Jun 012016
 

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Though it was a quieter month at the cinema – just four trips – I got through a heap of viewing at home. Some of this viewing was in preparation for Sydney Film Festival. Some of it was catching up on films I missed at the cinema, on digital platforms. I ended up watching 29 films and 15 episodes of TV. But, more importantly, I finished two projects I had been working on for months. The first: Bond. I watched all 24 James Bond films and ranked them here. The second: Goosebumps. In one of the most ambitious and foolish things I have ever attempted, I re-read all 62 of the original Goosebumps novel series, and ranked and wrote about each one. The idea, to spark some nostalgia and to take once R.L. Stine fans through each novel and give the experience of re-living them. Also, it serves as a guide on which ones to never ever read again.

In addition to all this I recently began reading Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. Tremendous work, but deeply scarring. I have read over 400 pages in a short amount of time, and am struggling to emotionally process some of this beautiful, but distressing story. On the TV front I have been addicted to The Thick of It, a perfect tonic to a long tough day at the office, but haven’t really given much time to anything else. Albums of the month go to Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool and James Blake’s The Colour in Everything. 

Coming up in June: Sydney Film Festival. Check back in regularly for reviews and a series of diary entries. Some thoughts on fresh watches after the jump:

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May 262016
 

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In cinemas this week: The Nice Guys, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Alice Through the Looking Glass.

The Nice Guys – Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a down-on-his-luck private eye in 1977 Los Angeles. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a hired enforcer who hurts people for a living. Fate turns them into unlikely partners after a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) mysteriously disappears. Healy and March soon learn the hard way that other dangerous people are also looking for Amelia. Their investigation leads to some dark places as anyone else who gets involved in the case seems to wind up dead. Shane Black doesn’t quite recapture the form of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but Gosling and Crowe make a great hapless PI team, and it is consistently funny throughout, even if it doesn’t dig too deeply into the seedy ’70s California underworld. Further thoughts at the link.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Raised on hip-hop and foster care, defiant city kid Ricky gets a fresh start in the New Zealand countryside. He quickly finds himself at home with his new foster family: the loving Aunt Bella, the cantankerous Uncle Hec, and dog Tupac. When a tragedy strikes that threatens to ship Ricky to another home, both he and Hec go on the run in the bush. As a national manhunt ensues, the newly branded outlaws must face their options: go out in a blaze of glory or overcome their differences and survive as a family. Equal parts road comedy and rousing adventure story, director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) masterfully weaves lively humour with emotionally honest performances by Sam Neill and Julian Dennison. Can’t wait to see this one. Taika Waititi’s films are always a treat, and Julian Dennison is a brilliant young actor.

Alice Through the Looking Glass – After slipping through a mirror, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself back in Underland with the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Her friends tell her that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is depressed over the death of his family. Hoping to save his loved ones, Alice steals the Chronosphere from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to travel into the past. While there, she encounters the younger Hatter and the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). An improvement on Burton’s dire effort, but a few of the performances and some inventive sets/effects aside, its pretty lackluster stuff. Sam’s review at the link.

Weekly Recommendation: The Nice Guys is worth a look for sure, but we expect our highlight to be Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
May 252016
 

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The Nice Guys, a mass-audience ’70s California-set PI noir, is the latest film from writer/director Shane Black. It teams up two mismatched private eyes trying to make a connection between a dead porn star and the disappearance of a young woman. While it never reaches the heights of an Inherent Vice or LA Confidential, of which the influences are clear, it is entertaining throughout because of the winning collaboration of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, and excellent support from young Australian actress Angourie Rice (These Final Hours).

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May 182016
 

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In cinemas this week – X-Men: Apocalypse, The Meddler, Criminal, Highly Strung and Keanu. 

X-Men: Apocalypse – Worshiped as a god since the dawn of civilization, the immortal Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) becomes the first and most powerful mutant. Awakening after thousands of years, he recruits the disheartened Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and other mutants to create a new world order. As the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance, Professor X (James McAvoy) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) lead a team of young X-Men to stop their seemingly invincible nemesis from destroying mankind. After the immediately forgettable last entry in the X-Men universe, we’re not going to rush out for this one. 

The Meddler – After the death of her husband, a woman (Susan Sarandon) moves from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be closer to her daughter (Rose Byrne). This is the latest film from Lorene Scafaria (writer/director of the very sweet Seeking a Friend For the End of the World), but we were already sold on that powerful lady duo.

Criminal – CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) dies while traveling to a secret location to meet a hacker who can launch missiles at will. Desperate to find his whereabouts, officials turn to an experimental neurosurgeon who can transfer memories from one brain to another. The guinea pig for the procedure is Jerico Stewart (Kevin Costner), a violent and dangerous death-row inmate. Now gifted with Pope’s skills and knowledge, Stewart must race against time to stop a sinister international conspiracy. Ryan Reynolds is in EVERYTHING, but this also feels like ‘this month’s CIA thriller’.

Keanu – Recently dumped by his girlfriend, slacker Rell (Jordan Peele) finds some happiness when a cute kitten winds up on his doorstep. After a heartless thief steals the cat, Rell recruits his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) to help him retrieve it. They soon learn that a thug named Cheddar (Method Man) has the animal, and he’ll only give it back if the two men agree to work for him. Armed with guns and a gangster attitude, it doesn’t take long for the hapless duo to land in big trouble. Having never seen an episode of Key and Peele there isn’t much appeal in this. 

Highly Strung – Director Scott Hicks (Shine and Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts) continues his exploration of music-themed films with Highly Strung, a journey into a rarefied world of elusive tones evoked by horsehair on catgut; of investors tempted to spend millions on unique instruments; and a quartet of virtuosi caught up in a duel of tension and harmony.

Weekly Recommendation: If you haven’t yet caught Green Room it is a terrifyingly intense thriller, and in our opinion the best film in cinemas right now, but we’re attracted to the light-weight charm promised by The Meddler this week in the wake of the hotly anticipated The Nice Guys and Hunt for the Wilderpeople later in the month.

May 122016
 

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In cinemas this week: Whisky Tango Foxtrot, The Angry Birds Movie, Bastille Day, Green Room, Remember and The First Monday in May. 

Whisky Tango Foxtrot In 2002, cable news producer Kim Barker (Tina Fey) decides to shake up her routine by taking a daring new assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan. Dislodged from her comfortable American lifestyle, Barker finds herself in the middle of an out-of-control war zone. Luckily, she meets Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), a fellow journalist who takes the shellshocked reporter under her wing. Amid the militants, warlords and nighttime partying, Barker discovers the key to becoming a successful correspondent. A likeable cast, but one perhaps suited for home viewing in a few months. 

The Angry Birds Movie – Flightless birds lead a mostly happy existence, except for Red (Jason Sudeikis), who just can’t get past the daily annoyances of life. His temperament leads him to anger management class, where he meets fellow misfits Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb. Red becomes even more agitated when his feathered brethren welcome green pigs to their island paradise. As the swine begin to get under his skin, Red joins forces with Chuck and Bomb to investigate the real reason behind their mysterious arrival. Excellent voice-cast, but why does this film exist? 

Bastille Day – Michael Mason (Richard Madden) is an American pickpocket living in Paris who finds himself hunted by the CIA when he steals a bag that contains more than just a wallet. Sean Briar (Idris Elba), the field agent on the case, soon realizes that Michael is just a pawn in a much bigger game and is also his best asset to uncover a large-scale conspiracy. Going against commands, Briar recruits Michael to use his expert pickpocketing skills to help quickly track down the source of the corruption. As a 24hr thrill ride ensues, the unlikely duo discover they are both targets and must rely upon each other in order to take down a common enemy. Idris Elba and Richard Madden should elevate this (on paper) by-the-numbers action thriller, but it doesn’t seem essential.

Green Room Down on their luck punk rockers The Ain’t Rights are finishing up a long and unsuccessful tour, and are about to call it quits when they get an unexpected booking at an isolated, run-down club deep in the backwoods of Oregon. What seems merely to be a third-rate gig escalates into something much more sinister when they witness an act of violence backstage that they weren’t meant to see. Now trapped backstage, they must face off against the club’s depraved owner, Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart), a man who will do anything to protect the secrets of his nefarious enterprise. But while Darcy and his henchmen think the band will be easy to get rid of, The Ain’t Rights prove themselves much more cunning and capable than anyone expected, turning the tables on their unsuspecting captors and setting the stage for the ultimate life-or-death showdown. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Jeremy Saulnier’s much-lauded Blue Ruin, but this looks incredibly intense and likely to leave a mark.

Remember – With help from a fellow Holocaust survivor (Martin Landau), a widower (Christopher Plummer) who struggles with memory loss embarks on a cross-country odyssey to find the former Nazi responsible for the deaths of their family members.

The First Monday in May – The First Monday in May follows the creation of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s most attended fashion exhibition in history, “China: Through The Looking Glass,” an exploration of Chinese-inspired Western fashions by Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton. With unprecedented access, filmmaker Andrew Rossi captures the collusion of high fashion and celebrity at the Met Gala, one of the biggest global fashion events chaired every year by Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour.

Weekly Recommendation – Political satire Whisky Tanko Foxtrot looks like a fun night out at the cinema, but if you’re looking for something a little more scarring we recommend Green Room. Heard nothing but great things, and we’ll be hunting down a session this weekend.

May 072016
 

Bad Neighbours 2 (also known as Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising) is not only consistently funny throughout but also proves to be plugged into very-present identity politics and the social zeitgeist. It sets a breakneck pace as the Radner’s (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) find themselves embroiled in a new turf war – one that places the pending sale of their home at risk – and must turn to frat king, and former enemy, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), to help them.

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Apr 292016
 

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In Civil War, the thirteenth instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the focus shifts back to Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America (Chris Evans). This is his third film as central protagonist, joining Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark with as many films. It seems fitting that these two come to a head here, as Rogers finds his allegiance torn between Stark and The Avengers and his old friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who finds himself the subject of a global manhunt. Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) return to direct, again proving to be very competent in their choreography of the action sequences and their ability to find a deft balance of humour as they probe into deep human emotion, and further explore the intense physicality of the characters under pressure.

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Apr 282016
 

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In cinemas this week: Captain America: Civil War, A Month of Sundays, Mother’s Day, God’s Not Dead 2 and Pawno (released limited last week)

Captain America: Civil War – Political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability when the actions of the Avengers lead to collateral damage. The new status quo deeply divides members of the team. Captain America (Chris Evans) believes superheroes should remain free to defend humanity without government interference. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) sharply disagrees and supports oversight. As the debate escalates into an all-out feud, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and others must pick a side. With a motion put in place to bring a more peaceful future, past vengeances resurface that threaten the harmony of the Avengers. An epic collaboration of brilliantly choreographed action and stake-fueled allegiances. One of the stronger entries in the MCU. 

A Month of Sundays – Written and directed by Matthew Saville (Noise and Felony), this is a charming Adelaide-set drama about ordinary people and second chances, starring Anthony LaPaglia in a compelling performance as a career real estate agent, Frank Mollard, trapped in a mid-life crisis of professional failure and emotional disconnect. Having recently lost his mother and been divorced, he is estranged from his teenage son and can’t even manage to sell a house during a property boom. This humorous and often moving existential study has a unique offbeat approach, which ensures that it stirs and lingers in the consciousness longer than you would fist anticipate. Further thoughts at the link.

Pawno (released limited last week) – In a dusty old pawnbroker’s in the heart of Footscray, world-weary owner Les watches as the lives of the people who come through his doors collide, change and unravel. From incipient love affairs to desperate last gambles to those simply worn down by all the world has thrown at them, these individuals and their stories represent the best and the worst of Melbourne’s most hopeful and giddily mixed-up suburb. Transporting Wayne Wang’s seminal Smoke into the heart of Melbourne’s inner-west, Pawno is the ambitious and breezily watchable feature film debut from actor-turned-director Paul Ireland. Combining elements of thriller, romance and gangster genres this quirky, off-kilter character study features an eclectic ensemble cast including Maeve Dermody.

Mother’s Day – Intertwining stories revolve around a television host (Julia Roberts), a divorcee (Jennifer Aniston) looking for love and a woman (Kate Hudson) who wants to strengthen her relationship with her mother. The latest entry in that multi-plot/ensemble holiday-themed rom-com genre a la New Year’s Eve. You know what you’re in for.

God’s Not Dead 2 – High school history teacher Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart) comes under fire for answering a student’s (Hayley Orrantia) question about Jesus. When Grace refuses to apologise, the school board votes to suspend her and threatens to revoke her teaching certificate. Forced to stand trial to save her career, Grace hires young lawyer Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe) to defend her in court. Endler devises a powerful strategy to show the jury the historical significance of Wesley’s classroom discussion. There was another one of these?

Weekly Recommendation – Captain America: Civil War is the superhero movie that die-hard Marvel fans were waiting for. Millions will flock to see it, and it does deliver on a lot of levels; in particular the coordination of the new characters into the struggle. A Month of Sundays is a charming, nicely directed comedy-drama with a stirring existential salvation arc and a compelling performance from Anthony LaPaglia.