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.