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. 

Mar 252015
 

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In cinemas this week: InfinitelyPolar Bear, Shaun the Sheep, Leviathan,  Cinderella, A Little Chaos, Get Hard and Dior and I.

Infinitely Polar Bear –  Maggie (Zoe Saldana) and Cam (Mark Ruffalo) have a loving, but volatile relationship. Cam is a diagnosed manic-depressive, and while his love for his wife and two daughters is undeniable, he can’t always keep an even keel. After a particularly frightening manic episode, Maggie leaves Cam and moves the family to Boston. Cam is forced to live in temporary single accommodation. Despite Cam’s wealthy family and Maggie’s infallible work ethic, the family struggles to make ends meet. When Maggie is offered a full scholarship to study business at Columbia, she is elated – this is their ticket out of poverty. However, this means leaving Faith and Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) in the full-time care of her father. Maggie and Cam decide to take the leap, and through his extreme highs and extreme lows, he cares for the girls while Maggie works hard to secure them a better future. Continue reading Sam’s review from An Online Universe at the link.

Shaun the Sheep – When Shaun’s mischief inadvertently leads to the Farmer being taken away from the farm, Shaun, Bitzer and the flock have to go into the big city to rescue him, setting the stage for an epic adventure. Meant to be great, plus it is from the creators of Wallace and Gromit.

Leviathan – The latest drama from Andrey Zvyagintsev, the acclaimed director of The Return (Venice Film Festival Golden Lion winner). Kolya (Alexeï Serebriakov) lives in a small fishing town near the stunning Barents Sea in Northern Russia. He owns an auto-repair shop that stands right next to the house where he lives with his young wife Lilya (Elena Liadova) and his son Roma (Sergueï Pokhodaev) from a previous marriage. Isolated in a desolate coastal boneyard, an aging patriarch battles a corrupt official seeking to purchase the land his home stands upon and then finds his cherished relationships begin to crumble around him as a result. Marvellously constructed and photographed, this is a gut-wrenching story of a proud Everyman whose oppression grows increasingly closer, eventually enveloping everything he cares for and has stakes in.

Cinderella – When her father unexpectedly passes away, young Ella finds herself at the mercy of her cruel stepmother and her daughters. Never one to give up hope, Ella’s fortunes begin to change after meeting a dashing stranger. Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchet and James Madden, this revisionist take on the Disney classic is directed by Kenneth Branagh and supposed to be quite good.

A Little Chaos – A romantic drama following Sabine (Academy Award winner Kate Winslet), a strong-willed and talented landscape designer, who is chosen to build one of the main gardens at King Louis XIV’s new palace at Versailles. In her new position of power, she challenges gender and class barriers while also becoming professionally and romantically entangled with the court’s renowned landscape artist André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts). Directed by Alan Rickman this had its premiere at TIFF last year, and met petty negative responses. Still, should be light entertainment, and worth a look for the Winslet/Schoenaerts match-up.

Get Hard – Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart headline this Warner Bros. comedy about a wrongfully convicted investment banker who prepares for prison life with the help of the man who washes his car. Etan Cohen directs, with Ian Roberts and Jay Martel handling screenwriting duties. Eh.

Dior and I – Frédéric Tcheng’s solo directorial debut brings the viewer inside the storied world of the Christian Dior fashion house with a privileged, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Raf Simons’ first haute couture collection as its new artistic director-a true labor of love created by a dedicated group of collaborators. Melding the everyday, pressure-filled components of fashion with mysterious echoes from the iconic brand’s past, the film is also a colorful homage to the seamstresses who serve Simons’ vision.

Weekly Recommendation: Infinitely Polar Bear is a warm, loving film, an endearingly personal study of family togetherness through tough times. The performances are terrific. I am not sure I ever want to watch Leviathan again, but it feels like a true testament to Crime and Punishment, a painful epic of human drama with bold contemporary commentary. I definitely want to see Shaun the Sheep, and am genuinely intrigued by Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos. Something for everyone this week, as it should be. 

Mar 172015
 

In cinemas this week: ’71, Big Eyes, Love is Strange, Home, Insurgent and Run All Night. 

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’71 takes place over a single night in the life of a young British soldier (Jack O’Connell) accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the streets of Belfast in 1971. Unable to tell friend from foe, and increasingly wary of his own comrades, he must survive the night alone and find his way to safety through a disorientating, alien and deadly landscape. Been hearing great things about this war thriller for a while now – including the fact that it features another sterling performance from O’Connell and welcomes an exciting new voice in Yann Demange. I feel like this is essential viewing.

Big Eyes – Directed and produced by Tim Burton, Big Eyes is based on the true story of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), who was one of the most successful painters of the 1950s and early 1960s. The artist earned staggering notoriety by revolutionizing the commercialization and accessibility of popular art with his enigmatic paintings of waifs with big eyes. The truth would eventually be discovered though: Keane’s art was actually not created by him at all, but by his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams). The Keanes, it seemed, had been living a lie that had grown to gigantic proportions. Big Eyes centers on Margaret’s awakening as an artist, the phenomenal success of her paintings, and her tumultuous relationship with her husband, who was catapulted to international fame while taking credit for her work. I am more interested in this for Adams and Waltz than Burton, but it is nice to see a departure from the norm for the veteran director.

Love is Strange – After nearly four decades together, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) finally tie the knot in an idyllic wedding ceremony in lower Manhattan. But when George loses his job soon after, the couple must sell their apartment and – victims of the relentless New York City real estate market – temporarily live apart until they can find an affordable new home. While George moves in with two cops (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez) who live down stairs, Ben lands in Brooklyn with his nephew (Darren Burrows), his wife (Marisa Tomei), and their temperamental teenage son (Charlie Tahan), with whom Ben shares a bedroom. While struggling with the pain of separation, Ben and George are further challenged by the intergenerational tensions and capricious family dynamics of their new living arrangements. This is a pleasant, but unfocused film. After a promising start this never quite delivers on all its themes. It dwells on inconsequential subplots, but when Molina and Lithgow get together it excels. It is competently made and the performances are quite strong, but the touching messages entwined within the story wither away shortly after viewing.

Home – When Oh, a loveable misfit from another planet, lands on Earth and finds himself on the run from his own people, he forms an unlikely friendship with an adventurous girl named Tip who is on a quest of her own. Through a series of comic adventures with Tip, Oh comes to understand that being different and making mistakes is all part of being human. And while he changes her planet and she changes his world, they discover the true meaning of the word HOME. I think I’ll pass on this.

Insurgent raises the stakes for Tris as she searches for allies and answers in the ruins of a futuristic Chicago. Tris (Woodley) and Four (James) are now fugitives on the run, hunted by Jeanine (Winslet), the leader of the power-hungry Erudite elite. Racing against time, they must find out what Tris’s family sacrificed their lives to protect, and why the Erudite leaders will do anything to stop them. Haunted by her past choices but desperate to protect the ones she loves, Tris, with Four at her side, faces one impossible challenge after another as they unlock the truth about the past and ultimately the future of their world. I still haven’t seen Divergent, but I haven’t heard to much positive about it, so I will give this a miss too.

Run all Night – Liam Neeson reunites with Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra for this Warner Bros. thriller following a mob hit-man and his estranged son (Joel Kinnaman) as they flee the wrath of a vengeful crime boss. I liked Unknown, but I well and truly have Neeson fatigue.

Weekly Recommendation – ’71 looks to be the most promising of the pack, and I intend to have see it and Big Eyes by the end of the weekend. Love is Strange is worth a look, but I wouldn’t stress about seeing it in cinemas. 

Feb 252015
 

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In cinemas this week – A Most Violent Year, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Eastern Boys and That Sugar Film (March 1)

A Most Violent Year – Set during the winter of 1981 – statistically one of the most crime-ridden of New York City’s history – A Most Violent Year is a drama following the lives of an immigrant and his family as they attempt to capitalize on the American Dream, while the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built. This is the new film from J.C Chandor (responsible for Margin Call and the amazing All is Lost) so you should be very interested. He is a terrific filmmaker, and this looks like another hefty project. Plenty of praise has come for the performances from Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain and Albert Brooks.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the expansionist dream of Sonny (Dev Patel), and it’s making more claims on his time than he has available, considering his imminent marriage to the love of his life. Sonny has his eye on a promising property now that his first venture, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful, has only a single remaining vacancy – posing a rooming predicament for fresh arrivals Guy (Richard Gere) and Lavinia (Tasmin Greig). Evelyn and Douglas (Judi Dench and Bill Nighy) have now joined the Jaipur workforce and are wondering where there regular dates will lead, while Norman and Carol (Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle) are negotiating the tricky waters of an exclusive relationship. Perhaps the only one who may know the answers is newly installed co-manager of the hotel, Muriel (Maggie Smith), the keeper of everyone’s secrets. I quite enjoyed the first film, and it was such a hit with the elderly demographic that I can completely understand a sequel.  I’ll get around to watching this – even if it is on DVD.

Eastern Boys – Arriving from all over the Eastern Bloc, the men who loiter around the Gare du Nord train station in Paris are scraping by however they can, forming gangs for support and protection, ever fearful of being caught by the police and deported. When the middle-aged, bourgeois Daniel played by Olivier Rabourdi approaches a boyishly handsome Ukrainian who calls himself Marek for a date, he learns the young man is willing to do anything for some cash. What Daniel intends only as sex-for-hire begets a home invasion and then an unexpectedly profound relationship. The drastically different circumstances of the two men’s lives reveal hidden facets of the city they share. Presented in four parts, this absorbing, erotically charged drama from writer-director Robin Campillo is centered around anonymous liaisons, in which motivation, risk, and desire produce volatile and unexpected consequences.

That Sugar Film – Damon Gameau embarks on a unique experiment to document the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body, consuming only foods that are commonly perceived as ‘healthy’. Through this entertaining and informative journey, Damon highlights some of the issues that plague the sugar industry, and where sugar lurks on supermarket shelves. Damon’s journey to discover the bitter truth about sugar will forever change the way you think about ‘healthy’ food.

Weekly Recommendation: A strong week for sure, with nay an uninteresting film amongst them. I have my heart set on seeing A Most Violent Year this weekend, but I expect I will have to settle for the rest on DVD/VOD later in the year. If you enjoyed the first Marigold Hotel what’s to stop you seeing this. I wonder if it will beat its predecessor at the Box Office. 

Feb 182015
 

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In cinemas this week: Jupiter Ascending, Rosewater and Project Almanac.

Jupiter Ascending – From the streets of Chicago to the far-flung galaxies whirling through space, “Jupiter Ascending” tells the story of Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), who was born under a night sky, with signs predicting she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning other people’s houses and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse the fate that has been waiting for her all along – her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos. I am a defender of the Wachowski’s divisive but brilliant Speed Racer and loved Cloud Atlas from a couple of years ago, but this was bad. I became numb as to what was going on plot-wise, what was actually happening in the chaotic action sequences and what all of this confusing hodgepodge of design decisions ultimately added up to. A very bad cast.

Rosewater – Based on The New York Times best-selling memoir “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival,” written by Maziar Bahari. The film marks the directorial debut of “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, and stars Gael García Bernal. Rosewater follows the Tehran-born Bahari, a broadcast journalist with Canadian citizenship. In June 2009, Bahari returned to Iran to interview Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who was the prime challenger to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As Mousavi’s supporters rose up to protest Ahmadinejad’s victory declaration hours before the polls closed, Bahari endured personal risk by sending footage of the street riots to the BBC. Bahari was arrested by police and tortured and interrogated over the next 118 days. With Bahari’s wife leading an international campaign to have her husband freed, and Western media outlets keeping the story alive, Iranian authorities released Bahari on $300,000 bail and the promise he would act as a spy for the government. Prior to Bahari’s capture this is an interesting story, but the monotonous questioning, and claustrophobic imprisonment, reveals that Stewart isn’t a great director. Really quite tiresome, and disappointing. Sam reviews at the link.

Project Almanac – A brilliant high school student and his friends uncover blueprints for a mysterious device with limitless potential, inadvertently putting lives in danger. Has made quite a bit of money in the US, but looks like an inferior version of sleeper hit Chronicle.

As I did not care for either Jupiter Ascending or Rosewater I won’t be recommending either of them. But Sam had a different take on Jupiter Ascending. This is the weekend to catch up with the Academy Award nominees ahead of next Monday’s ceremony. Birdman, Selma, Foxcatcher, Still Alice and Citizen Four are all still in cinemas. 

Feb 122015
 

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New to cinemas this week are Selma, Citizen Four, The Interview, Fifty Shades of Grey and What We Did On Our Holiday. 

Selma is the story of a movement. The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernay’s Selma tells the real story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo, a mighty performance) and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history. This is a very significant film, immensely powerful and superbly written, directed and performed, that was shamefully overlooked at the Oscars this year. It is focused, and yet bigger than the great man at the heart of this period of history.

Citizen Four – In January 2013, Laura Poitras (recipient of the 2012 MacArthur Genius Fellowship and co-recipient of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service) was several years into making a film about surveillance in the post-9/11 era when she started receiving encrypted e-mails from someone identifying himself as “Citizen Four,” who was ready to blow the whistle on the massive covert surveillance programs run by the NSA and other intelligence agencies. In June 2013, she and Glenn Greenwald flew to Hong Kong for the first of many meetings with the man who turned out to be Edward Snowden. She brought her camera with her. The film that resulted from this series of tense encounters is absolutely sui generis in the history of cinema: a 100% real-life thriller unfolding minute by minute before our eyes. Citizen Four has won just about every major Documentary award, and is the firm favourite to win the Oscar. It has been called by one critic the ‘film of the 21st Century’. It will be essential viewing.

The Interview – In this action-comedy, Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) run the popular celebrity tabloid TV show “Skylark Tonight.” When they discover that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a fan of the show, they land an interview with him in an attempt to legitimize themselves as journalists. As Dave and Aaron prepare to travel to Pyongyang, their plans change when the CIA recruits them, perhaps the two least-qualified men imaginable, to assassinate Kim Jong-un. The laughs do dry up in this very silly (but not dumb) film for a while, but whenever the Franco/Rogen bromance is on show it is consistently hilarious. Not worthy of all of the fuss, which is the unfortunate baggage everyone has to take into it.

Fifty Shades of Grey – E.L. James’ kinky best-seller gets the big screen treatment with this Universal Pictures/Focus Features co-production. The steamy tale details a masochistic relationship between a college student and a businessman, whose desires for extreme intimacy pen from secrets in his past. All reports are that the source material is abysmal, which will very likely translate into a pretty terrible film, but this will attract a huge audience. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy) and starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson.

What We Did On Our Holiday – Doug and Abi are taking their three children on a trip to Scotland for a big family gathering. They are in the midst of a difficult divorce, and have asked the kids to keep it a secret from their extended family. But as the inevitable feuds kick in, a completely unexpected turn of events involving the children causes further tensions to rise to the surface. And with the repercussions that ensue – hilarious and emotional in equal measure – the family are forced to put aside their differences and work together or else risk losing what they hold most dear. This has a top cast – Pike, Tennant and Connelly – and looks to be quite charming and pleasant. Probably a wait-for-DVD option, though.

Weekly Recommendation: A big, big week. Something for everyone. Fifty Shades of Grey will overwhelm everything else in BO takings, but it is Selma (and I suspect Citizen Four) that you MUST SEE. It will also be interesting to see how The Interview goes, given that half the country has probably already watched it by now. If you haven’t, it’s a good time.

Feb 082015
 

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Adapted from the autobiography by Jane Wilde Hawking, ‘Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Steven’, The Theory of Everything deals with Jane’s relationship with her ex-husband, world-renowned astrophysicist Steven Hawking, his diagnosis of motor neuron disease and how, through her decades of support while raising their family, Steven would go on to write ‘A Brief History of Time’.

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