*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!

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*NEW* HACKSAW RIDGE REVIEW *NEW*

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Brutal, gripping, hard hitting.

The true story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refused to kill people, and became the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

I was a little worried at first that Garfield was going to come off as a bumbling Forrest Gump with his bashful demeanour and Southern accent BUT he delivered enough charm and charisma to win me over. A strong performance.

The first 40-odd minutes was corny but easy going enough as we followed Desmond through his childhood years right up to his enrollment.

A good portion of that time was spent on wooing the local nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer – Lights Out). It may have been a little schmaltzy BUT the pair had good chemistry and I was happy to watch.

The flashbacks flicking back and forth into Desmond’s past broke up the cheesy romance as we discovered the reasons behind his refusal to carry a firearm.

It was great to see Hugo Weaving as Doss’ embittered drunken vet father. He played it with aplomb. A tormented man who had already “died” with his men in the Great War.

His survival nothing more than a curse. Punishing himself and his family. I was surprised at his reaction when he discovered that his two sons had enlisted.

The boot camp training montage was a little predictable. Especially when Doss had to compete with the macho hot head Smitty Ryker (Luke Bracey – Point Break).

BUT it still hit home as Desmond fought against the military hierarchy. Reserving his right to serve as a medic:

“No less danger, just . . . while everybody else is taking life, I’m going to be saving it. With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me to wanna put a little bit of it back together”.

I wasn’t sure whether Vince Vaughn would cut it as Sergeant Howell. I was hoping this role would be a change from his usual spiel.

BUT his Wedding Crashers style drill call and endless shouting was hit and miss. It was a little too OTT for my liking as he gave the privates nicknames. However, there were a couple of clever one liners.

BUT as Doss’ struggle worsened, Howell soon won me over as he realised the stubborn Virginian wasn’t going to back down. Fighting for his beliefs.

Sam Worthington (Avatar) was brilliant as the callous Captain Glover. Embarrassed to have a “conscientious objector” in his ranks. Ordering Howell to force the boy’s resignation.

Doss’ treatment was shocking. Beaten until he was black and blue by members of his own infantry. Pushed to the very edge. He was even denied a day pass to attend his own wedding. Unbelievable.

It went right up to a military tribunal and even during the first attack on Hacksaw, troops were still weary of the medic. The second half of the film was something to behold. A true act of honour and dedication.

I had no doubt on ol’ Blue Eyes taking the helm. We had already seen a return to form with his stellar turn in Blood Father and this latest entry from the Braveheart and We Were Soldiers director was a step in the right direction.

The violence was ridiculous. Gibson definitely didn’t hold back the punches. It was visceral, gory and bloody as hell. He really showed the true extent of what war can do to a soldier.

The only problem with all the CGI (especially with the flamethrower attacks) was that it came off like something out of Starship Troopers! And when Doss kicked that grenade like a football, I couldn’t help but tut. Hollywood had to put their stamp on it somewhere.

“Just give me one more”

I was on tenterhooks right up to the emotional and fitting tribute. As every one else had climbed back down off the ridge, Doss stayed to tend to the wounded.

Covering up the injured from the lurking Japanese. Evading capture and sniper fire. Discovering their hidden trenches.

Tense, gripping. I was completely transfixed as this young man, with no firearm, saved 70 soldiers who were already deemed lost by their superior officers.

He even tried to save several Japanese officers who didn’t quite make the journey back to the medical tent.

Despite a 139 minute running time, the pace didn’t test. Garfield impressed yet again, giving one of his best performances to date.

It was nail biting and enthralling. That final act when Glover apologizes to the crazy Virginian was heartbreaking.

The real life interviews and footage in the closing credits really brought it home.

A compelling drama as one man defied the odds and fought for what was right.

While not the greatest war film, Hacksaw is still worthy of your attention.

4/5

*NEW* LION REVIEW *NEW*

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Heartbreaking drama. 

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 and confused with 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 had nothing to worry. 

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. They even lied to Saroo about searching for 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 the poor boy as he tried to make head or tail of the new situation.

A harrowing contrast was made when the Brierleys adopted 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 home soon triggered old memories from his past. Ones he thought 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. 

Feeling guilty knowing that every day 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 emotional finale was heart-ending to watch 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 brilliantly acted and rewarding drama worthy of your attention. 

3.5/5