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 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 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.

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.

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.