Divergent

Tuesday, 15 April, 2014

3 stars
Divergent scene

In a futuristic, post apocalyptic Chicago, where people fall into one of five factions based on their ethics, or not, a 16 year old girl, Tris (Shailene Woodley), discovers she is in a class of her own, in Divergent, trailer, the latest feature by Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”, “Limitless”). Needless to say, such individuality does not sit well in this world.

Despite her turmoil, Tris joins the Dauntless faction, the gung-ho group tasked with protecting the city from outside threats. While she struggles to make the grade at first, she soon befriends her instructor, Four (Theo James), who has uncovered a plot, masterminded by a faction led by Jeanine (Kate Winslet), to overthrow the city’s government.

Based on the novel of the same name written by Veronica Roth, “Divergent” is the first in a number of films set in Tris’ world, and that may account for its slow start. Aside from some sound performances, especially Woodley’s, there are few surprises story wise, meaning there’s really not much here for those who are not fans of the book series.

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Chinese Puzzle

Monday, 14 April, 2014

3 and a half stars
Chinese Puzzle scene

All Paris resident Xavier (Romain Duris) ever wanted was to live quietly writing novels. Life however had other ideas, and a move to New York City to be closer to his two children, after his English wife, Wendy (Kelly Reilly), asks for a divorce so she can move in with a man she met there, is accompanied by a raft of complications.

Xavier finds himself helping lesbian friend Isabelle (Cécile De France) start a family, marrying an American Chinese woman, Nancy (Li Jun Li), so he can apply for residency, while seeing ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou) whenever she visits the US. All that and more in Chinese Puzzle, trailer, by Cédric Klapisch (“Russian Dolls”, “Paris”).

It might not be anything you haven’t seen before, but “Chinese Puzzle” offers some wry observations on contemporary family life and relationships. Duris charms, and Tautou put on her best performance in years in this fun, spirited, zesty, if a tad farfetched rom-com, that will likely keep you guessing until the end.

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Cuban Fury

Thursday, 10 April, 2014

2 and a half stars
Cuban Fury scene

As a teenager Bruce (Nick Frost) was an accomplished salsa dancer, and together with dance-partner sister, Sam (Olivia Colman), won a number of championships. A run in with some high school bullies however convinced him to put the interest aside, in Cuban Fury, trailer, the latest work by British TV producer James Griffiths.

Bruce finds his passion for the social dance reignited twenty five years later though, when he learns new boss Julia (Rashida Jones) is a devotee. Sensing there may be more than just a mutual interest in salsa, Bruce goes about subtly wooing Julia, only to find obnoxious colleague, Drew (Chris O’Dowd), also has his sights set on her.

As a feel-good comedy “Cuban Fury” has the best of intentions, but the ride to the inevitable sugar coated finale is far from sweet. The salsa may be spicy but the screenplay is plodding and trite, while Bruce and Drew behave more like overgrown adolescents, rather than thirty-something adults, in their quest to win over Julia.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Wednesday, 9 April, 2014

3 and a half stars
Captain America: The Winter Soldier scene

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), the diminutive man who was transformed into the far sturdier Captain America as part of a World War II experiment, probably wouldn’t have had the chance read George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984”. Even if he had, it couldn’t possibly have prepared him for the state of surveillance some latter day leaders had in mind.

Corrupt government official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is determined to implement a security program that will endanger more people than it claims to protect. Working with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Captain America sets about trying to thwart Pierce’s plan.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, trailer, co-directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, ticks over at breathless pace, yet still takes the time to flesh out a little of Steve Rogers’ character, while the story’s parallels with the world we live in today are blunt. Despite the sometimes heavy overtones, as escapist fare there isn’t too much to fault here.

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Do too many set photos spoil, literally, the broth?

Tuesday, 8 April, 2014

Set photos are images taken while a film is being made. Recently British actor Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the original “Star Wars” films, released dozens of such images, that he snapped during the saga’s production.

While these doubtless proved to be a treasure trove for fans of the films, can an abundance of these behind the scenes type photos somehow spoil, or deprive the story of a certain mystique?

Yet put the words “set photo” in a tweet or a headline and people will click by the thousands to eagerly spoil a movie’s big surprise images. And by and large these are spoilers without the fun; the visuals are typically devoid of atmosphere, and they’re often poorly framed, awkwardly staged, and sometimes slightly out of focus.

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Welcome to Australia, the land of twenty-dollar movie tickets

Monday, 7 April, 2014

Two Sydney art-house cinemas, the Hayden Orpheum, and the Palace Norton Street, have become the first cinemas in Australia to charge $20 for run-of-the-mill, adult movie tickets.

This contrasts with an average ticket price of $8.38 paid by movie-goers in the US. Some cinemas have attributed this disparity to the higher distribution costs of bringing films to Australia, while others feel that local ticket prices remain under-priced, compared to other forms of entertainment. In other words, brace for further rises.

The deputy general manager at the Orpheum, Alex Temesvari, said tougher deals from film distributors had contributed to higher ticket prices. “Even for some art-house or more limited releases, the terms are going up if they’re going through a major distributor,” he said. ‘Ticket prices go up every couple of years but it still ends up being the cheapest form of entertainment overall.” David Seargeant, the managing director of Amalgamated Holdings, which owns Event cinemas, believes cinema tickets are “still a little under-priced” compared to other entertainment.

Considering cinema patrons pay a premium for any food and beverages purchased at the onsite candy bar, and are subjected to upwards of twenty minutes of advertising prior to a feature, I can’t see how admission costs could be considered “under-priced”.

I’m fortunate, as someone whose work partly involves writing about film, that I don’t have to pay for every last movie I see, but the price hike, that will surely result in other Australian cinemas following suit, is going to force some film-goers to think twice about a night out at the movies.

There may be ways to side-step paying the standard ticket price though. Some Australian cinemas operate “movie clubs” allowing members to buy tickets at reduced rates, and many have “bargain days”, typically Mondays or Tuesdays, where discounts are offered. Now might be a good time to start looking into these options.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

Thursday, 3 April, 2014

4 stars
The Grand Budapest Hotel scene

While the facade of The Grand Budapest Hotel has an indeterminable aesthetic appeal, it is the stories of the happenings playing out within its walls that are far more alluring and captivating, some of which are related during the course of the film of the same name, trailer, by Wes Anderson (“Rushmore”, “Moonrise Kingdom”).

Zero (Tony Revolori) works as a bell boy at the iconic hotel under the tutelage of offbeat concierge, Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). Following a bizarre turn of events, the pair find themselves running from the law after the family of a wealthy guest, Madame D (Tilda Swinton), who died in mysterious circumstances, accuses them of her murder.

Eight full length features in, and US film director Anderson is yet to show any signs of fumbling the ball. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” bears all the hallmarks of his work, quirky, whimsical, fun, with suitably eccentric performances from an ensemble cast who seem to be enjoying themselves, all framed within the usual palette of vivid colours.

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Noah

Wednesday, 2 April, 2014

2 and a half stars
Noah scene

If you thought you knew the biblical story of Noah, as in the man who led the animals, two by two, onto an ark he’d build, in a bid to start life anew on Earth again, your perceptions may be changed by Darren Aronofsky’s (“Requiem for a Dream”, “Black Swan”) movie adaptation, trailer, of the familiar to many drama.

After being warned in a dream that “the creator” intends to flood the Earth, Noah (Russell Crowe) sets about building a ship to safely house his family and every known species of animal. The undertaking however raises the ire of his son Ham (Logan Lerman), and Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), the king of a tribe of immoral people.

In adapting the story of Noah for film, Aronofsky opts to add various embellishments to the narrative, and as intriguing as they are, they prove to be its undoing. The result is often incoherent, melodramatic, and overlong. A slightly shorter, more to the point, rendering of this biblical favourite would have been far more satisfying.

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Pompeii

Wednesday, 26 March, 2014

2 stars
Pompeii scene

When Italy’s Mount Vesuvius tragically erupted in 79 AD its volcanic ash completely buried the nearly town of Pompeii, creating an enduring snapshot of life during the early days of the Roman Empire. The same however cannot be said of the latest feature by Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil”, “Death Race”), also named Pompeii, trailer.

Life-long Celtic gladiator Milo (Kit Harington) is sent to Pompeii to fight in the town’s circus, and quickly catches the eye of local noble woman, Cassia (Emily Browning). Any hope of romance is dashed by the arrival of Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), a powerful, corrupt senator, likewise pursuing Cassia, who also happened to kill Milo’s mother years earlier.

Perhaps the only thing going for “Pompeii” is the beautifully rendered backdrop against which proceedings play out. Otherwise there is little to commend in a story that sees a number of foes effectively trying to go one-up on each other while a volcano violently erupts, a little more than a stone’s throw away. Or did I miss something?

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Centering on the symmetry in Wes Anderson’s films

Wednesday, 26 March, 2014

US film director Wes Anderson certainly has a penchant for symmetry, among other things of course… in case you hadn’t already noticed.

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