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Irrational Man

The small college campus in Newport, Rhode Island, goes along pretty much as usual – until the day a new philosophy Professor starts. His reputation arrives before he does – he’s a brilliant thinker, but a womaniser and an alcoholic. He’s Abe Lucas (played by Joaquin Phoenix). His arrival is much heralded, but the reality is a little different. In class, Abe is as expected – a reliable, fascinating teacher. But in his personal life, he’s jaded, burnt out, negative, drinking too much and seeking something more. A fellow professor, Rita Richards (by Parker Posey) is fascinated by him and doesn’t hide the fact she’s attracted to him, but this washes over him. However, his student, Jill Pollard (by Emma Stone) sparks his interest. She’s smart and unknowingly beautiful – a relationship starts and Jill quickly gets serious about it, but Abe is not committed. One day they are out having coffee when they overhear a conversation in the diner. Abe is captivated and suddenly decides this is a sign, it’s why he was put on the planet in the first place – he must take some action. But what he’s set on doing, whilst straightforward and obvious to him, will change the course of many people’s lives …

This movie promises much, but leaves me a little cold. As usual with Woody Allen movies, you never quite know what you’re going to get – sometimes they are delightfully entertaining, other times they’re a bit drab and uninspiring. This is one of the latter types, but I’m not sure why – the plot has interesting points and both Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone are good, but that’s it. Parker Posey’s role is underdone and I get the feeling nobody is really trying too hard in this movie. Wait for this to come on television – and then only if you’ve got nothing better to do.

Made in 2015. Directed by Woody Allen

 

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Posted by on May 29, 2016 in Movies

 

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Suffragette

At the turn of the twentieth century, many women in England are frustrated at being constantly “invisible” or identified as only “his daughter …” or “his wife …” They see that their lives can be different – particularly if they’re allowed to vote – and many feel strongly enough to take action against the “establishment”. Maud Watts (played by Carey Mulligan) is one such woman. She’s been to the same workhouse every day since she was a child at her mother’s skirts. At thirteen, she started working there herself and she’s put up with constant sexual harassment by her cruel boss ever since. Women learn to “keep quiet and stay in their place”. Emmeline Pankhurst (by Meryl Streep), emerges as a leader of this ripple of discontent as women across the country start to publicly protest so the government will take notice of them. The “women’s suffrage” movement grows – women take part in secret, while men view the whole thing with disdain. Along with others from the area, Maud becomes a disciple of the women’s movement. She faces police brutality when she’s jailed and shame from her husband Sonny, (by Ben Whishaw) as he disowns her for taking a stand – isolating her from her son George (by Adam Michael Dodd). But she strongly believes in her quest for equality and “votes for women”. This story is based on true events during the early days of the feminist movement in England and demonstrates the lengths some women are prepared to go for the cause …

This is an effective and moving drama. As Maud, Carey Mulligan portrays the emotions and challenges of women’s lives during these turbulent times. She cares deeply for her son but the demand for women’s rights cuts deep too, so she struggles with her conflicting emotions and instincts. The hardship of their lives is clear and the ignorant hatred many (including women) in the community have for the suffragettes is palpable. The movie features several strong and entertaining performances – it’s great to see Helena Bonham Carter in the key role of Edith Ellyn. A particularly influential character at the time, she is very well supported here by her husband Hugh (by Finbar Lynch). The story features all the aspects of a good drama – high emotion, deep principles, poverty, hunger strikes, secrets, violence, sexual tension and political intrigue – all told well in a very watchable movie. It reaches its climax when the Suffragettes plan to take non-violent action at a race meeting. Here, the real life drama of 1913 plays out – when 40 year old Emily Davison (by Natalie Press) is tragically and inexplicably struck down by the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby. The movie has won several awards for best actor, supporting actors and characterisations.

Made in 2015. Directed by Sarah Gavron.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2016 in Movies

 

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The Dressmaker

Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage (played by Kate Winslet) is a slave to glamour. She’s besotted with expensive fabrics and stylish textiles and her haute couture creations have established her as a big name in the society design salons of Paris. But now, with her sewing machine under her arm, she’s come back to her small home town in rural Australia. Her memories have drawn her back as there are things she must put right. She trudges up the dirt track to her childhood home and finds her mother, Molly (by Judy Davis), dishevelled, down on her luck and in poor health. The house itself is in a sorry state of repair too. But the town hasn’t changed – the residents are all just as eccentric, judgmental and hypocritical as they always were. With long memories and holding their grudges forever, these people just never change. But they all have secrets too – and Tilly’s determined to right the wrongs of the past one way or another. One by one, she reconnects with her ex-neighbours – the effeminate Sergeant Farrat (by Hugo Weaving), the storekeepers – Alvin Pratt (by Shane Jacobson) and his wife Muriel (by Rebecca Gibney), their daughter Gertrude (by Sarah Snook) and the town simpleton – Barney McSwiney (by Gyton Grantley). The people do their best to go about their daily drudgery, but Tilly’s created a literally “colourful” distraction and it’s hard to ignore her. When she is courted by Barney’s brother, Teddy McSwiney (by Liam Hemsworth), Tilly is taken by surprise when she discovers feelings she thought were long buried beneath her guilt and shame. What was once a town scandal is slowly starting to unravel and the truth is coming out, once and for all, with all the people who told all the lies being found out along the way …

This is a delightful and entertaining movie. It’s a gentle comedy that offers several wonderful cameo performances by people who’ve been in much higher bankrolled films than this. Every character is unique and portrayed wonderfully by a member of the very strong ensemble cast – it’s full of surprises. Several notables are almost unrecognisable in these roles and they don’t seem to care – as Tilly’s mother, Molly, Judy Davis is wrinkled and downright grouchy for most of the movie; Gyton Grantley is endearing and heart-warming as Barney; Hugo Weaving plays the cross-dressing policeman to perfection and Shane Jacobsen’s absolutely made to play Alvin Pratt. I can’t go past the total eye-candy Liam Hemsworth provides either … just saying. There’s so many great performances amongst the cast it’s really unfair to pick out only a few. It’s a bit like “Under Milkwood” where the town boasts so many fascinating characters, each with a curious story in their own right. You will no doubt enjoy the Pettymans – Evan (by Shane Bourne) and Marigold (by Alison Whyte), along with the wonderful characters presented by Barry Otto, Sarah Snook, Julia Blake and Kerry Fox. It is based on the best-selling novel by Rosalie Ham , “The Dressmaker”. Rightly so, during the 2015-16 award season the movie has been recognised by the Australian Film Critics Association with a People’s Choice Award for Favourite Australian Film and gives individual awards for best Actress (Kate Winslet), Supporting Actor (Hugo Weaving), Supporting Actress (Judy Davis) and Screenplay (Jocelyn Moorhouse and PJ Hogan); the Australian Film Institute gives best Lead Actress (Kate Winslet), Supporting Actress (Judy Davis) Supporting Actor (Hugo Weaving) and Costume Design (Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson). The Australian Screen Sound Guild recognises it for best achievement in Sound Mixing and the Film Critics Circle of Australia awards Judy Davis with Best Actress – Supporting Role; along with Kate Winslet for Best Actress. Just enjoy it.

Made in 2015. Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse

 

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2016 in Movies

 

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Serena

It’s 1929, and George Pemberton (played by Bradley Cooper) is ambitious, but he’s a risk taker in business – he’ll do anything for money. He sets his sights on making a fortune and invests in plantations and saw-milling. He invests his mounting wealth in a venture in South America. His plan is firmly on track until the day his world turns upside down … he’s in Boston when he meets Serena (by Jennifer Lawrence). She is like no other woman he’s ever seen – beautiful, charming, impeccably stylish and aptly named … she is truly serene. They are instantly attracted, so the pair quickly marry and head back to his plantation in the mountains of North Carolina. Serena has sawmilling in her blood, her father ran his own lumber company and she knows how things are done – they both dream of building a logging empire. But they both have history too – George is no sooner back in town than he discovers he’s fathered a son with another woman in town. Although he never says so, Serena can sense it and it’s a growing irritation for her. She puts it aside and follows her ambition, quickly becoming a powerful leader of the logging crews – female notwithstanding, she’s good and the men come to respect her. Try as they might, the couple can’t seem to have their own child and this is a growing problem between them. It turns their blissful insular world into a crazy, unpredictable nightmare. Can they get things back together, or will it run totally off the rails …..?

This movie starts very strongly. As George Pemberton, Bradley Cooper is well cast – he’s moody, intense and deliberate in his movements and demeanour. He does this well. As Serena, Jennifer Lawrence is like I have never seen her before. She’s totally luminous – she shines out of every scene and she is styled marvellously. Even though her hair and clothes are totally misplaced in the timber settlement, this doesn’t seem wrong as her character is just to enigmatic. However, as the movie progresses her strong character slowly dishevels into almost a circus freak, which is disappointing. However, there are several strong other roles in this that are worth seeing – Rhys Iffans is marvellous as the brooding and frightening Galloway. Also, Toby Jones makes a great Sheriff McDowell. The movie is fine to pass the time – but it doesn’t maintain its intensity and momentum to the end unfortunately.

Made in 2014. Directed by Susanne Bier.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2016 in Movies

 

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Bridge of Spies

It’s James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) is an unassuming insurance lawyer with a settled life, great family and nice home. One day he’s going about his normal business negotiating insurance claims when his boss Thomas Watters Jr (by Alan Alda) calls him into his office and offers him an opportunity that’s impossible to refuse. He was once successful in negotiating a great outcome that involved high level political stakeholders – now the US Government wants him to do it again. He’s recruited by the CIA as a defence lawyer to represent Rudolf Abel (by Mark Rylance) – a suspected Soviet Agent charged with spying and sharing US secrets with his own government. Abel is the most pleasant and calm of men, who looks like he wouldn’t hurt a fly – far less work as a Soviet spy. Donovan provides his defence and in the face of political influence he gives him a fair representation, true to his own morals and ethics. During the hearings, he realises there may be more at stake here than first appears so he appeals to the CIA. Then when US pilot Francis Gary Powers is arrested alive in the Soviet Union after his plane is shot down during a mission, things get far more intense with much higher stakes. This is the story of James B. Donovan’s involvement in the negotiation in an attempt to secure the safe release of Powers.

This movie promises much and the performances are good – as James B. Donovan, Tom Hanks is as strong as ever and Mark Rylance puts in a remarkable performance as Rudolf Abel.  He really deserves the awards he received for this effort from the various film critics’ societies of Boston, Indiewire, London, US National, New York, Phoenix, Toronto and Vancouver. It’s good to see Alan Alda here too, he does well. But, for me it somehow fails to deliver in full. I know it’s a true story – and it’s a good story – but the suspense is not there for me. Having said that though, I did find it a good movie to watch all the same. I may be on my own in that regard as not only has Mark Rylance been universally praised, but the movie itself has been nominated for several Academy Awards (Oscars) and has already received “Movie of the Year” awards from the AFI and the National Board of Review. The Boston Online Film Critics Association gave it 7th place in of the “Ten Best Films of the Year” and director Steven Spielberg won the Heartland Film Truly Moving Picture Award. Cinematography, Sound and Images have also been awarded by the Hollywood Film Awards and the Women Film Critics Circle Awards. So it might be just me …

Made in 2015.  Directed by Steven Spielberg.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2016 in Movies

 

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Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent (played by Pierre Niney) grows up in Algeria and loves to design dresses for his mother, Lucienne (by Marianne Basler) and his two young sisters Michèle and Brigitte. At 18 years old, he moves to Paris to study fashion and quickly gets the attention of the Parisien Haute Couture set. He is instantly hired by Christian Dior. Slowly, his sketches and designs are adopted into the collections and when Dior dies prematurely, at only 21 Yves becomes his successor. His first solo collection achieves rave reviews and to ease media angst he shortens his name to Yves Saint Laurent. He struggles through the next few years, then he and his partner, Pierre Bergé (by Guillaume Gallienne) form their own fashion house – YSL. His label and “look” grow in popularity and many celebrities become his clients. Yves Saint Laurent’s heady lifestyle as one of the Paris jet set involves heavy drinking and cocaine. He continues to sketch and design, living in both Morocco and France. He holds fashion shows but struggles with his health and addictions, so if often distant from the day to day arrangements – relying on Pierre to keep the business operating. By the 2000’s the pair have established a steady routine, but he develops brain cancer and dies in June 2008 in Paris. Soon after, heartbroken Pierre undertakes an auction of their extensive collection of art and treasures.

This is a beautifully made movie and the performances by both Pierre Niney and Guillaume Gallienne are wonderful. As Yves Saint Laurent, Niney is captivating, strikingly like YSL in appearance, with a totally authentic portrayal of him. The relationship between these men is turbulent, at times violent but always passionate. It’s a very well told, fascinating story. For this work, Pierre Niney was awarded the César Best Actor (Meilleur acteur) at the 2015 France César Awards. Well done.

Made in 2014. Directed by Jalil Lespert

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in Movies

 

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Black Mass

If there’s anything young Bostonians learn, it’s that “mates stick together, no matter what …”.  It’s no different for John Connolly (played by Joel Edgerton) and James “Whitey” Bulger (by Johnny Depp) who grow up together on the streets of South Boston. They stay in touch, but their paths go separate ways. Years later, in the late 1970s, Connolly and “Whitey” meet again as adults. Connolly’s already made a name for himself in the FBI – and Whitey’s become a notorious Irish Mobster across South Boston. When the Italian Mob start to gain power in the area, Whitey and Connolly do everything they can to fight back and retain the turf. They form a strong alliance and resist the Italian Mob. Their loyalty knows no bounds – it’s stronger than geographic and legal limits and involves them in a downward spiral of crime, murder, drugs and power. Connolly navigates the fine line between keeping his career intact and living with his long-held loyalty, while Bulger’s double-life gets complex – at home he’s a calm and caring family man while at work his activities get more and more violent, eventually landing him on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list.

This is your run-of-the-mill “notorious gangster versus FBI” movie – but with two key features … first, Whitey Bulger is played by a totally unrecognisable Johnny Depp – it’s remarkable and you’d never really know it’s Depp. There’s something weirdly artificial about his performance too – it’s not the makeup, it’s about his behaviour, he’s often like a cold, clinical robot. Second, this frightening story is true – the guy brutally and violently operated in South Boston for decades. Joel Edgerton’s performance is very strong – he really deserves the Hollywood Film Award for Breakthrough Actor and the Virtuoso Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2016. The movie also received the Hollywood Film Editor of the Year Award. Johnny Depps’ portrayal of Bulger is magnificent. He’s totally believable and thoroughly deserves the Palm Springs International Film Festival Palm Achievement Award and the People’s Choice Award for Favourite Dramatic Movie Actor – also much more. Benedict Cumberbatch’s role as Billy Bulger, Whitey’s brother, doesn’t add a whole lot to it.  As a story, it’s just average – but the performances are great.

Made in 2015. Directed by Scott Cooper.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2016 in Movies

 

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