Sunday, 31 December 2017

MY TOP 5 MOVIES of 2017

Here are my top 5 movies for 2017 (of the 102 I saw at the cinema). What are yours?

DON’T TELL - With help from a local lawyer, a young abuse survivor finds the courage to speak out when having a voice is her only option. *****

GET OUT - It's time for a young African-American to meet with his white girlfriend's parents for a weekend in their secluded estate in the woods, but before long, the friendly and polite ambience will give way to a nightmare. *****

THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE - The Zookeeper's Wife tells the account of keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, Antonina and Jan Zabinski, who helped save hundreds of people and animals during the German invasion. *****

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME - In Northern Italy in 1983, seventeen-year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father's research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape. ****½

DETROIT - Fact-based drama set during the 1967 Detroit riots in which a group of rogue police officers respond to a complaint with retribution rather than justice on their minds. ****½

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

Four teenagers discover an old video game console. The tables are turned as they are sucked into Jumanji's world - pitted against rhinos, black mambas and an endless variety of jungle traps and puzzles. To survive, they'll play as characters from the game.

Great fun with lots of action and humour. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan all approach their characters with tongues firmly in their cheeks and there’s great chemistry between them all. The story is fast-paced with the action laid on thick. The whole thing is a great piece of family escapism. Thoroughly entertaining.


Saturday, 30 December 2017

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

In Northern Italy in 1983, seventeen-year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father's research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape.

This is a beautiful, nuanced, profound movie. It feels a little slow at times, but it rewards patience. The acting by Timothée Chalamet (who plays Elio) is exceptional as is the rest of the cast. The chemistry between Oliver and Elio is strong. The script is richly textured and remains focused on the emotional journeys of the main protagonists rather than the inevitable sex scenes (which are tastefully done). The story comes across as authentic and entirely believable. The cinematography of Italy is beautiful and one can imagine tourism becoming popular in the locations where filming occurred. Apart from, perhaps, a bit faster pace in some places, the direction is masterful and the final scene between the father and son has got to be one of the best I have ever seen in a movie. At the New York Film Festival, when the movie opened, it received a 10 standing ovation — apparently, the longest ever standing ovation at the Festival. Make sure you see this one.


Thursday, 28 December 2017

COCO

Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colourful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector, and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel's family history.

A delightful, vibrant story from Pixar — their best for some time — which strongly pushes the principle that family is more important than anything else. There are lots of other themes, too — culture, life, death, and the seductive nature of celebrity. The characters are rich, the animation is superb, and the story, drawing on themes from Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations, is engaging even if it is pretty much a template plot — until the climax which is unexpected. It’s also excellent to see a non-white character front and centre in a Pixar movie. A movie for the whole family. (Given some of the themes, I’d recommend for ages 7+.)


Tuesday, 26 December 2017

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

The music and the dancing is good and, sometimes, spectacular with music that is uplifting if laid on a bit too thick. The whole thing is very pretty, but the story is surprisingly superficial. The style of the music and the stunts have very little, if any, relationship to the 1800s that the story is set in. And it is hard to believe that the original Barnum wasn’t exploiting “freaks” for his own gain — but, of course, none of that is explored in this sweet movie. If you just want to see something with some nice, uplifting song and dance, then you’ll enjoy this. If you are looking for a realistic biopic of PT Barnum — which is far more interesting than this version, then give it a miss.


Monday, 25 December 2017

BREATHE (2017)

The inspiring true love story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease. Their heartwarming celebration of human possibility marks the directorial debut of Andy Serkis.

A saccharine, sanitised story that doesn’t go anywhere near the reality of what it would be like to care for a person who is totally dependent and living at home. The acting is good, the cinematography is beautiful, and there is an inherently good story about love, perseverance, courage, and the deep desire to live life to the full. The problem is the script which tries to do, for Robin Cavendish, what The Theory of Everything did for Stephen Hawking, but Breathe is nowhere near as good as that movie. It is for the powerful performances that I have given the score I have despite its romanticised storytelling.


Friday, 15 December 2017

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.

Yes! It’s a good movie! If you are a Star Wars fan, you won’t be disappointed. This episode, under the control of Disney and with a new director, is fresh, exciting, and innovative while remaining faithful to all that’s gone before. There are great action sequences, delightful characters, intriguing developments, spectacular cinematography, and the story takes some surprising directions. The main characters have become more complex and, therefore, more interesting than they were before. The Last Jedi is as good, if not better, than the original Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back. It’s a long movie (2½ hours!) but worth every minute and every cent to see it. Don’t miss it — and make sure you see it on the big screen! Bring on Episode IX!


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

WONDER WHEEL

The story of four characters whose lives intertwine amid the hustle and bustle of the Coney Island amusement park in the 1950s: Ginny, an emotionally volatile former actress now working as a waitress in a clam house; Humpty, Ginny’s rough-hewn carousel operator husband; Mickey, a handsome young lifeguard who dreams of becoming a playwright; and Carolina, Humpty’s long-estranged daughter, who is now hiding out from gangsters at her father’s apartment.

Typical Woody Allen movie. Lots of dialogue. Complicated relationships. Kate Winslet is excellent. The problem is that it is all very contrived and artificial and comes across as an earnest stage play that doesn’t engage with what is an incredible tragedy. I guess some will want to see Justin Timberlake — he’s ok. Not one of Allen’s best, in my opinion. Too by-the-numbers.


Thursday, 7 December 2017

DETROIT

Fact-based drama set during the 1967 Detroit riots in which a group of rogue police officers respond to a complaint with retribution rather than justice on their minds.

A gruelling, gut-wrenching, powerful story of incredible police brutality against black people in 1967 Detroit. Starts with a broad view of the events and gradually narrows down to what happened in one hotel room. It’s a compelling story that parallels how racism is still embedded in modern America.


Saturday, 2 December 2017

ONLY THE BRAVE

Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters who risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire.

It is hard to criticise a movie based on a true story where so many people die for their community. But ONLY THE BRAVE is way too long and boring. There just isn’t enough tension in the way the story is told so that the complex work these firefighters do, and the danger they often face, is portrayed on screen. It all seems pretty bland until the final act. As the story develops, so do the characters. And it is good that the story is not over sensationalised like so many Hollywood “disaster” movies. That is refreshing. And there is a great cast. But it is just not enough to make for an interesting and, what should be, suspenseful movie with a real sense of danger.


Thursday, 30 November 2017

DADDY’S HOME 2

Having finally gotten used to each other's existence, Brad and Dusty must now deal with their intrusive fathers during the holidays.

More of the same but with the granddads this time. There are a few very funny moments but most of it is pretty bland and formulaic. John Lithgow’s character is the most interesting, but, of course, not explored in depth or given enough time on screen. Would make for a movie you can put on for the family on Christmas Day if there’s nothing else to do.


Monday, 27 November 2017

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS

The journey that led to Charles Dickens' creation of "A Christmas Carol," a timeless tale that would redefine the holiday.
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A quirky biographical tale that, because of its comedy and fantasy elements, is difficult to distinguish truth from reality. A unique way of telling the story that essentially has Dickens experiencing the story as we are told how the story was developed. At times, so over the top it was hard to take seriously. And it’s too long. I got a bit tired of it after a while. Would be ok to put on for the kids to watch on Christmas Day while the adults party.


Sunday, 26 November 2017

GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son Christopher Robin.

A sweet story of the way the Winnie the Pooh stories came to be. The acting is good with an outstanding performance by newcomer Will Tilston who plays Christopher Robin. The best part of is the relationship between Christopher Robin and his father, played by Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machine). The main problem with this movie is that about two thirds of the movie is spent on the idyllic life of Christopher Robin and so little of what happened when Christopher Robin was thrust into the public limelight.  Doesn’t quite come off as being completely authentic. Feels like it needed to have more tension and drama. It’s a movie made to please.


Wednesday, 22 November 2017

JUSTICE LEAGUE

Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman's selfless act, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince assemble a team of metahumans consisting of Barry Allen, Arthur Curry, and Victor Stone to face the catastrophic threat of Steppenwolf and the Parademons who are on the hunt for three Mother Boxes on Earth.

An average superhero movie. Seems a bit dull and humourless after recently watching Thor: Ragnarok, although, there are a few funny moments if you catch them. Wonder Woman is the best character in the film. Most of the film consists of fight scenes so it’s all pretty spectacular action. It would have been good to have richer character development. If you are going to see it, you might as well catch it on the big screen so you get the full effect. It is, at least, better than the dreadful Batman vs Superman that came from the DC studio!


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

LUCKY

Follows the journey of a 90-year-old atheist and the quirky characters that inhabit his off-the-map desert town. He finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self-exploration.

There’s a sadness about this movie given that the star, Harry Dean Stanton (Alien), has died since completing it. It makes the existential angst portrayed in the story even more poignant. LUCKY is a reflection on the meaning of life and mortality when one accepts that there is no higher purpose imposed by a god. Stanton is excellent, bearing the weight of the whole story on his shoulders — he is on screen in every scene. Despite the serious themes, the narrative is told with a sense of humour making for a bitter sweet viewing experience. It’s in limited release, but if you are looking for something thought provoking while watching a masterful character actor at work, it is worth seeking out.


Friday, 10 November 2017

BRAD’S STATUS

A father takes his son to tour colleges on the East Coast and meets up with an old friend who makes him feel inferior about his life's choices.

Supposed to be a comedy drama but there is very little to laugh at. BRAD’S STATUS is a very serious meditation on the demoralising effect of comparing our lives with those we often define as “successful”. Ben Stiller, who plays the father, is having an existential crisis because he feels his life has been a waste when compared to a number of his old school mates who have made it big. There’s a very important message in this movie about valuing the simple lives that most of us lead rather than pursuing status, money, and power. It’s good to see Ben Stiller (Zoolander) in something substantial. His performance is good, as is Austin Abrams (Paper Towns) who plays the son and is on screen with Stiller most of the time. It lags a bit at times and could have been more daring. I felt very depressed at the end of this one — but with a needed nudge to reflect on what things I truly value in life. An insightful movie — especially for those living in the so-called “first world”.


Sunday, 5 November 2017

THREE SUMMERS

The new ensemble romantic comedy written and directed by Ben Elton.

Set over three summers at The Westival, a fictional West Australian rural folk festival redoubtable local radio personality ‘Queenie' describes as "Australia in a tent". Two young musicians fall in love against a wider collection of tales dealing with a microcosm of contemporary discussion points, including Indigenous, immigration and refugee issues.

THREE SUMMERS comes across as if an immature screenwriter has tried to include as many Australian social observations and issues as possible in 1 hr 42 mins without worrying too much about how they fit together. Despite that, there are moments that are touching, funny, and incisive. It’s like watching a series of disjointed comedic gags that have no real plot line, although the romance between two of the characters does provide a bit of a backbone to the movie. It’s fun and, although a short movie, seems longer than it needs to be.


Saturday, 4 November 2017

THE MIDWIFE (Sage Femme)

Claire is a midwife and has devoted her life to others. At a moment when she is preoccupied by the imminent closure of the maternity clinic where she works, her life is further turned upside down when Béatrice, her father's former mistress, turns up on the scene. Béatrice is a capricious and selfish woman, Claire's exact opposite.

A gentle, human relationship drama that I enjoyed. I’m not a midwife, but the birth scenes in the movie seemed very real and authentic. The plot is somewhat contrived but the performances of the two lead actors make this movie worth watching.


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

CATCH-UP RATINGS

Every so often, I get a bit behind in reviewing movies I’ve seen. So, here are my star ratings for a few recent movies.

THE DANCER - Nothing in her background destined Loïe Fuller from the American Midwest to become a Belle Epoque icon, even less a dancer at the Paris Opera. Even at the risk of destroying her back and burning her eyes with the stage lights, she will never falter in the quest to perfect her dance. But her encounter with Isadora Duncan, a prodigious young dancer hungry for fame and glory, will precipitate the fall of this icon at the beginning of the twentieth century. ****

THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK - When a young man learns that his overbearing father is having an affair, he tries to stop it, only to be seduced by the older woman as well. ****

THE FOREIGNER - Quan is a humble London businessman whose long-buried past erupts in a revenge-fueled vendetta when the only person left for him to love -- his teenage daughter -- dies in a senseless act of politically motivated terrorism. His relentless search to find the terrorists leads to a cat-and-mouse conflict with a British government official whose own past may hold the clues to the identities of the elusive killers. ****

INGRID GOES WEST - Ingrid becomes obsessed with a social network star named Taylor Sloane who seemingly has a perfect life. But when Ingrid decides to drop everything and move west to be Taylor's friend, her behaviour turns unsettling and dangerous. ***

BRIGSBY BEAR - Brigsby Bear Adventures is a children's TV show produced for an audience of one: James. When the show abruptly ends, James's life changes forever, and he sets out to finish the story himself. (Brigsby Bear Productions) ****

See you at the movies!

Movie descriptions are from IMDB or TMDB unless otherwise stated.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

THOR: RAGNAROK

Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilisation.

The humour in this movie is what makes it worth seeing. It has all the usual elements of a superhero movie, but New Zealand director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) has made this possibly the funniest Marvel movie ever made. And it seems to suit the actors — Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and Cate Blanchett look like they are having great fun. And Waititi, himself, puts in a wonderful performance as Korg. Check it out if for no other reason than to have a good laugh along with its wonderful characters.


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

GOOD TIME

After a heist goes awry, a bank robber tries to free his brother from Rikers Island, all in one night.

This a heist movie with a difference — it’s more about the aftermath than the heist itself. Robert Pattinson plays yet another  complex character, Connie, who robs a bank with his brother, Nick (played by Ben Saftie, one of the directors), who is mentally challenged. Things don’t go as they should and the story becomes a suspenseful, deeply moving journey where Nick tries to free his brother from jail. The relationship between Connie and Nick is what makes this movie so special and it transcends the genre with freshness, insight, and depth. Pattinson continues to surprise showing he has truly left behind his Twilight days. The soundtrack is excellent and expresses the confusion and chaos internally experienced by the protagonists as they struggle to survive. Don’t miss it.


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US

Stranded after a tragic plane crash, two strangers must forge a connection to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow covered mountain. When they realise help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across the wilderness.

Idris Alba and Kate Winslett are pleasant together, but the movie is just not suspenseful enough. It’s more romance than adventure and the romance is very predictable (actually, the whole thing is predictable), the story is farfetched, and it all descends into cheesiness by the finish. The two main characters would look a lot worse than they do if they’d really survived what they did. Wait for it on DVD if you must see it.


Sunday, 15 October 2017

HAPPY DEATH DAY

A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer's identity.

Movies about people reliving the same day over and over again are pretty common. But HAPPY DEATH DAY is an intriguing take and I enjoyed the journey as Tree Gelbman (played by an excellent Jessica Rothe) relives the same day, in which she ends up being murdered, over and over again, until she is able to solve the mystery of what is going on. There is some great humour, some moments of pretty good tension, and some genuine surprises. There’s also a pretty clichéd moral behind the whole thing, but it isn’t preachy. The title might imply yet another slasher movie — but it isn’t. An engaging, darkly humorous, diversion that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Suitable for 13+ years.


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

FINAL PORTRAIT

The story of Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

Geoffrey Rush is very good as Giacometti. But the movie is slow, boring, and repetitive. I get that creativity may be a long and slow process, but do I have to sit for 1½ hours in a long and slow movie to be told that? I don’t think so. A pointless exercise.


Friday, 6 October 2017

BLADE RUNNER 2049

Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what's left of society into chaos. K's discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard, a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.

I was very excited to see this sequel to the 1982 original Blade Runner movie and my expectations were satisfied. BLADE RUNNER 2049 follows on with a new story that is true to the original. The soundtrack is stunning as is the cinematography and special effects. Ryan Gosling does the best acting in the movie but the supporting cast are adequate. Impressive. Don’t pay extra for 3D — it adds nothing significant to the movie. But make sure you do get to see BLADE RUNNER 2049 on a big screen!


Tuesday, 3 October 2017

BATTLE OF THE SEXES

The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

Another piece of history I knew nothing about until I saw this movie. And what an entertaining piece of storytelling it is. Emma Stone and Steve Carell are both great in the leading roles. The story of the match is made more interesting because it explores both Billie Jean King’s fight for women’s rights as well as her own sexuality, both of which are still contemporary issues making BATTLE OF THE SEXES very relevant for today. While the issues are serious, they are explored with a great sense of humour. The story moves along at a great pace and, even though the outcome is already known because it’s a true story, the suspense in getting there is very well directed. BATTLE OF THE SEXES is a real crowd pleaser and should have wide appeal.


Tuesday, 26 September 2017

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, the Kingsman's journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US. These two elite secret organizations must band together to defeat a common enemy.

A major disappointment! The first Kingsman movie was so good. This second instalment is equally bad. The dialogue is weak, it’s humourless, and the action sequences are pretty much a repetition of the same stuff we saw in the first movie. It’s stale and excessively long. Don’t waste your time and don’t spoil the first one by seeing this one!