The Mountain Between Us (2017)

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Every once in a while you stumble upon something that makes you fall in love all over again, with that irresistible magic that first sparked your passion. Every movie lover can trace their journey back a few years, or possibly decades, to the moment that they first realised movie magic existed. I honestly never thought that Idris Elba and Kate Winslet would take me there, back to that dim little movie theatre on the corner of James and Robertson Street. Looking back now, I realise this is probably a movie I enjoyed a lot more than I “should have” (because in reality The Mountain Between Us has almost altogether flopped,) but I at least hope you can agree that there is nothing not to love about Elba and Winslet on a snowy mountain, battling for survival in what is almost an adventurous romance.

Kate Winslet is the free-spirited Alex, a photojournalist eagerly awaiting her wedding the following morning, while Idris Elba is the straight-laced Ben, a brain surgeon who must desperately operate on a dying 10 year old boy interstate. An impending storm has stranded them both at Salt Lake City Airport, with little choice but to wait out until the morning. With everything at stake, the pair persuade a local charter pilot to fly them across deadly mountain ranges, with little concern for local aviation or the pilot’s failing personal health. And so it goes, a sudden fatal stroke cascades the plane into the snowy peaks of Utah and we are left to pick up the pieces of their extraordinary battle for survival. I don’t have to fill in the gaps here, as I’m sure your mind is already drifting to the many injuries, hypothermia … or maybe even mountain cougars, you’ll see it all.

Kate Winslet once survived a sinking ship in Titanic, and Idris Elba once thrived on the streets of Baltimore in The Wire. There is no reason why these dynamic actors shouldn’t carry enough dramatic weight between them to elevate a trek through the desolate snow-blanketed mountain ranges. But instead, they find themselves floating somewhere between drama and soap opera. But here I’ll attribute Elba’s surprising awkwardness to his first-ever crack at romantic lead, (p.s. just as you might have hoped he is nothing short of dreamy.) Based on the novel by Charles Martin, and propelled by the screenplay collaboration of Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, who share a wide scope of successful romance films between them, The Mountain Between Us has all of the mesmerising elements to succeed. Add Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, the visionary behind Paradise Now and Omar (a love story, mind you) and there’s no room for fault. But here the once epic vision fails and instead the beautiful mountains begin to look more like molehills.

Right – but coming back to my dramatic spiel in the beginning. For a reason unbeknown to me, I was enveloped in the charasmatic charm, mystery, drama and unfolding romance, so much so I almost shed a happy tear. The film may have altogether tumbled and it might have been dramatically corny, but my romantic soft spot overcame. So if you’re weighing up whether to watch this one, you need to first consider the pros and cons for yourself in order to really derive a solution. If you read this review and at any moment in time you felt compelled to throw up, I am inclined to tell you that this is definitely not a movie I would recommend for you. It’s so bad that it’s really good!

Here’s what the professional critics had to say … ‘This romantic drama is most compelling as a mild story of survival adventure. Contemporary romances often stumble over the first hurdle: Their dramatic obstacle.’ – Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media or ‘A perfect title for a movie in which neither the subzero temperature nor the romantic heat penetrates more than skin deep.’ – Peter Debruge, Variety

IMDb – 6.2  Rotten Tomatoes – 43%

★★★☆☆

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

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In 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were an unloved New York City landmark that turned into a complex emblem for torment overnight. In the difficulty of conveying a catharsis for 9/11, films rarely centre on the subject, but rather the individuals whose lives have been tampered by its horror. Jonathon Safran Foer’s 2005 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, adapted by Eric Roth and directed by Stephen Daldry, ambitiously conveys the horror of loss drawn from the event, and the sentimentality of moving on.

Oskar Schell, played by Thomas Horn, is only eleven years old, yet his prodigiously intelligent, remarkably pacific and technically proficient ways draw out an articulate and seriously solemn New Yorker. His father, Tom Hanks, is a scientist turned jeweller, who cast inexplicable joy and understanding into Oskar’s life, as he struggled to cope with Asperges. On the morning of the 11th of September 2001 Oskar has his very last conversation with his dad, before he disappears into the twin towers for a business meeting – as referred to by Oskar as “the worst day”. Driven by his Socratic enquiries, Oskar sets off on a journey to rediscover his father, and to find himself in the process.

“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.”

The film’s premise is engaging and mysterious, drawing out one little boy’s grief to create an impacting and unforgettable story of faith, hope and determination. Illustrated as merely a ripple of the 9/11 attack, Stephen Daldry focuses in on the characters as a raw reflection of the grief and turmoil of the event, and draws hope in finding life after loss. This raw honesty of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is confronting and challenging, yet it conveys a deep emotional connection to the screen and the beautiful story of Oskar Schell, who finds his greatest comfort in shaking his trusty tambourine.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a fascinating, mysterious and awe-inspiring film driven by beautiful close ups and striking characters. Nominated for Best Picture and Critics Choice in 2011, this film is a sensational and moving masterpiece for the ages.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 6.9  Rotten Tomatoes – 46%

Allied (2016)

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Right up to the most recent cinematic illustration of war, in the breathtaking Hacksaw Ridge, WWII films have gone to great lengths to stress the horror of war and its consequently intense physical and psychological dismay. In Allied, Robert Zemeckis takes a sharp turn toward Hollywood war films of the 1950’s – mixing together action, politics, drama, humour and romance to portray a world of heartbreak on a sparkling canvas.

As the film opens in 1942, Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan gracefully parachutes into North Africa, and the very heart of Casablanca. Paired with a mission to assassinate the German Ambassador, the wildly passionate French Resistance Fighter Marianne Beausejour appears as his partner in crime. Under threat from local Nazi bigwigs, they establish themselves as a loving married couple, to avoid arousing any local suspicion. Over the course of the following days, the make-believe marriage blossoms into an unprecedented attraction, setting the stage for intriguing love scenes and a spectacular escape. But the story really picks up when his now real wife Marianne is accused to be a German spy, and settling accusations against execution becomes Vatan’s most prominent battle yet.

Allied carries bold influences of its predecessors with impeccable style and remarkable cinematography. Written by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Knight, whose previous credits attain to romance-fuelled drama thrillers, Allied generates excitement with little attention to anything but the characters at the heart of the film. Over the years, Zemeckis has elicited some of the greatest film performances, not to mention Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Denzel Washington in Flight and Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. But Allied unfolds with characters who shine effortlessly throughout the film. In his third war appearance following Inglorious Bastards and Fury, Brad Pitt brings debonair and dignity to his seamless romance with dazzling Marianne Cotillard. Pitt and Cotillard bring such depth to their characterisation we become utterly enraptured with their identity and intentions as the story unfolds. (Cue sobs during credits)

Allied, for me, was a film that clicked in a precise and effective manner. Not to mention Alan Silvestri’s contribution of top notch compositions, that wove together scenes almost magically – and of course Joanna Johnston’s costume design, that delivered effortless style and charm. All in all, a homage to Hollywood war films that graced the screen long before my time, and a beautiful story of romance on the backdrop of war and destruction. Allied is a breath of fresh air.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.2/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 61%

The Founder (2016)

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If you worked at McDonald’s at the ripe old age of fourteen years old, keen for cash that wasn’t gifted at the whims of your parents’ generosity, then you’ll be familiar with the phrase; “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” Decades after McDonald’s ‘founder’ Ray Kroc coined this saying, the motto remains ingrained in employees across over 35,000 outlets all over the world. This phrase perfectly encapsulates the mid-western work ethic of Ray Kroc, a go-getter salesman with big ambitions and an undying persistence for success.

When we meet Ray Kroc in the 1950’s, he’s a middle-aged, reasonably well-fixed salesman on a desperate hunt for a gimmick that will earn him his fortune. The McDonald brothers, Mac and Dick, appear to have exactly what he is looking for – a successful hamburger joint run by hard working visionaries. Overwhelmed with anticipation for what this small San Bernardino restaurant could become, Kroc talks his way into franchising and expanding into every town in America. The story of a vision that grew under the noses of its creators.

With the undeniably ubiquitous presence of McDonald’s in most people’s lives – from kids birthday parties to the 3am drive through – the story behing the Golden Arches is one we can all easily invest in. But what really drives The Founder is Keaton’s magnetic and dynamic performance as the underlying unequivocal villain, coated with layers of charm, insecurity and grit. Here Hancock tries to enforce the understanding of why Kroc did what he did, almost humanising the ruthless tale of business intrigue.

I am fascinated the follow the response to The Founder, particularly in America. Is it possible that despite everything, Ray will be viewed as a hero, an underdog with persistence that enabled him to push through every setback in his path to create an empire? But his triumph was always inevitable against the McDonalds brothers. To the movie’s credit, Kroc has an opinion about this too.

All in all, The Founder presents a version of the American Dream in which the need to succeed obliterates any other considerations; in a story of strong minded determination, a small downtrodden businessman gains his revenge on the world.

★★★★☆

Jason Bourne (2016)

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This weekend, nine years after the anticipated release of The Bourne Ultimatum,  Jason Bourne hit theatres in what can only be described as a shattering return. This latest iteration reunites Damon with director Paul Greengrass, who displays his mastery of muscular, deafening and frenetically edited action sequences. Co-written with editor Christopher Rouse, Greengrass whisks us to cities all over the world, culminated in an eye-poppingly enormous finale in Las Vegas.

Jason Bourne, reticent and carb-free, hurries through various European capitals – Rome, Athens, London – with the grim determination of a tourist desperately seeking a men’s room with far too much pride to ask for directions. I’m not casting shade on Matt Damon, who looks terrific at 45, with the complete opposite of a dad bod and a residual Will Hunting twinkling in his eye. Jason, for all of his prodigious talent and honed technique, finds himself in a generational pincers grip, squeezed on one side by a self-aggrandising and sentimental boss and on the other side by a tech-savvy millennial rising through the ranks. But if I can simply the plot for you: Jason Bourne is the target of a radical pursuit by heavy surveillance, where his former employers in the CIA track him as if he were the quarry in a high-stakes game of Pokemon Go.

At the heart of it, Jason Bourne is a semi-beloved pop-culture throwback brought into circulation primarily because it’s summer (in the States) and winter (in Australia). Lets face it, aussie’s need something to do, and while the shrimps and the barbecues are extinct, two-hours of make believe paranoia might provide a soothing respite.

Jason Bourne was so bad, it made me retroactively reconsider my love for the franchise…

But not to worry, the thrill isn’t entirely gone, just a little more subdued. Unfortunately, Damon is subdued as ever. Jason Bourne envelopes a uniquely passive action hero, a man who runs on pure survival instinct as he attempts to draw conclusions of his past. But there is also a rote quality to the film, an absence of passion and skill. Just as the initial Damon-driven trilogy wrapped up Bourne’s business but left us wanting more, this sequel offers closure even as it entices us with the possibility of his return.

★★☆☆☆

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

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A quick review about this .. may I say .. hilarious idiotic comedy.

Forget what Mike and Dave need, if you need a blast of mad-raunchy summer fun then this baby comes damn close to filling the bill. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates has the jumpy exuberance of a puppy that won’t stop humping your leg, guaranteed to split your sides (sometimes). This marks the feature directing debut of Jake Szymanski, who previously directed a handful of segments for Saturday Night Live and online shorts. So rest assured this guy kinda knows what he’s doing when it comes to comedy.

Given its title, you may be surprised that the story stems from factual roots. Mike and Dave Stangle, two party-hard brothers from upstate New York who took an ad on Craiglist to find two nice girls to take to a cousin’s wedding. They appeared on The Wendy Williams Show and even wrote a 2015 memoir. Hollywood bravely takes this premise with a goofy grin. In their version of events, when their younger sister Jeanie announces that she’s getting married, the family insists the party boys discover dates for the wedding. After endless unsuitable candidates, Tatiana and Alice, former waitresses at a Hooter-ish bar, hatch a plan of transformation into nice, polished and selfie-ready girls. What follows is a ridiculous Hawaii vacay of limitless suprises.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is very much an ensemble comedy, but Audrey Plaza’s ineffable style of comedy suits the material so perfectly she leaves the others in the dust. Zac Efron provides the eye candy while Adam Devine provides the comedy-almost perfect brothers really. This film is hardly a masterpiece, but more a collection of set pieces, with some greater than others. I’ll leave it to you to root for any feminist messages. There’s certainly a theme of equality, demonstrating that Tatiana and Alice can be equally as revolting as Mike and Dave. But at the end of the day, this is just a fun flick. A little crude, a little over the top … but all in all, I loved it. We were chuckling from start to finish.

★★☆☆☆

The BFG (2016)

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The BFG remembers what its like to see the world through the eyes of a child, whisked away into the fantasy fairy-tale world of giants. The BFG is a trifling, pleasant film, which sees director Steven Spielberg attempting to reconcile the scale and dazzle of modern filmmaking with the mischievous charm of Roald Dahl’s enduring classic. The BFG lessens the darkness of Roald Dahl’s classic in favour of an entirely good-natured, visually exquisite and largely popular family adventure.

The Giant, although at first an embodiment of childhood terrors, turns out to be a gentle soul with expressive ears, a melancholy countenance and a nonsensical flair of speech. After his accidental encounter with young orphan girl Sophie, he plucks her captive to a faraway valley with his much larger fellow giants who roam the wilds nearby. Spielberg opted to eliminate Dahl’s depiction of lumbering monsters eating humans, thereby transforming them into relative buffoons with fewer associations to terror. But when Sophie discovers the Big Friendly Giant has spent his entire life succumbing to his aggressive child-gobbling siblings, she hatches an elaborate plan to stop them.

Mark Rylance takes his role as BFG cautiously here, rolling words around to create an ordinary fully rounded character out of a children’s book invention. His face and body have been enhanced and distorted by digital magic, but his unique blend of gravity and mischief imbues his fanciful character with a dimension of soul the rest of the film lacks. For her part, brown-eyed beauty Ruby Barnhill is bossy, fearless and well spoken, but her personality rarely leaps off screen or nests in our hearts. As a whole, the movie represents Spielberg in a more pensive and philosophical vein, less interested in propulsive cinema and more reflective of what matters most; the power of dreams and the ability to bring them to life. Unfortunately, that’s all you can get with his generous measure of explicitity. But of course the digital effects that render the story are exquisite in their shimmer and glow, and childhood wonder floats vividly from the screen to enchant all the little kids.

The BFG lacks the strident messaging of children’s films, drawing melancholy from the compromises of adulthood. In particular, Sophie’s latter conversation with her giant about the future feels like the film’s one strange concession to subversiveness and sadness. There’s little silver lining in this one, showing its entirely possible for a film to completely inert, even if its constantly in motion. The BFG is hopelessly charming and hopelessly dull, but if I can sum it up; it is a kind-souled movie about kind-souls for kind-souls.

★★★☆☆