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.

Apr 212016
 

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In cinemas this week: Eddie the Eagle, Midnight Special and Marguerite.

Eddie the Eagle – Cut from the Olympic ski team, British athlete Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Edgerton) travels to Germany to test his skills at ski jumping. Fate leads him to Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a former ski jumper who now works as a snowplow driver. Impressed by Edwards’ spirit and determination, Peary agrees to train the young underdog. Despite an entire nation counting him out, Eddie’s never-say-die attitude takes him all the way to a historic and improbable showing at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta. This has an uncanny resemblance to Cool Runnings – but it does look like a sweet, inspiring story and Dexter Fletcher’s last film Sunshine on Leith was underappreciated.

Midnight Special – The government and a group of religious extremists pursue a man (Michael Shannon) and his son (Jaeden Lieberher), a young boy who possesses special powers. The latest film from one of America’s finest young filmmakers, Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter), looks to have been inspired by the best – Steven Spielberg – while continuing his humanistic eye for lower-middle class American stories and exploring the bonds between parents and their children. Can’t wait for this one.

Marguerite – In 1921 France, a wealthy woman (Catherine Frot) follows her passion to sing in front of audiences, but no one tells her how bad she is. Loosely inspired by the life of Florence Foster Jenkins…hang on, isn’t there a film starring Meryl Streep about this exact person coming out in a few weeks?

Weekly Recommendation – You may have to travel some distance to see Midnight Special – it is screening at Palace Norton Street, Dendy Newtown and Dendy Opera Quays, at least, in Sydney – but we’re confident it will be worth it. 

Apr 142016
 

THE JUNGLE BOOK - (Pictured) MOWGLI and KING LOUIE ©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In cinemas this week: The Jungle Book (QLD last week, all other states this week), The Boss, The Divergent Series: Allegiant, Our Little Sister, Wide Open Sky. 

The Boss – Wealthy CEO Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy) always gets her way, until she’s busted for insider trading and sent to federal prison. After leaving jail, Darnell finds herself broke, homeless and hated. Luckily, she tracks down former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell), the only person who’s willing to help. While staying with Claire and her young daughter, the ex-con devises a new business model for a brownie empire. Unfortunately, some old enemies stand in the way of her return to the top. Melissa McCarthy can be divisive, but her creative partnership with her husband, director Ben Falcone, doesn’t seem to be working to the levels of Paul Feig (Spy, The Heat).

The Divergent Series: Allegiant – Tris must escape with Four and go beyond the wall enclosing Chicago. For the first time ever, they will leave the only city and family they have ever known in order to find a peaceful solution for their embroiled city. Once outside, old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless with the revelation of shocking new truths. Tris and Four must quickly decide who they can trust as a ruthless battle ignites beyond the walls of Chicago which threatens all of humanity. In order to survive, Tris will be forced to make impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice and love. This franchise has just never got off the ground, with loyal fans dropping off with each new instalment. 

Our Little Sister – After the death of their estranged father, three siblings (Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho) invite their half sister (Suzu Hirose) to live with them. The latest film from Japanese filmmaker Hirozaku Kore-eda was one of the most charming films I saw at last year’s Sydney Film Festival. It tells a very kind and touching story of sibling unity through loss and the desire for independence. His films often deal with themes of family ties, and the strength of love through hardships. It is a very smartly cast and directed film and is a fundamentally perfect crowd-pleaser.

Wide Open Sky – Follows the heart-warming journey of an outback children’s choir and its founder Michelle Leonard’s personal mission to bring a desolate musical landscape back to life. Chronicling their journey from audition to stage, the film reveals the trials and tribulations of trying to run a children’s choir in the most isolated and disadvantaged region of NSW where sport is king and music education is non-existent.

Weekly Recommendation: We have heard nothing but great things about The Jungle Book and Our Little Sister is a delight.  

Apr 072016
 

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In cinemas this week: The Jungle Book (QLD only), The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Where to Invade Next and Rams. 

The Jungle Book – Raised by a family of wolves since birth, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) must leave the only home he’s ever known when the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) unleashes his mighty roar. Guided by a stern panther (Ben Kingsley) and a free-spirited bear (Bill Murray), the young boy meets an array of jungle animals, including a slithery python (Scarlett Johansson) and a smooth-talking ape. Along the way, Mowgli learns valuable life lessons as his epic journey of self-discovery leads to fun and adventure. Initial skepticism about the distraction the voice-cast would offer have faded away quickly as the early reviews not only praise the casting but the magical technical wonders and powerful storytelling. Disney are having a good start to the year, it seems. 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War – Betrayed by her evil sister Ravenna (Charlize Theron), heartbroken Freya (Emily Blunt) retreats to a northern kingdom to raise an army of huntsmen as her protectors. Gifted with the ability to freeze her enemies in ice, Freya teaches her young soldiers to never fall in love. When Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and fellow warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain) defy this rule, the angry queen does whatever she can to stop them. This film is destined to be forgotten, like its predecessor. Generally mediocre it squanders an ace cast, caught in an awkward position of being too silly for adults and too adult for kids. Full thoughts at the link. 

Where to Invade Next – Filmmaker Michael Moore visits various countries to examine how Europeans view work, education, health care, sex, equality, and other issues. From cafeteria food to sex ed, Moore looks at the benefits of schooling in France, Finland and Slovenia. In Italy, he marvels at how workers enjoy reasonable hours and generous vacation time. In Portugal, Moore notes the effects of the decriminalization of drugs. Through his travels, we discover just how different America is from the rest of the world. I am always interested in Michael Moore’s films, but I think I will wait until this one hits home release.

Rams – In a secluded valley in Iceland, Gummi and Kiddi live side by side, tending to their sheep. Their ancestral sheep-stock is considered one of the country’s best and the two brothers are repeatedly awarded for their prized rams who carry an ancient lineage. Although they share the land and a way of life, Gummi and Kiddi have not spoken to each other in four decades. When a lethal disease suddenly infects Kiddi’s sheep, the entire valley comes under threat. This is a near death sentence for the farmers, whose sheep are their main source of income, and many abandon their land. But Gummi and Kiddi don’t give up so easily – and each brother tries to stave off the disaster in his own fashion. Fantastic. A completely unique story with a striking setting, a fascinating sibling dynamic and a dark sense of that distinctive Scandinavian humour. All gel perfectly. One of Sam’s favourite films of 2015.

Weekly Recommendation – Queensland are lucky, they get The Jungle Book a week before the rest of the country. Sydney-siders are guided to seek out Rams, screening at Palace Cinemas. If anything, it will offer a fresh and rather unforgettable experience. 

Mar 312016
 

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This week, off the back of a blockbuster week including Batman v. Superman and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, we have a quiet selection of releases – Sherpa and Labyrinth of Lies.

Sherpa – A brawl on Everest? Director Jennifer Peedom set out to uncover tension in the 2014 Everest climbing season from the Sherpas’ point of view and instead captured a tragedy when an avalanche struck, killing 16 Sherpas. Sherpa tells the story of how the Sherpas united after the tragedy in the face of fierce opposition, to reclaim the mountain they call Chomolungma. This is an admirably balanced film that offers a provocative document of a high-altitude worker’s rights movement which eventually led to a drastic reappraisal of the role of the Sherpas, and how, through grief and unity, this spiritual people managed to reclaim professional respect. It is breathtaking, and you can find further thoughts at the link.

Labyrinth of Lies – Upon learning that many former Nazis returned to their pre-war lives with no penalty, an ambitious German prosecutor (Alexander Fehling) vows to bring them to justice.

Weekly Recommendation – While Labyrinth sounds fascinating Sherpa is the one you want to make the time to see in the cinema. We still haven’t caught up with the well-reviewed Kung-Fu Panda 3, so apart from that it will likely be a quiet weekend at the cinema. 

Mar 242016
 

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In cinemas this week: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Kung-Fu Panda 3, Eye in the Sky and A Bigger Splash.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of JusticeIt’s been nearly two years since Superman’s (Henry Cavill) colossal battle with Zod devastated the city of Metropolis. The loss of life and collateral damage left many feeling angry and helpless, including crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Convinced that Superman is now a threat to humanity, Batman embarks on a personal vendetta to end his reign on Earth, while the conniving Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) launches his own crusade against the Man of Steel. Rampant catastrophe. Fans of the inspiration comics will get their fill. Everyone else will be pummelled into a stupor and left shaking their heads as to what is going on.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 – Parenting and marriage is becoming tougher and tougher for Toula (Nia Vardalos) and her husband Ian. Not only has their relationship lost some of its spark, but they’re also dealing with a rebellious teenage daughter who clashes with Greek traditions. On top of that, Toula must contend with aging parents and the endless needs of cousins and friends. When a shocking family secret comes to light, the entire Portokalos clan makes plans to come together for an even bigger wedding than before. The first film was a mega hit. I didn’t get the appeal, and will be skipping this almost-certain inferior sequel. 

Kung-Fu Panda 3 – Living large and loving life, Po (Jack Black) realizes that he has a lot to learn if he’s going to fulfill the next challenge from his beloved instructor (Dustin Hoffman). After reuniting with his long-lost father (Bryan Cranston), Po must transition from student to teacher and train a group of fun-loving, clumsy pandas to become martial-arts fighters. Together, the kung-fu brethren unite to take on the evil Kai (J.K. Simmons), a supernatural warrior who becomes stronger with each battle. I seem to have rare appreciation of KFP2, but this has been a decent franchise to date. I’m intrigued to see where they take the story next.

Eye in the Sky – Complications arise when a lieutenant general (Alan Rickman) and a colonel (Helen Mirren) order a drone missile strike to take out a group of terrorists in Nairobi, Kenya. Aaron Paul and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) co-star and reviews have been very positive. Not all that interested initially, but one to catch up with on home release.

A Bigger Splash – The off-the-grid vacation of a famous rock star, Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton), and her filmmaker boyfriend, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), is disrupted by the unexpected visit of Marianne’s old friend and music producer Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) and his salacious young daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Had a lot of promise, but didn’t live up to it despite an electrifying high-energy performance from Fiennes. Full thoughts at the link.

Weekly Recommendation – The two I have seen (Batman v. Superman and A Bigger Splash) I don’t care for. It is the Easter long weekend, people will see what they damn well please.

Mar 172016
 

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In cinemas this week: Zootopia, The Witch, The Daughter, London Has Fallen and Miracles From Heaven.

Zootopia – From the largest elephant to the smallest shrew, the city of Zootopia is a mammal metropolis where various animals live and thrive. When Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) becomes the first rabbit to join the police force, she quickly learns how tough it is to enforce the law. Determined to prove herself, Judy jumps at the opportunity to solve a mysterious case. Unfortunately, that means working with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a wily fox who makes her job even harder. I am still in awe that this film exists – visually it is incredibly inventive and detailed, it has a meaty procedural plot with a timely pro tolerance/equality message and an outstanding voice cast. Sets the bar high for animation in 2016.

The Witch – In 1630 New England, panic and despair envelops a farmer (Ralph Ineson), his wife (Kate Dickie) and four of their children when youngest son Samuel suddenly vanishes. The family blames Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the oldest daughter who was watching the boy at the time of his disappearance. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, twin siblings Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) suspect Thomasin of witchcraft, testing the clan’s faith, loyalty and love to one another. Full review at the link. 

The Daughter – Christian (Paul Schneider) returns to his Australian hometown for his father’s (Geoffrey Rush) wedding. Reconnecting with a childhood friend (Ewen Leslie) and his family, he unearths a long-buried secret that threatens to shatter their lives. It screened in the Official Competition at last year’s Sydney Film Festival, so it feels like a long time coming back to screens. I was rather disappointed; the DRAMA felt predictable and implausible, despite some very good performances. Leslie, Sam Neill and Odessa Young in particular.

London Has Fallen – After the death of the British prime minister, the world’s most powerful leaders gather in London to pay their respects. Without warning, terrorists unleash a devastating attack that leaves the city in chaos and ruins. Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) springs into action to bring U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) to safety. When Asher falls into the hands of the sinister organization, it’s up to Banning to save his commander in chief from a horrible fate. Have seen some reviews calling this “one of the worst action movies in recent memory”. Guess what another recent one is? The prequel, Olympus Has Fallen. I hated that film, no way will I ever subject myself to this. 

Miracles From Heaven – Anna Beam (Kylie Rogers) lives with a rare, incurable disorder that leaves her unable to digest food. Despite the dire diagnosis, devoted mom Christy (Jennifer Garner) relentlessly searches for a way to save her beloved daughter. Everything changes in an instant when Anna tells an amazing story of a visit to heaven after surviving a headlong tumble into a tree. Her family and doctors become even more baffled when the young girl begins to show signs of recovering from her fatal condition. Righto.

Weekly Recommendation – Zootopia and The Witch, about as different as you can get, are two of the most impressive films I have seen this year. Zootopia, while colourful and fast-paced enough for kids, is so rich in narrative and theme it is likely to be a even more of a treat for the adults. The Witch is scary; a skillfully crafted debut feature that genuinely earns your fear. Very limited release.

Mar 102016
 

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In cinemas this week – 10 Cloverfield Lane, Victoria, Spear and Grimsby. 

10 Cloverfield Lane – A woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) discovers the horrifying truth about the outside world while living in an underground shelter with two men (John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.). Have no expectations at all here, but if there is a film that warrants a sequel – or a film set in the same universe – it is Cloverfield. Great cast & trailer.

Victoria – Four local Berliners recruit a thrill-seeking Spanish woman (Laia Costa) to be their getaway driver for a bank robbery. This amazing film is comprised of a single take. No tricks. No effects. It premiered at last year’s Sydney Film Festival, and I [Andy] have seen few films since then that have affected me as much. Further thoughts at the link.

SpearA contemporary Aboriginal story, told through movement and dance, of a young man Djali as he journeys through his community to understand what it means to be a man with ancient traditions in a modern world. Spanning from the outback of Australia to the gritty city streets of Sydney, Spear is a poignant reflection of the continuing cultural connection of Indigenous people. It is an intimate journey with Stephen Page, one of Australia’s most celebrated artists, as he brings this modern day mythological story to the screen.

Grimsby – Dimwitted Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen) lives in an English fishing town with his loving girlfriend (Rebel Wilson) and nine children. For the last 28 years, he’s been searching for his long-lost brother Sebastian (Mark Strong). When the two finally reunite, Nobby finds out that his sibling is a top MI6 agent who’s just uncovered a sinister plot. Wrongfully accused and on the run, Sebastian now realizes that he needs Nobby’s help to save the world and prove his innocence. I haven’t enjoyed any of Sacha Baron Cohen’s creations since Borat, so I will be giving it a miss.

Weekly Recommendation – Can’t recommend seeing Victoria in cinemas enough. Essential viewing, but the release is limited – Nova in Melbourne and Golden Age in Sydney. Well worth making the effort. Cloverfield was great, and the teaser trailer for the loosely-linked Lane doesn’t reveal anything. Count us in. And speaking of trailers, Spear also looks amazing. Let’s hope Australian audiences give this local film some support.