Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Best and Worst Films of 2015

There have been some fantastic films released in Australia this year. While I saw more than 100 new releases, there were hundreds more that I missed. Whenever I create these lists, I always consider which films I will happily watch a dozen times and never get bored. They are not always the most artistically exceptional, but they are all enjoyable in their own way. 


20 best films of 2015:


20) Holding The Man
19) Foxcatcher
18) The Man from UNCLE
17) Legend
16) Crimson Peak
15) Black Mass
14) The Visit
13) Ex Machina
12) Kingsman: The Secret Service
11) Southpaw
10) The Gift
9) The Dressmaker
8) Love and Mercy
7) Straight Outta Compton
6) The Theory of Everything
5) Birdman
4) Jurassic World
3) Avengers: Age of Ultron
2) Mad Max: Fury Road
1) Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Five worst films of 2015:


5) We Are Your Friends
4) The Wedding Ringer
3) Jupiter Ascending
2) A Little Chaos
1) Aloha

What are your best and worst films of 2015?

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Danish Girl

WRITTEN BY: Lucinda Coxon 
DIRECTED BY: Tom Hooper
STARRING: Eddie Redmaybe, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Set in Copenhagen in 1926, landscape painter Einer Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) is happily married to Gerda (Alicia Vikander), who is struggling to gain popularity for her portrait paintings. One day, Gerda asks Einar to stand in for their ballerina friend Ulla (Amber Heard) as a model. But when he dons the stockings and slippers, Einer finds himself enjoying the experience more than he expected. Oblivious to the changes in her husband, Gerda starts using Einer as her muse and her paintings become a success. The couple seem to be unstoppable in art circles until Einer realises he is transgender and wants to undergo an operation to become Lili Elbe.

Adapted from David Ebershoff's novel, which is loosely based on Einer/Lili's life, The Danish Girl is an interesting story that has been twisted and abridged a little too much. The tale becomes a soap opera at times and it is not factually accurate. However, the performances by Redmayne and Vikander are so mesmerising that they elevate the film's quality tenfold and should both be Oscar contenders. Matthias Schoenaerts is also impressive as Einar's boyhood friend and early crush, who later becomes a wealthy art dealer. The Danish Girl simplifies the feelings and experiences of transgendered people, but the film is a great introduction for mainstream audiences to begin understanding transgender issues.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

In The Heart of The Sea

WRITTEN BY: Charles Leavitt 
DIRECTED BY: Ron Howard 
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Hollard
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) wants to write a novel about the sinking of the Essex ship during a whaling expedition in 1820. Only one crewman, Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), is still alive to tell the tale but needs persuading to talk about the tragedy. As he shares his story, we learn Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) was born into the whaling business but first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) is far more experienced and has the respect of the crew, including Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy). The crew sets off to hunt whales for their oil, but soon a giant and aggressive whale begins stalking them.

Based on the true story that inspired Melville's classic Moby Dick, this film is visually spectacular with the tempestuous ocean as much of an antagonist as the whale. Without pressing the point, director Ron Howard also seems to touch on the barbarity of slaughtering whales, even though it was common practice at the time, and is still happening in some parts of the world today. Hemsworth's dramatic acting is fine and the fact that he lost so much weight is especially impressive given how huge he is when he plays Thor. But his accent is inconsistent and very distracting. It is unbelievable no one noticed during filming. In The Heart of the Sea is a decent blockbuster, but it is perhaps only truly gratifying for die-hard maritime fans.


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

The Night Before

WRITTEN BY: Jonathan Levine, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Evan Goldberg
DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Levine 
STARRING: Seth Rogen, Jospeh Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie
RATING: 3.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Isaac (Seth Rogen), Chris (Anthony Mackie) and Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are best friends. Ever since Ethan was orphaned as a teenager, they have celebrated the festive season together, but their lives are changing with age. Chris is now a famous football player and Isaac is about to become a father. Meanwhile, Ethan is struggling through life again after his girlfriend (Lizzie Caplan) dumps him. Things start to look up for Ethan when he stumbles upon three tickets to an annual mysterious Christmas party he has always wanted to attend. The trio use the opportunity to have one final amazing Christmas together.

What makes The Night Before so enjoyable is that it has all the heart-warming themes of Christmas including love, family and faith, while also being full of the kind of humour we have come to know from Rogen and his buddies, including drug references, toilet humour and other dirty jokes. Rogen, Mackie and Gordon-Levitt might not seem like a typical trio of friends, but they clearly had a lot of fun making this film. Michael Shannon is also worth noting for his minor but pivotal role as a whimsical drug dealer. There are also some hilarious cameos and clever references to other Christmas tales including A Christmas Carol, Die Hard and many more. The Night Before is not a film for young families, but for those who have a household of teenagers and adults, it could very well become a new Christmas film tradition. 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

By The Sea

WRITTEN BY: Angelina Jolie Pitt
DIRECTED BY: Angelina Jolie Pitt
STARRING: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Melvil Poupaud, Mélanie Laurent
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Set in the 1970s, former dancer Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt) and her novelist husband Roland (Brad Pitt) travel to a quiet seaside spot in France to find inspiration to write and hopefully love each other again after 14 years of marriage and an unspoken tragedy between them. Instead, Roland spends much of his time drinking, while Vanessa stays in their room sulking and believing Roland wants to have sex with their younger hotel neighbour Lea (Melanie Laurent), who is on a honeymoon with her husband Francois (Melville Poupaud).

There is a lot to like about By The Sea, but there are also several flaws that overshadow much of the enjoyment. The cinematography is gorgeous and the costumes are elegant. Jolie Pitt and Pitt both portray their characters well and their chemistry is as strong as it was in Mr and Mrs Smith. Roland and Vanessa take passive aggression to the extreme and it gives the real life couple a chance to explore some intense emotions. Unfortunately, the pace of the film becomes tiresome and several scenes feel repetitive, such as the mildly creepy voyeuristic moments. There is little dialogue in large chunks of the film and while some parts look beautiful, others are pointless. The biggest problem though is the resolution. When we learn why the couple are so depressed it is an unsatisfactory conclusion and the character motivations are questionable. It is also a shame that Laurent and Poupaud's roles are so under-developed given the film runs for two hours and has plenty of time to explore the newlyweds in more detail.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Truth

WRITTEN BY: James Vanderbilt
DIRECTED BY: James Vanderbilt
STARRING: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
In the lead up to the 2004 presidential election, 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) researches a potential story that suggests President George W. Bush was absent from his military service in the Texas Air National Guard while others fought in Vietnam. She assembles a team including Lt Col Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid), newshound Mike Smith (Topher Grace) and journalism professor Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss) to track down the truth. Mapes eventually finds a document that she believes cements their theory as fact, and presents it to respected newsman Dan Rather (Robert Redford) to air the story on 60 Minutes. But afterwards, holes start to appear and soon everyone is questioning the story's validity.

Whether Truth is entirely accurate, or merely one version of events, the film still demonstrates the importance of reliable and fair reporting. There is no doubt the team took shortcuts and failed to tick all the boxes when assessing the reliability of the information they uncovered. Were they entirely ethical? No. Did it change the facts? No. Was the fallout from the scandal reasonable? That's certainly debatable. Depending on who you ask, there are varying opinions on how well Truth depicts what really happened. Rather gave his endorsement of the film, which was based on Mapes' book, but CBS had a different take on the story. Regardless, the film is engrossing and sure to encourage discussion about journalistic integrity and the relevance of journalism in the modern world.

Blanchett is as flawless as ever, running through a gamut of highs and lows in Mapes' career. Redford is more understated but equally compelling, and the pair are great to watch on screen together. The supporting cast is also excellent. It is the first time in the director's chair for Zodiac writer James Vanderbilt and he makes a solid effort. He cleverly shows the business side of news, including the weight on TV ratings and revenue, without making it boring for anyone uninterested in the media. The film lasts about two hours, but it is so gripping that the time does not feel long. Truth and its subject matter may be controversial, but its themes are as relevant today as ever.




Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part II

WRITTEN BY: Peter Craig, Danny Strong
DIRECTED BY: Francis Lawrence
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland
RATING: 3.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
The film picks up where part one left off, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) struggling to cope with the brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who still wants to kill her. Meanwhile, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is coming to terms with the fact that she will never choose to be with him, especially if Peeta never recovers. But the love triangle is again pushed to the side as the war with the Capitol continues. Rebellion leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use Katniss for a propaganda campaign rather than letting her go to the frontline and kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But before long, Katniss is forging her own path to peace.

The final instalment in this franchise is exciting and action-packed with the Capitol becoming like one giant hunger games arena full of pop-up machine guns, waves of a thick sludge, and feral "mutts" eating people alive. However, I still believe it was a mistake to split Suzanne Collins' final book into two films. Lawrence, Hemsworth and Hutcherson are all wonderful in their respective roles, and their famous real life friendship transfers well into the film. Sutherland and Moore are also impressive and it is bittersweet to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final role. It is a shame that despite stretching the story into two films, Finnick (Sam Claflin) remains under-developed, especially because he is so great in the novels. Mockingjay - Part II wraps up the storyline sufficiently but I am sure the question about who Katniss should have chosen in the end will continue to be debated. If nothing else though, The Hunger Games has given the world one of the strongest and most admirable female characters of all time and that is worth celebrating.



Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Secret in Their Eyes

WRITTEN BY: Billy Ray
DIRECTED BY: Billy Ray
STARRING: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
About 13 years after a horrific unsolved crime is committed against the daughter of his colleague Jess (Julia Roberts), Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) gets a new lead and presents it to his former love interest Claire (Nicole Kidman), who is now the district attorney. The reason the crime went unsolved at the time was because it interfered with a counter-terrorism investigation, but that is no longer the case and Ray is determined the find the culprit years later.

I was entirely engrossed in the film from start to finish, although it was slow in parts. But upon reflection, I found too many plot holes and moments of convenience. That being said, Secret in Their Eyes is thrilling and edgy. This is a remake of the Academy Award winning film from Argentina. The narrative jumps back and forth between 2002 and the present day, which is an effective way of telling the story. Ejiofor carries the film and does a great job, especially in some of the more emotional scenes such as the discovery of a body that shocks the protagonists. Roberts is also compelling, but I am not sure why her character has to look so frumpy. Kidman, in comparison, looks far more glamorous but her character has little substance. The believability of the relationship between Ray and Claire is also questionable. Ultimately, Secret in Their Eyes is tragic, gripping and has a some good twists, but there are certainly some issues with the finer details.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

He Named Me Malala

DIRECTED BY: Davis Guggenheim
STARRING: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Toor Pekai Yousafzai
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
The documentary explores the events leading up to the Taliban's attack on Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who dared to speak out about the lack of female education in the country. It also chronicles the aftermath, including her speech to the United Nations.

Obviously, world issues such as politics and war have to be mentioned in this film, but it is really about the importance of education. Even for those who have read Malala's book, there are still some great insights in this documentary, including a look at her new life in England and her journey to becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. It was particularly interesting to watch her at home with her family, including her two younger brothers, her supportive father and her mother who is still getting used to western life. It was also great to see Malala being a normal teenage girl, giggling over attractive actors such as Brad Pitt and Australian cricketer Shane Watson. But really it is her powerful words about equality for girls and her enthusiasm about making important changes to society that are truly inspiring. Malala is a heroine and exactly the kind of person young girls should admire.






Monday, 9 November 2015

Spectre

WRITTEN BY: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth 
DIRECTED BY: Sam Mendes
STARRING: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes
RATING: 2.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
James Bond (Daniel Craig) receives a cryptic message from his past that sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation called Spectre. Meanwhile M (Ralph Fiennes) deals with the politics of keeping the 00 program running.

Spectre feels like a series of short films rolled into one with a plot that vaguely follows the Bond formula but barely makes any real sense. A lot of the action sequences are thrilling and the stunt team does an amazing job, especially during the opener in Mexico, an edgy train fight, and a swanky car chase through Rome. But several action scenes drag on and the film overall is painfully long, particularly given the plot is so jumbled. I kept looking at my watch every 15 minutes. Perhaps there were too many writers on Spectre and director Sam Mendes could not pull all the elements together well enough.

At times, it seemed Craig was as bored playing Bond as I was watching him. However, there were some emotional scenes for Bond in this instalment and it was great to have a skilled actor portraying those moments. I adore Waltz, but he has so little to work with in this film. There is so much build-up around his character and suggestions about his villainous past, but he is toppled over too easily in the end. Similarly, there was so much hype about casting a woman Bond's own age as a potential love interest or femme fatale, but Monica Bellucci has such a tiny and bland role, it was a total waste of her talent. Instead, the younger Lea Seydoux plays the real female lead, and while she is good, she will not be remembered as one of the best Bond women. However, it was enjoyable to see more screen time involving the supporting cast including Fiennes, Ben Whishaw as Q and Naomie Harris as Moneypenny.

Craig will have at least one more opportunity to play Bond. Hopefully, he can go out with a bang rather than another fizzer like Spectre.



Friday, 30 October 2015

Man Up

WRITTEN BY: Tess Morris
DIRECTED BY: Ben Palmer
STARRING: Simon Pegg, Lake Bell, Rory Kinnear, Ophelia Lovibond
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Nancy (Lake Bell) is travelling to a party for the 40th wedding anniversary of her parents when she meets a younger woman named Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) who is on her way to a blind date with Jack (Simon Pegg). Jessica is supposed to hold a self-help book under the train station clock so that Jack can spot her, but Nancy ends up with the book instead. When Jack mistakes Nancy for Jessica, she decides to take a chance and goes on a date with him. But keeping up the ruse is harder than Nancy thought as she starts to really like Jack.

If you prefer the British sense of humour over American comedies, then you will probably find plenty of laughs in Man Up. The film takes place over one day/night and there are a lot of clever set-ups. Pegg may not be a typically handsome leading man, but as an “every man” he is totally amiable. Bell does a great job with the English accent and her character has some poignant moments, but Nancy is also a total mess. In fact, she makes so many awful decisions that it is plainly clear why she is 34 and miserably single. Rory Kinnear also appears in a pivotal role as Sean, one of Nancy's former schoolmates, who she bumps into at a bowling alley. While Sean could have been an annoying side character, Kinnear makes him a hilarious addition to the film. Man Up is not as good as some beloved British romantic comedies like Love Actually or Notting Hill, but for people who are a little more cynical about love, there is a lot to relate to.




Thursday, 29 October 2015

Sleeping With Other People

WRITTEN BY: Leslyle Headland 
DIRECTED BY: Leslyle Headland
STARRING: Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Jason Mantzoukas
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
After losing their virginity to each other in a one-night stand at college, Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) meet by chance 12 years later and realise they are both terrible at romantic relationships. Although they are attracted to each other, the pair decide to keep things platonic. But that proves to be more difficult than they expected.

Sleeping With Other People hardly presents an original concept, but there are unique moments in this raunchy film that will genuinely make audiences laugh. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of random and awkward scenes, such as when Jake shows Lainey how to masturbate by demonstrating on an empty tea bottle. Written and directed by Leslye Headland, the film tries to be sexy and insightful, but falls flat as often as it hits the (G-)spot. Thankfully, Sudeikis and Brie are both so cute to watch that they help elevate the film. Meanwhile, Adam Scott was an interesting choice to play the nerdy gynaecologist who Lainey could not stop obsessing over and Jason Mantzoukas was a fun sidekick for Sudeikis, but Amanda Peet was not given much to work with as an alternative love interest for Jake. Sleeping With Other People has some sweet and funny moments, but it is no better than Friends With Benefits, No Strings Attached or any of the other similarly themed films we have seen in recent years. 


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Dressmaker

WRITTEN BY: Jocelyn Moorhouse, P. J. Hogan
DIRECTED BY: Jocelyn Moorhouse
STARRING: Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Based on the novel by Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker centres on Mrtyle “Tilly” Dunnage (Kate Winslet), who was suspiciously sent away from her hometown as a young girl after the death of a boy. Tilly returns to the rural town to see her aging mother Molly (Judy Davis), but the townsfolk are not happy about her return. It seems everyone thinks Tilly is a murderer and only childhood friend Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth) wants anything to do with her. So, Tilly uses her dressmaking skills to make outfits for the local women in the hopes of endearing herself to the community.

The Dressmaker is a spectacular dark comedy that is equally tragic, funny and weird. Director/co-writer Jocelyn Moorhouse cleverly weaves a variety of themes into the film including revenge, love, family dynamics and small town gossip. Go into the cinema with an open mind because the plot takes some unexpected turns. The fashion is central to the film and each dress Tilly creates for the women of the town are exquisite. Hugo Weaving also gets to wear some fabulously flamboyant costumes as the local policeman who has a secret lust for cross-dressing.

Winslet nails the Australian accent perfectly; there is not one slip-up. The only slight issue is the romance between Tilly and Teddy. An initial view of the trailer seems to depict a wonderful change to most on-screen love stories that pair older men with much younger women. However, while Winslet and Hemsworth look gorgeous together, their characters are supposed to be about the same age and unfortunately she looks too old next to him and the other young cast members. Nonetheless, their relationship adds some sweetness to the twisted tale. Davis also gives a stand-out performance, providing some memorable laughs, especially in Molly's flirtations with Teddy.

The Dressmaker is a unique film and one of the best Australian productions in years.


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Brooklyn

WRITTEN BY: Nick Hornby 
DIRECTED BY: John Crowley
STARRING: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson
RATING: 3.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is a young woman living with her widowed mother in Ireland in the 1950s when her older sister arranges for Ellis to travel to the United States to make a better life for herself. When Ellis arrives in Brooklyn, a priest (Jim Broadbent) sets her up in a boarding house run by the stern but kind Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters). Despite the help, Ellis struggles with homesickness until she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a young Italian man intent on romancing her. Soon, Ellis starts to build a life with Tony until she is unexpectedly forced back to Ireland where she meets the dashing Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). Ellis must then choose between two men and two homes.

Based on Colm Toibin's novel, Brooklyn is a sweet immigrant story with relatable cultural shocks and romance. The film lacks a strong climax, although there is some conflict in the third act, but it is actually quite lovely to see a simple story on screen. Director John Crowley has made a visually gorgeous film, including the portrayal of Ireland and Brooklyn, which are so different but equally charming. Ronan is a delight to watch, presenting both the innocence and bravery in Ellis. Cohen also gives an endearing performance, while Gleeson is full of charisma. Meanwhile, Walters provides a lot of laughs, especially in some brilliant dinner conversation scenes. Brooklyn is a cute film with a lot of heart. 


Sunday, 18 October 2015

Crimson Peak

WRITTEN BY: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
DIRECTED BY: Guillermo del Toro
STARRING: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
After a family tragedy, aspiring author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) leaves her home in the United States and travels with her charming new husband baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) to the home he shares with his mysterious sister Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain). But the house seems to be haunted and soon Edith, who has always believed in ghosts, starts to feel like she is losing her mind. Meanwhile, Edith's childhood friend Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) has his own theory about the enigmatic siblings and is determined to expose their secrets.

Do not watch Crimson Peak expecting it to be a horror film. It is the very definition of a gothic romance and the best of its genre that Hollywood has produced in years. Aside from a couple of supernatural scenes, the first 40 minutes feel like a Jane Austen novel, including a playful love triangle and a ball. But as the plot unfolds and the characters start to reveal their true selves, Crimson Peak takes a more sinister turn and becomes much like an Emily or Charlotte Bronte novel. 

In the capable hands of director/co-writer Guillermo del Toro, the film also plays out like an unexpected blockbuster, including some exquisite cinematography depicted in the disheveled haunted mansion that bleeds deep red clay from the floorboards. There is also a gaping hole in the rotting roof at the entrance of the house where snow and leaves float in, not to mention the skeletal-looking spirits regularly emerging from the shadows. The early 1900s costumes are also beautiful. 

To top it off, there are some fantastic performances, led by Wasikowska who is both elegant and sweetly innocent. Hiddleston portrays a Byronic character so well, but there is always something appropriately creepy about him. Hunnam is also charismatic, but his character is a little weak. Meanwhile, Chastain is wonderfully cold and wicked. Jim Beaver is also fun to watch as Edith's wealthy industrialist father, who never approves of Thomas. 

Crimson Peak looks fantastic and is equally spooky. It is worth seeing on the big screen with an audience.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Bridge of Spies

WRITTEN BY: Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
DIRECTED BY: Steven Spielberg
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Austin Stowell
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Set in the early years of the Cold War, Bridge of Spies is inspired by the true story of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer hired by the US government to represent alleged Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) in court. Spurred on by his passion for human rights, Donovan manages to save Abel from the death penalty. His efforts come in handy when an American pilot (Austin Stowell) is captured in Russia and the US government enlists Donovan's help to arrange an exchange of the prisoners in East Germany as the Berlin Wall is erected. Donovan also uses the opportunity to seek the release of a captured college student on the wrong side of the wall.

In the past year, we have had action spy thrillers like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and comedies like Spy and Kingsman: The Secret Service. A few months ago, we got hilarious Cold War espionage film The Man From UNCLE. Bridge of Spies again focusses on the Cold War, but this time, it is a far more serious drama and provides yet another perspective on the genre. Bridge of Spies may be light on laughs, but when they do come, they provide some vital ease in an otherwise tense experience. The film is more than two hours long, but the script is clever. In some ways, it is almost three mini-stories in one and each is equally compelling. Hanks is obviously the big name and gives a solid performance, but it is Rylance who steals every scene he is in with his enigmatic character. Director Steven Spielberg tries at times to push the point a little too far, apparently assuming the audience is too dumb to pick up on symbolism and juxtaposition. Nonetheless, Donovan's tale is worthy of being portrayed on screen and Bridge of Spies is utterly enthralling.


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Unindian

WRITTEN BY: Thushy Sathiamoorthy
DIRECTED BY: Anupam Sharma
STARRING: Brett Lee, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Maya Sathi
RATING: 2 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Meera (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is a divorced single mother of Smitha (Maya Sathi). While she has carved out a successful career for herself, Meera is still under pressure from her strict Indian family to find a suitable match, preferably an Indian doctor. Instead, Meera meets blonde university English teacher Will (Brett Lee). But falling in love with an Australian man is so controversially “unindian”.

I cannot say Unindian is a good romantic comedy, but I laughed out loud a lot, so there is definitely some enjoyment to be had. There is a certain charm to the sweet story and the cross-cultural set up offers many opportunities for jokes and social commentary. I am sure there will be many Australians with various ethnic backgrounds who will watch this film and relate to some of the cultural issues the protagonists confront. Unindian provides some insight into Indian life, including arranged marriages and how they feel about homosexuality, while also hamming up Australian slang with Will comically teaching Aussie English lessons to immigrants. The film also explores some darker themes, including a child custody dispute. Of course, the music is central to the film and casual fans of Bollywood will probably bop along to some fun songs.

Lee, a former cricket player, gives a surprisingly decent performance in his first proper acting role and has good chemistry with Chatterjee. It is also great to see a rare mixed-race relationship in an Australian film between a darker-skinned woman and a lighter-skinned man. The sex scene, which is not overly risque, is more racially significant for Australia than perhaps director Anupam Sharma even intended.

Ultimately, Unindian presents one embarrassing scene after another, and is full of lame dialogue and awkward moments. But the film stays true to what it set out to do. Unindian has a very specific target audience, and for those people, it does a great job.



Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Walk

WRITTEN BY: Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne
DIRECTED BY: Robert Zemeckis
STARRING: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Clement Sibony
RATING: 3.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Based on the book written by French high-wire artist Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), The Walk explores his journey in the mid-1970s as he recruits a team of people to help him realise his dream to walk on a tightrope between New York's World Trade Centre towers.

Petit's achievement was certainly amazing but the film did not need to be two hours long to depict it. There is a slow build-up and a lot of boring scenes. The most exciting part was the preparation the night before the walk as the small team scrambled to set everything up without the security guards catching them. It played out like a heist film. The walk itself was also interesting and especially exhilarating to watch in 3D. Gordon-Levitt nailed the French accent and gave a convincing performance. Petit is not always the most affable person to be around but he needs to be arrogant and determined to accomplish his goal. Unfortunately, the supporting cast are given little to do, which is a shame because it is a waste of talent for Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Schwartz and James Badge Dale. If director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis had tightened his film as well as Petit tightened his high-wire, The Walk could have been far more enjoyable. 




Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Miss You Already

WRITTEN BY: Morwenna Banks
DIRECTED BY: Catherine Hardwicke
STARRING: Toni Collette, Drew Barrymore, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Milly (Toni Collette) have been best friends since childhood, doing just about everything together. But when Jess struggles to fall pregnant and Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer, their friendship is put to the test.

Miss You Already is a wonderful celebration of female friendship. It also explores cancer treatment and its effects on families in a unique way, including explaining the illness to children and how physical scars affect a person's sexual confidence. After viewing the trailer, you will know to bring tissues when you watch the film. Many people have described it as a modern day Beaches, and that is a fair assessment. In the capable hands of director Catherine Hardwicke, the film has the intimacy of a character-driven play, while also exploring some serious issues. Despite its tragedy, Miss You Already is also very funny with realistic humour sprinkled throughout.

Collette and Barrymore are both exceptional, and their friendship is totally believable. Collette in particular has the tough job of making Milly a relatable character given her wild side and some of her questionable life choices. Dominic Cooper is also very good as Milly's sympathetic husband, especially in some tough scenes where his character struggles to cope with aspects of her illness, while Paddy Considine provides some laughs as Jess' husband.

Miss You Already is sure to hit home for a lot of people who have had friends and family endure cancer. The film may be hard to watch at times, but it has a beautiful message about platonic love.




Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Black Mass

WRITTEN BY: Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth
DIRECTED BY: Scott Cooper
STARRING: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) is an infamous and violent crook living in South Boston, while his brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a state senator trying to keep his hands clean. Their childhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) now works for the FBI and is tasked with taking down the Italian Mafia in the area. So, John contacts his old friend and Whitey soon becomes an informant, leaving him free to commit any crimes he wants as long as he does not murder anyone.

This is an extraordinary true story, which only wrapped up a few years ago, making it even more shocking and relevant. Some might compare Black Mass to the likes of Goodfellas or The Godfather, but it reminded me more of Donnie Brasco. The way in which Whitey was able to manipulate everyone around him is fascinating and surprising.

Depp makes a return to form with this role, portraying both the terrifyingly sinister and creepy parts of Whitey's personality and his humanity in his love for his son and mother. Edgerton is an equally powerful force as John starts to blur the line between detective and felon. The pair play off each other so well. Cumberbatch is also compelling to watch and the supporting cast boasts accomplished actors including Kevin Bacon and Adam Scott as John's concerned colleagues, and Corey Stall as the lawyer determined to bring Whitey to justice. Dakota Johnson also has a small but pivotal role as the mother of Whitey's child, but it is a shame her character disappears suddenly without any real explanation. Unfortunately, Julianne Nicholson is not given enough to do as John's wife. She is a potentially interesting character but ends up being a pitiful damsel in distress despite Nicholson doing her best with the material.

The film is about two hours long but it never gets boring. The gruesome violence is spread throughout and even when you can see a death coming you are never quite prepared for how it all happens. The story of Black Mass is riveting and it is great to have a film that depicts the tale well.





Thursday, 1 October 2015

Legend

WRITTEN BY: Brian Helgeland
DIRECTED BY: Brian Helgeland
STARRING: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton, David Thewlis
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Based on a true story and adapted from John Pearson's book, Legend chronicles the tumultuous lives of London's infamous East End gangster twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray during the 1960s. Paranoid schizophrenic Ronnie (Tom Hardy) is released from a psychiatric ward after his doctor is intimidated into declaring him sane. Meanwhile, Ron's twin Reggie (Tom Hardy) has been busily building a criminal empire while his brother has been locked up. Although they are hardened gangsters, the pair are loyal to each other. But when Ron's psychotic behaviour threatens to derail Reggie's plans, including his relationship with his business manager Leslie Payne (David Thewlis) and girlfriend Frances (Emily Browning), they start to lock horns about how to conduct their criminal activities.

Hardy is magnificent in both roles, cementing his place as one of the greatest actors of his generation. At no point does it feel like you are watching Tom Hardy, the actor. He totally embodies both villains and portrays them differently including their mannerisms, voices and quirks. Ron is unapologetic and unpredictable, while Reggie is more suave but equally violent. Browning is also impressive as Reggie's girlfriend who tries to get him to live a straight life. There were a lot of close-ups on her face, which was wonderfully expressive, and it was a great choice to make her the narrator of the story. Thewlis gives a grounded performance and Taron Egerton seems to relish his cheeky role as Ron's boyfriend. The fashion also looks fabulous, while the soundtrack is enjoyable and there are plenty of laughs throughout. The film's weakness is that it rushes to explain technical things like how the twins managed to work the legal system, but then drags on in some other areas like Frances' emotional difficulties. The film has a running time of more than two hours, which is a little too long, but watching Hardy perform is engrossing enough to sustain the audience's interest.





Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Pan

WRITTEN BY: Jason Fuchs
DIRECTED BY: Joe Wright
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Levi Miller, Rooney Mara
RATING: 3.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Peter (Levi Miller) is living in a London orphanage during World War Two when he is kidnapped by pirates and taken by a flying ship to Neverland. There, Peter meets fellow captive James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) but soon catches the eye of the villainous Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) who worries that Peter might be the boy to fulfil the prophecy of a flying child leading a revolution against his tyranny. But Peter is more concerned about finding his mother and seeks the help of Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) in his quest.

Pan is a whimsical origins story with gorgeous sets. Unfortunately, the film is also unnecessarily long, as is typical of director Joe Wright who never quite seems to know when to yell “cut!” Jackman obviously had a lot of fun with the role but he is not in the film enough and over-acts in some scenes, no doubt under instruction from Wright. He may have top billing, but Jackman has less screen time than the rest of the principal cast. Still, watching Blackbeard make an entrance to Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit will never get old. Hedlund and Miller are the stand-out performers. Miller is a wonderful young actor, expressing a range of emotions, while Hedlund has basically provided a mesmerising two-hour audition tape to play the next Indiana Jones. The romance between Hook and Tiger Lily is also sweet and Mara is sympathetic in her role. The ending hints at the possibility of a sequel and I am sure younger audiences will especially take delight in that prospect.




Monday, 28 September 2015

The Martian

WRITTEN BY: Drew Goddard
DIRECTED BY: Ridley Scott
STARRING: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig
RATING 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
When a wild storm hits Mars during a NASA mission, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by debris and presumed dead by his crew mates who leave him behind. But Watney survives and wakes up later to find himself stranded alone on the planet. Using the few supplies he has, Watney must find a way to stay alive long enough to contact NASA and get rescued.

Based on Andy Weir's novel, The Martian is thrilling and fun. Writer Drew Goddard and director Ridley Scott have certainly tried to make the film as scientifically accurate as possible, but space geeks are still sure to find holes in the plot and be critical of technical aspects of the story. Everyone else should still be able to enjoy the adventure, especially as Watney pulls some MacGyver-like stunts to scrape through. Despite the obvious fear and desperation that would surely come over an astronaut stuck on a planet, the film never deviates into melodrama. Watney is a smart, resourceful and witty man who would rather use his skills instead of dwelling on his predicament. The film is also very funny with Damon given some great one-liners that never cross into lame territory.

While most of the film takes place on Mars, there is also a lot happening back on Earth with the NASA team played by the very talented Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig and others, working to find a way to reach Watney before he runs out of food. Remember, space travel can take years, not months. The impressive cast also includes Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Michael Pena as Watney's crew mates eager to rescue him, as well as Sean Bean as their team leader and Donald Glover in a small but pivotal role as an astrophysicist.

Perhaps the film's weakest aspect is that it is a little long and drags in a few places. Nonetheless, The Martian looks fantastic in 3D and is worth seeing on the big screen.


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Visit

WRITTEN BY: M. Night Shyamalan 
DIRECTED BY: M. Night Shyamalan
STARRING: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Aspiring teenage filmmaker Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her wannabe-rapper brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are sent to visit Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) on their farm while their mother (Kathryn Hahn) enjoys a cruise with her boyfriend. Their mother ran away from home when she was young after a fight with her parents, so the children hope to provide a bridge to mend the relationship. Documenting their visit on film, the siblings soon realise things are not quite right on the farm. There is something suspicious going on in Pop Pop's shed and Nana behaves strangely after 9.30pm every night.

You may never look at elderly people the same way again after watching The Visit. The film is very spooky but equally hilarious. It is a rare combination and perhaps even more rare to be a success, but The Visit never disappoints. Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan uses only hand-held cameras to tell the story and it works effectively. What is perhaps most surprising is how quotable the film is and its poignant message about aging and family. The cast is also fantastic, including Aussie leads DeJonge and Oxenbould who have great comedic timing and can also handle the horror moments. Meanwhile, Dunagan and McRobbie are appropriately creepy and mysterious as the odd grandparents, and Hahn is a welcome addition in her minor role. The Visit is definitely worth seeing with an audience. 


Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Intern

WRITTEN BY: Nancy Meyers 
DIRECTED BY: Nancy Meyers
STARRING: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Ben Whittaker is a 70-year-old widower finding it difficult to enjoy retirement on his own. So, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion website, founded and run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). The pair do not hit it off immediately, but they soon strike up a friendship and learn from each other's experiences.

The Intern thinks it has a feminist message. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, because the film tries so hard, it almost comes off as offensive to feminists. That being said, writer/director Nancy Myers clearly has her heart in the right place even if her execution of the story is poor. It is fun to see De Niro enjoying himself in this comedy/drama and he works well with Hathaway. However, his love interest is played by Rene Russo and despite the pair constantly talking about how nice it is to spend time with someone their own age, it is worth noting she is more than a decade younger than him. I am sure there is an audience out there who will love this film. But if you stop and think about it, you will certainly find holes. 


Monday, 21 September 2015

Macbeth

WRITTEN BY: Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, Todd Louiso 
DIRECTED BY: Justin Kurzel
STARRING: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Sean Harris
RATING: 2.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is a duke of Scotland who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Driven by his ambition and encouraged by his pushy wife (Marion Cotillard), Macbeth murders the king and takes the throne. But once he is in power, Macbeth's world soon starts to crumble.

If you studied Macbeth at school like I did then you already know this Shakespearean tragedy well. I have always enjoyed watching plays of Shakespeare's work but films often fail to capture the essence of the bard's words. Director Justin Kurzel tries his best, but the film is too long and the climactic moments of the plot are lost in the wash of all the dreary scenes. The battle sequences are shot quite well, including the use of slow motion. The acting was also very good, although some actors mumbled their way through the dialogue. But ultimately, the film turned what is a fascinating study of a complex and tragic character into a drawn-out drama. 


Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

WRITTEN BY: Marielle Heller
DIRECTED BY: Marielle Heller
STARRING: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Meloni
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Based on Phoebe Gloeckner's graphic novel and set in San Francisco in 1976, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is about 15-year-old Minnie (Bel Powley), who is starting to explore her sexuality. Speaking into a tape recorder, Minnie reveals she has lost her virginity to Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), the boyfriend of her mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig). Minnie continues to pursue a sexual relationship with Monroe in secret.

There is a lot of sex and sexual exploration going on this film but there does not seem to be much of a point to the story. I was hooked the whole way through, but ultimately, I was left with emptiness. Quite simply, for a film about sex, there was no climax. Minnie comes across as almost like a nymphomaniac in the way she flippantly has sex with strangers and starts to cross the line into prostitution. I do not know anyone who had even close to a similar experience as Minnie. It is a shame because I had hoped to see a film that was more relatable and empowering for teenagers and young women. That being said, Powley's performance is very strong and Skarsgard humanises a man who is actually a villainous creep. Minnie pursues Monroe, so it cannot be said that he corrupts her, but it is still illegal. Wiig is also very good and has great chemistry with Powley. I still cannot make up my mind about The Diary of a Teenage Girl. I enjoyed watching it, but I had some issues with it afterwards.