Director Tom Hooper deploys the same style he used in The King's Speech for this much darker story about the first man to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. It's an odd mix of rather too-pretty visuals with an edgy series of events that perhaps demands a lot more raw honesty. But the story is fascinating, and the cast is excellent, delivering astute, introspective performances that reveal the much earthier narrative under the lovely surface.
It opens in 1926 Copenhagen, where husband and wife painters Einar and Gerda Wegener (Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander) are hoping to start a family as they develop their careers. One day, Gerda talks Einar into putting on a dress to pose for one of her paintings, and the experience triggers long-suppressed yearnings from his childhood. Gerda and their friend Ulla (Amber Heard) encourage him to attend a party in drag, and Lili Elbe is born, Einar's female alter ego who immediately attracts the attention of a lovelorn man (Ben Whishaw). After they move to Paris, they find another friend in Gerda's agent Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), who was Einar's childhood pal. But while the French doctors think Einar is simply crazy, Gerda sticks by him as he decides to undergo a radical experimental surgery offered by a doctor (Sebastian Koch) in Germany.
Hooper's usual directorial flourishes include off-centre compositions, painterly sets and emotive close-ups, which bring out the internal struggles of the characters in beautiful ways. But this also has a tendency to simplify a story that is seriously complex. By emphasising the social conflicts and relational melodrama, the entire movie begins to feel rather thin, never quite grappling with the more provocative or disturbing aspects of the issues at hand. There are hints of what might have given the film an edgier kick, such as a moment of Hitchcockian obsession or the shifting of power between the male and female characters.
Continue reading: The Danish Girl Review
A whooshing pace and snappy dialogue help bring this true story to life, tracing the triumphant and scandalous career of cyclist Lance Armstrong. And the energetic approach helps bring out several layers in Armstrong's perspective, exploring why a top sportsman would cheat to win. It also features a steely performance from Ben Foster that captures Armstrong's physicality and personality, but not in the usual ways.
When he was 25, Armstrong (Foster) was already a star, but his career was cut short in 1996 by advanced testicular cancer. After recovering, he retrained himself as a long-distance cyclist and launched a global cancer charity, then went on to win seven Tour de France titles. His friend, Irish journalist David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd) noticed that his improvement was too good to be true, and continually challenged him to be honest about his work with controversial doctor Michele Ferari (Guillaume Canet). Armstrong defended his name in court, but years later the truth came out that throughout his career he had been systematically cheating with banned drugs and blood-cleansing processes. The truth came out in 2010, but he didn't admit the deception until an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2013.
Since this was so thoroughly reported in the media, and finely detailed in Alex Gibney's acclaimed documentary The Armstrong Lie, there aren't any surprises in this movie. And despite being based on Walsh's book Seven Deadly Sins, the film takes Armstrong's perspective, trying to get under his skin to reveal his motivation. John Hodge's screenplay is insightful, building some strong dramatic suspense along the way, and the film is sharply well-directed by Stephen Frears, a filmmaker better known for softer movies (like Philomena and The Queen). But he guides Foster to a strikingly physical performance that's sweaty and aggressive, and also darkly internalised. Stand-outs in the supporting cast include Jesse Plemons as a fellow cyclist haunted by his conscience and Denis Menochet as Armstrong's team manager.
Continue reading: The Program Review
With visually stunning imagery and a solid A-list cast, this film just about transcends its oddly uninvolving story. Based on true events, the scenes are harrowing and emotive, but spreading the story among an ensemble obscured by mountaineering gear and snowstorms makes it difficult to engage with anyone. And the plot-strands that do find emotional resonance feel like they've been manipulated.
In the early 1990s, companies began selling Everest expeditions to wealthy clients, and by the spring of 1996 there were 20 teams of climbers jostling for position on the slopes of the world's highest peak. Kiwi guide Rob (Jason Clarke) opts for a cautious approach with his team, which includes impatient Texan Beck (Josh Brolin), journalist Jon (Michael Kelly) and the nervous Doug (John Hawkes), who only just failed to reach the summit on his previous attempt. Rob's base camp manager Helen (Emily Watson) keeps everything running smoothly and, since the mountain is so overcrowded, Rob coordinates the climb with a rival guide (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his team. On the day of the final ascent, the skies are clear, but delays along the way and an approaching storm threaten the climbers.
Since the is a true story, it's clear from the start that some of these people won't make it home. And Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur lays on the emotion thickly, with an overly pushy-majestic score by Dario Marianelli and several sentimental phone calls home. Rob's wife is played by Keira Knightley, and you can almost hear the ominous chord when she reveals that she's pregnant. A bit subtler is Beck's interaction with his wife, played with insinuating bitterness by the always terrific Robin Wright. Meanwhile, Clarke's sensitive leader and Brolin's bullheaded alpha male contrast nicely with Gyllenhaal's cool dude, while Sam Worthington is almost lost in the shuffle as a friend who's climbing a neighbouring peak.
Continue reading: Everest Review
Written and directed with a rakish swagger, and featuring two full-on performances from Tom Hardy, this true London gangster drama is hugely entertaining, even if it feels undercooked. Aside from that generic title, the film basically has no plot at all, and it strips real-life people of their complexity. It's as if the filmmakers were afraid to challenge the audience in any way. But the edgy mix of comedy and violence is riveting.
The events recounted took place over about two years in the early 1960s, although the film's anecdotal structure makes it feel more like a decade. As it begins, the fearsome young Kray brothers (both played by Tom Hardy) are consolidating their gangland grip on East London and expanding around the city, with their next target being South London boss Charlie Richardson (Paul Bettany). Reggie Kray is the tough-minded businessman, while identical twin Ronnie is a terrifying thug who happens to be openly gay at a time when being so was illegal. As they blatantly manipulate the rule of law, a Scotland Yard inspector (Christopher Ecclestone) is desperately looking for a way to take them down. Meanwhile, Reggie is romancing the 16-year-old Frances (Emily Browning), much to the annoyance of her imperious mother (Tara Fitzgerald).
The tumultuous relationship between Reggie and Frances is the only thing that adds a sense of narrative momentum to the film. Otherwise, it's a series of set-pieces that take a darkly humorous approach to family clashes and criminal violence. Writer-director Brian Helgeland infuses even the grisliest brutality with an amusing smirk, which makes the movie much more engaging than expected. And Hardy storms through the film with real charisma in both roles, as the steely, magnetic Reggie and the more unstable, fearsome Ronnie. Both performances are scene-stealing, nicely conveying how these men managed to hold the entire city in their grip, even though they were only in their early 30s at the time.
Continue reading: Legend Review
Basically the perfect summer movie, this lightweight drama has a great-looking cast and plenty of youthful energy, but not much authenticity or depth. The plot traces a young aspiring DJ trying to make his mark on the music world, and his struggle isn't exactly gruelling. But what the movie lacks in realism it makes up for in melodrama, keeping the audience involved simply because the characters are relatively enjoyable company.
Zac Efron plays Cole, a smart young guy who spends his days and nights hanging with his chucklehead pals Mason, Ollie and Squirrel (Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez and Alex Shaffer), playing music, doing drugs and tormenting the girls. But Cole has skills mixing tracks to keep a dance floor busy, and one night he's noticed by his idol James (Wes Bentley), a star DJ with a hot girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski). James helps Cole discover his own distinct voice, while Cole can't help but fall for Sophie. Meanwhile, Cole and his buddies need to make some cash, so they take a job with a dodgy property developer (Jon Bernthal). But Cole is determined that this kind of work won't be his future.
Director-cowriter Max Joseph never really bothers to develop any of this properly, letting the film glide along on Cole's cool beats while indulging in arty touches like an animated drug trip. There isn't much complexity to any of the characters, but the actors add interest in the way they interact, developing camaraderie that says a lot more than their relentless macho swagger. Efron is the only actor who is allowed to offer a glimpse beneath the surface, and he navigates Cole's darker emotional moments nicely. But the script continually undermines him. For example, there are constant references to his strong moral code, and yet he seems utterly unbothered about seducing his mentor's girlfriend. Opposite him, Bentley gets to do some ace scene-stealing, but everyone else fades into the wallpaper.
Continue reading: We Are Your Friends Review
With elements of political corruption and life-threatening prejudice, this film has a rather much darker premise than the youthful Slumdog Millionaire adventure it seems to be. While much of the movie revels in teen camaraderie and finding happiness amid poverty, the plot itself is actually rather dark, intense and violent. All of this kind of muddies any message the story might be trying to carry, but it definitely holds the interest, with lively central characters and an intriguing core mystery.
It's set primarily in the Rio dump, where 14-year-old Rafael (Rickson Tevez) sifts through rubbish looking for treasures. One day he finds an ordinary wallet and splits the cash inside with his pal Gardo (Eduardo Luis). But other contents hint at something much bigger. And that's confirmed when the police swoop in demanding answers. Top detective Federico (Selton Mello) is so intent on finding the wallet that Rafael and Gardo go into hiding, teaming up outcast teen Rato (Gabriel Weinstein) to solve the mystery themselves. But the cops are too brutal to be messing with, and they're right on the boys' trail. The only adults around to help are Father Juilliard (Martin Sheen) and charity worker Olivia (Rooney Mara). And they know better than to cross the police.
Yes, this is a story set in a world of deeply corrupt cops and even more perverse politicians. In flashback, the film also traces the story of the wallet's owner Jose Angelo (Wagner Moura) and his clash with a dirty politician. Director Daldry and writer Curtis struggle to balance the crowd-pleasing aspects of the film with the seriously nasty realities of how people rampantly exploit the poor in Brazil (and everywhere, obviously). The movie wants to be a boys' adventure romp, chasing clue after clue to piece together a much bigger mystery. But the truth of corruption and prejudice is much too big for such a breezy adventure.
Continue reading: Trash Review
An unusual point of view prevents this from ever turning into the standard biopic, but it's Eddie Redmayne's staggeringly committed performance as Stephen Hawking that makes the film unmissable. Based on the book by Stephen's wife Jane Hawking, the film uses her perspective to recount the events with their relationship firmly at the centre, which adds a personal angle the audience can engage with. This diverts the attention from Hawking's scientific breakthroughs, but makes the film both energetic and emotionally riveting.
It opens in 1963 when Stephen (Redmayne) is a rising-star at Cambridge, already a genius who thinks far outside the box. But he also has a sharp sense of humour, which makes it easy to see what Jane (Felicity Jones) sees in this brainy black-hole-obsessed geek. Then just as their relationship begins to get serious, he is diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given two years to live. Instead of giving up, Jane marries him and has three kids as Stephen defies the doctor's prognosis. As his physical condition deteriorates, they get help from two people who become unexpectedly close: widowed choir director Jonathan (Charlie Cox) and medical assistant Elaine (Maxine Peake). And even as their marriage comes apart under the pressure, Jane and Stephen remain deeply connected to each other.
Anthony McCarten's script cleverly lets big ideas swirl around each scene without swamping the more human story. The central factor in Stephen and Jane's interaction centres on faith: his in science, hers in God. Stephen continues to seek a theory that will scientifically explain the nature of existence, while Jane catches him out when he takes a leap of faith himself. And the film lets all of this play out through their interaction with a variety of terrific side characters, including Stephen's tutor (David Thewlis), his colleagues (Harry Lloyd and Enzo Cilenti), his father (Simon McBurney) and Jane's mother (Emily Watson). Each performance is packed with telling nuance, while Jones gives the film a textured heart and soul.
Continue reading: The Theory Of Everything Review
This sun-drenched thriller is much more than a pretty picture: it's also a slow-burning story about moral compromises that worms its way under the skin. Based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, there are clear parallels to The Talented Mr. Ripley as three characters circle around each other and all kinds of Hitchcockian subtext gurgles around them.
Set in 1962, the plot opens with Chester and Colette (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) on a romantic holiday in Athens, where they meet slightly too-helpful American tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac). He's already wooing one rich young tourist (Daisy Bevan) and soon locks eyes on Colette. But it's Chester he becomes entangled with, when a private eye (David Warshofsky) turns up trying to reclaim cash Chester stole from a client. So Rydal helps Chester and Colette flee to Crete and, while they wait for a plan to develop, Chester becomes convinced that Rydal and Colette are having an affair.
Writer-director Hossein Amini has already proven himself as a skilled writer of innuendo-filled dialogue (see Drive or The Wings of the Dove), and here he shows a remarkable eye for setting. It helps to have ace cinematographer Marcel Zyskind and composer Alberto Iglesias adding their considerable skills to the mix. The film looks utterly gorgeous, providing plenty of glaring sunlight and murky shadows in which Mortensen, Dunst and Isaac can bring their characters to vivid life. Every scene bursts with suggestiveness, as the inter-relationships between these three people shift unnervingly.
Continue reading: The Two Faces Of January Review
Exhilarating racing action punctuates this true story, which sharply traces the rivalry between two Formula One champs. It's superbly well-shot and edited, with engaging performances from the entire cast. And with only one moment of calculated sentimentality, it's director Ron Howard's most honest movie in years.
The story begins in the early 1970s, when two rising-star F1 drivers clash over their very different styles. Britain's James Hunt (Hemsworth) is a swaggering womaniser, revelling in the rock-star lifestyle. By contrast, Austria's Niki Lauda (Bruhl) is a fiercely detailed technician who loves pushing barriers. They clearly see things they like in each other, so their different approaches on the track develop into a competitive relationship that spurs them to the front of the pack. Over the years, both meet their wives (Wilde and Lara, respectively) and move from team to team as they rise to the top of their sport. And their rivalry comes to a head at the 1976 German Grand Prix when world champion Lauda is involved in a horrific, fiery accident.
Morgan's script is essentially two biopics cleverly woven together to let us see the push and pull between these two iconic figures. Unexpectedly, Bruhl's Lauda emerges as the stronger character, with his grounded approach and sardonic wit allowing Bruhl to play effectively with submerged emotions. By contrast, Hemsworth's Hunt is little more than a gifted good-time boy who isn't worried about his lack of substance. It's a likeable, loose performance (we barely notice the wobbly British accent). Opposite them Lara and Wilde provide solid, subtle support, as do the fine actors who fill out the pit crews.
Continue reading: Rush Review
After Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Pegg and Wright conclude their so-called Cornetto Trilogy with yet another riotously inspired exploration of British culture: the pub crawl. And this time it's apocalyptic! But what makes the film thoroughly endearing is its focus on old friendships that are so well-played that we can't help but find ourselves on-screen even when things get very, very silly.
Pegg plays Gary, the ringleader of his band of school pals. It's been more than 20 years since their failed attempt to visit all 12 pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven. Now approaching 40, Gary hasn't grown up nearly as much as his friends, so it takes a bit of convincing to get the now-settled Andy, Ollie, Pete and Steve (Frost, Freeman, Marsan and Considine) to reunite for a renewed attempt to drink their way through town. Then after the first couple of pints, they start to suspect that something isn't quite right. People are behaving strangely, as if there are alien body snatchers taking over the town. So to avoid attracting attention, the boys just carry on getting blind drunk on their way to the 12th pub, The World's End.
As in the previous films, Pegg and Wright continue developing the characters and their inter-relationships even as everything falls apart around them. Sure, the end of the humanity seems to be upon them, but there's unfinished business between them that needs sorting out, and besides there are more pints to drink. Along the way, things are spiced up as they meet Ollie's sister Sam (Pike), who shocks Gary by refusing to pick up where they left off. They also encounter a former teacher (Brosnan), the town's crazy old man (Bradley) and a shady guy known as The Reverend (Smiley).
Continue reading: The World's End Review
Tim Bevan, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Hugh Jackman, Tom Hopper, Russell Crowe and Eric Fellner - Tim Bevan, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Hugh Jackman, Tom Hopper, Russell Crowe, Eric Fellner Sydney, Australia The Australian premiere of 'Les Miserables' at the State Theatre - Arrivals Friday 21st December 2012
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