Dec 242014
 

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The Christmas-New Year period is always a bumper time for cinema releases. Here’s our guide to [most] of what is coming out over the next couple of weeks, we hope it helps. Reviews of Paddington, St. Vincent, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Mr. Turner, The Water Diviner, The Imitation Game, Big Hero 6 and Into the Woods are after the jump.

Paddington – in cinemas now
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Paddington has been out a couple of weeks already, but it’s such a delightful film that we wanted to include it here. It is easily our pick of the films playing at the cinema, especially for families. It’s likely to have reduced sessions once Big Hero 6 releases, so get in and see it while you have the chance.

From the beloved novels by Michael Bond, Paddington tells the story of the misadventures of a young bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) who travels to London in search of a home after his idyllic Peruvian forest homestead is destroyed in an earthquake. Finding himself lost and alone, he begins to realize that city life is not all he had imagined, until he meets the kindly Brown family who take heed of the label around his neck – “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” – and offer him a temporary haven.

Paddington is a lovely film, bursting with subtle wit, cutesy charm and stunning technical work. It is a film that stresses acceptance and how everyone deserves a home and a family, and tells a heartwarming story of a youngster searching for an answer for who he is and the family brought together by his courage and perseverance. [Full review] [Andy]

Andy’s rating: ☆☆☆☆
Sam’s rating: ☆☆☆☆
 

Big Hero 6 – Boxing Day
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Disney’s big family release for the holiday season, Big Hero 6 centres around child-genius , Hiro (Ryan Potter) and an inflatable healthcare robot called Baymax (Scott Adsit), invented by his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney).  When tragedy rocks Hiro’s world, it’s Baymax who becomes both his friend and his protector. Baymax is especially useful when, after being accidentally activated, he discovers that micro-bots invented by Hiro have been stolen by an evil adversary an are being mass-produced. Hiro and an upgraded Baymax team up with a super-smart group of Tadashi’s friends to search for the evil adversary and save the day.

Based on an obscure Marvel comic, Big Hero 6 is the first (of what I assume will be many) Disney-Marvel mash-ups. The film has the heart of Disney but the soul of a Marvel comic. What is particularly special about this film is San Fransokyo, the east-meets-west, fusion city created for the film. This is the most fully realised, believable, vibrant example of a futuristic fusion city I have ever seen. It’s somewhere I can imagine existing at some point, if it doesn’t in some form already. I was lucky enough to sit in on a presentation with producer Roy Conli, who told us about the immense effort put in to bringing the world to life, including creating their own complex crowd-creating software. Baymax is absolutely adorable and you probably need to check your pulse if you’re not totally in love with him by the end. The film also has some great supporting characters – I especially loved the apparent beach-bum, Fred (T.J. Miller).

The film is a little dark in places and may not be appropriate for the youngest children as it deals with death and life threatening situations. Don’t get me wrong, it is a heck of a lot of fun, it’s just something I would be wary of. [Sam]

Andy’s rating: ☆☆☆1/2
Sam’s rating: ☆☆☆1/2
 

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Boxing Day
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The end to our adventures in Middle Earth. This may not be the strongest film, but it still packs an emotional punch at the end, after all, we have spent the best part of 13 years with the inhabitants of Middle Earth.

After finally reclaiming The Lonely Mountain as their own, the dwarves are now sitting on an immense treasure. Thorin (Richard Armitage) is becoming increasingly mad in the mountain (‘dragon sickness’ they call it). He seethes with bitterness at his inability to find the Arkenstone and turns on friends, accusing them of plotting against him. When word comes of the armies on their way to fight for the treasure, he chooses not to negotiate with his allies and instead lets them face the war

Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is the heart and soul of the trilogy and the film shines when he is on-screen. This is a story which works best when focusing on the relationships between the characters rather than the CGI spectacle of war, as spectacular as it often is. I was transported to Middle Earth when Bilbo wrestled with his conscience, when he tried his darnedest to help his friends, no matter how hopeless it seemed. On the downside, the CGI gets a bit much and there are some characters that really have no purpose. You may feel worn out by the action at the end, but I still felt emotional at staying goodbye. [Full review] [Sam]

Andy’s rating: ☆☆
Sam’s rating: ☆☆☆
 

Mr. Turner – Boxing Day
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Mr. Turner is a dense, challenging biographical drama of ugly sounds and gorgeous visuals, sets and costumes. Veteran British filmmaker Mike Leigh canvases the period spectacularly, while Cannes Best Actor-winner Timothy Spall completely embodies the vile but fascinating J. M. W Turner, one of the great 19th Century British painters.

Spall has been a Leigh staple over the years and he lives and breathes Turner. This is as convincing an embodiment as there is, bringing a very flawed and unlikable man to life, with an emphasis on those undesirable qualities. Still, there are other sides to Turner – a kind charm, a sense of humour, and a brash hedonism that earns him the respect of his peers. On some occasions he is a gifted linguist, with an affinity for colourful language, while on others he reacts to inquisitions with nothing more than a disgruntled grunt. Spall manages to bring all of this out of the character and it an extraordinary piece of acting.

Leigh regular Dick Pope photographs Mr Turner and the beautiful compositions actually mimic some of Turner’s own works – especially those of the harbours. This is a film that transcends time. Considering Turner was such an unlikable man I can’t say I enjoyed that much of the experience but because there is so much to absorb in the films burdensome length, and as many individual sequences continue to stand out, Leigh’s unusual biopic must be commended. [Full review] [Andy]

Andy’s rating: ☆☆☆1/2
Sam’s rating: ☆☆☆1/2
 

St. Vincent – Boxing Day
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Forced to work long hours, a single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) has no choice but to leave her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) in the care of their new neighbor, Vincent (Bill Murray), a retired curmudgeon with a penchant for alcohol and gambling. An odd friendship soon blossoms between the pair, as Vincent brings Oliver along on all the stops that make up his daily routine – including the race track and the local dive bar. As Vincent helps Oliver grow up, Oliver begins to see something in the misunderstood Vincent that no one else is able to.

Murray and co (Lieberher, Watts and O’Dowd are especially fun) adequately carry this charming unlikely hero-next-door tale that gradually reveals the layers beneath Murray’s cantankerous war vet-turned-reluctant babysitter, loaded with mirth and sorrow aplenty. St Vincent is a poignant celebration of humble sacrifice and features some great visual comedy in addition to Murray’s signature dry wit and delivery.

Though not a particularly substantial film, reflecting on it a few months later, it is a sure-fire crowd pleaser that has more than ample laughs, and kooky enough characters and situations to cheer for. The film’s somewhat clichéd latter half trajectory is forgivable because of the spirit of Lieberher and the fact that Vincent well and truly earns our admiration in the end. Although I was a member of a very raucous Toronto Film Festival crowd, I can imagine local audiences having fun with this film and spreading the good word about it over the holiday period. [Andy]

Andy’s rating: ☆☆☆1/2
Sam’s rating: ☆☆☆1/2
 

The Water Diviner – Boxing Day
Crowe Water Diviner

This year’s Australian Boxing Day release The Water Diviner is a personal tale with a broad scope. It tells the story of Victorian farmer Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) who travels to Gallipoli searching for the bodies of his three sons after they fail to return from the First World War. In Turkey he’s helped by hotel owner Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) and her young son Orhan (Dylan Georgiades). Scenes of Crowe bonding with the clever child are a highlight, providing both an emotional centre and all of the film’s funniest moments.

The Water Diviner marks Russell Crowe’s début as a director, and while his ambitious first project is partially successful, it’s let down by story elements which clash with the film’s otherwise reverent tone. Crowe’s character searches for his sons with little aid other than his psychic premonitions in truly silly scenes which cheapen everything around them. There are some strong performances to be found here, but once the plot goes off the deep end the film never really recovers. – Review by Shaun Heenan.

Shaun’s rating: ☆☆
 

The Imitation Game – New Year’s Day
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English mathematician, computer scientist and logician (these are only some of his areas of expertise), Alan Turing (played here by Benedict Cumberbatch) was the leading figure in cracking the Nazi’s Enigma Code during World War II. This incredible discovery was one of the key factors in the Allies eventually winning the war.  The film focuses on Turing’s time working at the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park – the cracking of the code and subsequent use of the decoded information. It also flashes back to show his past, focusing on his relationship with a fellow student during his school years. While chiefly about the code, the film also details the relationship between fellow cryptographer Joan Clarke (Keira Knightly), a relationship which was never really about love.

I found The Imitation Game pleasant enough to watch, but lacking any real guts. I wish the film could have been about cracking the Enigma code and the war itself or about Alan Turing’s life (with Enigma a part of it), rather than trying to be a film about both. There is so much ground to cover and I feel both stories were done a disservice by being combined. I wanted to know more about the decoding and how it was used in the war and more about Turing. While Turing’s homosexuality is not ignored by the film, I feel as this aspect of his life was glossed over a little. The latter stages of the film felt like an afterthought, something that was tacked on. This is a man who gave so much to his country – the way he was treated for being a gay man is almost incomprehensible.

The Imitation Game is an exceptionally well-made film, with the costumes and production design effectively aiding in recreating the period. The score from Alexandre Desplat is the highlight of the film for me, and is likely to be a front-runner come Oscar time. This film is an easy-watching crowd-pleaser, likely to go down well with the holiday crowds looking for light entertainment. [Sam]

Andy’s rating: ☆☆☆
Sam’s rating: ☆☆1/2
 

Into the Woods – January 8th

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Chris Pine, as he shouts “Agony!” off a waterfall in one of the film’s funniest sequences, perfectly sums up how I felt about the bafflingly erratic Into the Woods, the Rob Marshall-directed (Oscar winner Chicago and the awful Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) adaptation of James Lupine and Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award winning Broadway musical. I am really not the person to ask about whether or not Into the Woods is a success or not. I don’t really understand musicals, and find them mostly irritating, with a catchy song here and there. Still, this is not a cinema experience I can recommend.

Not even the costumes or the central set, the very apparent set-woods where most of the action takes place, are particularly outstanding. The performances are all over the place, too. Pine is memorable because his awfulness is accentuated. There are a few songs I enjoyed, and some amusing character interactions, but there wasn’t much I cared for.

The story is set around four well-known Grimm Fairytale stories – Repunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella – with the characters from those stories colliding with a baker and his wife (Emily Blunt and James Corden), a childless couple seeking to end a curse placed upon them by a vengeful witch (Meryl Streep). We don’t see much action from the four stories, messily juggled here, but it is more interested in the world between these stories and how a kindly couple influence the lives of these beloved characters.

While Streep is collecting all of the recognition for…participating, it is Blunt and Corden (also good in Begin Again this year) who are the most fun here. Poor Emily Blunt. For some reason she is repeatedly asked to leave the film, or told to ‘go home’ by her husband for story sake. Thankfully, she finds her way back in and helps keep this bearable.  [Andy]

Andy’s rating: ☆☆
Sam’s rating: ☆☆
 

Also coming out over this period, but not reviewed here: Night at the Museum 3 (Boxing Day) and Penguins of Madagascar (New Year’s Day).

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