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.


Friday, 18 September 2015

Sicario

WRITTEN BY: Taylor Sheridan
DIRECTED BY: Denis Villeneuve
STARRING: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya
RATING: 3.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Idealistic FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) is asked to join a special task force led by the morally ambiguous Matt (Josh Brolin) and his even more mysterious operative Alejandro (Benecio del Toro) to fight the war against drugs on the United States border with Mexico. The pair constantly keep Kate in the dark, so she decides to start digging deeper into what it is their operation is really trying to achieve.

Stylistically, this film looks fantastic with effective cinematography and interesting camera angles. There were a few scenes though where it looked like director Denis Villeneuve tried too hard to be artistic. The score is equally gripping and memorable, helping to enhance the intensity of many situations. But perhaps the film's best moment is the opening sequence, which is very graphic and shows Blunt as the strong person her character is supposed to be. Kate did not need to be a female role but having Blunt portray such an important character started out as an interesting choice. Unfortunately, the "strong female lead" was ultimately unfulfilling because she did not do enough as the film progressed and ended up becoming a pawn. Meanwhile, Brolin and del Toro were both enjoyable to watch, particularly the latter whose slow character reveal was fascinating. Sicario sets itself apart from other films of the same genre because it goes that extra step to look great and puts together a strong group of actors. 


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

WRITTEN BY: T.S. Nowlin
DIRECTED BY: Wes Ball
STARRING: Dylan O'Brien, Rosa Salazar, Kaya Scodelario, Aiden Gillen, Giancarlo Esposito
RATING: 3.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow Gladers are taken to a remote fortified outpost, having just escaped from a maze full of monster machines created by WCKD, which hopes to use their immunity to fight the flare virus. Janson (Aidan Gillen) claims to work for a rival organisation but Thomas soon learns that Janson is part of WCKD. So, Thomas leads a group of escapees into the Scorch, a desert landscape that has overtaken much of the world. They decide to head to the mountains to find a resistance group called The Right Hand. Along the way, they join forces with Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and his surrogate daughter Brenda (Rosa Salazar).

If die-hard fans of James Dashner's young adult novels were upset about how the first film deviated from the book, they will be even more disappointed with the sequel. There are quite a few changes to the story, but even as a fan of the books, I got passed those differences and was still impressed with the film. The action sequences are thrilling and the cranks, which are essentially fast-moving zombies, look scary. Esposito adds gravitas to the film, while Gillen makes a great slimy villain. O'Brien again carries the film convincingly and is well supported by his cast mates. Salazar is also a welcome addition as an alternative love interest for Thomas. The film runs for more than two hours and while most of it is edge-of-your-seat fun, there is an unnecessary scene at the end of the film. Also, unlike the books, which constantly teased some answers to this post-apocolyptic dystopia, the film does little to address some key plot points. Hopefully, it will all be cleared up in the next instalment. 


Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Everest

WRITTEN BY: William Nicholson, Simon Beaufoy
DIRECTED BY: Baltasar Kormákur
STARRING: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Hawkes
RATING: 3.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Everest is based on the events of the doomed 1996 expedition to climb the world's tallest mountain. Kiwi guide Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) leads one group that includes loud Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) who is trying to reach the summit on his second attempt, journalist covering the trip Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) and Japanese woman Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mora) who has previously conquered six of the world's seven highest peaks. Hall also teams up with another group led by his touring rival Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal).

It is a familiar story we have heard many times and there are a lot of books on the subject, but seeing the tragedy unfold on the big screen is a completely different experience. The first half is a wonderful story about people conquering nature with interesting characters, each driven to climb Mount Everest for different reasons. When most of the team reach the summit it is a joyous moment, but it soon becomes a disaster film with several lives lost. The difficulty with adapting a true story into a film is finding a way to add drama while still respecting the victims. Everest does this by trying to humanise each person through a series of distressing phone calls to partners back home. In some ways this works well, but there are moments that seem a little melodramatic despite the high stakes. Nonetheless, the cast was fabulous led by Clarke who was lovable, Brolin who at times was a stereotypically obnoxious American but also affable, Gyllenhaal who portrayed his character as a larrikin and Hawkes who had one of the sweetest sub-plots. The cast also includes Sam Worthington and Martin Henderson as fellow climb leaders, Robin Wright and Keira Knightley as worried wives at home, and Emily Watson and Elizabeth Debicki at the base camp scrambling to help. The film also looks fantastic and audiences feel immersed in the scenery. It is worth seeing in 3D. 


Sunday, 6 September 2015

Blinky Bill The Movie

WRITTEN BY: Fin Edquist
DIRECTED BY: Deane Taylor
CO-DIRECTED BY: Noel Cleary, Alexs Staderman, Alex Wright
STARRING: Ryan Kwanten, Robin McLeavy, Rufus Sewell, David Wenham, Toni Collette
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Blinky Bill (Ryan Kwanten) dreams of leaving Green Patch and becoming an explorer like his father, but when Mr Bill (Richard Roxburgh) goes missing in the Outback, Blinky decides to go looking for him. Along the way, he becomes friends with zoo koala Nutsy (Robin McLeavy) and nervous frill-necked lizard Jacko (David Wenham). Blinky is also pursued by the relentlessly feral Cat (Rufus Sewell).

There is a lot of nostalgia for adults who grew up watching the Blinky Bill cartoon and reading the books. Meanwhile, children discovering the character for the first time will have even more fun. Blinky Bill is full of stereotypical Australian slang and has some very funny lines throughout. The cast is also impressive, led by Kwanten who is surprisingly good at the childish voice, while Sewell is wonderfully sly, McLeavy is a tough female and Wenham is delightfully silly. The film also features Toni Collette as the hilarious sidekick emus Beryl and Cheryl, Deborah Mailman as Blinky's wise mother and Barry Humphries as the eccentric wombat. The CGI might put some traditional viewers off, but the film does actually look great. Importantly, it also has a sweet story and plenty of adventure for children to enjoy.


Saturday, 5 September 2015

Life

WRITTEN BY: Luke Davies
DIRECTED BY: Anton Corbijn
STARRING: Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Joel Edgerton
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) is a photographer bored of shooting Hollywood red carpets when he meets James Dean (Dane DeHaan) at a party. Stock befriends Dean before the release of his first major film, East of Eden. Stock can see that Dean is on the cusp of becoming widely famous so he convinces the young and awkward actor to be photographed for Life magazine.

I should preface this review by mentioning that I am obsessed with James Dean so I am far more critical of every tiny aspect of this film than general audiences might be. Working in the film's favour is the excellent attention to detail by the set and costume designers, including real photographs of Dean in his childhood home. Unfortunately, while DeHaan is a fantastic actor, he looks nothing like Dean. There are a few moments where he poses the same way as the icon and he mumbles similarly to the way Dean spoke, but it is hard not to compare his performance to that of James Franco who can look a lot like Dean and nails his nuances so well in the 2001 biopic.

Pattinson does his best to make Stock interesting but there is not enough substance in the plot to make audiences care about him, perhaps because his real life story was not all that fascinating. Stock was a wonderful photographer and his images of Dean remain significant because they captured the rebel in the comfort of his home and on the streets of New York several months before his tragic death. But as the subject of a story himself, there was not enough to sustain an almost two-hour film about Stock's personal life and struggle to get Dean to pose for the photographs. Nonetheless, there is some interest for hardcore fans to see the moments that built before the famous snaps were taken.

Life coincides with the 60th anniversary of Dean's death. I would recommend watching East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant if you want to initiate yourself with the man whose acting style inspired many modern day actors.





Thursday, 3 September 2015

A Walk In The Woods

WRITTEN BY: Rick Kerb, Bill Holderman 
DIRECTED BY: Ken Kwapis
STARRING: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Travel writer Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) decides to challenge himself by hiking the Appalachian Trail in the United States. His wife (Emma Thompson) does not want him to go alone so he brings along his old friend Katz (Nick Nolte), an overweight alcoholic who he has not seen in decades. During their journey, they meet some interesting characters and wild animals, and endure various weather conditions.

Based on Bryson's book, A Walk In The Woods is a cute buddy film that will appeal especially to hikers and older audiences. Redford had planned to make this his third collaboration with Paul Newman before his death, but Redford still works well with Nolte. Thompson has a minor role but she is always a joy to watch. The film drags on in parts and there are predictable moments, but the performances are strong and the film looks beautiful. There are also a lot of laughs and a sweet message about enduring friendships. After seeing this film, you might want to find a friend and go for a hike.