Aug 052015
 

In cinemas this week: Trainwreck, The Fantastic Four, Last Cab to Darwin, Good Kill and The Farewell Party. 

Trainwreck The latest film from writer/director Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) is just as much an Amy Schumer joint. The current stand-up comedy queen and creator of hit television series Inside Amy Schumer writes and stars in the overstuffed and rough-edged, but undeniably entertaining rom-com Trainwreck. From a young age Amy Townsend (Amy Schumer) has taken her father’s mantra that monogamy isn’t realistic to heart. Now a writer for men’s magazine S’nuff and in her early 30’s, she continues to live by that credo. Uninhibited by what she perceives to be stifling romantic commitment, she is a freewheeling partier, sleeping around and always drinking too much. When she finds herself starting to fall for the subject of the new article she’s writing, a charming and successful sports doctor named Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), Amy starts to consider that there might be someone out there she is willing to commit to, and begins to reconsider her wild ways. Full review at the link.

The Fantastic Four A contemporary re-imagining of Marvel’s original and longest-running superhero team, centers on four young outsiders who teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe, which alters their physical form in shocking ways. Their lives irrevocably upended, the team must learn to harness their daunting new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy. The drawcards here: Josh Trank (director of Chronicle) and the young cast including Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Kate Mara and Jamie Bell.

Last Cab To DarwinThis tender film unites some of Australia’s finest actors in a story about life and love. Director Jeremy Sims has worked on the project for 13 years, since its inception as a play at the Sydney Opera House, but has now realised his dream of bringing it to the screen. Rex (Michael Caton) is a cab driver who has never left Broken Hill. When he discovers he doesn’t have long to live, he decides to drive through the heart of the country to Darwin, where new euthanasia laws could enable him to control his fate. Unwilling to burden them, or even talk about his condition, Rex leaves behind his best friend Polly (Ningali Lawford-Wolf) and his crew of drinking buddies, and sets off on the 3000km journey. Along the way, on his very Australian odyssey, Rex meets people who force him to re-evaluate his life. With pitch perfect performances from the leads and a supporting cast that includes Mark Coles Smith, Emma Hamilton and Jacki Weaver.

Good Kill – In the shadowy world of drone warfare, combat unfolds like a video game-only with real lives at stake. After six tours of duty, Air Force pilot Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) yearns to get back into the cockpit of a real plane, but he now fights theTaliban from an air-conditioned box in the Las Vegas desert. When he and his crew start taking orders directly from the CIA, and the stakes are raised, Egan’s nerves-and his relationship with his wife (Mad Men’s January Jones)-begin to unravel. Revealing the psychological toll drone pilots endure as they are forced to witness the aftermath of their fight against insurgents, Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, Lord of War) directs this riveting insider’s view of 21st-century warfare, in which operatives target enemies from half a world away. Saw this provocative film at TIFF, and beside the compelling performance from Hawke and the convincing and unsettling representation of drone strikes this unfortunately lacked substance at every juncture. 

The Farewell Party – A unique, compassionate and unlikely funny story of a group of friends at a Jerusalem retirement home who decide to help their terminally ill friend. When rumors of their assistance begin to spread, more and more people ask for their help, and the friends are faced with a life and death dilemma.

Weekly Recommendation: Last Cab to Darwin is a beautifully photographed and rather powerful personal odyssey with an impressive central performance from veteran icon Caton, as well as terrific support from the two youngsters Smith and Hamilton. Trainwreck is loaded with laughs and reflects well – and sure to entertain whether you go along for Amy Schumer’s comedy or Lebron James’ astonishing acting debut – but isn’t quite up to the level of the rest of Judd Apatow’s resume. 

Jul 222015
 

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In cinemas this week – Self/Less, The Gallows, Mr Holmes, 13 Minutes and Man Up. 

Self/Less – In this provocative psychological science fiction thriller, an extremely wealthy man (Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley) dying from cancer undergoes a radical medical procedure that transfers his consciousness into the body of a healthy young man (Ryan Reynolds). But all is not as it seems when he starts to uncover the mystery of the body’s origin and the secret organization that will kill to protect its cause. The latest film from Tarsem Singh (The Fall, Immortals) boasts a talented cast, but seems to settle for lacklustre action and squander the potential of its premise.

The Gallows – Twenty years after a deadly freak accident at a high school play, a misguided attempt to re-stage the play and honour the student proves that some things are better left in the past. Reviews for this found-footage horror have been terrible and it does look like bottom of the barrel stuff.

Mr Holmes is a new twist on the world’s most famous detective. 1947, an ageing Sherlock Holmes (a captivating Ian McKellen) returns from a journey to Japan, where, in search of a rare plant with powerful restorative qualities, he has witnessed the devastation of nuclear warfare. Now, in his remote seaside farmhouse, Holmes faces the end of his days tending to his bees, with only the company of his housekeeper and her young son, Roger. Grappling with the diminishing powers of his mind, Holmes comes to rely upon the boy as he revisits the circumstances of the unsolved case that forced him into retirement, and searches for answers to the mysteries of life and love – before it’s too late. I enjoyed this a great deal. It is elegantly layered, richly plotted and leaves a lot to contemplate on. In addition to the great work from McKellen, it features an impressive performance from youngster Milo Parker, and a lovely score from Carter Burwell.

13 Minutes – The breath-taking story of a man who nearly would have changed the world. 1939, when Hitler tricked millions of people at the height of his power, one said a radical No: Georg Elser, disparaged as an assassin, is one of the greatest resistance fighters. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall), so this has the potential to be really good. However, I expect it is only mildly engaging.

Man Up – Nancy, is done with dating. 10 times bitten, 100 times shy, she’s exhausted by the circus. So when Jack blindly mistakes her for his date, no one is more surprised than her when she does the unthinkable and just — goes with it. It’s going to take a night of pretending to be someone else for Nancy to finally man up and be her painfully honest, awesomely unconventional self… but will Jack also man up, and be able to get over her duplicity? Best just to let the evening unfold, roll with the consequences, and see if one crazy, unpredictable, complicated night can bring these two messy souls together. Lake Bell and Simon Pegg lead the cast. This might be one worthy of a wait for DVD, but looks charming nonetheless. 

Weekly Recommendation: Mr Holmes. 

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.

Apr 082015
 

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In cinemas this week – Mommy, The Salt of the Earth, Black Sea, X+Y and The Longest Ride. 

Mommy – A feisty widowed single mom finds herself burdened with the full-time custody of her unpredictable 15-year-old ADHD son. As they struggle to make ends meet, Kyla, the peculiar new neighbor across the street, offers her help. Together, they find a new sense of balance, and hope is regained. The BEST film yet from Quebecois wonder kid Xavier Dolan (Laurence Anyways and Tom at the Farm – #12 film of 2014), this is a risky film of technical audacity, enormous emotional resonance, and outstanding acting. This was my #2 film of 2014.

The Salt of the Earth For the last 40 years, the photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, in the footsteps of an ever-changing humanity. He has witnessed some of the major events of our recent history; international conflicts, starvation and exodus. He is now embarking on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora, and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project, which is a tribute to the planet’s beauty. Sebastião Salgado’s life and work are revealed to us by his son, Juliano, who went with him during his last travels, and by Wim Wenders, himself a photographer. I was floored by this film – review at the link.

Black Sea – A suspenseful adventure thriller directed by Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald, centering on a rogue submarine captain (two-time Academy Award nominee Jude Law) who pulls together a misfit crew to go after a sunken treasure rumored to be lost in the depths of the Black Sea. As greed and desperation take control onboard their claustrophobic vessel, the increasing uncertainty of the mission causes the men to turn on each other to fight for their own survival. I like Kevin Macdonald’s films and this looks Sunshine in a submarine, which makes it immediately appealing.

X+Y – This heart-warming and life-affirming story follows the unconventional and hilarious relationship between student and teacher – whose roles are often reversed – and the unfathomable experience of first love – even when you don’t understand what love is. This screened at TIFF immediately after one of the films I watched, and while sheltering from a storm I spotted Asa Butterfield on the red carpet. I believe this is a really heartwarming story. Part of my weekend viewing plan.

The Longest Ride – Based on the bestselling novel by master storyteller Nicholas Sparks, The Longest Ride centers on the star-crossed love affair between Luke, a former champion bull rider looking to make a comeback, and Sophia, a college student who is about to embark upon her dream job in New York City’s art world. As conflicting paths and ideals test their relationship, Sophia and Luke make an unexpected and feateful connection with Ira, whose memories of his own decades-long romance with his beloved wife deeply inspire the young couple. Spanning generations and two intertwining love stories, The Longest Ride explores the challenges and infinite rewards of enduring love. Another one?

Weekly Recommendation: Potentially one of the strongest cinema weeks of the year – even with the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation – if Black Sea and X+Y live up to their…potential. Mommy is amazing. 5 stars. I still find it hard to come up with the words to describe that experience at Sydney Film Festival last year.  Salt of the Earth, nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars, has a very limited release but well worth seeking out a session. 

Mar 292015
 

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Shaun the Sheep Movie is a stop-motion animated feature produced by the brilliant Bristol-based animation studio, Aardman Animations (famous for feature films Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Chicken Run and Arthur Christmas), and is adapted by co writer/directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton from the popular 2007 Shaun the Sheep television series.

Many will remember first being introduced to Shaun in Nick Park’s amazing 1995 Academy Award-winning short film Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave. Park has been working with Aardman for decades, notably directing Chicken Run and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the latter of which also won an Oscar, and creating the spin-off aforementioned series that influenced this hilarious, inventive, brilliantly animated, and quintessentially British family entertainment. With Paddington warming hearts over the Christmas break, it pays to go British for the kiddies.  Continue reading »

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.