*NEW* CAPTAIN FANTASTIC REVIEW *NEW*

It really was fantastic.

In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father (Viggo Mortensen) devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.

I wasn’t sure from the bizarre opening sequence whether I was going to like the whole Bear Grylls/Swiss Family Robinson vibe to the piece BUT by the end, I was completely won over.

Endearing, entertaining and heartbreaking. A feel good family film in the most dysfunctional way possible. This might even rival Little Miss Sunshine.

I couldn’t believe that this was penned and directed by that creepy guy from Big Love.

Matt Ross delivers a heartwarming story that tackles grief, rites of passage and the woes of the modern society brilliantly.

The unorthodox upbringing may raise a few eyebrows but it almost worked. A strict regime of self defense, intellectual discussions and living off the land is something that I couldn’t even muster (Let alone the majority of the younger generation).

Their campfire Kumbaya may have been a little corny BUT it established a crazy but close-knit family unit hidden in a nirvana away from the real world. Or was it?

There was a quirky and easygoing feel to the piece and with all the crazy get up they were wearing, you could have mistaken it for a Wes Anderson flick!

No?

It wasn’t long before tragic news forced the family to emerge from their natural habitat. And this was where it won me over.

The cast were perfectly chosen. The only one that grated against me was Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton). As much as you could feel for the poor lad, his incessant screaming and temper tantrums really got on my wick.

George MacKay (Sunshine on Leith/Pride) was very good as the socially awkward Bo secretly applying for college behind his father’s back.

I loved all the contrasts and social commentary; “Why is everyone fat? Are they sick?” There were some witty one liners as Ben and co. couldn’t believe the obesity and mindless brainwashing from the merciless corporations on the masses.

“You would rather celebrate a magical fictitious elf over a living humanitarian who did so much for our human rights?”

I loved the comparison of parenting styles when Ben visited his sister’s family. Kathryn Hahn (Bad Moms) and Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyers Club) were brilliant. Not enough of them in my opinion.

It was hilarious when Ben showed off his children’s knowledge on The Bill of Rights while his sister’s kids were too busy with their heads in their phones or X-Boxes.

The journey was mad BUT entertaining as the family made out they were bible bashers just to evade a curious copper’s questions about the kids’ truancy.

I was startled at Ben educating his youngest on sex, rape and capitalism. Mental. Even crazier when he faked a seizure in a supermarket for OPERATION SAVE THE FOOD so the clan could fill their boots.

The last 30 minutes was where it really hit home when Ben decides to gatecrash his wife’s funeral despite his father-in-law’s wishes.

Virgo Mortensen deserved the Oscar nod. You could see beneath all that intellectual sparring that there was a tormented man struggling to deal with the loss of his wife. Unsure what to do.

Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) was superb as the angry father in law. Blaming Ben for taking his daughter and grandchildren away from him. Deluding them into believing this way of life was acceptable.

BUT as much as you were impressed by the kids’ education and survival instincts, they were completely lost when it came to social interaction and as the story progressed, you realised that they might not be as into the idea as their grief-stricken father.

Things reaching boiling point when Bo finally decides to talk about his college application as Ben begins to re-evaluate himself.

I should have known with Alex Somers orchestrating the score that Sigur Ros’ Jonsi would pop up in this. A wonderful soundtrack.

I was pleasantly surprised and even on second viewing, it still had me through the highs and lows. 

A heartfelt, engaging family drama that is worthy of your attention.

4/5 Just!

*NEW* LION REVIEW *NEW*

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Heartbreaking, if a little long at the tooth.

A five-year-old Indian boy (Sunny Pawar) gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

I was concerned that this film might stumble into Slumdog Millionaire territory, especially with Dev Patel at the helm. The opening established a similar premise; two brothers committing petty crimes to provide for their poverty stricken family.

However for the first hour, I was completely hooked. It was gruelling, gripping and shocking as Saroo travelled 1600km from home. Lost, confused and nowhere to go. You really felt for the little man. I didn’t realise that there were different dialects in India (Woe is me) with the Hindus struggling to understand Saroo’s Bengali.

Sunny Pawar delivered a stellar debut. I’m surprised he didn’t get a nod over Patel. Patel didn’t even appear until the hour marker!

It takes a lot for a child actor to catch your attention and make you empathise and root for them. Most of the time, kid actors just get on my nerves and overstay their welcome. Thankfully, Pawar did not fit into this category.

The film even raised awareness about the horrible living conditions that orphan children endure. Sleeping on the streets, raiding bins for scraps, fearing the police will arrest them or even worse that strangers will take them for their bidding. An unsettling encounter between Saroo and a ‘friendly’ man sent shivers.

I couldn’t believe the hypocrisy within the “adoption agency”. Beating children and forcing them to learn English. Lying to the poor boy, telling him that they couldn’t find his family. Devastating.

I was really invested in this amazing true story as Saroo moved to Australia. Nicole Kidman (The Hours) and David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings) were brilliant as his new adopted parents. Supporting him as he tried to make head or tail of the new situation.

A harrowing contrast was made when the Brierleys decided to adopt another child. Highlighting the true horrors of the agency as the psychologically scarred Mantosh failed to make the same transition as Saroo. Not every child as lucky to escape as you’d hope.

It was only when the film flicked forward 25 years later that the story lost momentum.

Award nominated turn? I wasn’t convinced BUT Patel still delivered a sterling turn.

It was nice to see Rooney Mara (Carol) play a normal role. I’m used to seeing her appear in some strange affairs. I felt she was a little underused. However, this wasn’t her story.

The pair had good chemistry and the film bumbled along at an easygoing pace as things seemed to be looking up for the fully grown Saroo. However, a relic from back home soon triggered old memories from his past. Ones he had forgotten.

The meandering middle act was my only niggle. It tested me.

You could empathise with Seru’s depression as he shut himself away from his friends and family. Living that guilt every day knowing his real brother and mother could still be looking for him.

The haunting nightmares, the visions of his brother’s face. BUT there was only so much Google Maps browsing and crazy dream sequences I could muster before I was screaming, “Get to India. Find them!”

I know he was trying to remember his village from repressed memories across a 1600 km landscape BUT the pace really was a killer.

I wanted more interaction with the family. There wasn’t enough Nicole Kidman for my liking. I loved the dynamic between Sue Brierley and Saroo over the years. That scene when she revealed the reasons for adopting him were heartbreaking. I wanted more of that closeness.

You really felt for her (and Mara’s character) as she tried to understand what Saroo was going through.

However, the ending was emotional and heart-rending as Saroo finally returned to India. The closing credits really hit home with real life footage.

The pace could have cut by a good 20 minutes BUT it was still a rewarding drama worth a watch.

3.5/5

*NEW* MANCHESTER BY THE SEA REVIEW *NEW*

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A wonderfully acted emotionally packed drama.

An uncle (Casey Affleck) is asked to take care of his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges) after the boy’s father (Kyle Chandler) dies.

It’s always a pleasure when a film can surpass your expectations and reward you with something so much more.

It was funny that I was complaining about the La La Land hype with this entry coming in a swift second on the overbearing hype train.

BUT I have to say, this was brilliant.

Casey Affleck has always played strange roles from introverted wackos to isolated loners. This role was perfect for him. He made the socially awkward Lee work a treat.

The slow burning style allowed the drama to unfold perfectly.

We followed Lee as he trundled along his humdrum lifestyle of a janitor at an apartment building. The mundane tasks, the strange tenants, the complaining and weird requests. A ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

The news of his brother’s passing triggering flashbacks. Flicking back and forth between the past and present as we got a better understanding of Lee and the reasons behind his fractious relationship with his nephew.

Baffled to be awarded guardianship after all that had happened. I hadn’t read anything about this film and the revelations with Lee’s past completely surprised me. Don’t worry, no spoilers here.

Lonergan has written a heartfelt story that dealt with grief on such levels. It was almost real.

The awkward exchanges as Lee had to deal with depressing funeral arrangements, idle chit chat and various reactions from people as they learnt of his brother’s passing. It couldn’t be more in tune.

It is a huge gamble to make a 2 and a half hour movie that relies solely on two leads. BUT I don’t think it would worked without Hedges and Affleck. They were brilliant.

The power of a performance that can deliver such emotion that you get caught up in it. There were several scenes that actually got to me. I felt for all of them. Affleck deserved that BAFTA.

It was surprisingly funny, upsetting and dark. I went through a rollercoaster of emotions as did our protagonist. Struggling to communicate with an awkward teenager who was more concerned about his social lifestyle than his father’s death.

The tension bubbling away as Lee, a creature of comforts, seemed desperate to get back to his quiet life. Of course, he had his reasons.

A scene involving frozen meat triggered an unexpected breakdown out of the blue with the pair finally coming to terms with their feelings. I laughed, I cried. Superb.

I remembered Lonergan’s last effort Margaret being one for a testing pace and I know a lot of people grumbled about the pace of this one. BUT I can’t even say this dragged. I was completely engrossed with the characters and the drama. I wanted more.

The supporting cast played their parts perfectly. Michelle Williams wasn’t in this enough. From all the hype, I expected her to be in this for a good portion of the film. Her screen time probably only accumulated to 15/20 minutes?

BUT she was excellent as Lee’s ex-wife. Their reunion was heartbreaking as we realised that Lee was a man tormented by his own demons long before the news of his estranged brother’s death.

Always happy to see Mr Friday Night Lights Kyle Chandler get more screen time as Lee’s brother. Gretchen Mol (Boardwalk Empire) delivered as his volatile widow and I didn’t expect to see Matthew Broderick pop up in this?

Despite my praise, I still had my grumbles. I’m not sure whether it was the cinema surround sound BUT I found Lesley Barber’s music score overbearing. It didn’t take away the emotional impact of the scene BUT I found myself getting increasingly irritated.

It felt like someone was playing with the volume (Maybe they were. I did watch it in forum).

It was only the final act that disappointed me. And that was because it didn’t go in the direction I wanted. Forever a cynical optimist (Yeah, work that one out). Hoping for a happily ever after for the troubled pair.

BUT as the credits rolled (and a little more discussion after), I couldn’t see any other way that the story could end. It worked.

I went expecting in nothing and came out rewarded with a brilliantly acted and well written drama that dealt with grief on many levels.

It is a little gloomy BUT if you’re in the mood for a drama that delivers on the feels, look no further.

4/5

*NEW* LA LA LAND REVIEW *NEW*

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Over-hyped drivel.

Well, that’s what I thought I was going to say.

Overrated, maybe? But as much as I tried to resist the crazy hype train, I still couldn’t help but fall for this highly watchable and entertaining romp.

A jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) falls for an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) in Los Angeles.

The opening sequence did nothing to win me over. Despite director Damien Chazelle’s opening credit titles and Cinemascope capture mimicking the days of old; it was too much.

People jumping out of their cars, free-runners . . . free-running, the word ‘chaotic’ doesn’t come close. I couldn’t even hear the lyrics being sung.

All that was missing was a truck with some bongo players in the back . . . Oh, wait, no. There they are.

The soundtrack was a little disappointing. The first two or three songs were highly unmemorable.

Chazelle’s disorienting camera work and ever-growing ensembles combined with his incredibly mad and colourful palette felt like a shot of insulin being given to a caffeine addict. Overkill.

However . . .

I will admit. I’m not the biggest fan of Gosling and Stone. There’s just something about them that grate against me. The Help and The Nice Guys being exceptions.

BUT once the couple were finally brought to the fold, my grumbling was subdued.

Both caught up in their own testing life struggles from Mia’s awkward cringe-inducing auditions to Seb accomplishing his dreams of running a jazz bar.

The concept was hardly original. The focal point of the piece was just like any other musical. A love story.

BUT despite its predictable nature, Chazelle managed to cross exam a relationship from its crazy highs to its downbeat lows. All aided by fantastic chemistry between two brilliant leads and a good script.

I didn’t realise Gosling could play the piano. He was fantastic. City of Stars was probably the only song that I (annoyingly) can’t stop whistling. That blasted piano rift!

I thought the pair’s singing was very good. Considering they aren’t professionals, they sung very well. Stone’s rendition of Audition was excellent.

In all fairness, I would have been happier to watch more of their dancing. A Lovely Night was a bit of a weak song BUT with Justin Hurwitz’s score and the duo’s late night toe tapping dance in the dusk, I was entranced.

The whole thing had a slight air of Astaire and Rogers about it.

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That was until their beautifully shot ballroom dance in the Griffin Observatory. Dancing in the stars. Cheesy but a nice touch with a fitting nod to A Rebel Without A Cause.

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I knew the Whiplash director would sneak jazz into the mix. The only problem was that I’m NOT the biggest fan. I’m sure Seb would have a few choice words to say about that. For those who’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean.

There were some good songs BUT it all felt a little samey to me and the pace was starting to test. If it wasn’t for Gosling’s (and Chazelle’s) enthusiasm, I would have found all the jazz trivia a little dull.

BUT I was engaged in the couple. We watched their romance blossom over the seasons as their paths crossed time and time again. Fate playing its little game.

Laughing as they inevitably fell in love and wincing as the strain of their busy lifestyles took its toll. We could all relate to moments that the pair experienced.

The epilogue was unexpected. Just when I thought I had the film pegged, Chazelle managed to surprise. And not even the Twitter references and endless memes spoiled what was a wonderfully captured and fitting swansong.

The set design, the layout, the choreography. Fantastic.

The hype may have hindered. From all the astounding comments you’d think people hadn’t seen a musical before?!

I’m not saying I’m the biggest musical fan. BUT I don’t hate them either. West Side Story, On The Town, Chicago, Singin’ In The Rain, Moulin Rouge are classics I could watch again and again (Bet you weren’t expecting me to name those titles).

As much as I enjoyed this, I wouldn’t rush to make a special trip to see it again.

La La Land certainly celebrated the much missed presence of an absent genre. I tried to compile a list of musicals in the last decade. Not many came to mind; Frozen, Sing Street (A must watch) and . . . shudder . . . High School Musical.

As much as I felt this may have been over-hyped by awards buzz, it was still an entertaining watch from two underrated actors.

Unless you’re completely anti-musical. If so then why you are here?

3.5/5 (Just)

*NEW* THE REVENANT REVIEW *NEW*

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A revelation? An Oscar worthy performance from the man of the hour?

In a nutshell, NO.

A frontiersman (Leonardo DiCaprio) on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.

Overlong, over-rated and disappointing. I really wanted to like this. For all the praise, Twitter craze and reviews, I expected a well-acted visceral and brutal tour de force with one man seeking vengeance. Is this really the film that gave Leonardo his overdue Oscar? Really?

The first 45 minutes were slow burning BUT engrossing. Inarritu’s long takes used to full effect. A tense encounter with a pack of bloodthirsty natives made for a tense and brutal watch. It was a shame that momentum wasn’t kept for the rest of the piece.

DiCaprio delivered a good turn. There’s no quarrelling about that. BUT an Oscar? He certainly carried the piece as much as he could. BUT there was only so many picturesque landscape shots (from the Oscar winning and Innaritu stalwart Emmanuel Lubezki) and grunting from the leading man that could keep me interested.

I was more impressed by the underrated British and Irish supporting cast. Domhnall Gleeson continues to impress yet again in another scene stealing supporting role (Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Will Poulter (The Maze Runner) was equally as good as the conflicted Bridger. A great transition from the Son of Rambow star.

And once you were able to understand Tom Hardy’s (Legend) incessant Southern mumbling, he was the perfect foe. He really looked the part. A weasel of the lowest denomination. Back stabbing and plotting at any given opportunity. If it wasn’t for Hardy’s performance, I don’t think I would have persevered to see the outcome.

The grizzly bear attack sequence was nail-biting stuff. The animation and a little improv from DiCap made this a tense show down and almost realistic, to an extent. The elongated attack kept me on tenterhooks. Thinking our hero was safe. Only for the grizzly menace to come back for more.

The only problem was that the rest of the film was spent watching DiCap crawl, growl and shiver across the frozen terrain and woodland. Broken up by metaphorical imagery and flashbacks that were pretty self-explanatory. I was more interested in Hugh (DiCap) and Hawk’s (Forrest Goodluck) relationship. Something that was barely touched on and reduced to a few scenes.

DiCap really went through it. Putting his Bear Grylls skills to work. Chewing raw fish and enduring arctic conditions. BUT I wasn’t hooked. I wanted to be rooting for the guy from the first minute. Tom Hank’s turn in Cast Away had me transfixed. I never felt so sad about a man losing his volleyball. Matt Damon’s Oscar nominated turn in The Martian had me praying for his return home.

I love Innaritu’s works. Birdman was one of my favourite films of 2015. It was different and featured a resurgent performance from Keaton. DiCaprio is a superb actor BUT I felt that he got the Oscar for the wrong film.

A good portion of Hugh’s “journey” tested my patience. I don’t need horse back chases and natives attacking every minute of the movie to keep my attention (Although it might have helped) BUT for two and a half hours, I needed something more. The showdown made for a redemptive finale in every aspect. Both for our hero and yours truly. And that was down to Hardy’s turn. I really wanted to see him get his comeuppance.

Maybe this was a case of too much hype. From all the reviews, you would have thought that nobody had ever seen a Western before. The plot was hardly original, the pace was too much and DiCaprio did his best BUT I would struggle to watch this again. Let alone put this on a top movie list.

Watchable BUT nowhere near as rewarding as I’d hoped.

3/5

*NEW* SPOTLIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

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A slow burning, well-crafted and brilliantly acted little drama.

Spotlight is the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. One that would shake the entire Catholic Church to its core.

An intriguing opening sequence piqued my curiousity as we witnessed a priest being released from the police station. No questions asked. A shrug from the police and two priests riding off into the darkness.

BUT after that promising opener, the first twenty minutes was a little too slow for my liking. I could feel myself slumping into the seat as we waited for the stellar news team to find their story. Once Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber – Ray Donovan) was brought to the fold and Spotlight’s sights were set on a priest, that was a repeat offender, I was hooked to the very end.

Schreiber was very good as the mysterious Miami media man. Taking on the Boston Globe and determined to use Spotlight’s abilities to their fullest. I wanted to see more of his performance. BUT it wasn’t his story. The Spotlight cast couldn’t be faltered. It’s great to see Micheal Keaton’s resurgence after Birdman. He played Walter ‘Robby Robinson’ with aplomb.

I felt every one had their moment to shine. I wasn’t sure why Ruffalo in particular was considered for an Oscar nomination BUT it was still a sterling turn from the Avenger. His anger coming to boiling point at the scale of this horrific cover up in a fantastic rant.

“Mitchell Garabedian. He’s a character”. I couldn’t think of anybody better than Stanley Tucci (Hunger Games) to take on the paranoid skeptic. A lawyer intent on getting justice for his clients. Treading carefully. Afraid that the Church are watching his every move. Not enough of him.

The lies, the cover ups. Afraid to mess with the Church. A “holy” institution that took advantage of so many. The statements from witnesses was harrowing stuff alone. Confused children sleeping with priests because they were afraid to “refuse” God.

Just when I couldn’t be more surprised at the stories and the statistics, the team would discover another revelation. One that was too close for comfort for one member of the team. Discovering that a treatment centre for “reformed priests” was located right around the corner from his home.

Rachel McAdams’ (True Detective) crazy confrontation with said “reformed” priest was baffling. Openly admitting to everything. John Slattery did his best BUT he will always be Roger Sterling from Mad Men. The office attire and quick witted one liners didn’t help his case.

The closing act, aided by more harrowing facts, really hit home. I couldn’t believe that the original news story was “buried” years before. And the scale. So many stories. The States being only the tip of the iceberg.

The pace may have tested in parts. BUT that didn’t spoil what was a harrowing and insightful drama. One that I never expected to be so engrossed in. All aided with a superb cast makes this one to watch.

4/5

*NEW* JOY REVIEW *NEW*

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I didn’t find much joy in this. A stellar turn from Lawrence did just enough to keep this mediocre mop yarn watchable.

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is the story of the title character, who rose to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.

A silly opening with a dated soap opera parody didn’t really set the tone or get things going for me. BUT it did give an indication of what to expect. An OTT, patchy and drawn out affair. Jennifer Lawrence was superb and this piece definitely proved one thing. She is one talented actress. She had the charm and presence to carry this biopic along.

The endless soap opera sequences were unnecessary. I could get the connection that Joy’s life was like a soap opera. The dream sequence in which Joy became part of the soap would have sufficed. The repetitive use of it just hampered things.

Desperate NOT to be like her reclusive mother (Virginia Madsen – Sideways). Shut away from the world and reduced to watching soaps in her room. Madsen did her best with the role BUT she wasn’t given enough screen time or depth to make a proper impression. And that silly little subplot with Jimmy Jean-Louis’ (Heroes) Haitian plumber didn’t help.

Bradley Cooper didn’t do too bad in his ridiculously small supporting role. He was able to make such a weak character watchable with his sheer enthusiasm. He even managed to make the history of QVC sound interesting. To be honest, I didn’t know anything about the origins of the renowned TV shopping channel. There were some good little tidbits.

The real problem for me was that all this drama was over a mop? It sounds bad when you say that Joy is a biopic about the woman who invented the miracle mop. Plus you can’t help BUT question how much of this was exaggerated and given the David O’ Russell treatment. As much as we felt for Joy’s struggle to be accepted for something more than just a housewife, there wasn’t much on offer.

It wasn’t all bad. There were some engaging moments and if Joy really went through that turmoil then I still wouldn’t believe it. The back stabbing from lawyers, suppliers, QVC and even her own family. There wasn’t enough of Elisabeth Rohm (American Hustle). She was very good as Joy’s conniving half sister. I wanted more of that. The green eyed monster desperate to bring Joy’s empire down from day one.

Robert De Niro was on scene stealing form as Joy’s obnoxious father. Arrogant, petulant, a monster. It was a shame that he was pushed into the background by the end after dominating the screen from the get go. Diane Ladd’s Mimi (Chinatown) was a little weak. She was nothing more than a narrator. BUT there were still some nice moments between her and Joy. The only rock in Joy’s hectic life.

Isabella Rossellini’s Trudy (Blue Velvet) got on my nerves. Not so much her performance BUT her character. The silly questions she grilled Joy with before investing was stupid. “Do you pick up the gun, Joy?” She picks up the gun, apparently. I’m sure the dialogue sounded better on paper.

There were so many different characters thrown into the mix and none of them were really developed or explored enough. Joy’s relationship with Tony (Edgar Ramirez – Point Break) had potential. Faring better as friends than they ever did married. Still standing by her side despite everything.

For every high and low, you were still rooting for Joy to succeed (Despite knowing the end result). Especially in the closing act when things came to a head. BUT it helped to have an engaging character and a great actress at the helm. However, I was still left a little disappointed. After all that build up, it just ended. I mean obviously there was only ever to be one outcome BUT it just rushed to tie in everything after throwing several random subplots that went nowhere. Shame.

Not O’Russell’s worst. I still enjoyed this a fraction more than American Hustle. Lawrence was on fine form. The supporting cast did their best. BUT the overlong pace and structure made this an uneven and dis-joy-nted piece.

3/5 (Just)