Wednesday, 30 September 2015

YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

A couple of movies worth seeing this week…

TOP PICK TO SEE


THE MARTIAN is at the top of my list to see this week. During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Andy Weir — it was brilliant! I’ve been waiting for the screen version to arrive for some time. It is also going to be in 3D which should be stunning viewing. The Playlist’s Kevin Jagernauth describes The Martian as … the most purely enjoyable picture Scott has made in years. The streamlined narrative and the film's consistent pacing, aided by a cast who don't make a wrongfooted move, makes for easy popcorn entertainment. I’ll be seeing it tomorrow night and will post my review as soon as I can for you.

OTHERS TO SEE


Yet another version of MACBETH hits the screens this week. If you’re into Shakespeare, you’ll know the story: Macbeth, a Thane of Scotland, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself. I’ve seen this movie at a prescreening and will post my review shortly. The Playlist’s Jessica Kiang praises it because it is Aided by intensely committed performances from a uniformly brilliant cast, all fielding Scottish accents[.] Kurzel's genius is to be able to find clean lines of dramatic connection and motivation within the existing text and then to interpret those imaginatively, without becoming simplistic and without compromise.

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


Finally, a comedy starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, THE  INTERN in which 70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) has discovered that retirement isn't all it's cracked up to be. Seizing an opportunity to get back in the game, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion site, founded and run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). General viewers are enjoying this one — the critics not so much. The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Farber says that, Given the vacuity of the script, it must be admitted that Hathaway achieves something of a triumph. She's always engaging and keeps the character on a human rather than superhuman scale. So this one could be worth seeing for Hathaway alone with low expectations for the story.

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.

ODDBALL

An eccentric chicken farmer, with the help of his granddaughter, trains his mischievous dog Oddball to protect a penguin sanctuary from fox attacks in an attempt to reunite his family and save their seaside town. —IMDB

ODDBALL is a great kids movie - in fact, it’s a great movie for family viewing. The animals are cute, the cinematography of the beautiful southern Australian coastline is excellent (good for tourism!). Because the story is true it adds to the investment we put into watching it. Sarah Snook’s presence gives the movie a professional edge and Coco Jack Gillies, who plays Olivia, is delightful, infusing the relationship she has with her grandad (played by Shane Jacobson, of Kenny fame) with joyful innocence.  And there’s a surprising twist at the end. I really enjoyed this movie and highly recommend it for school holiday viewing.


THE VISIT

A single mother finds that things in her family's life go very wrong after her two young children visit their grandparents. —IMDB

THE VISIT is supposed to be a comedy horror. It is neither scary nor is it very funny. It’s sort of creepy in a mild way. The two kid actors are pretty good but the whole thing seems rather pointless. It’s difficult to see what the story had to do with the message that is mentioned at the end of the movie. And the climax is underwhelming. Wait for the DVD.


Saturday, 26 September 2015

THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL

A teen artist living in 1970s San Francisco enters into an affair with her mother's boyfriend. —IMDB

The IMDB description mentions a teen artist who has the affair with her mother’s boyfriend. What it doesn’t tell you, is that the girl is only 15 years old — which means she is below the legal age of consent in America — and the boyfriend is 35. I am Australian and 15 years old is also below the age of consent for consensual sex. This made THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL very difficult to watch as it explores themes that are not usually explicitly dealt with in mainstream movies. It’s a morally complex coming of age story where Minnie (played by Bel Powley) struggles to deal with her emerging sexuality. The relationship with the older man adds profound complexities to Minnie’s journey through adolescence — a story which will, I assume, resonate with many women. This is why this film is so important.  It makes it clear that, as adults, we are the product of very complex experiences - the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Phoebe Gloeckner which combined prose, poetry and cartoons to tell the story. The movie also includes cartoon animation representing the imagination of Minnie. It works very well. The director is Marielle Heller who also brought us A Walk Among the Tombstones. Only a woman could have directed THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL given the sensitive material. She directs the story without any judgment — and it is incredibly courageous and refreshingly honest. Like Minnie, we are all desperate for love and often will do whatever we can to experience it.

While the story is pretty serious, like so much of life’s pain, it is shot through with fresh wit and humour. Bel Powley is brilliant in the character of Minnie (Bel is actually 25 in real life, but you wouldn’t guess that during the film - I had to look it up afterwards). Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) is also excellent as Minnie’s mother.

THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL can hardly be called a pleasure to watch. But it is an important movie telling a story that we need to listen to. I recommend this movie, but only if you are open to feeling uncomfortable, challenged and provoked to think about issues you may never have considered before.


Friday, 25 September 2015

3D PAN

12-year-old orphan Peter is spirited away to the magical world of Neverland, where he finds both fun and dangers, and ultimately discovers his destiny -- to become the hero who will be forever known as Peter Pan. — IMDB

The critics are generally down on PAN, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is visually stunning and the use of 3D is very effective indeed. Hugh Jackman is the standout performer in his role as Blackbeard. Levi Miller as Peter Pan is pretty good, too. And there is a strong female role for Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily. It’s a bit cheesy at times, but who cares?! This is a good fun family movie with good action. It feels a bit like an oldfashioned fairytale brought into the 21st century with its technical quality. Take the kids to see it!


Thursday, 24 September 2015

SICARIO

An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico. —IMDB

SICARIO is brilliant. The plot is complex and explores deep questions of ethics and morality that individuals have to confront when fighting evil - in this case, the evil of the drug trade. Is it ever morally justifiable to use immoral tools and strategies to fight something that is, itself, immoral? SICARIO doesn’t really answer this question but confronts the viewer with it with a story that is multilayered. Emily Blunt is superb as the FBI agent who has to struggle with the disillusionment she experiences entering into a world she doesn’t really know and which unravels her naivety and forces her to rethink her own moral worldview. Blunt’s character is complex — with elements of strength and fragility that push up against each other in her very surprising role. The rest of the cast provide satisfying performances. The soundtrack is ominous and the cinematography raw and suspenseful. A totally engaging movie experience that relies on good storytelling rather than cheap attention-grabbing tricks.


YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

A smorgasbord for movie lovers this week!

TOP PICK TO SEE


Without any doubt, the top pick for this week is SICARIO. An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico. I saw this movie at a prescreening and it is brilliant! ****1/2 stars for me - I’ll post my review very soon.

OTHERS TO SEE


THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL is about a teen artist living in 1970s San Francisco who enters into an affair with her mother's boyfriend. It’s rating highly with critics and general viewers and, according to The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy, it’s A remarkably vibrant and frank look at one precocious teen's emerging sexual life - a film with the stuff of life coursing through its veins and sex very much on its brain.

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


I’m not sure about LONDON ROAD. It’s an adventure, musical, mystery that documents the events of 2006, when the quiet rural town of Ipswich was shattered by the discovery of the bodies of five women. The residents of London Road had struggled for years with frequent soliciting and kerb-crawling on their street. When a local resident was charged and then convicted of the murders, the community grappled with what it meant to be at the epicentre of this tragedy. I’ve seen the trailer and the fact that it is a musical puts me off a bit. The combination of the themes (true crime) with singing is hard to imagine. I’ll let you know what I think when I’ve seen it. If you check it out, please come back here and let us know what you think.

If you’ve seen the trailers of THE VISIT, you’ll know it looks very creepy. The story is about a single mother who finds that things in her family's life go very wrong after her two young children visit their grandparents. The thing is, this movie is billed as a COMEDY horror. For Screen International’s Charles Gant, THE VISIT is A marketable slice of hit-and-miss mischief that doesn't suggest a career rebirth so much as a larky side project that will yield more in the way of nervous laughter than quickened pulses. General viewers are rating it around 3-3.5 stars and critics a bit lower — 2.5-3 stars. The decision is yours!

CUT SNAKE is a new Australian thriller in which a pair of ex-cons hatch a scheme to burn down a nightclub in Brisbane. That’s all I know about this one — so I’ll fill you in once I’ve managed to catch up with it.

Finally, PAN is an origin story for the character of Peter Pan that we are all so familiar with. This story starts when Peter is an orphan who is spirited away to the magical Neverland. There, he finds both fun and dangers, and ultimately discovers his destiny — to become the hero who will be forever known as Peter Pan. Critics don’t like this one, averaging around 1.5-2 stars. But I enjoyed it — it’s **** stars for me which is a little higher than the average rating for general viewers. I’ll tell you why I liked it when I post my review shortly.

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.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

3D EVEREST

A climbing expedition on Mt. Everest is devastated by a severe snow storm. — IMDB

EVEREST is disappointing. It’s based on a true story which is tragic given the high loss of life. But the movie doesn’t seem to be as engaging as it should be given the material. There is little character development which meant it was difficult to empathise with the characters. There is only one occasion in the story where I felt deeply moved by what was happening on the screen. Part of the problem is that the film is populated by celebrity actors which, for me, gave it an inauthentic feel - we I kept thinking that these were just actors. In my opinion, unknown actors would have given it a more documentary-like tone which would have suited the story better, making it feel more real. The director also used the strategy of cutting back to partners at home, worrying about their loved ones on the climb. But this aspect of the story wasn’t significantly developed and felt disconnected from the events happening on the mountain even though the support from family was key for some of the participants. Nor was the 3D used to maximum effect. In fact, I didn’t think the 3D added anything significant to the viewing experience. The whole movie seemed too much like a by-the-numbers adventure drama.


Thursday, 17 September 2015

NEW RELEASE DVD RECOMMENDATION - AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

SUMMARY: When Tony Stark and Bruce Banner try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, things go horribly wrong and it's up to Earth's Mightiest Heroes to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans. -- IMDB

MY REVIEW: Thoroughly enjoyable. Great humour, excellent action, and a challenging enemy - with all the old stars and a few new ones, this episode is worth travelling to the cinema for. The dialogue is witty, the script fast-paced, slightly darker, and stunning 3D. Go see it!


YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

Movies opening this week are primarily for the kids - with just one for the adults ...

TOP PICK TO SEE


EVEREST is about a climbing expedition on Mt. Everest which is devastated by a severe snow storm. Also available in 3D which should be spectacular given the setting. But it sounds like Mt Everest eclipses the humans - maybe rightly so. According to The Playlist's Jessica Kiang, Salvatore Totino's crisp 3D photography and Kormakur's way with a clear, fluid, thrilling action sequence show off the mountain in immensely impressive ways. But the humans involved get short shrift.

OTHERS TO SEE


ODDBALL looks like a cute movie. It's the story of Allan "Swampy" Marsh and his Maremma dog Oddball. Swampy convinced local authorities to allow Oddball to protect a colony of Little Penguins on Middle Island from wild cats and dogs. Oddball succeeds in his campaign and becomes a front runner for Maremma dogs being used to protect other endangered Australian wildlife. Based on a true story. Opens in cinemas on Saturday.

TO AVOID


A few movies that will probably worth avoiding (but may be ok for young kids):

BLINKY BILL THE MOVIE: The story of Allan "Swampy" Marsh and his Maremma dog Oddball. Swampy convinced local authorities to allow Oddball to protect a colony of Little Penguins on Middle Island from wild cats and dogs. Oddball succeeds in his campaign and becomes a front runner for Maremma dogs being used to protect other endangered Australian wildlife. Opens Saturday.

TWO BY TWO (or OOPS! NOAH IS GONE...): It's the end of the world. A flood is coming. Luckily for Dave and his son Finny, a couple of clumsy Nestrians, an Ark has been built to save all animals. But as it turns out, Nestrians aren't allowed. Sneaking on board with the involuntary help of Hazel and her daughter Leah, two Grymps, they think they're safe. Until the curious kids fall off the Ark. Now Finny and Leah struggle to survive the flood and hungry predators and attempt to reach the top of a mountain, while Dave and Hazel must put aside their differences, turn the Ark around and save their kids. It's definitely not going to be smooth sailing. Opens Saturday.

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.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS

After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles. -- IMDB

An enjoyable sequel to the first Maze Runner movie. Fast-paced, good acting on behalf of the young cast, and some edge-of-the-seat moments make this a better movie than the first one. The "nasties" are very effective. If you enjoyed the first of the Maze Runner movies, check this one out! I'm looking forward to the next one in the series...


Friday, 11 September 2015

NEW RELEASE DVD RECOMMENDATION - EX MACHINA

SUMMARY: A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking female A.I.

MY REVIEW: This movie is so good I have saw it twice in two days. One of the most intriguing philosophical sci-fi movies I've seen for ages. At the heart of this movie is the Turing Test (proposed by Alan Turing whose story was told in the recent ENIGMA MACHINE). You can read about the test here: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test. This story pushes the test even further with some very thought provoking twists. The actors (unknown to me) are great, particularly Alicia Vikander who plays Ava, the artificially intelligent robot. Her performance is stunning. The plot is tightly constructed with constant surprises, forcing the viewer to shift perceptions constantly. The music is ominously appropriate. While the movie focuses heavily on ideas, it is still excellent, unsettling entertainment.



YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

Good movies are in very short supply this week as far as new releases go...

TOP PICK TO SEE


The best movie on the list is LIFE in which Robert Pattinson (Twilight) plays a photographer for Life Magazine who is assigned to shoot pictures of James Dean who was the lead star in just three films. But in his short life he became a Hollywood legend. While LIFE is the top pick for the week, that doesn't mean it's brilliant. It's just better than the other options! indieWIRE says, It's not a terrible film, and succeeds in giving us a play by play of an alleged dynamic between two individuals, but as a whole feels like a missed opportunity.

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


You are going to have to decide whether you want to risk seeing MAZE RUNNER: SCORCH TRIALS. This is the second episode in The Maze Runner series which have been adapted from the popular books. After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles. The general public are rating this around ***1/2 stars - which is what I rate it - and will post my review shortly. I found it quite enjoyable given the genre. But The Hollywood Reporter's Justin Lowe describes, The second installment [as one] which reveals some of the reasons behind their imprisonment, [but] lacks a similar sense of originality and urgency, undercut by overly familiar characterizations and dilatory pacing.

TO AVOID


PIXELS is the movie to avoid this week. Yet another Adam Sandler flop in which aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war so they attack the Earth in the form of the video games. For Slant Magazine's Christopher Gray, This is a Happy Madison production, and as such it's exhaustively lazy, outside of its righteous dedication to the valorization of the man-child. 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.

Monday, 7 September 2015

AMY

The story of Amy Winehouse in her own words, featuring unseen archival footage and unheard tracks. -- IMDB

I wasn't aware of Amy Winehouse until her death hit the news media in 2011. But I decided to go and see this documentary because it was receiving accolades from critics. I'm glad I did (although "glad" is not quite the right word). Amy Winehouse could have been one of the great jazz/soul singer/songwwriters the world had known. In her short 27 years of life, she rocketed to fame and fortune at a speed that overwhelmed her.  She died of alcohol poisoning on 23 July 2011. AMY unveils her life with photos, videos, music, and interviews in a powerful and moving journey. The story is incredibly tragic. While the documentary makes no judgements of Amy, it is clear that her desperate need for love and human connection were never fulfilled and, combined with intrusive scrutiny from the media, addiction to drugs and alcohol, and the mocking denigration of the public as she fell from grace, all conspired to lead her down the path to her unnecessary death. Even if you are not a fan of Amy's music, this documentary is powerfully compelling. My only criticism is that it is a little too long. But that is a minor criticism for what is a brilliant film.


Sunday, 6 September 2015

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

The group NWA emerges from the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood. -- IMDB

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON will be of most interest to lovers of hip hop. I learned a lot about the origins of this music genre and the way in which it is so tied to the artists' lives. The acting is very good and the political aspects of the story are important. But I found that most scenes in the movie were the same tone and became boring after a while. The edginess of the first half is lost in the conventional second half. The material is not handled with adequate depth and it is way too long at over two hours.


RICKI AND THE FLASH

A musician who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family. -- IMDB

Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline team up in this feel good movie. The best thing about it is the music which includes Streep actually singing and playing the guitar in The Flash band. However, the script and characters are pretty superficial in this story. There are some occasional good one-liners. I wasn't convinced by the depressed daughter who came across at times as over the top. If you are interested in seeing Streep in a very different role, then you might want to head to the cinema. Otherwise, wait for the DVD.


Friday, 4 September 2015

NEW RELEASE DVD RECOMMENDATION - MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

SUMMARY: Haunted by his turbulent past, Mad Max believes the best way to survive is to wander alone. Nevertheless, he becomes swept up with a group fleeing across the Wasteland in a War Rig driven by an elite Imperator, Furiosa. They are escaping a Citadel tyrannized by the Immortan Joe, from whom something irreplaceable has been taken. Enraged, the Warlord marshals all his gangs and pursues the rebels ruthlessly in the high-octane Road War that follows.

MY REVIEW: The 30 year wait has been worth it! What an incredible movie. It is frenetic from the first frame until, after a few minutes, you get a chance to take a breath before the next bout of action occurs. MAD MAX is absolutely stunning with its brilliant cinematography, powerful soundtrack, wonderful machines, and quirky characters. But this movie is more than just action. There are clever references to the role of women in society, stolen children, destruction of the environment, power by controlling of natural resources and various religious beliefs. There are so many levels in this wonderfully rendered story that it will bear watching many times over. The acting is great with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron putting in terrific performances. The choreography of the fight scenes are totally extreme and eye-popping. The experience is exhilarating and wonderfully exhausting. There is a self-contained story, so you don't need to have seen the previous Mad Max movies.



YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

TOP PICK TO SEE


Top of the heap this week is STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON in which the group NWA emerges from the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1980s and revolutionises Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood. Will probably appeal mostly to those who like hip hop music - there's quite a bit in the movie - or interested in the historical and cultural background to it. The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore is relatively positive when he says, If the movie pushes most of the ugliest behavior off onto side players (like the notorious Suge Knight, played by R. Marcus Taylor), it does for the most part fulfill its mission, breathing life into the origin story of a group whose influence is still being felt. I will post my review shortly.

OTHERS TO SEE


ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is about 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. I've previously posted a review of this movie which you can read here.

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


A WALK IN THE WOODS brings two veteran actors together, Robert Redford (The Sting) and Nick Nolte (The Thin Red Line). After spending two decades in England, Bill Bryson returns to the U.S., where he decides the best way to connect with his homeland is to hike the Appalachian Trail with one of his oldest friends. While general audiences are rating this as average, critics are not so happy with it. For example, Tampa Bay Times's Steve Persall describes A Walk in the Woods [as] a trifle compared to 2014's Wild, which tracked a similar real-life journey toward self-discovery in richer detail. But darned if Redford's easy charm and Nolte's gravelly lack of it aren't enticing throughout.

AMERICAN ULTRA has Kristen Stewart popping up again in a story about a stoner - who is in fact a government agent - who is marked as a liability and targeted for extermination. But he's too well-trained and too high for them to handle. The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy criticises it as, A genre mash that's mildly amusing until it can't think of anything else to do besides flop around in the deep end of conspicuous gore. General public are giving it around 3 stars.

TO AVOID


Finally, a movie to avoid. THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED is set in the south of France, where former special-ops mercenary Frank Martin enters into a game of chess with a femme-fatale and her three sidekicks who are looking for revenge against a sinister Russian kingpin. General public and critics are agreed that this one is pretty bad. It's a reboot of the popular Transporter series with Jason Statham. Looks as though the creators of this current one should have left well enough alone. The San Francisco Chronicle says, The movie's ridiculous. Slant Magazine's Kenji Fujishima, describes, The titular Transporter [as] now but a blank slate serving the characters and mayhem surrounding him, a walking metaphor for a franchise that's run out of gas. 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.