Friday, 28 August 2015

THE GIFT

A young married couple's lives are thrown into a harrowing tailspin when an acquaintance from the husband's past brings mysterious gifts and a horrifying secret to light after more than 20 years. -- IMDB

Written and directed by Australia's Joel Edgerton (and also starring), THE GIFT is a brilliant movie. From the opening frame there is a deep sense of unease.  At first, it looks like it's going to be a standard thriller about a couple who move into a new house and are terrorised by a stranger. But then it takes a turn that makes this a fresh, on-the-edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller. The writing is excellent, totally believable, legitimately terrifying, brilliantly acted, challenging our expectations, and with a great message. Unlike so many thrillers, this one is not overdone. It is being praised by critics and general viewer alike. Whatever you do, don't miss it!


IRRATIONAL MAN

A tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act. -- IMDB

Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone pair up in this latest offering from Woody Allen. It's a movie for those who like philosophy and Allen's dialogue-driven writing - and so may not be for everyone. It looks at some pretty deep themes - depression, existence, ethics. It's a clever story that is mostly unpredictable. Phoenix and Stone have some great chemistry between them and make the dialogue feel authentic. The writing is sharp and offbeat with a great jazz soundtrack - and there's a very surprising twist at the end. It is almost as though Allen has found a new burst of energy in this dark and humorous tale.


Thursday, 27 August 2015

YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

There is a smorgasbord of movies to see in cinemas this week...

TOP PICK TO SEE


My top pick is THE GIFT which I saw today. Written and directed by, and starring in is Australia's very own Joel Egerton. It is a psychological thriller about a young married couple's lives thrown into a harrowing tailspin when an acquaintance from the husband's past brings mysterious gifts and a horrifying secret to light after more than 20 years. It's brilliant! I give it ***** and will post my review shortly. I completely agree with TheWrap's James Rocchi who says that, Nothing here feels cheap or hasty, which is why the horror, when it comes, is all the more chilling and grim. Slick, sharp and legitimately terrifying, The Gift is a truly brilliant thriller - and, one hopes, the first of many features from Edgerton to come. Make sure you go see it!

OTHERS TO SEE


HOLDING THE MAN tells the story of Tim and John who fell in love while teenagers at their all-boys high school. John was captain of the football team, Tim an aspiring actor playing a minor part in Romeo and Juliet. Their romance endured for 15 years to laugh in the face of everything life threw at it - the separations, the discrimination, the temptations, the jealousies and the losses - until the only problem that love can't solve, tried to destroy them. Sounds interesting.

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


The tagline for STALKHER is intriguing: He chased her... until... she caught him. Jack is pushed past the brink of his stalking obsession when he decides to break into Emily's home to take what he wants by force. However, his plans for her pain and his pleasure come unhinged when he wakes up to find himself bleeding and bound to a chair in her kitchen. For one night Jack and Emily engage in a twisted and thrilling courtship of the sexes that leads one to wonder which one of them will survive the night. It's billed as a comedy romance thriller. Don't know much more about the movie than that - so we'll have to wait and see.

RICKI AND THE FLASH is getting a mixed reception - general audiences are rating it as average and critics around 2 to 2.5 stars. It's about a musician (played by Meryl Streep) who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom and then returns home, looking to make things right with her family. The Playlist's Rodrigo Perez says, Ricki And the Flash is about mistakes, regrets, and of course, redemption, but all of it feels a little too neat, familiar and convenient even if no one's quite belting out “Kumbaya” by the end.

I've already posted my review of SHE'S FUNNY THAT WAY. Check out my review here to see why I liked it so much.

TO AVOID


One movie to avoid this week -- WE ARE FRIENDS starring Zac Efron - which probably tells you all you need to know. Caught between a forbidden romance and the expectations of his friends, aspiring DJ Cole Carter attempts to find the path in life that leads to fame and fortune. Chicago Sun-Times's Richard Roeper: Talk about a mediocre mash-up. Much of We Are Your Friends plays like an Electronic Dance Music update of a very good John Travolta movie - “Saturday Night Fever” - with a liberal sprinkling of plot elements from a quite terrible Tom Cruise movie called “Cocktail.” Give it a miss.

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

*NOTE* Movie summaries are adaptations of movie summary on IMDB. Opinions are mine unless credited. These updates are written from an Australian perspective so openings of the movies in cinemas may vary in other parts of the world.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

SHE'S FUNNY THAT WAY

On the set of a playwright's new project, a love triangle forms between his wife, her ex-lover, and the call girl-turned-actress cast in the production. -- IMDB

What a delightful, old-fashioned, screwball comedy this is! Imogen Poots, Jennifer Aniston, and Owen Wilson are delightful with great chemistry onscreen together. It's light, witty, fun and draws on some older cinematic formulae which it openly acknowledges. Thoroughly enjoyable situational humour. A charming piece of entertainment. In theatres tomorrow (Wednesday).


Monday, 24 August 2015

SOUTHPAW

Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services. --IMDB

Enjoyable and frequently compelling drama that takes the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Billy Hope, is brilliant. He has clearly put his heart and soul into this role and is totally believable. Oona Laurence delivers a mature performance as his daughter. SOUTHPAW's central story is of Billy Hope recovering from rock bottom having lost his wife, child, career, and respect. This part of the story is bracketed by two intense, emotionally charged, thrilling boxing acts which provide a great sense of balance and resolution. The story explores redemption, love, family, and the choice between anger and self-discipline as ways of living. There's a driving, powerful soundtrack that supports the gritty story, particularly in the first and third acts. It's a touch slow in the middle and occasionally cliched, but overall SOUTHPAW is a satisfying piece of entertainment because of Gyllenhaal's presence on the screen. For those who love a good, dramatic boxing movie, this is a must see. For others, it's still worth spending a couple of hours with this inspirational, uplifting, if somewhat predictable story.


Sunday, 23 August 2015

DOPE

Life changes for Malcolm, a geek who's surviving life in a tough neighborhood, after a chance invitation to an underground party leads him and his friends into a Los Angeles adventure. -- IMDB

DOPE contains the crudity, coarse language, sexual themes, violence, and drug use of much modern teen comedy. But DOPE is different in that the story is situated in the lives of people for whom all this is a daily reality living in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in America. Acting is authentic, the relationship between the three kids who hang out together is well portrayed, and the dialogue is fast-paced and witty. The plot is essentially about Malcolm who becomes ensnared in a drug deal and has to work out how to extricate himself so he can follow his dream of attending Harvard. But everything seems to be working against him. At times, this crime drama is suffused with humour and optimism alongside the despair and hopelessness of Malcolm as he tries to make moral decisions. Sometimes this coming-of-age story is pretty hard to watch. DOPE won't be for everyone but is worth a look if you can cope with the material I've described at the beginning of this review and definitely only for ages 17+. It's in limited release.


Wednesday, 19 August 2015

YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

Quite a choice of movies to see this week - most of them pretty average!

TOP PICK TO SEE


Top pick is DOPE. Life changes for Malcolm, a geek who's surviving life in a tough neighbourhood, after a chance invitation to an underground party leads him and his friends into a Los Angeles adventure. The title isn't encouraging, but The Hollywood Reporter's Boyd van Hoeij describes it as, Bouncy, with snappy dialog to spare and a great young cast headed by breakout star Shameik Moore, this is a crowd-pleaser from start to finish. I'll be checking it out.

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


SOUTHPAW, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams is a sport action drama in which Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services. General audiences have responded to this one more positively than critics. Apparently, Gyllenhaal is excellent, according to Total Film's Paul Bradshaw, who says, The script keeps its gloves on but Gyllenhaal gives his all, notching up one of his very best performances.

I've been looking forward to Woody Allen's new feature film IRRATIONAL MAN for a while now. The trailer looked interesting. It's about a tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act. For Hitfix'a Gregory Ellwood, His [Woody Allen's] characters may spout Kant and debate the ethics of different human interactions, but it's only sugar coating on top of what is effectively a simple and familiar story. I give it a go and let you know.

HITMAN: AGENT 47 is a crime action thriller in which an assassin teams up with a woman to help her find her father and uncover the mysteries of her ancestry. Don't know much about this one other than the trailers which look ok.

Finally, VACATION, which the critics don't like but the general public are rating as average - so you're going to have to make up your own mind. In this adventure comedy, Rusty Griswold takes his own family on a road trip to "Walley World" in order to spice things up with his wife and reconnect with his sons. Be warned, Movie Nation's Roger Moore has this to say: With every desperate F-bomb, every “Dad, what's a rim job?” crudity, every crass overreach into vulgarity, Vacation feels pointless, dated and dirty. I'll be giving this one a miss, I think.

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

*NOTE* Movie summaries are adaptations of movie summary on IMDB. Opinions are mine unless credited.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

COMING SOON (3 September 2015): ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer. -- IMDB

A quirky movie of a sad but affirming story. The performances on the part of the young cast are excellent. It's a courageous attempt to do something different with the coming-of-age genre by combining it with the drama of someone dying from cancer. But the director has tried too hard to make it "different" so that the viewer's emotional connection with the characters is undermined. There a some charming and deeply moving moments. But the overall tone of the movie seems forced. Would be ok to wait for the DVD.


Friday, 14 August 2015

PAPER TOWNS (2015)

A young man and his friends embark upon the road trip of their lives to find the missing girl next door. --IMDB

One of the better teen movies - it avoids coarse grossness and avoids a cliched ending. The teen actors put in good performances and come across as authentic, flawed and vulnerable. The ground that is covered in the story is typical of coming-of-age movies. But the premise is interesting and there are enough moments of depth to keep one's interest from flagging - although there are a few moments where that happens. A good message that is handled with a reasonable amount of subtlety, but the voice-over narration is a bit excessive. A solid entry into the teen genre.


Thursday, 13 August 2015

NEW RELEASE DVD RECOMMENDATION - BLACK SEA (2014)

SUMMARY: A rogue submarine captain 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. -- ROTTEN TOMATOES

MY REVIEW: A thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining action adventure with good suspense. Jude Law puts in a great performance as the captain of the submarine trying to manage a motley crew of men who are not always on his side. It's good, old-fashioned storytelling which makes it great for putting your feet up at home and watching this on the TV screen.


THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (2015)

In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons. - IMDB

Good fun. I really liked the colour palette of the film and the titles (including subtitles of the various languages) that gave the whole movie a '60s feel. Nice to see a movie that didn't rely on high-tech devices. Felt a bit uneven in its tone, the story was a cliched cold war plot, and the acting was average. The highlights are the two car chases which are clever and humorous. Perhaps the lowest point is an uncomfortable torture scene. Soundtrack is light and has some pleasant rhythms - I liked the music which included some good flute (I think) work. Characters were ok and the main protagonists interacted with good chemistry. Doesn't come up to the level of a Mission Impossible movie or the recent brilliant Kingsman: Secret Service. But it is pleasant, stylish and has its tongue firmly in its cheek.


YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

Not much on offer of any great quality this week.

TOP PICK TO SEE


No top pick this week - nothing worth recommending in this spot.

OTHERS TO SEE


For those of you into fashion, there's yet another documentary on this theme. IRIS is about fashion icon Iris Apfel and comes from legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles. For Variety's Ronnie Scheib, IRIS is A joyous celebration of creativity and razor-sharp wit sustained into old age, as evinced by outspoken nonagenarian fashion icon Iris Apfel, Iris also offers proof of Albert Maysles' continued vitality as a documentarian.

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


Fans of the old TV series, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. may enjoy the new movie version released to screens this week. Set in the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons. Variety's Peter Debruge explain that Cavill and Hammer have each toplined major tentpoles before, so it's something of a mystery why neither makes much of an impression here, but there's a curious vacuum at the center of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that almost certainly owes to its casting. General audiences are appreciating this one more than most critics. I'll post my review of this as soon as I have seen it.

I have previously posted my review of 5 FLIGHTS UP which is the story of a long-time married couple who've spent their lives together in the same New York apartment and who become overwhelmed by personal and real estate-related issues when they plan to move away.  I gave the movie ** stars. Read my review here to find out why. The general public are averaging around *** stars so you may want to check it out. I don't recommend it.

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

*NOTE* Movie summaries are adaptations of movie summary on IMDB. Opinions are mine unless credited.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE AMSALEM

Original title: Gett

In Israel there is neither civil marriage nor civil divorce. Only rabbis can legitimate a marriage or its dissolution. But this dissolution is only possible with full consent from the husband, who in the end has more power than the judges. Viviane Amsalem has been applying for divorce for three years. But her husband Elisha will not agree. His cold intransigence, Viviane's determination to fight for her freedom, and the ambiguous role of the judges shape a procedure in which tragedy vies with absurdity, and everything is brought out for judgment, apart from the initial request. (IMDB: Directors' Fortnight)

This Israel/French/German production, based on true events, is riveting despite most of the events taking place in one small, sparsely furnished room and completely dialogue driven. The movie shows us a series of appearances of Viviane before the rabbinical judges over the years of the court case. The acting is stunning and relies on the cast expressing deep and changing emotions over the course of the events.  It is an incredible story and is almost unbelievable that a system of "justice" could be so unjust - and ridiculously so. The system is so bad that it would be funny if it wasn't true. The movie requires patience (it is just under two hours  long) and won't suit all viewers. But patience is rewarded.


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

5 Flights Up

A long-time married couple who've spent their lives together in the same New York apartment become overwhelmed by personal and real estate-related issues when they plan to move away. --IMDB

5 FLIGHTS UP is opening in cinemas tomorrow - and it is a very disappointing movie. There is no chemistry between Diane Keaton (who plays Ruth) and Morgan Freeman (who plays Alex). Most of the story consists of interminably boring dialogue. Plot devices are contrived and the whole thing culminates in a cliched ending. The supporting characters are overacted, there are occasional memory flashbacks in which the younger couple act better than the present day ones. Morgan Freeman looks like he is just going through the motions. I was relieved when this one was over.


Saturday, 8 August 2015

THE FAREWELL PARTY (2014)

Original title: Mita Tova

Residents of a retirement home build a machine for self-euthanasia in order to help their terminally ill friend, though they are faced with a series of dilemmas when rumors of the machine begin to spread. -- IMDB

Another movie in limited release in cinemas looking at the issue of euthanasia (The Last Cab to Darwin is the other one) is THE FAREWELL PARTY. There is a mix of serious reflection and very black gallows humour which force the viewer to confront some of the complex realities of this contemporary ethical issue. The older aged cast put in great performances, some of the scenes requiring, I imaging, considerable courage. Because the movie makers have been prepared to cross the usual boundaries of propriety there are some genuine surprises. Unfortunately, the humour doesn't always work, occasionally jarring with the overall tone of the movie. The most obvious one is a segment when the characters break out singing - it just doesn't fit with the rest of the movie. Overall, it is a playfully thought-provoking piece of film making.


TERMINATOR GENYSIS (2015)

John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984, nothing is as he expected it to be. (IMDB)

I enjoyed TERMINATOR GENYSIS. Sure, it's not as good as the original and some of its sequels. And, yes, it's a bit confusing as it tries to represent the complexities of time travel. And, yes, the acting is no better than what you'd expect in something like this. But,  the special effects are great. There's some humour. It doesn't take itself too seriously. And the production design is great. It moves along at a frantic pace.  There's lots of violence but it is all obviously staged and unrealistic. And the action is incredible. The whole thing is just good fun. And there is actually some quite interesting ideas about memory. My rating is for enjoyment!


LAST CAB TO DARWIN (2015)

Rex is a loner, and when he's told he doesn't have long to live, he embarks on an epic drive through the Australian outback from Broken Hill to Darwin to die on his own terms; but his journey reveals to him that before you can end your life, you have to live it, and to live it, you've got to share it. (Reg Cribb and Jeremy Sims - IMDB)

LAST CAB TO DARWIN is a wonderful movie full of  raw drama mixed with intelligent humour. It explores a range of significant issues - death and dying, euthanasia, racism, the plight of Aboriginal people in Australia, friendship, and much more - all dealt with sensitivity. Michael Caton (The Castle), as Rex the dying cabbie from Broken Hill, is brilliant. And all of the cast come across as authentic. The characters are all developed well and the story is engaging and thought-provoking. And what happens in Darwin is a genuine surprise. Apart from being a touch too long, this is one of the best Australian films I've seen this year and will be appreciated by mainstream moviegoers. A true delight.


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

There are two new movies opening this week on a similar theme: death, dying and euthanasia. One of them is my top pick to see this week.

TOP PICK TO SEE


LAST CAB TO DARWIN is the story of Rex ... a loner, [who] when he's told he doesn't have long to live, he embarks on an epic drive through the Australian outback from Broken Hill to Darwin to die on his own terms; but his journey reveals to him that before you can end your life, you have to live it, and to live it, you've got to share it. (Reg Cribb and Jeremy Sims) The story is clearly based around the brief time when the Northern Territory in Australia legalised euthanasia under strict conditions. It's a very touching drama shot through with humour that is quintessentially Australian. I will post my review shortly but I'd give it ****1/2. Definitely a must see. Won 2nd prize for the Audience Award at the Sydney Film Festival this year.

OTHERS TO SEE


Another movie opening on similar themes as Last Cab is THE FAREWELL PARTY. In this Hebrew story, residents of a retirement home build a machine for self-euthanasia in order to help their terminally ill friend, though they are faced with a series of dilemmas when rumors of the machine begin to spread. The Dissolve's Andrew Lapin suggests that, The film's deft, improbable balance of tone makes its success feel well-deserved. Not many directors could have pulled off the blend of somber reflection and gallows humor that Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon manage here. Sounds like an interesting movie. This one is in limited release you might need to track it down.

TO AVOID


Finally, one to avoid. It's the reboot of FANTASTIC FOUR in which four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy. General audiences and critics are rating this one low. Screen International's Tim Grierson says that, A good cast led by Miles Teller gets swallowed up in a narrative that grows progressively more muddled and tedious. Give it a miss.

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

*NOTE* Movie summaries are adaptations of movie summary on IMDB. Opinions are mine unless credited.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION (2013)

Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate - an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF. -- IMDB

A solid entry in the Mission Impossible franchise. There's no doubt that, while Tom Cruise is not a great actor, he does do good action movies. And this one is good. The highlight for me was a brilliant motorcycle chase which had me on the edge of my seat! Overall, ROGUE NATION is fast-paced, with an intelligent script. There is an old-fashioned flavour to it that is, ironically, quite fresh. And the opening scene is brilliantly funny. Definitely worth a look if you like action...you'll come out of the cinema exhausted!


FAR FROM MEN (2014)

Algeria, 1954. Two very different men thrown together by a world in turmoil are forced to flee across the Atlas mountains. Daru, the reclusive teacher, has to escort Mohamed, a villager accused of murder. --IMDB

A profound, meditative French "Western" that is surprisingly contemporary in its themes of relating to those who are different to us. Viggo Mortensen is brilliant as Daru and well supported by Reta Kateb, who plays Mohamed, the Arab accused of murder and who Daru is burdened to transport to a trial to be held on the other side of the Atlas mountains. There isn't much dialogue but an incredible amount is conveyed through the actions and behaviours of the characters. The location of the events plays a dominant role in providing tension and, in many ways, strips away all distraction so that the relationship between the two men remains the focus. The title of the movie, FAR FROM MEN, describes the isolation of the events and the fact that the two men are outside of the usual reach of the law and must struggle with moral questions as their journey unfolds. The movie is based on an Albert Camus novel so the philosophical background to the story is existentialist, revealing the nature of character by the actions that occur in the present moment. A gem of a movie which, unfortunately, is in limited release - so you might need to look around for it. But it is worth the effort.