Apr 292015
 

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In cinemas this week: Unfriended, Tracers and Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter. 

Unfriended unfolds over a teenager’s computer screen as she and her friends are stalked by an unseen figure who seeks vengeance for a shaming video that led a vicious bully to kill herself a year earlier. Some reviews have mentioned that this offers a fresh take on the found footage sub-genre, while raising some important awareness about the dark side of social networking.

Tracers – After he crashes his bike into a stranger named Nikki (Avgeropoulos), Cam (Lautner) is introduced to her crew — a team that uses parkour to pull off heists. Hoping to alleviate his deepening debt to a violent crime gang, Cam quickly joins the group. As the stakes get higher with more dangerous side ventures, the payouts get bigger. Cam must use every ounce of his skill to stay alive as the crew’s heists grow more daring with each job, and gang enforcers breathe relentlessly down his neck. This has an identical poster to that other Taylor Lautner film Abductionand I expect it is probably just as bad.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter – In this darkly comedic odyssey, Academy Award nominee Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Pacific Rim) stars as Kumiko, a frustrated Office Lady whose imagination transcends the confines of her mundane life. Kumiko becomes obsessed with a mysterious, battered VHS tape of a popular film she’s mistaken for a documentary, fixating on a scene where a suitcase of stolen cash is buried in the desolate, frozen landscape of North Dakota. Believing this treasure to be real, she leaves behind Tokyo and her beloved rabbit Bunzo to recover it – and finds herself on a dangerous adventure unlike anything she’s seen in the movies. With Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, indie mavericks the Zellner Bros. spin a strangely touching underdog fable, populated by eccentrics and elevated to sonic heights by a Sundance award-winning score from electro-indie outfit The Octopus Project, that will leave audiences rooting for the impossible. I’m curious to watch this film again, because I had mixed feelings about it when I saw it at Sydney Film Festival last year. Thoughts at the link.

Weekly Recommendation: You could go and watch Age of Ultron again, but I am waiting out until next week for Ex Machina and Clouds of Sils Maria.

Apr 152015
 

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In cinemas this week: It Follows, While We’re Young, The Age of Adaline, The Gunman and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

It Follows tells the story of pretty 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe), who finds herself plagued by strange visions and a pursuing supernatural force after a seemingly innocent sexual confrontation. She learns from her boyfriend, the transmitter, that this mysterious entity will kill her if it catches her, unless she can pass it on to someone else before that happens. If she succeeds and that person is killed, she will become the target again. Jay enlists her sister and friends to help her escape the ever-present horror and find a way to rid herself from it forever. It is the indie hit of 2015 in the US, expanding to 1000+ screens after a successful limited release. It is an intelligent, accomplished feat of claustrophobic horror filmmaking with the capacity to transcend the cinema environment, get under a viewer’s skin and continue to terrify long after the credits. Has a terrific giallo-throwback score too. Full review at the link.

While We’re Young – Noah Boaumbach’s new comedy stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as Josh and Cornelia, a childless New York married couple in their mid-forties. As their other friends all start having children, the couple gravitates toward a young hipster couple named Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). He’s an aspiring documentary filmmaker, a vocation Josh already has. Soon the older couple begins enjoying the energy they feel hanging out with the younger generation, but eventually Josh begins to suspect his new best friend might not be as straightforward and trustworthy as he thought. Baumbach (Greenberg, Frances Ha) still hasn’t made a bad film, and Stiller sure is at his best in this partnership. This is such a funny and relatable study of the differences between Gen X and Y – and I found myself uncomfortably familiar with both couples.

The Age of Adaline – After miraculously remaining 29 years old for almost eight decades, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) has lived a solitary existence, never allowing herself to get close to anyone who might reveal her secret. But a chance encounter with charismatic philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) reignites her passion for life and romance. When a weekend with his parents (Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker) threatens to uncover the truth, Adaline makes a decision that will change her life forever. It is directed by Lee Toland Krieger, who directed the excellent Celeste and Jesse Forever. Sam, in her review, suggests to “embrace the silliness and the romance of the premise, and this film is surprisingly entertaining.”

The Gunman – A sniper on a mercenary assassination team, kills the minister of mines of the Congo. Terrier’s successful kill shot forces him into hiding. Returning to the Congo years later, he becomes the target of a hit squad himself. Great cast – Sean Penn, Idris Elba and Javier Bardem – but this is reportedly very bad. Directed by Pierre Morel (Taken) this looks out of place in an already-stacked aging action hero genre.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 – After six years of keeping our malls safe, Paul Blart has earned a well-deserved vacation. He heads to Vegas with his teenage daughter before she heads off to college. But safety never takes a holiday and when duty calls, Blart answers. How many times can we watch Kevin James fall over?

Weekly Recommendation: It Follows and While We’re Young are two of our favourites of the year so far.

Mar 172015
 

In cinemas this week: ’71, Big Eyes, Love is Strange, Home, Insurgent and Run All Night. 

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’71 takes place over a single night in the life of a young British soldier (Jack O’Connell) accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the streets of Belfast in 1971. Unable to tell friend from foe, and increasingly wary of his own comrades, he must survive the night alone and find his way to safety through a disorientating, alien and deadly landscape. Been hearing great things about this war thriller for a while now – including the fact that it features another sterling performance from O’Connell and welcomes an exciting new voice in Yann Demange. I feel like this is essential viewing.

Big Eyes – Directed and produced by Tim Burton, Big Eyes is based on the true story of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), who was one of the most successful painters of the 1950s and early 1960s. The artist earned staggering notoriety by revolutionizing the commercialization and accessibility of popular art with his enigmatic paintings of waifs with big eyes. The truth would eventually be discovered though: Keane’s art was actually not created by him at all, but by his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams). The Keanes, it seemed, had been living a lie that had grown to gigantic proportions. Big Eyes centers on Margaret’s awakening as an artist, the phenomenal success of her paintings, and her tumultuous relationship with her husband, who was catapulted to international fame while taking credit for her work. I am more interested in this for Adams and Waltz than Burton, but it is nice to see a departure from the norm for the veteran director.

Love is Strange – After nearly four decades together, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) finally tie the knot in an idyllic wedding ceremony in lower Manhattan. But when George loses his job soon after, the couple must sell their apartment and – victims of the relentless New York City real estate market – temporarily live apart until they can find an affordable new home. While George moves in with two cops (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez) who live down stairs, Ben lands in Brooklyn with his nephew (Darren Burrows), his wife (Marisa Tomei), and their temperamental teenage son (Charlie Tahan), with whom Ben shares a bedroom. While struggling with the pain of separation, Ben and George are further challenged by the intergenerational tensions and capricious family dynamics of their new living arrangements. This is a pleasant, but unfocused film. After a promising start this never quite delivers on all its themes. It dwells on inconsequential subplots, but when Molina and Lithgow get together it excels. It is competently made and the performances are quite strong, but the touching messages entwined within the story wither away shortly after viewing.

Home – When Oh, a loveable misfit from another planet, lands on Earth and finds himself on the run from his own people, he forms an unlikely friendship with an adventurous girl named Tip who is on a quest of her own. Through a series of comic adventures with Tip, Oh comes to understand that being different and making mistakes is all part of being human. And while he changes her planet and she changes his world, they discover the true meaning of the word HOME. I think I’ll pass on this.

Insurgent raises the stakes for Tris as she searches for allies and answers in the ruins of a futuristic Chicago. Tris (Woodley) and Four (James) are now fugitives on the run, hunted by Jeanine (Winslet), the leader of the power-hungry Erudite elite. Racing against time, they must find out what Tris’s family sacrificed their lives to protect, and why the Erudite leaders will do anything to stop them. Haunted by her past choices but desperate to protect the ones she loves, Tris, with Four at her side, faces one impossible challenge after another as they unlock the truth about the past and ultimately the future of their world. I still haven’t seen Divergent, but I haven’t heard to much positive about it, so I will give this a miss too.

Run all Night – Liam Neeson reunites with Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra for this Warner Bros. thriller following a mob hit-man and his estranged son (Joel Kinnaman) as they flee the wrath of a vengeful crime boss. I liked Unknown, but I well and truly have Neeson fatigue.

Weekly Recommendation – ’71 looks to be the most promising of the pack, and I intend to have see it and Big Eyes by the end of the weekend. Love is Strange is worth a look, but I wouldn’t stress about seeing it in cinemas. 

Feb 252015
 

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In cinemas this week – A Most Violent Year, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Eastern Boys and That Sugar Film (March 1)

A Most Violent Year – Set during the winter of 1981 – statistically one of the most crime-ridden of New York City’s history – A Most Violent Year is a drama following the lives of an immigrant and his family as they attempt to capitalize on the American Dream, while the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built. This is the new film from J.C Chandor (responsible for Margin Call and the amazing All is Lost) so you should be very interested. He is a terrific filmmaker, and this looks like another hefty project. Plenty of praise has come for the performances from Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain and Albert Brooks.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the expansionist dream of Sonny (Dev Patel), and it’s making more claims on his time than he has available, considering his imminent marriage to the love of his life. Sonny has his eye on a promising property now that his first venture, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful, has only a single remaining vacancy – posing a rooming predicament for fresh arrivals Guy (Richard Gere) and Lavinia (Tasmin Greig). Evelyn and Douglas (Judi Dench and Bill Nighy) have now joined the Jaipur workforce and are wondering where there regular dates will lead, while Norman and Carol (Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle) are negotiating the tricky waters of an exclusive relationship. Perhaps the only one who may know the answers is newly installed co-manager of the hotel, Muriel (Maggie Smith), the keeper of everyone’s secrets. I quite enjoyed the first film, and it was such a hit with the elderly demographic that I can completely understand a sequel.  I’ll get around to watching this – even if it is on DVD.

Eastern Boys – Arriving from all over the Eastern Bloc, the men who loiter around the Gare du Nord train station in Paris are scraping by however they can, forming gangs for support and protection, ever fearful of being caught by the police and deported. When the middle-aged, bourgeois Daniel played by Olivier Rabourdi approaches a boyishly handsome Ukrainian who calls himself Marek for a date, he learns the young man is willing to do anything for some cash. What Daniel intends only as sex-for-hire begets a home invasion and then an unexpectedly profound relationship. The drastically different circumstances of the two men’s lives reveal hidden facets of the city they share. Presented in four parts, this absorbing, erotically charged drama from writer-director Robin Campillo is centered around anonymous liaisons, in which motivation, risk, and desire produce volatile and unexpected consequences.

That Sugar Film – Damon Gameau embarks on a unique experiment to document the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body, consuming only foods that are commonly perceived as ‘healthy’. Through this entertaining and informative journey, Damon highlights some of the issues that plague the sugar industry, and where sugar lurks on supermarket shelves. Damon’s journey to discover the bitter truth about sugar will forever change the way you think about ‘healthy’ food.

Weekly Recommendation: A strong week for sure, with nay an uninteresting film amongst them. I have my heart set on seeing A Most Violent Year this weekend, but I expect I will have to settle for the rest on DVD/VOD later in the year. If you enjoyed the first Marigold Hotel what’s to stop you seeing this. I wonder if it will beat its predecessor at the Box Office. 

Feb 182015
 

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In cinemas this week: Jupiter Ascending, Rosewater and Project Almanac.

Jupiter Ascending – From the streets of Chicago to the far-flung galaxies whirling through space, “Jupiter Ascending” tells the story of Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), who was born under a night sky, with signs predicting she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning other people’s houses and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse the fate that has been waiting for her all along – her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos. I am a defender of the Wachowski’s divisive but brilliant Speed Racer and loved Cloud Atlas from a couple of years ago, but this was bad. I became numb as to what was going on plot-wise, what was actually happening in the chaotic action sequences and what all of this confusing hodgepodge of design decisions ultimately added up to. A very bad cast.

Rosewater – Based on The New York Times best-selling memoir “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival,” written by Maziar Bahari. The film marks the directorial debut of “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, and stars Gael García Bernal. Rosewater follows the Tehran-born Bahari, a broadcast journalist with Canadian citizenship. In June 2009, Bahari returned to Iran to interview Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who was the prime challenger to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As Mousavi’s supporters rose up to protest Ahmadinejad’s victory declaration hours before the polls closed, Bahari endured personal risk by sending footage of the street riots to the BBC. Bahari was arrested by police and tortured and interrogated over the next 118 days. With Bahari’s wife leading an international campaign to have her husband freed, and Western media outlets keeping the story alive, Iranian authorities released Bahari on $300,000 bail and the promise he would act as a spy for the government. Prior to Bahari’s capture this is an interesting story, but the monotonous questioning, and claustrophobic imprisonment, reveals that Stewart isn’t a great director. Really quite tiresome, and disappointing. Sam reviews at the link.

Project Almanac – A brilliant high school student and his friends uncover blueprints for a mysterious device with limitless potential, inadvertently putting lives in danger. Has made quite a bit of money in the US, but looks like an inferior version of sleeper hit Chronicle.

As I did not care for either Jupiter Ascending or Rosewater I won’t be recommending either of them. But Sam had a different take on Jupiter Ascending. This is the weekend to catch up with the Academy Award nominees ahead of next Monday’s ceremony. Birdman, Selma, Foxcatcher, Still Alice and Citizen Four are all still in cinemas. 

Feb 122015
 

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New to cinemas this week are Selma, Citizen Four, The Interview, Fifty Shades of Grey and What We Did On Our Holiday. 

Selma is the story of a movement. The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernay’s Selma tells the real story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo, a mighty performance) and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history. This is a very significant film, immensely powerful and superbly written, directed and performed, that was shamefully overlooked at the Oscars this year. It is focused, and yet bigger than the great man at the heart of this period of history.

Citizen Four – In January 2013, Laura Poitras (recipient of the 2012 MacArthur Genius Fellowship and co-recipient of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service) was several years into making a film about surveillance in the post-9/11 era when she started receiving encrypted e-mails from someone identifying himself as “Citizen Four,” who was ready to blow the whistle on the massive covert surveillance programs run by the NSA and other intelligence agencies. In June 2013, she and Glenn Greenwald flew to Hong Kong for the first of many meetings with the man who turned out to be Edward Snowden. She brought her camera with her. The film that resulted from this series of tense encounters is absolutely sui generis in the history of cinema: a 100% real-life thriller unfolding minute by minute before our eyes. Citizen Four has won just about every major Documentary award, and is the firm favourite to win the Oscar. It has been called by one critic the ‘film of the 21st Century’. It will be essential viewing.

The Interview – In this action-comedy, Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) run the popular celebrity tabloid TV show “Skylark Tonight.” When they discover that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a fan of the show, they land an interview with him in an attempt to legitimize themselves as journalists. As Dave and Aaron prepare to travel to Pyongyang, their plans change when the CIA recruits them, perhaps the two least-qualified men imaginable, to assassinate Kim Jong-un. The laughs do dry up in this very silly (but not dumb) film for a while, but whenever the Franco/Rogen bromance is on show it is consistently hilarious. Not worthy of all of the fuss, which is the unfortunate baggage everyone has to take into it.

Fifty Shades of Grey – E.L. James’ kinky best-seller gets the big screen treatment with this Universal Pictures/Focus Features co-production. The steamy tale details a masochistic relationship between a college student and a businessman, whose desires for extreme intimacy pen from secrets in his past. All reports are that the source material is abysmal, which will very likely translate into a pretty terrible film, but this will attract a huge audience. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy) and starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson.

What We Did On Our Holiday – Doug and Abi are taking their three children on a trip to Scotland for a big family gathering. They are in the midst of a difficult divorce, and have asked the kids to keep it a secret from their extended family. But as the inevitable feuds kick in, a completely unexpected turn of events involving the children causes further tensions to rise to the surface. And with the repercussions that ensue – hilarious and emotional in equal measure – the family are forced to put aside their differences and work together or else risk losing what they hold most dear. This has a top cast – Pike, Tennant and Connelly – and looks to be quite charming and pleasant. Probably a wait-for-DVD option, though.

Weekly Recommendation: A big, big week. Something for everyone. Fifty Shades of Grey will overwhelm everything else in BO takings, but it is Selma (and I suspect Citizen Four) that you MUST SEE. It will also be interesting to see how The Interview goes, given that half the country has probably already watched it by now. If you haven’t, it’s a good time.

Jan 212015
 

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In cinemas this week: Clint Eastwood’s six-time Oscar nominated war, box-office smashing drama American Sniper, Reese Witherspoon-led biographical drama Wild and romantic comedy The Wedding Ringer.

American SniperU.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname “Legend.” However, his reputation is also growing behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target of insurgents. Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, becoming emblematic of the SEAL creed to “leave no man behind.” But upon returning home, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind. Reviews have been mixed, with some very harsh criticisms about the film’s political conservatism and jingoism. But, following its late surge into the Oscar discussion – which earned Cooper his third straight Oscar nom – it exploded at the U.S box office, breaking January records. Balancing tense battle conflict with Kyle’s PTSD back at home I understand this is as much a drama than an action film.

Wild – With the dissolution of her marriage and the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed has lost all hope. After years of reckless, destructive behavior, she makes a rash decision. With absolutely no experience, driven only by sheer determination, Cheryl (portrayed by Reese Witherspoon) hikes more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, alone. Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddens, strengthens, and ultimately heals her. Full review at the link.

The Wedding Ringer – Doug Harris (Josh Gad) is a loveable but socially awkward groom-to-be with a problem: he has no best man. With less than two weeks to go until he marries the girl of his dreams (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), Doug is referred to Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), owner and CEO of Best Man, Inc., a company that provides flattering best men for socially challenged guys in need. What ensues is a hilarious wedding charade as they try to pull off the big con, and an unexpected budding bromance between Doug and his fake best man Jimmy. This could be dismissed as a lazy rehash of The Wedding Singer, but it has an amusing idea and if the chemistry between Gad and Hart is winning could be quite entertaining.

Weekly Recommendation: Wild is worthy of a look, but I suspect it won’t be the most cinema-essential title released this year. It is perfectly adequate home viewing, but if you want to catch up with the two Oscar-nominated performances in the cinema you won’t be disappointed. American Sniper is something of a wildcard. I just don’t know how I am going to feel about this film. Clint Eastwood has made some brilliant films in his career and if this is a return to form it is going to be a tough one to shake. I will be catching it this week, and I wait in anticipation. 

Jan 142015
 

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In cinemas this week: Birdman, Unbroken and Paper Planes.

Birdman – A captivating, awe-inspiring work that takes a fascinatingly layered narrative about an aging actor, Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) attempting to finance, direct and star in his own stage adaptation of a Raymond Carver story and escape a career defined by one achievement. As he struggles to bring the story to life, he is suffering with anxieties of failure and a loss of purpose. Once the star of the blockbuster series, Birdman, Riggan walked away at the height of his fame in pursuit of other projects. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself. Made to appear like it is comprised of a single shot, courtesy of the work of Emmanuel Lubezki, this is a technical marvel that features masterful performances from Keaton and the supporting cast. Conceptually bold and brilliantly written and directed, I loved everything about Birdman. Within minutes Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s (Babel, Amores Perros) film has done its dance and laid out its rules. If you let yourself get swept up in its aesthetic it will be hugely rewarding, and even when the story gets morose and odd it always entertains.

Paper Planes – Directed by Robert Connolly (The Turning), this is an imaginative children’s film about a young Australian boy’s passion for flight and his challenge to compete in the World Paper Plane Championships in Japan. Ed Oxenbould and Sam Worthington star. The trailer reveals the whole story, but this looks like it will be quite pleasant and charming.

Unbroken – Angelina Jolie directs and produces Unbroken, an epic drama that follows the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII – only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s novel, Unbroken brings to the big screen Zamperini’s unbelievable and inspiring true story about the resilient power of the human spirit. Leading the accomplished crew is 10-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, while Joel and Ethan Coen rewrote the screenplay from earlier drafts by William Nicholson and Richard LaGravenese. There has been plenty of Oscar buzz about Unbroken, given the story and the pedigree, but reviews have been very mixed, claiming that the film hits too many of the cliche dramatic beats to fully resonate, despite O’Connell and Deakins bringing their full potential.

Weekly Recommendation: Birdman. What a film.