Feb 112016
 

DEADPOOL Ryan Reynolds is Marvel Comics’ most unconventional anti-hero, DEADPOOL. Photo Credit: Joe Lederer TM & © 2015 Marvel & Subs.  TM and © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.  All rights reserved.  Not for sale or duplication.

In cinemas this week: Deadpool, Zoolander 2 and Brooklyn.

Deadpool – Based upon Marvel Comics’ most unconventional anti-hero, Deadpool tells the origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson, who after being subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopts the alter ego Deadpool. Armed with new abilities and a dark, twisted sense of humour, Deadpool hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life. An obnoxious, but rather clever marketing campaign has generated a lot of buzz for this subversive R-rated superhero entry about a fringe X-men character few non-comic book fans have heard of. Ryan Reynolds is a gifted comic performer, and no doubt well-suited, but will its profane riddled rebellion fall into unpleasantly smug territory, and just how much does its subversive approach actually work?

Zoolander 2 – Ben Stiller returns both in front of and behind the camera for Zoolander 2, a comedy that finds the beloved model Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and his rival-turned-partner Hansel (Owen Wilson) facing a threat to their continued success. Zoolander’s status as a (deserved) cult comedy icon could be tainted by this cameo-drowned disaster. Let’s hope no one is talking about this film in 15 years.

Brooklyn tells the profoundly moving story of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, Eilis departs Ireland and the comfort of her mother’s home for the shores of New York City. The initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps Eilis into the intoxicating charm of love. But soon, her new vivacity is disrupted by her past, and Eilis must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within. I placed Brooklyn at #20 on my Best of 2015 list. This beautiful and understated romantic drama is pretty close to perfection for most of its runtime, and utterly impeccable when the story is set in Brooklyn. It tells a universally relatable immigrant story, of the courage it takes to build a life independently in a big city or strange land. Best actress nominee Saoirse Ronan and an equally Oscar-worthy Emory Cohen are wonderful; their chemistry delightful. Costumes, period design, musical score – all divine.

Weekly Recommendation: Brooklyn, but the jury is still out on Deadpool.

Feb 032016
 

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In cinemas this week: Steve Jobs, Anomalisa and The Choice.

Steve Jobs – With public anticipation running high, Apple Inc. co-founders Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) and Steve “Woz” Wozniak get ready to unveil the first Macintosh in 1984. Jobs must also deal with personal issues related to ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan and their young daughter Lisa. Eventually fired, Jobs launches NeXT Inc. and prepares to release a new computer model in 1988. Ten years later, Jobs is back at Apple Inc. and about to revolutionize the industry once again with the iMac. Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin and Michael Fassbender make an ace team in this fascinating behind-the-curtain biopic into the human machine of Steve Jobs. Full thoughts at the link. 

Anomalisa – An inspirational speaker (David Thewlis) becomes reinvigorated after meeting a lively woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who shakes up his mundane existence. The animation style is very interesting, the voice-cast incredibly good, and Charlie Kaufman’s (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) address of depression and alienation is uncomfortably direct. But is feels like Kaufman is retreading ideas (mid-life identity crises, human connection through otherworldly forces) albeit with an astonishing new presentation and baffling surreal flourishes. Still not sure what to make of this one, but I appreciate it more than enjoyed it.

The Choice – Travis Shaw (Benjamin Walker) is a ladies’ man who thinks a serious relationship would cramp his easygoing lifestyle. Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) is a feisty medical student who’s preparing to settle down with her long-term boyfriend. Fate brings the two together as Gabby moves next door to Travis, sparking an irresistible attraction that upends both of their lives. As their bond grows, the unlikely couple must decide how far they’re willing to go to keep the hope of love alive. The latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation – so you know what you’re in for. 

Weekly Recommendation – Steve Jobs, for sure. Don’t take the failed US box office and lukewarm reviews to heart, this is an excellent film.

Jan 192016
 

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In cinemas this week – The Hateful Eight (digital release) and The Danish Girl. 

The Hateful Eight – Set after Civil War, a stagecoach hurtles through the wintry Wyoming landscape. The passengers, bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jessica Jason Leigh), race towards the town of Red Rock where Ruth, known in these parts as “The Hangman,” will bring Domergue to justice. Along the road, they encounter two strangers: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a black former union soldier turned infamous bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a southern renegade who claims to be the town’s new Sheriff.

Losing their lead on the blizzard, Ruth, Domergue, Warren and Mannix seek refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass. When they arrive at Minnie’s, they are greeted not by the proprietor but by four unfamiliar faces. Bob (Demian Bichir), who’s taking care of Minnie’s while she’s visiting her mother, is holed up with Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock, cow-puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). As the storm overtakes the mountainside stopover, our eight travellers come to learn they may not make it to Red Rock after all.

As of Thursday 21st January the Special Roadshow Engagement, presented in 70mm at selected cinemas in NSW and Victoria, will be over. Viewers will only be able to watch the digital presentation, which is 22 minutes shorter and doesn’t feature the overture or an interval. I can only comment on my experience with the film, which was tremendous. QT’s most political film to date is an agitating, ferocious, nasty piece of work, sure to divide people. The film’s two distinct halves are widely different, but both offend and entertain in equal measure. The claustrophobic setting is made to look exceptionally larger than it actually is and Ennio Morricone’s chilling score will rattle around in your brain for days afterwards. Jennifer Jason Leigh a stand-out from a brilliant cast of Tarantino regulars.

The Danish Girl – A fictitious love story inspired by the lives of artists Einer and Gerda Wegener. Their marriage and work evolve as they navigate Einer’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer, Lili Elbe. This is the new film from Tom Hooper (known for odious films like The King’s Speech and Les Miserables), and stars Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne, Oscar nominated for their roles.

Weekly Recommendation: The Hateful Eight, but I suspect if you are film fan in either Sydney or Melbourne you have already seen it (last week). Carol and The Big Short are very worthy of a re-watch. The Danish Girl has scored some Oscar nominations – so we’ll be seeing purely out of interest in the performances. 

Jan 142016
 

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This week may be one of the strongest release weeks of 2016 – especially if you are itching to see Quentin Tarantino’s spectacular new film The Hateful Eight in limited release 70mm projection. I will feature it in next week’s releases, when it hits wider release. Oscar contenders Carol and The Big Short, along with the goofy-fun of Goosebumps makes for a busy week ahead.

CarolIn Todd Haynes’ exquisite adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt is a beautiful film. After Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) spots the beautiful, elegant Carol (Cate Blanchett) perusing the doll displays in a 1950s Manhattan department store the two women develop a fast bond that becomes a love with complicated consequences. Every frame of this transcendent, heart-swelling attraction is a work of art, Carter Burwell’s score is lovely, and the two radiant leads are brilliant. Full review to come.

The Big Short – When four outsiders saw what the big banks, media and government refused to, the global collapse of the economy, they had an idea: The Big Short. Their bold investment leads them into the dark underbelly of modern banking where they must question everyone and everything. What a colossal achievement. Adam McKay achieves an improbable task here; turning the dauntingly impenetrable catalysts for the 2007-08 Global Financial Crisis (GFC), and the terrifying-to-consider effects, into a tremendously entertaining comedy-drama. He also never ignores the tragedy of the event and isn’t afraid to dig deep into the world of complex mortgage derivatives and use inventive approaches to make it accessible. The film is a damning indictment of Wall Street, from the angle of men who saw the crash coming and who begin to realise what their unexpected profit opportunity meant for the U.S financial system, and the rest of the world. Shaping up to be a serious Oscar contender, full review at the link.

Goosebumps – Upset about moving from the big city to a small town, young Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) finds a silver lining when he meets his beautiful neighbour Hannah (Odeya Rush). The teen is surprised to learn that Hannah’s mysterious father is R.L. Stine (Jack Black), the famous author of the best-selling “Goosebumps” series. When Zach accidentally unleashes the monsters from the fantastic tales, it’s up to Stine, his daughter and Cooper to return the beasts back to the books where they belong. LOVED the Goosebumps books when I was a kid, and this is surely going to get a pass on nostalgia alone. 

The 5th Wave – A desperate teen (Chloë Grace Moretz) tries to save her younger brother as increasingly deadly attacks decimate most of the Earth. Based on Rick Yancey’s eponymous novel, this has a top cast but I expect one I will have to catch on home entertainment.

Recommendations: Both The Big Short and Carol are wonderful, and landed in the top 15 films I saw in 2015. The former is looking like one of the top contenders for Best Picture. But, if you also see an opportunity to make it to a 70mm screening of Tarantino’s bold, unruly, nasty and unforgettable Hateful Eight, do not surrender that chance. Goosebumps has an unfortunate release slot, because it is surrounded by some heavyweight films, but it looks like a good deal of fun.  

Jan 072016
 

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The Writers Guild of America this morning announced their nominees for Best Original and Adapted Screenplay, and the selections are strong and diverse. As usual, Oscar prognosticators shouldn’t get too excited about these nominees because there are some major films ineligible for consideration, but it has made the race even more interesting.

Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies

Sicario

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

Trainwreck

Not eligible for the nominations were genuine Oscar chances Inside Out, The Hateful Eight, Ex Machina and Son of Saul, but one would expect that Bridge of Spies and Spotlight will almost certainly be recognised by the Academy. Sicario and Straight Outta Compton follow up their PGA nominations with more recognition here, which makes their chances much stronger than they were a week ago.

 

Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short

Carol

The Martian

Steve Jobs

Trumbo

Not eligible were Room, Brooklyn, Anomalisa and 45 Years, but I can only see one of these making it into the Oscar field. The Big Short, Carol, Steve Jobs and The Martian seem like sure things now, with either Brooklyn or Room (depending on which scores a Best Picture nomination, and that is looking more like Brooklyn at the moment) joining them. Trumbo has been favoured, scoring multiple SAG nominations, and can’t be discounted for a Best Picture nomination either.

The Writers Guild of America Awards will be held February 13.

Jan 022016
 

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December is always one of the busiest months of the year. Work is wrapping up, which means deadlines move forward and new year strategies and goals are set. There are Christmas functions and various festive events, including a bunch of screenings for the film media. Distributors try and show outlets as many of their January releases as they can, so there are often 3-4 viewing options per week throughout December. I attended about half of the sessions I could have here, but still kept very very busy. I was lucky because I ended up seeing some of my favourite films of the year, which aren’t released until Jan.

In addition to finishing the The Last of Us, an absolute masterpiece of a game, I wound down the year by watching a few easy-going festive films, read a few novels and started playing Grand Theft Auto Five. 

I revealed my 25 Best Films of 2015, but I also wanted to acknowledge here some great films I watched for the first time in 2015 that weren’t released then – Risky Business, Goldfinger, Dr. No, Velvet Goldmine, Winnebago Man, Wet Hot American Summer, Red Road, Re-Animator, The Secret of Kells, Toys, Swingers, Frailty and Baadassssss!

I ended up watching 345 films in 2015 – 20 short of one film per day, a feat I have eclipsed over the last three years. I caught 27 films in December – you can see how I ranked them after the jump: Continue reading »

Dec 282015
 

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So ends another year of film. A year of ups-and-downs, but the comforts of the cinema have remained frequent. To note this year: there have been less 4.5 and 5 star films for me – truly great ones – but a consistent stream of very good films. I can’t remember a year of such incredible depth. International films were certainly weaker this year. Perhaps it was the fact that not so many were available to me, but many of my favourite films last year (Two Days, One Night, Force Majeure and Ida for example) were international films. But, American cinema has been stronger than usual year, with some terrific mid-budget productions. Selecting this 25 (a number I have liked using for some years now) was a challenge that took many hours of deliberation and jostling, so I hope you appreciate the consideration and respect the high esteem of quality I place in these films.

Continue reading »

Dec 222015
 

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Boxing Day is usually one of the most loaded cinema days of the entire calendar year. While there are still a diverse selection of films on offer for the holidays this year, December has been barren so far and a lot of distributors have taken their headline titles out of 2015 altogether with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Here are what remain on offer, should you wish to watch something other than Star Wars for the third time: The Good Dinosaur, Joy, Suffragette, Youth, Daddy’s Home, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip and The Belier Family.

The Good Dinosaur – What if the cataclysmic asteroid that forever changed life on Earth actually missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? The latest film from Pixar, their second in 2015, has battled through some serious production problems. Reactions have been (modestly) positive, praising the visuals but claiming the story just doesn’t come together. Minor Pixar. More for the little ones than the universally appealing Inside Out, this will still likely prove to be charming escapism.

Joy – This is the wild story of a family across four generations centered on the girl who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty and becomes a matriarch in her own right. Betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love, pave the road in this intense emotional and human comedy about becoming a true boss of family and enterprise facing a world of unforgiving commerce. Allies become adversaries and adversaries become allies, both inside and outside the family, as Joy’s inner life and fierce imagination carry her through the storm she faces. David O. Russell’s latest film is tonally odd and structurally erratic, typical of the filmmaker, and is anchored by a magnetic performance from Jennifer Lawrence. It isn’t particularly funny or possess much dramatic tension (features of both Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) or and yet it never ceases to be interesting. It is an American Dream story about the persistence of ideas and a determined woman who fought the disposability of fame, success and mops.

Suffragette – In early 20th-century Britain, the growing suffragette movement forever changes the life of working wife and mother Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). Galvanized by political activist Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Watts joins a diverse group of women who fight for equality and the right to vote. Faced with increasing police action, Maud and her dedicated suffragettes must play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, risking their jobs, homes, family and lives for a just cause. Carey Mulligan’s fiery and passionate performance makes this just watchable, but the sacrifices of this one fraction is not amplified to the national movement as a whole with Mulligan’s character a far too convenient ride through this very important slice of history. Every man in this film is “LOATHSOME”, and though the washed-out hand-held photography is a risky, but understandable, aesthetic choice it is beyond irksome.

YouthExplores the lifelong bond between two friends vacationing in a luxury Swiss Alps lodge as they ponder retirement. While Fred (Michael Caine) has no plans to resume his musical career despite the urging of his loving daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), Mick (Harvey Keitel) is intent on finishing the screenplay for what may be his last important film for his muse Brenda (Jane Fonda). And where will inspiration lead their younger friend Jimmy (Paul Dano), an actor grasping to make sense of his next performance? Paolo Sorrentino (This Must Be the Place and The Great Beauty) has become a bit like a drug for me. I need his films in my life and I get high on the visual and audio pleasures (and their perfect collaboration) lathered throughout his films. This is a serene and mesmerising meditation on ageing; memory and the past, a study of what drives commitment to vocation and the security of legacy. The performances by Caine, Keitel and Dano are especially wonderful.

Daddy’s Home – The story of a mild-mannered radio executive (Will Ferrell) who strives to become the best stepdad ever to his wife’s two children, but complications ensue when their freewheeling, freeloading real father (Mark Wahlberg) arrives, forcing stepdad to compete for the affection of the kids. I think anyone who has seen the trailer for this knows what they are in for, but it comes down to a decision of whether the superior supporting cast of Linda Cardellini and Thomas Haden Church are worth the effort.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip – Through a series of misunderstandings, Alvin, Simon and Theodore come to believe that Dave is going to propose to his new girlfriend in New York City… and dump them. They have three days to get to him and stop the proposal, saving themselves not only from losing Dave but possibly from gaining a terrible stepbrother. Another one? None of them have been good.

The Belier Family – The whole Bélier family is deaf, except for sixteen year old Paula who is the important translator in her parents’ day to day life especially when it comes to matters concerning the family farm. When her music teacher discovers she has a fantastic singing voice and she gets an opportunity to enter a big Radio France contest the whole family’s future is set up for big changes. This film has been a big hit in France and won a bunch of Lumiere and Cesar Awards. Looks rather charming.

Recommendations: Contrary to what I was expecting there is actually something for everyone here. Families have The Good Dinosaur, Alvin and Daddy’s Home (depending on the age of the kids) as options, and older audiences will probably go for Youth, Suffragette and The Belier Family. Joy will also attract a solid BO, considering the success of Russell’s last two films and the star power of Jennifer Lawrence. While Star Wars remains the most attractive option, and I am sure many will venture back for another (and another) viewing, it is also the strongest film currently in cinemas. Even if you aren’t a Star Wars fan I think you’ll have a good time. I also enjoyed Youth and Joy.