who reside on the outskirts of Melbourne. How simple? They live right next to an airport runway - and they like it. Not just simple, but kooky as well. Narrator Dale is deadpan and dopey; brother Steve scours classified ads for bargains; sister Tracey is a hairdresser with bad hair; another brother, Wayne, is doing time for armed robbery; Mum makes hideous craft objects and cooks bland food; Dad raises greyhounds, likes speedboats. The Ealing/Disney/Capra plot is set in motion by an eviction notice (the airport is expanding). The screenplay's favourite comic strategy is repetition - every gag, however feeble, boomerangs right back at you. Beneath the snide-but-jolly veneer, there are larger problems. The movie's attitude towards the working class stops short of contempt, its idea of social comment is pathetic ("I'm starting to understand how the Aborigines feel"), and it's not above racist gibes (a Lebanese neighbour refers to bombs - twice, naturally). Like too many Aussie kitsch-fests, The Castle is transparently opportunistic - the tone starts out more mocking than affectionate but, to get you to root for the poor fools, an avalanche of gooey sentiment arrives on cue.

Small Soldiers (12)

Positioning itself as an edgier Toy Story, Joe Dante's movie is reliably unsentimental, and even vaguely anarchic, but it's also not very much fun. After greedy corporate types install Defence Department microprocessors in a new line of toys, the plastic figurines come to life. A lopsided miniaturist battle breaks out, with the rabidly militaristic "Commando Elite" hunting down their designated enemies, a tribe of soft-spoken, grotesquely malformed freaks known as the Gorgonites, not to mention any humans who get in the way. Notable for its rampant merchandising possibilities, the film is essentially a feature-length commercial which, bizarrely, doubles as a critique of capitalism. It isn't exactly self-satirising, though - for the most part, it simply glosses over its contradictions in the hope that no one will object.

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