Thursday, 28 January 2016

NEW RELEASE DVD RECOMMENDATION - SICARIO

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

MY REVIEW: SICARIO is brilliant. The plot is complex and explore 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.


SPOTLIGHT

The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core. —IMDB

SPOTLIGHT is brilliant. The story is told with restraint and without making the journalists into sensational heroes. The script is straightforward but powerful. The acting is good. The events have their own inherent power and the extent of the Catholic Church’s coverup of the widespread abuse of children is just too astounding for words. There are no lurid details presented and the victims are treated with respect — as are we, the audience. The focus is on the journalists and how they went about their investigation. A very significant story that still hasn’t ended.


YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

A couple of good movies to check out this week…

TOP PICK


Top pick of the week goes to SPOTLIGHT, the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core. TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde describes Spotlight ‘[as] that rare journalistic procedural that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as “All the President's Men,” and while the movie never glamorizes or makes saints of its hard-working newsgatherers, it does stand as a reminder of the power and importance of a free press, particularly in ferreting out local corruption and malfeasance.’ It’s an incredible story which I will review shortly.

OTHERS TO SEE


ROOM also opens this week. After five-year-old Jack and his mother escape from the enclosed surroundings that Jack has known his entire life, the boy makes a thrilling discovery. I’ve previously reviewed this one. Read my review here.

TO AVOID


Two movies to avoid this week. The first is DIRTY GRANDPA starring Robert De Niro and Zac Efron. Right before his wedding, an uptight guy (Efron) is tricked into driving his grandfather (De Niro), a perverted former Army Lieutenant-Colonel "Special Forces" to Florida for spring break. The trailers look terrible.  For ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer, ‘There's no issue with De Niro and Efron's effort; both are game for every disgusting line and ludicrous set-piece. But they have less material to work with than Aubrey Plaza's costume designer.’ Give it a wide berth!

Finally, the Australian drama LOOKING FOR GRACE sounds disappointing. After a teenage girl named Grace goes missing, her parents along with the help of an investigator seek to find her, while also juggling their own secrets and stories between them. The plot sounds like it has potential, but the response of general viewers hasn’t been good so far.

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, 26 January 2016

THE DANISH GIRL

A fictitious love story loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda's marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili's groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer. —IMDB

A compelling, even though cautiously directed, story of a tragic couple of lives. Eddie Redmayne, who plays Einar and Lili, is excellent. But the standout performance in THE DANISH GIRL is Swedish actress, Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), who plays Einar/Lili’s wife. While Redmayne is certainly brilliant, Vikander is even better. THE DANISH GIRL is worth seeing if only for these two lead stars acting. The social significance of this story is that it conveys the incredible suffering of transgendered people along with the ignorance and misunderstanding that many of them must suffer even in contemporary society. A tasteful, moving story.


Friday, 22 January 2016

ROOM

After five-year-old Jack and his mother escape from the enclosed surroundings that Jack has known his entire life, the boy makes a thrilling discovery. —IMDB

Absolutely riveting in a very gentle, non-sensationalist way. Jacob Tremblay, who plays Jack, is only 10 years old and is absolutely brilliant in his role in a beautiful natural performance. Brie Larson (21 Jump Street) is also perfect as Jack’s mother. The minimal soundtrack means that we are immersed in the story without distraction and Lenny Abrahamson, the director, has done an excellent job in conveying the claustrophobic nature of Room and the fear of freedom within the short time of a movie making us feel the emotions of the characters. ROOM is a profound exploration of the challenges of parenting, the relationship between mother and child, social expectations that undermine parents, the formation and modification of world view, acceptance, freedom — so much to think about. Don’t miss this harrowing, completely believable,  rewarding movie when it is released on January 28.


NEW RELEASE DVD RECOMMENDATION - IRRATIONAL MAN

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

MY REVIEW: 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, 21 January 2016

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters. --IMDB

A clever movie reminiscent of the old larger-than-life Westerns of yesteryear. Enjoyable, at times shocking, particularly with the occasions of over-the-top bloodbath that increases intensity near the final scenes - standard Tarrantino. Acting for the genre is good. What and makes this movie particularly enjoyable is the way in which flashbacks ultimately reveal what is really going on. The comedy is gloriously tongue-in-cheek, the soundtrack supports the narrative, and the action, when it happens, is surprising. The special effects are very realistic. THE HATEFUL EIGHT earns it's 18+ rating for its violence - so beware. Not quite as good as Django Unchained but definitely worth a trip to the cinema to see this one on the big screen.



YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

Just two new movies to tell you about this week… well, one new one and an update on one…

TOP PICK


Last week I let you know about the new Quentin Tarantino movie called THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Last week, it was only showing in its original format in a few theatres. This week, it’s been released everywhere so if you couldn’t find it before, now you’ll be able to. THE HATEFUL EIGHT takes place in the dead of a Wyoming winter when a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters. The general public are rating this higher than the critics but some critics are not so positive. New York Daily News’s Joe Dziemianowicz describes it as ‘Weird, wild and way-too-long.’ This is definitely one for the 18+ crowd because of its extreme violence and language. So choose carefully. I’ve seen it today and will post my review shortly — it’s **** stars for me.

OTHERS TO SEE


The other movie opening this week is THE DANISH GIRL starring Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina). It’s a fictitious love story loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda's marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili's groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer. For The Playlist’s Jessica Kiang, ‘The fact is that both actors are very good, even if trapped in the amber of Hooper's overweeningly tasteful direction.’ So while viewers are rating this one as average, it could be worth seeing just for the lead actors.

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, 18 January 2016

THE 5TH WAVE

Four waves of increasingly deadly alien attacks have left most of Earth decimated. Cassie is on the run, desperately trying to save her younger brother. —IMDB

For a young adult (YA) movie, THE 5TH WAVE is ok. Chloë Grace Moretz, who plays the lead role as Cassie Sullivan, is excellent and is possibly to only reason to watch it. The story is pretty cliched and predictable although there were a couple of twists that surprised me. The romantic element is cheesy and would have been better left out of the plot altogether. The movie takes itself pretty seriously with little (if any) humour. There’s some action but not enough and what there is is also pretty cliched. The story lags in the middle — the best sequence is the opening one. The special effects are adequate but are somewhat clunky. THE 5TH WAVE comes nowhere near the quality of something like The Hunger Games but is clearly trying to fill this space now that series is done and dusted. If you’re a YA with nothing better to do, this one might entertain you a bit. But don’t expect too much.


Saturday, 16 January 2016

GOOSEBUMPS

A teenager teams up with the daughter of young adult horror author R. L. Stine after the writer's imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware. —IMDB

Good old-fashioned Disney — maybe a touch scary for very young kids. There’s nothing really great about this movie but it is entertaining enough to watch for 9+ age group. The cinema was packed when I went to see it and, judging from the audience response, it was appreciated. Jack Black is great as R L Stine, the author of the Goosebumps books, with other cast mostly average in their performances. The story is ok with the special effects monsters and characters providing most of the high energy action and suspense. For a holiday movie for the kids it’s entertaining enough.


Friday, 15 January 2016

THE BIG SHORT

Four denizens of the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight. — IMDB

[make sure you read the update note below!]

THE BIG SHORT will not be for everyone. As it tells the story it has to try to convey complex financial topics to its audience making the movie very didactic. The writers have gone to rather bizarre and comedic lengths to get these concepts across to the viewers. For example, in one scene Margot Robbie, as herself, languishes in a bubble bath as she tells us all mortgage securities. At times, the actors speak directly to the audience — in movie talk it’s called breaking the fourth wall. Because the movie is so preachy a large amount of the time, and as a result, very dialogue driven, I didn’t find it very engaging. The acting is certainly good (especially Steve Carell). But I have seen better movies about the mid-2000s crash that were much more riveting than this — e.g., Margin Call and 99 Homes. So if you head to the cinema to see this one, be ready to have to concentrate hard on learning the large number concepts and to follow the rapid dialogue that forms the substance of the story. Otherwise, you might want to give it a miss.

UPDATE: I’ve just seen THE BIG SHORT for the second time and am upping my score to ****. This movie is very successful in communicating its key concepts and, for a dialogue-driven movie, there is an excellent feeling of suspense. If you reach similar conclusions me after seeing the movie once, perhaps give it another go. I really enjoyed it the second time around.

 (originally *** -- see update note above)

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

At last… we have some movies to watch releasing this week!

TOP PICK


THE BIG SHORT is top pick this week. In this biographical drama, four denizens of the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight. The shorts look good and critics are liking it. Screen International’s Tim Grierson says that ‘The Big Short means to infuriate its audience, but it's smart enough to know that such an approach doesn't preclude a film from being darkly, cathartically funny as well.’ Looking forward to seeing this one!

OTHERS TO SEE


The new Quentin Tarantino movie has arrived. It’s called THE HATEFUL EIGHT. In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters. The general public are rating this higher than the critics but some critics are not so positive. New York Daily News’s Joe Dziemianowicz describes it as ‘Weird, wild and way-too-long.’ This is definitely one for the 18+ crowd because of its extreme violence and language. So choose carefully.

CAROL is about an aspiring photographer develops an intimate relationship with an older woman. I have already reviewed this one. You can read the review here.

STEVE JOBS takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicentre. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac. indieWIRE’s Eric Kohn, ‘While at times too over-the-top and operatic for its own good, those same flawed ingredients echo the rough edges that define the movie's iconic subject.’ Yes… the late Steve Jobs was certainly iconic and controversial. I’ll be definitely seeing this one.

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


Just one movie in this section this week — THE 5TH WAVE starring Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass). Four waves of increasingly deadly alien attacks have left most of Earth decimated. Cassie is on the run, desperately trying to save her younger brother. This is an action, adventure, sci-fi and that’s all I know. There are no reviews available. IMDB says it hasn’t been released yet but it’s definitely showing here in Australia!

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, 9 January 2016

SISTERS

Two sisters decide to throw one last house party before their parents sell their family home. —IMDB

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are supposed to be very funny. But apart from rare moments in SISTERS there was very little to laugh about. The story, which could have dealt in humorous ways about letting go of the past and tackling the future with courage and creativity, was cliched, boring and unfunny. The acting by the two leads was average and forced. There’s almost nothing to recommend in SISTERS. Give it a miss.


THE REVENANT

A frontiersman named Hugh Glass on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s is on a quest for survival after being brutally mauled by a bear. —IMDB

THE REVENANT is brilliant! The word revenant is French for someone who has returned — especially from the dead. The title refers, in this case, to Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is left for dead in the wilderness after being mauled by a bear. He survives and starts out on a gruelling journey of survival to bring revenge to his “killer” — a metaphorical return from the “dead”. DiCaprio is absolutely outstanding in his role as Glass and will undoubtedly be an Oscar contender for best actor. He has already been nominated for best actor in the Golden Globe Awards. The movie has also been deservedly nominated for three other Golden Globe Awards.

The story is inspired by true events and is totally gripping, suspenseful, gruelling, and surprising. The cinematography is remarkable — all shot using natural lighting in forests, snow fields, mountains, rivers. The landscape is awe-inspiring.

The special effects are jaw-dropping, particularly the mauling of Glass by the bear at the beginning of the story. I’ve never seen anything like it on film before. You could hear the shock rippling through the audience in the cinema as they watched it. Everything that happens is incredibly realistic.

THE REVENANT is truly remarkable and must be seen on the big screen. The visuals, the soundtrack, everything works together to wonderful effect. Don’t miss it but make sure you have got a good stomach for the brutal, gut-churning violence of this amazing story. Despite being a touch too long, it’s powerful, intense, agonising, unbelievably good cinema. Don’t miss it!


Friday, 8 January 2016

CAROL

An aspiring photographer develops an intimate relationship with an older woman. —IMDB

Critics are raging about CAROL but, in my opinion, is over-hyped. The acting by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara is ok but not the career best (for Blanchett) that many are describing. The story is very simple at its heart — a lesbian affair of an older woman with a younger woman. The film is based on the novel   originally published in 1952 under the title The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (later published as Carol). The story may have been groundbreaking in the 1950s, but I’m not sure it has the same shock value now as it would have then.

The cinematography of CAROL is beautiful and the whole thing is almost obsessively perfect in the presentation of the era. The story is presented in very subtle and nuanced terms but doesn’t have the intensity or impact I was expecting — it’s all very cold and seems to push the viewer into the distance rather than drawing us into the events. Having said that, not knowing how the story is going to unfold evokes a sort of hypnotic fascination waiting for something to happen. The climactic moment, when it comes, is underwhelming. Yes, it’s beautiful; but CAROL seems more about atmosphere than substance.


Thursday, 7 January 2016

YOUR GUIDE TO THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

Slim pickings this week after all of the holiday season release in the last week or two. But there’s one outstanding movie on offer…

TOP PICK


In THE REVENANT frontiersman named Hugh Glass on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s is on a quest for survival after being brutally mauled by a bear. It’s partly based on a novel of the same name which is also based on historical events. I thought it was brilliant and will post my review soon. Not all critics liked it as much as I did. For example, indieWIRE’s Eric Kohn says that No amount of ingenious camerawork and breakneck pacing can obscure a simplistic core. I’ll explain why I liked it so much in my next post. It’s a ****1/2 for me.

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


The only other new release is SISTERS. The two of them decide to throw one last house party before their parents sell their family home. For Total Film, it’s Laugh-out-loud in places. Frustratingly flat in others. Sporadic giggles guaranteed. Fey and Poehler's comic chemistry is undeniable; shame the script didn't get a Liz Lemon rewrite. A review will be coming soon.

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, 5 January 2016

SUFFRAGETTE

The foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State. —IMDB

SUFFRAGETTE is an important story about one group of women in the UK fighting for the vote for women. Carey Mulligan is particularly good as Maud Watts and is supported by a good cast. The story is disturbing when it shows the conditions that many women worked in during the 1900s and the incredible sacrifices that they made in the fight to achieve the right to vote. SUFFRAGETTE has all of the markings of a good quality British drama despite its flaws — one of which is the lack of coverage of the bigger picture of history around these events. It would also have been good if the male characters in the film had been developed a bit further. Given the significance of the suffragette movement and the fact that women are still an oppressed group globally, this movie should be compulsory viewing in the hope that it will increase awareness and action on behalf of women everywhere.


DADDY'S HOME

Stepdad, Brad Whitaker, is a radio host trying to get his stepchildren to love him and call him Dad. But his plans turn upside down when the biological father, Dusty Mayron, returns. —IMDB

I’m not a fan of Will Ferrell but I was pleasantly surprised with DADDY’S HOME. The pairing of Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg worked well and, although the funniest scenes are all in the trailers, the way the story ties them all together is quite engaging. The message is a good one relevant for those of us men who feel inferior to the macho men who have lots of money and handyman skills. While the humour is pretty coarse at times, most of it is situational and quite funny. It’s not a great movie — it needs to have a lot more depth for that. But it is certainly watchable.


Monday, 4 January 2016

THE GOOD DINOSAUR

In a world where dinosaurs and humans live side-by-side, an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. —IMDB

Pixar have done it again! What a delightful animated movie! I really enjoyed this one and even had some watery eyes near the end of the story. The story is excellent and the role-reversal of dinosaurs and humans is superbly handled and the characters are perfect. The animation and cinematography are stunning and the 3D quality is outstanding. Technically brilliant, beautifully textured, humour for young and old, and significant thematic values for kids — this is a must see for the whole family with excellent role models and positive messages. I’d recommend for ages 7+ given its PG rating for some pretty scary bits. Don’t miss it!


THE PEANUTS MOVIE

Snoopy embarks upon his greatest mission as he and his team take to the skies to pursue their arch-nemesis, while his best pal Charlie Brown begins his own epic quest back home to win the love of his life. --IMDB

A lovely animated movie specifically aimed at kids that has a strong about compassion, courage and true success. The animation is beautifully drawn in a style that is respectful to the original comic strip. At the end of the movie, a young child in the audience turned to their parent and yelled, "That was awesome!" You can't get a much more positive review than that. Not much here for adults but definitely one to take the kids to. Would suit ages 4+.

 

Saturday, 2 January 2016

THE BÉLIER FAMILY (La famille Bélier)

A girl, who lives with her deaf parents, discovers that she has the gift of singing. —IMDB

An inspirational, beautifully eccentric comedy drama with a dash of music. Well acted, good pace, plotted nicely. You laugh along with the characters — not at them. The humour is clever and arises from the circumstances and never forced. A charming delight not to be missed.