Dramas exploring the nature of death and the true meaning of life are always in danger of tipping over into extreme sentimentality, and this one very quickly gets bogged down in buckets of syrup. It's a slickly made movie with a first-rate cast, but occasional glimpses of gritty honesty aren't quite enough to counteract sudsy philosophising that sounds profound but is actually rather shallow.
It's set in New York, where advertising company owner Howard (Will Smith) is still lost in grief six months after the death of his 6-year-old daughter. And his business partners are worried that the company is falling apart as a result. In desperation, best pal Whit (Edward Norton), protege Claire (Kate Winslet) and rising-star Simon (Michael Pena) hire a private detective (Ann Dowd) to determine Howard's mental fitness to run the company. They also hire three actors to confront him as Love (Keira Knightley), Time (Jacob Latimore) and Death (Helen Mirren), abstract concepts he's obsessed with. But they don't know that Howard is also considering attending a grief counselling meeting run by Madeleine (Naomie Harris).
Directed with a magical sheen by David Frankel (Hope Springs) and written to within an inch of its life by Allan Loeb (The Switch), there's nothing about this film that doesn't feel contrived and controlled. In addition to their scenes with Howard, each of the three actors has an impact on the colleague who needs their specific gifts. And there are a number of revelations and twists that feel annoyingly hokey. Even so, the cast is strong enough to add moments of lightness that lift the movie briefly out of the sludge. Mirren, Knightley and Latimore have a sparky edge as the story's catalysts. While Norton, Winslet and Pena bring some raw, honest emotion to their own personal dramas.
Continue reading: Collateral Beauty Review
An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some very deep topics without flinching. It's essentially an impassioned plea to snap out of the way people in the West have been sleepwalking into consumerism and complacency. Viewers who believe that things are just fine will probably be troubled (or angered) by this movie, but those willing to think and have their beliefs challenged will find it entertaining and invigorating.
It opens in the American northwest, where Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is raising his six kids in the middle of a forest, teaching them to use their minds and bodies to think and survive. His wife is ill in hospital, and when she dies the kids insist on attending her funeral, even though her parents (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd) ask Ben not to come. So they pile into the family bus and head across country, stopping to visit Ben's sister and brother-in-law (Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn). This encounter and others along the road demonstrate just how far advanced Ben's children are, although they're not terribly well equipped to interact with general society. Eldest son Bodevan (George MacKay) has been accepted into all of the top universities, but hasn't a clue how to talk to a girl. And middle son Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) is beginning to question the Bohemian lifestyle.
This is a fascinating exploration of a group of children whose upbringing has given them razor-sharp minds, leading them to political beliefs that are far outside the mainstream. The unsubtle connection is that the majority of the public are manipulated by corporate interests that put money ahead of everything else. Actor-turned-filmmaker Matt Ross smartly explores this theme from every angle, which makes the film easy to engage with. And it helps that the driving force of the plot is the emotional desire to say goodbye to a wife and mother.
Continue reading: Captain Fantastic Review
Devoted father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) has been raising his six children in the forests of the Pacific NorthWest with his wife and teaches them the skills for a sustainable life off the grid.
However the death of Ben's wife forces the family to be thrust into the real world and not live on the outside anymore, they are forced to integrate and learn new skills that make them 'fit in' with everyone else. This comes as a challenge for Ben as he quickly becomes under threat for his parenting skills and he finds himself questioning all that he has ever known. This film sees a family pulling together through a hard stage in their life and provides heart- warming entertainment.
Captain Fantastic offers a unique look in to the lives of a family that have been cut off from the world and their different approach to living.
Jane 'Calamity' Bodine makes the brave move to come out of retirement as a top political consultant, despite having been responsible for one of the most catastrophic campaigns in history. It's time to put the past behind her and learn from her mistakes, by tackling her latest cause; a presidential candidate in Bolivia is desperate to win the 2002 election, but currently remains unpopular with the people of the country who are suffering in the delicate political and economic state. It's Bodine's job, along with the rest of an American strategist team, to help boost his numbers, but unfortunately for her the opposition has selected an all too familiar team to help them led by Bodine's long-time rival Pat Candy. Determined to finally beat him in the political stakes, she has her team spy on the other candidate's campaign and exploits the struggles of the people to give her client an emotional advantage. However, Bodine's soon made to realise that her attitude towards the job is seriously affecting her compassion for the people who are genuinely suffering, and she can't stay detached for long.
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Bill Murray shines in this story of a cynical grump whose life is changed by his friendship with a bright young kid. Writer-director Theodore Melfi makes an assured debut with this hilariously astute, emotional punchy drama, which may sometimes feel a bit over-planned but gives the audience plenty to think about. And along with Murray, the film has especially strong roles for Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and promising newcomer Jaeden Lieberher.
It's set in a New York suburb, where the neighbourhood grouch Vincent (Murray) is already having a bad day when he discovers meets the perky family next door: Maggie (McCarthy) and her curious son Oliver (Lieberher). She has just fled from her unfaithful husband (Scott Adsit) and is working extra hours to make ends meet, so she reluctantly agrees to let Oliver stay at Vincent's house after school. Intriguingly, Oliver is one of the few people Vincent can bear to be around, aside from the pregnant Russian stripper Daka (Watts) and his lively cat Felix. And Oliver is like a sponge, happily soaking up Vincent's knowledge about things like swearing, fighting and betting on the horses. Oliver has no real idea that all of this makes Vincent a seriously unsuitable role model.
Yes, the central point is that good people are sometimes hard to spot. Vincent may smoke, swear, gamble and hang out with hookers, but he also has a deep soul that Oliver witnesses in the way he takes care of Daka, or how he regularly visits his wife in a nursing home even though she has long forgotten who he is. Melfi makes the most of this perspective, seeing everything through the eyes of perceptive young actor Lieberher. And Murray shines in a role that adds clever shadings to the actor's usual on-screen bluster. The interaction between Oliver and Vincent snaps with personality, and sharp roles for McCarthy and Watts offer meaningful wrinkles, as do other side characters such as Chris O'Dowd's schoolteacher.
Continue reading: St. Vincent Review
A slow-burning intensity sets this crime thriller apart from the crowd, directed by Belgian filmmaker Michael Roskam with a sharp focus on flawed characters who continually surprise each other. It's also a strikingly involving screenplay by Dennis Lehane, an author known for flashier thrillers like Mystic River and Shutter Island (this is his first film script, based on his short story Animal Rescue). All of this pays off with terrific performances from an excellent cast and situations that genuinely shake up the audience, even if it remains moody and subdued right to the end.
It's set in Brooklyn, where bars take turns acting as the mafia drop point for the day's takings. And after Cousin Marv's Bar is robbed on a non-drop day, Chechen gangster Chovka (Michael Aronov) is furious. Even though he has assumed ownership of the bar from Marv (James Gandolfini), Chovka orders him to get the $5,000 back, implying that Marv knows the thieves. So Marv turns to his mild-mannered barman Bob (Tom Hardy) for help. Bob knows how to keep his head down, and as he works on finding the cash, he discovers an abused puppy abandoned in a trash can outside the home of Nadia (Noomi Rapace), who helps him nurse the dog back to health. But the puppy - and Nadia - were both cast aside by the thuggish Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts), who doesn't want to let anything go.
Viewers expecting an action-packed crime thriller might be disappointed by the muted tone of this film, but it's the kind of story that worms its way under the skin, creating complex characters who are constantly revealing new details about themselves as the situation inexorably escalates around them. Hardy is simply superb, layering all kinds of emotions into Bob's actions as he struggles to maintain his composure while everyone around him does something inexplicable. As a result, the film's final act is a sequence of heart-stopping moments that make the most of the witty, nervy and darkly gritty scenes that went before.
Continue reading: The Drop Review
Former Disney star Vanessa Hudgens went 'chameleon' for her upcoming movie.
Vanessa Hudgens makes a drastic transformation as she chops her locks and piles on the pounds for upcoming teen drama Gimme Shelter.
Vanessa cut her hair to play Apple
The 25-year-old 'High School Musical' star is set to truly establish herself as a serious, grown-up actress by ironically playing a 16-year-old girl. Apple is a poverty stricken young woman struggling to cope with her life having been in and out of foster homes due to neglect from her drug-addicted mother (played by Rosario Dawson). After seeking out her rich, estranged father and his family, she tries to make a life with him, but she's less than welcome when she discovers that she's pregnant and thus finds her way to a refuge specifically for pregnant teenage girls.
Apple is a tenacious 16-years-old who's been in and out of foster care since the age of eight, after her mother, a junkie prostitute, was arrested for a drug-related crime. Consistently abusive, her mother has tried her best to turn Apple into what she wants her to become, but Apple runs away determined to lead a better life. With no money and barely any possessions, she decides to track down her father who she has never before met and ask him to take care of her until she can do so herself. As it turns out, he is now a huge persona in the financial world, with millions of dollars to his name. Initially reluctant, he agrees to take her in, but when she learns that she has become pregnant after a brief tryst with a boy, it's clear that she's not welcome anymore. Seeking comfort elsewhere, will she finally find the family she's been wishing for?
Continue: Gimme Shelter Trailer
If a movie's success is measured by its ability to get under our skin and provoke a reaction, then this might be the film of the year. Designed to make us furious, this drama pushes us to the brink as we shout at the characters for being so naive. But the events depicted are based on actual experiences, and the more we think about this, the more unnerving it becomes. It might be impossible to believe that anyone could be this stupid, but can we really be sure we'd make better decisions?
Award-winning actress Ann Dowd (who also played Channing Tatum's mum in Side Effects) stars as Sandra, manager of a ChickWich fast-food outlet in Ohio. She has the usual issues with her young employees, who think she's out of touch, but is happy because she expects her boyfriend Van (Camp) to propose tonight. Then she gets a phone call from Officer Daniels (Healy) telling her that her young employee Becky (Walker) has stolen cash from a customer. He asks Sandra to detain Becky in the office and search her belongings. Sandra makes sure the assistant manager (Atkinson) is present, but she becomes more hesitant about Daniels' more extreme demands. And over the next few hours, he pushes things much further, getting Becky's young colleague Kevin (Ettinger) involved, as well as Van.
Writer-director Zobel structures the film perfectly to strike a nerve. As outsiders we are naturally more suspicious, wondering how Sandra knows that the man on the phone is actually a cop, especially when be begins to bully her with threats. She just wants to do the right thing, and questions all of Daniels' requests, but for us looking in we can't help but think that what he's saying is so preposterous that she needs to just put a stop to it. Cleverly, each character has a very distinct reaction when they get on the phone with Daniels. But as the situation escalates into something unthinkable, we can't understand why no one becomes a voice of reason.
Continue reading: Compliance Review
Thrillers don't get much more enjoyable than this one, which shifts cleverly from an issue-based drama to an intriguing mystery and finally into riotously camp mayhem. Over his career, Soderbergh has proven himself adept at all three approaches, and the way he and writer Burns morph from one to the other is so mercilessly entertaining that we can't help but smile. And the cast is having a great time playing along with them.
It starts as an expose of psychotropic drugs, as Emily (Mara) struggles with depression after her husband Martin (Tatum) is released following a four-year prison term for insider trading. Emily's therapist Dr Banks (Law) prescribes a series of anti-anxiety pills to help her, adjusting the medication until the side effects even out. But something still isn't right, and a fatal incident leads to a criminal trial. Meanwhile, Banks begins his own investigation into the case, consulting Emily's previous therapist (Zeta-Jones). But the fallout from all of this is threatening both his career and his marriage to Dierdre (Shaw).
Soderbergh gives the film a seductive tone that's irresistible, with his own gleaming cinematography and witty editing, plus a teasing Thomas Newman score. This allows the actors to create layered characters who can constantly surprise us along the way. Law holds our sympathies as a desperate man trying against all odds to get his life back, while Zeta-Jones is icy and dismissive until her character takes a lively turn about halfway in. But it's Mara who's the real revelation in a tricky role. As Emily's world seems to shift and collapse around her, she reveals an astonishing array of emotions and intentions.
Continue reading: Side Effects Review
Ann Dowd Thursday 2nd October 2008 Opening Night afterparty of 'The Seagull' held at Sardi's Restaurant New York City, USA
Dramas exploring the nature of death and the true meaning of life are always in...
An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some...
Devoted father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) has been raising his six children in the forests of...
Jane 'Calamity' Bodine makes the brave move to come out of retirement as a top...
Bill Murray shines in this story of a cynical grump whose life is changed by...
A slow-burning intensity sets this crime thriller apart from the crowd, directed by Belgian filmmaker...
Apple is a tenacious 16-years-old who's been in and out of foster care since the...
If a movie's success is measured by its ability to get under our skin and...
Thrillers don't get much more enjoyable than this one, which shifts cleverly from an issue-based...