In Cinemas 3 March 2016

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Mar 022016
 

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The Lady in the Van – In 1973 London, playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) develops an unlikely friendship with Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith), a homeless woman who lives in a van in his driveway for the next 15 years. It is based on a true story and Smith has previously portrayed Shepherd twice: in the original 1999 theatrical production, and in a 2009 BBC Radio 4 adaptation. Her performance has been praised, and it looks funny and poignant.

Triple 9 – Bullets fly on the Atlanta freeway as armed thieves make their getaway following a bank robbery in broad daylight. Unhappy with the results, ruthless gangster Irina Vlaslov orders the men to pull off another job. One member of the team is Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), a crooked cop who gets saddled with Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), his new but incorruptible police partner. As Belmont and his cohorts lay the groundwork for the heist, they come up with a devious plan to use Allen as their pawn. Has some very tense sequences, but could have been a lot better. Stands in the shadow of many superior heist and crooked cop films. There are some charismatic performances, but the cast is too good for this. 

The Finest Hours – On Feb. 18, 1952, a massive storm splits the SS Pendleton in two, trapping more than 30 sailors inside the tanker’s sinking stern. Engineer Ray Sybert bravely takes charge to organize a strategy for his fellow survivors. As word of the disaster reaches the Coast Guard in Chatham, Mass., Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff orders a daring rescue mission. Despite the ferocious weather, coxswain Bernie Webber takes three men on a lifeboat to try and save the crew against seemingly impossible odds. Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster and Eric Bana star in this effects-heavy high-seas rescue thriller. Reviews have been mixed but I get the sense it is the sort of film you’d appreciate only in the cinema.

Weekly Recommendation: Have only see Triple 9, which may please fans of director John Hillcoat and the crime genre, but I am not going to lose sleep about missing the others.

In Cinemas 25 Feb 2016

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Feb 242016
 

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In cinemas this week: Hail Caesar!, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Son of Saul, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi and Gods of Egypt.

Hail Caesar! – In the early 1950s, Eddie Mannix is busy at work trying to solve all the problems of the actors and filmmakers at Capitol Pictures. His latest assignments involve a disgruntled director, a singing cowboy, a beautiful swimmer and a handsome dancer. As if all this wasn’t enough, Mannix faces his biggest challenge when Baird Whitlock gets kidnapped while in costume for the swords-and-sandals epic “Hail, Caesar!” If the studio doesn’t pay $100,000, it’s the end of the line for the movie star. The latest film from the Coen Bros may be a minor work – for me their screwball comedies aren’t quite as satisfying as their darker work – but this is destined to be a whole lot of fun anyway. And check out that cast – Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum and Tilda Swinton. 

Pride & Prejudice and Zombies – In the 19th century, a mysterious plague turns the English countryside into a war zone. No one is safe as the dead come back to life to terrorize the land. Fate leads Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), a master of martial arts and weaponry, to join forces with Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), a handsome but arrogant gentleman. Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy, but respects his skills as a zombie killer. Casting aside their personal differences, they unite on the blood-soaked battlefield to save their country. I was intrigued by this idea and after being very impressed by Lily James in Cinderella I was quite keen to check it out. Poor reviews have sapped my motivation, and I’ll see it on home ent release. 

Son of Saul – During World War II, a Jewish worker (Géza Röhrig) at the Auschwitz concentration camp tries to find a rabbi to give a child a proper burial. The clear favourite to win the Best Foreign Language film Oscar, this has been all the rage since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Sure to be harrowing, gruelling viewing we’ll be making this one a priority considering it’s likely short, limited run.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of the Benghazi – On Sept. 11, 2012, Islamic militants attack the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and Sean Smith, an officer for the Foreign Service. Stationed less than one mile away are members (James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini) of the Annex Security Team, former soldiers assigned to protect operatives and diplomats in the city. As the assault rages on, the six men engage the combatants in a fierce firefight to save the lives of the remaining Americans. This is perfect material for Michael Bay’s filmmaking sensibilities, and while the footage I have seen suggest more mature work from the filmmaker, it will still be a punishing 144 minutes.

Gods of Egypt – The survival of mankind hangs in the balance when Set (Gerard Butler), the merciless god of darkness, usurps Egypt’s throne and plunges the prosperous empire into chaos and conflict. Hoping to save the world and rescue his true love, a defiant mortal named Bek (Brenton Thwaites) forms an unlikely alliance with the powerful god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Their battle against Set and his henchmen takes them into the afterlife and across the heavens for an epic confrontation. This looks BAD.

Weekly Recommendation: Every new film from the Coen Bros is cause for celebration, so you don’t want to miss Hail Caesar!. If you’re prepared for challenging cinema and want to have an opinion on this year’s Foreign Language Oscar category, you should seek out Son of Saul.

In Cinemas 18 Feb 2016

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Feb 172016
 

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In cinemas this week: Concussion, How to Be Single, Ride Along 2, 45 Years, Risen, Trumbo

Concussion – While conducting an autopsy on former NFL football player Mike Webster (David Morse), forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) discovers neurological deterioration that is similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Omalu names the disorder chronic traumatic encephalopathy and publishes his findings in a medical journal. As other athletes face the same diagnosis, the crusading doctor embarks on a mission to raise public awareness about the dangers of football-related head trauma. There have been positive reactions to Will Smith’s performance, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe, but the film’s traditional structure and lack of punch has been the subject of criticism. 

How to Be Single – After four years of college, young Alice (Dakota Johnson) decides she needs a break from her long-term boyfriend Josh. Excited and ready for new challenges, the eager grad moves to New York to take a job as a paralegal. Helping her navigate her way through an unfamiliar city is Robin (Rebel Wilson), a fun-loving, wild co-worker who enjoys partying and one-night stands. With Robin as her freewheeling guide, Alice can now learn how to get free drinks, meet men and enjoy the single lifestyle. Neither the rather annoying Johnson or Wilson come close to selling me on seeing this, and this feminist rom-com seems to lean too much on the genre conventions it is trying to subvert.

Ride Along 2 – Rookie lawman Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) aspires to become a detective like James Payton (Ice Cube), his future brother-in-law. James reluctantly takes Ben to Miami to follow up on a lead that’s connected to a drug ring. The case brings them to a homicide detective and a computer hacker who reveals evidence that implicates a respected businessman. It’s now up to James and Ben to prove that charismatic executive Antonio Pope is actually a violent crime lord who rules southern Florida’s drug trade.

45 YearsThere is just one week until Kate Mercer’s forty-fifth wedding anniversary and the planning for the party is going well. But then a letter arrives for her husband. The body of his first love has been discovered, frozen and preserved in the icy glaciers of the Swiss Alps. By the time the party is upon them, five days later, there may not be a marriage left to celebrate. Like Weekend, writer/director Andrew Haigh gives his brilliant performers every chance to shine, relying on the quiet pauses between exchanges, and looks that tell more than any words could. His efficient screenplay is simple on the surface, but as the ghosts from the past invade the relatively peaceful present, it is an emotionally draining experience. He tugs at and pries open the nuances of the contract of marriage and the psychology of what it means to truly understand another human being. Nothing really to fault here, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are stunning. It made it on to Sam’s Top 15 of 2015 list (at the link).

Risen – Roman military tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) remains set in his ways after serving 25 years in the army. He arrives at a crossroad when he’s tasked to investigate the mystery of what happened to Jesus (Cliff Curtis) following the Crucifixion. Accompanied by trusted aide Lucius (Tom Felton), his quest to disprove rumors of a risen Messiah makes him question his own beliefs and spirituality. As his journey takes him to places never dreamed of, Clavius discovers the truth that he’s been seeking.

Trumbo – In 1947, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was Hollywood’s top screenwriter until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs. Trumbo recounts how Dalton used words and wit to win two Academy Awards and expose the absurdity and injustice of the blacklist, which entangled everyone from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) to John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger. Cranston has been nominated for all the major awards for his performance, so even if it doesn’t eschew standard biopic tropes, it will be worth a look (on home entertainment for us) for him alone.

Weekly Recommendation – 45 Years will be one of the more powerful dramas you are likely see this year; a mature and intelligent film from a very good filmmaker. If you haven’t yet seen Brooklyn, released last week, be sure to catch up with it. 

In Cinemas 11 Feb 2016

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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.

In Cinemas 4 Feb 2016

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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.

In Cinemas 28 Jan 2016

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Jan 282016
 

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In cinemas this week – Spotlight, Room, Looking for Grace and Dirty Grandpa

SpotlightTells the riveting true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that would rock the city and cause a crisis in one of the world’s oldest and most trusted institutions. When the newspaper’s tenacious “Spotlight” team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment. Directed by Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent), Spotlight is a tense investigative dramatic-thriller, tracing the steps to one of the biggest cover-ups in modern times. Spotlight has a cracking script, an ace cast and a compelling story detailing a significant case of investigative-journalism and the resulting Pulitzer Prize-winning article, but it is so un-cinematic that sadly very little has lingered with me. Keen to watch it again, though. You can read Sam’s eloquent take on the film at the link.

Room – Both highly suspenseful and deeply emotional Room is a unique and touching exploration of the boundless love between a mother and her child. After 5-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his Ma (Brie Larson) escape from the enclosed surroundings that Jack has known his entire life, the boy makes a thrilling discovery: the outside world. As he experiences all the joy, excitement, and fear that this new adventure brings, he holds tight to the one thing that matters most of all – his special bond with his Ma. No one can deny that Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay’s performances are incredibly moving, but Emma Donoghue’s cinematic adaptation of her own literary phenomenon does have its problems. Sam liked it more than I did – and her thoughts are at the link.

Dirty Grandpa – Jason Kelly (Zac Efron) is one week away from marrying his boss’s daughter, putting him on the fast track for a partnership at the law firm. However, when the straight-laced Jason is tricked into driving his foul-mouthed grandfather, Dick (Robert De Niro), to Daytona for spring break, his pending nuptials are suddenly in jeopardy. Between riotous frat parties, bar fights, and an epic night of karaoke, Dick is on a quest to live his life to the fullest and bring Jason along for the ride. Ultimately, on the wildest journey of their lives, “dirty” Grandpa and his uptight grandson discover they can learn from one another and form the bond they never had. Reactions out of the U.S have been outrageously, but perhaps justifiably, negative.

Looking for Grace – The long-awaited new film from Sue Brooks, the acclaimed and multi award-winning director of Japanese Story is an intimate, funny and profoundly moving story about the complexities of family life. When rebellious 16-year-old Grace (rising star Odessa Young) takes off, her exasperated mum and dad (Radha Mitchell and Richard Roxburgh) enlist the help of a close-to-retirement detective, and begin the long drive from Perth out to the West Australian wheatbelt to try to find her. On the journey, the two must confront the realities of their changing relationship to one another, and to their daughter. Wry, intriguing and poignant, Brooks’ unflinching reflection on the disruptive effects of both adolescence and middle age boasts her trademark sense of character, acerbic humour and eye for the hypnotic rhythms of Australia’s regional landscapes.

Weekly Recommendation – I don’t love either of the Best Picture nominees out this week –  Spotlight and Room – but many people do, and they are certainly worth a look. Two of the most popular and critically acclaimed films of the past year with 10 Oscar nominations between them. On paper they seem unmissable. At the very least, the acting is excellent. 

In Cinemas 21 Jan 2016

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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. 

In Cinemas 14 Jan 2016

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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.