Aug 272015
 

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In cinemas this week: The Gift, The Wolfpack, Holding the Man, Ricki and the Flash, We Are Your Friends, She’s Funny That Way and Stalkher.

The Gift – Can you really go through life having never wronged anyone? Even if you are unaware of how, or when, and even who you may have wronged….chances are there is someone out there who won’t ever forget it…or you. Simon and Robyn are a young married couple whose life is going just as planned until a chance encounter with an acquaintance from Simon’s high school sends their world into a harrowing tailspin. Simon doesn’t recognize Gordo at first, but after a series of uninvited encounters and mysterious gifts prove troubling, a horrifying secret from the past is uncovered after more than 20 years. As Robyn learns the unsettling truth about what happened between Simon and Gordo, she starts to question: how well do we really know the people closest to us, and are past bygones ever really bygones? This looks gripping – and there has been a lot of praise for both Joel Edgerton’s direction and Jason Bateman’s performance. Can’t wait. 

The Wolfpack – Locked away from society in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Angulo brothers learn about the outside world through the films that they watch. Nicknamed the Wolfpack, the brothers spend their childhood re-enacting their favorite films using elaborate homemade props and costumes. With no friends and living on welfare, they feed their curiosity, creativity, and imagination with film, which allows them to escape from their feelings of isolation and loneliness. Everything changes when one of the brothers escapes, and the power dynamics in the house are transformed. The Wolfpack must learn how to integrate into society without disbanding the brotherhood. This film tells an incredible, and very sad, story about the power of cinema as escapism, but unfortunately the assembly is not strong. Still, it is an inspiring tale of the strength of the human spirit and the power an imagination can yield. 

Holding the Man – Tim and John fell in love at their all boys high-school while both were teenagers. John was captain of the football team. Tim an aspiring actor playing the lead in Romeo and Juliet. Their romance endured for 15 years to laugh in the face of everything life threw at it – the separations, the discriminations, the temptations, the jealousies and the losses – until the only problem that love can’t solve, tried to destroy them. Ryan Corr and Craig Stott will star in this remarkable true-life story as Timothy Conigrave and John Caleo, whose enduring love affair has been immortalised in both Tim’s cult-classic and hilarious memoir and Tommy Murphy’s award-winning stage play of the same name. Murphy has adapted Tim’s book for the screen.

Ricki and the Flash – Ricki (Meryl Streep) is an aging rock star who abandoned her family to chase fame and stardom. The sacrifice delivered the stardom she craved, but it cost her a relationship with her family. After years of rocking with her band, the Flash, her life is interrupted by a call from her ex-husband (Kevin Kline). She discovers their estranged daughter (Mamie Gummer) is going through a tough situation and decides to head back home. Given the opportunity to reconcile and make things right, Ricki must again choose between the music she loves and the family she lost. This film is directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Stop Making Sense) and stars Meryl Streep. It has to be okay.

We Are Your Friends – Set in the world of electronic music and Hollywood nightlife, an aspiring 23-year-old DJ named Cole (Zac Effron) spends his days scheming with his childhood friends and his nights working on the one track that will set the world on fire. All of this changes when he meets a charismatic but damaged older DJ named James (Wes Bentley), who takes him under his wing. Things get complicated, however, when Cole starts falling for James’ much younger girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski). This DJ-centric A-Dream tale has rare inspiration. Never the desired cinematic rave, nor an affecting LA over-indulgence drama. Review at the link.

She’s Funny That Way – From renowned director Peter Bogdanovich, SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY is a screwball comedy featuring the interconnected personal lives of the cast and crew of a Broadway production. When established director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson) casts his call girl-turned-actress Isabella “Izzy” Patterson (Imogen Poots) in a new play to star alongside his wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) and her ex-lover Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans), a zany love tangle forms with hilarious twists. The response at SFF was very cold – no one seems too excited about this.

Stalkher – Jack is pushed past the brink of his stalking obsession when finally decides to break into Emily’s home to take what he wants by force. However his plans for her pain and his pleasure come unhinged when he wakes up to find himself bleeding and bound to a chair in her kitchen. It doesn’t take long for Jack to realize that Emily is not the woman he thought she was. For one night Jack and Emily engage in a twisted and thrilling courtship that leads one to wonder which one of them will survive the night. I have heard VERY bad things.

Weekly Recommendation: With so many different films on offer one certainly has to make a choice this week. I’d lean towards The Gift, Holding the Man and The Wolfpack. The latter I didn’t love, but it is a very interesting story. Holding Man has screened at SFF and MIFF and the word-of-mouth is hot. Joel Edgerton’s debut thriller The Gift has been receiving rave reviews at home and in the US. Many claiming it is one of the best thrillers of the year. Will definitely be seeing both of them in the not too distant future.

Aug 262015
 

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Max Jospeh’s directorial debut We Are Your Friends unfortunately never becomes the cinematic rave nor the Los Angeles valley over-indulgence drama it aspires to be. There are a few inspired moments in this DJ-centric American Dream tale, but beyond the mentor-protege element it never manages to find a convincing angle to escort a viewer into the lifestyle of a struggling DJ, and the accompanying Hollywood electronic dance music and nightlife scene. It feels a lot like an Entourage-meets-The Wolf of Wall Street poser, using a leery camera to frequently capture the oft-exposed skin of the attractive Valley youths, and indulging in the unethical swindling and debauchery of the rather unlikable lead dudebros. Even when it has its heart in the right place – emphasising that people need to unplug and take in what the world is telling us (and use it as artistic inspiration, if you so desire) – without the euphoric electro soundtrack it would have been completely ineffective. Continue reading »

Aug 242015
 

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Life, a respectably modest and balanced dual biopic is based on the friendship between Time Magazine photographer Dennis Stock and 50’s Hollywood celebrity James Dean. Under the sure hand of the marvellous director Anton Corbijn (Control, The American, A Most Wanted Man), this is a touching snapshot of time, and remains a very focused study of the psyche of these two very different young men – a reluctant, but effortlessly charismatic star, and an ambitious but battling artist – who learn from one another and grow as a result of their unlikely friendship. Corbijn never goes out of his way to draw much attention to the big dramatic developments, or where each recognisable snap of Dean took place, he simply observes these men as they bond, tell stories and try to grow as both artists and men.

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Aug 232015
 

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There are a surprising number of interesting films scheduled to come out this Spring. No longer the period between blockbuster season and Oscar season where little of note comes out, the next three months are stacked. From an Australian director’s take on Shakespeare, to Rocky as you’ve never seen him before, and a new film from the crazy mind of Malick, there’s plenty to look forward to. Our picks for 12 films to watch this Spring are after the jump.

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Aug 222015
 

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Southpaw is not a film about sports and personal glory through sporting achievement. Southpaw is about how we engage with the complicated sport of life. It is about the techniques we deploy to achieve victory and avoid being knocked on our asses, and the blind spots that keep us thinking those techniques work even when they threaten to destroy everything. It concerns itself not with the aforementioned personal glory in beating the snot out of someone, but with issues relating to grief and emotional intelligence. I don’t remember the last time I saw so many men crying in one film (and often not about themselves!). While the generic structure of a sports film still holds it together, leading many to describe it as hackneyed, there are many ways in which it undermines traditional macho ideological tropes and refutes the hollow victories of the genre.

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Aug 182015
 

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New to cinemas this week – Dope, Southpaw, Hitman: Agent 47, Irrational Man, Vacation and Wild City.

Dope – A critical hit and audience favorite out of the Sundance Film Festival, in DOPE, Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself. Dope is a Superbad-esque buddy comedy set to pumping hip-hop beats with a perceptive online social media-influenced drug-distribution/marketing twist. Fast-paced and full of style and energy, though the latter is not sustained through the runtime, this is is a very funny film chock full of pop culture references and witty stereotype subversion. The success of the film rests on the comic timing between the central trio and they play off each other beautifully. Moore carries the film effortlessly, but Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel) is consistently the supporting MVP. The narrative is manic enough to have been a brisk 90 minutes so the story does drag on in the latter half and ties up disappointingly neatly, but as a hip-hop fan this was my jam.

Southpaw tells the riveting story of Billy “The Great” Hope, reigning Junior Middleweight Boxing Champion of the World (Jake Gyllenhaal). Billy Hope seemingly has it all with an impressive career, a beautiful and loving wife (Rachel McAdams), an adorable daughter (Oona Laurence) and a lavish lifestyle. When tragedy strikes and his lifelong manager and friend (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) leaves him behind, Hope hits rock bottom and turns to an unlikely savior at a run-down local gym: Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker), a retired fighter and trainer to the city’s toughest amateur boxers. With his future riding on Tick’s guidance and tenacity, Billy enters the hardest battle of his life as he struggles with redemption and to win back the trust of those he loves.

Hitman: Agent 47 centers on an elite assassin who was genetically engineered from conception to be the perfect killing machine, and is known only by the last two digits on the barcode tattooed on the back of his neck. He is the culmination of decades of research – and forty-six earlier Agent clones — endowing him with unprecedented strength, speed, stamina and intelligence. His latest target is a mega-corporation that plans to unlock the secret of Agent 47’s past to create an army of killers whose powers surpass even his own. Teaming up with a young woman who may hold the secret to overcoming their powerful and clandestine enemies, 47 confronts stunning revelations about his own origins and squares off in an epic battle with his deadliest foe.

Irrational Man – When a burned-out, brilliant professor – one who believes in lessons from life rather than textbooks – takes a job at a small college, everyone there is abuzz. He becomes involved with a teacher as well as a precocious student, but it takes a dramatic, existential act to turn his life around and make him see the world through a much rosier and more positive perspective.

Vacation – Ed Helms stars in the New Line Cinema reboot of the Vacation film series as Rusty Griswald, the son of Chevy Chase’s iconic character of the original four films. Horrible Bosses‘ helmers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein write and direct.

Wild City – When former cop-turned-bar owner T-man Kwok befriends a drunken woman at closing hour, they soon find themselves targeted by her former lover-a high-powered Hong Kong attorney-and the thugs he employs. Once Kwok’s underachieving half-brother and a suitcase full of tainted cash enter the picture, the chase turns deadly, with the brothers’ tense family history coming to the surface as Kwok finds himself torn between the triads and his former police colleagues.

Weekly Recommendation – Dope. It has a lot of enthusiasm and energy, and is a good time. Even with Joaquin Phoenix headlining Woody’s latest, which amounts to 100% of the appeal, Irrational Man appears to be another ‘bad Woody’. He’s very inconsistent these days. While very wary of Antoine Fuqua’s ugly tendencies as a filmmaker I am keen to see Southpaw for Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformative performance.