Ron Howard is a filmmaker of undeniably great talent, if sometimes questionable taste. The man who gave us APOLLO 13, PARENTHOOD and most recently the wonderful surprise of RUSH is also responsible for FAR AND AWAY, THE DILEMMA, THE DA VINCI CODE (and its sequel ANGELS & DEMONS), and is guilty of generally abetting Satan-in-Hollywood-screenwriter-form Akiva Goldsman in getting an ever stronger, ever more toxic foothold in mainstream cinema.

For IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, Howard drifts back to his well-meaning Golden Age of Hollywood tendencies, delivering and unabashed old-school seafaring drama. Ostensibly ret-conning Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (‘based on the incredible true story that inspired the novel,’ according to the poster) to more contemporary sensibilities regarding whaling, we’re essentially following strapping blubber-hunter Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) on what is soon to become an epically doomed voyage under the captaincy of an upper class twit.

How much you engage with the Howard’s old-school, broadly painted and cliché-ridden approach will very much depend on your own taste, but the script’s two-dimensional characterisation undeniably wastes a mighty cast, including Hemsworth (who proved his chops in RUSH), Ben Wishaw, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland and Brendan Gleeson.

Likewise, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle shoots the hell out of the live action by attaching cameras to virtually every one of the ship’s rods, sails and ropes, and the CG is generally fine – but – the compositing of the two frequently jars, defeating the qualities of both, especially in 3D.

It’s by no means an intolerable experience, but next to Howard’s best work, IN THE HEART OF THE SEA is drowning, not waving.

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA is released DECEMBER 3 in Australia and New Zealand, December 11 in the US and December 26 in the UK.


It almost seems crazy now to think that there was a time when not only did very, very few people suspect that maybe something wasn’t quite right about cancer survivor-turned-seven time Tour de France cheat Lance Armstrong, but that to do so was considered by many to be close to sacrilege. It seems similarly absurd that journalist David Walsh (among others, presumably) had to struggle to prove that a man who couldn’t win one of the world’s most gruelling athletic pursuits before he was nearly destroyed by malignancy could suddenly develop superhuman abilities and chalk it up to simple willpower.

But struggle he did, and it's the journalist’s quest (Walsh is played by Chris O’Dowd) that provides a pacey narrative drive for THE PROGRAM; as possibly the most famous sporting scandal in history, the outcome won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone, but a few of the outrageous details might.

It’s the other element of the story, however, the enigma of Armstrong himself – here played with an uncanny likeness by the never less than excellent Ben Foster – that proves a tougher nut for director Stephen Frears & company to crack. John Hodge’s script touches on but never quite digs deep enough into Armstrong’s mind and motivations (possibly with good, legally protective reasons) to really satisfy us on a dramatic level, despite Foster’s pitch perfect embodiment of the disgraced superstar (watch Alex Gibney's documentary THE ARMSTRONG LIE to see just how accurate Foster gets it), and top notch work from a supporting cast including Guillaume Canet, Denis Menochet, Jesse Plemmons, Edward Hogg, Laura Donnelly, Lee Pace and Dustin Hoffman.

THE PROGRAM is released October 16 in the UK, November 26 in Australia and New Zealand.


The current trend of dividing finales into smaller units for a greater number of cash transactions, both on the big screen (HARRY POTTER, THE HOBBIT and this series) and small (the final seasons of The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Mad Men all split their run, and their subsequent DVD box sets) has proved – seemingly without exception – to be a profitable business decision, but rarely a valuable artistic one.

The makers of MOCKINGJAY may have had a better case to to argue than any of those others, but the rule stands. Bottom line? It really didn’t need to be split into two films. Not that Part 2 isn’t any good – it is – it’s just that large portions of it are superfluous, padded with what I can only guess are fan-favourite moments (see: “mutts”). Trouble is, the largest extraneous piece is the games’ is the games themselves; The Hunger Games, however unofficially they are being held, now feel like they’re being crowbarred into THE HUNGER GAMES, and the reluctance of director Francis Lawrence, author and adaptor Suzanne Collins and their screenwriters to murder that very profitable darling results in a finale that is action-driven yet overlong, when it really just needed to get to its (excellent) point.

I’ve not read any of Collins’ books, but the problem evident in the films is that they end up in a much different – and more interesting – place than they started; a lot of people wrote off the political intrigue of the propaganda war in MOCKINGJAY PART 1 as a bit dull. Personally, I found that to be the highpoint of the saga, and certainly the most exciting idea of any YA series. Thankfully, that entire plot thread remains intact and in perfectly adequate detail. The performers know their roles inside out by now, with Donald Sutherland in particular lifting his dastardly President Snow to an operatic, delicate crescendo with palpable glee.

As the films have increased in scope, the (relatively) wanting visual effects budget has become progressively more strained, and there’s no change here. As the action moves into the vast backdrop of the Capitol, our goodwill towards the series is relied upon more and more for suspension of disbelief, but there is enough currency to cover it.

A single, jam-packed MOCKINGJAY film could have ended the story with greatness, but PART 2 dilutes that, leaving us with a finale that is simply good.

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2 is released November 19 worldwide.

Review: MIA MADRE and Australia's 2015 Italian Film Festival

Palme d’Or winner (for THE SON’S ROOM) Nanni Moretti’s latest film has a place in this year’s Lavazza Italian Film Festival, touring Australia throughout October. The actor/director also wrote the screenplay for MIA MADRE, based loosely on the experience of his mother’s passing while he was in the middle of directing one of his previous films (WE HAVE A POPE).

Presumably to avoid what is becoming an on-screen cliché of male European directors depicting their relationship with their mothers as a plot device (see: 8 ½, ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, et al), Moretti switches the gender of his main protagonist; Margherita (Margherita Buy) is a film director in the middle of a difficult shoot with Italian American actor Barry Huggins (John Turturro), the stress of which is compounded by Margherita’s mother approaching the end of her life.

Moretti plays Margherita’s home life somberly and the filmmaking scenes as satirical comic relief, but rather than compliment each other the two styles continually jar. Turturro is a welcome boost every time he’s on screen (him trying to remember his lines in Italian as he attempts to drive through Rome in a car laden with cameras and lights is the highlight) and the cast as a whole are fine, but Moretti's scattershot approach never manages to add up to anything memorable, and we never really feel like we're getting to know Margherita any better than we did in the first act.

It doesn't help that Moretti deliversd several times what feel like the final scene, only for this not to be the case and making its 100 minute run time feel maddeningly longer than it actually is. The film certainly isn’t bad, it's just underwhelming. There are many great and exciting looking films programmed in this year’s Italian Film Festival (closing night is a restored print of THE CONFORMIST), but sadly MIA MADRE didn’t turn out to be one of them.

MIA MADRE is screening as part of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival in Australia at various dates throughout October (check for details). It is released September 25 in the UK, and is on wide release in Australia from May 5, 2016.


Justin ‘SNOWTOWN’ Kurzel’s take on the famous ‘Scottish play’ marks the second time in less than a decade that an Australian director has taken a stab at Shakespeare’s murderous material, after Geoffrey Wright presented his modernised version in 2006. Kurzel though, takes us back to the original setting, a 12th Century Scotland of bone marrow-freezing authenticity.

Michael Fassbender makes a superb Thane of Cawdor, who with the support of his unstable wife (a similarly strong Marion Cotillard) murders his way to the royal throne on the say so of three crazy ladies.

The great strength of Kurzel’s production is its intimate staging, keeping us right up close to the Macbeths as their relationship shifts from guttural, conspiratorial whispers to maddened soliloquies in a that way no live production can. It’s abetted considerably by Adam Arkapaw’s alternately stark-then-sumptuous cinematography (I suspect there may be a few techniques being tested here for the pair’s next collaboration, ASSASSIN’S CREED), and a perfectly ominous, dirging, hurdy gurdy-driven score from Justin’s brother Jed.

For some, a faltering step will be what feels like Kurzel’s desire to paint Mrs & Mrs M as pawns of fate, dialing back their greed and ambition – he more or less takes the witches’ word for it, while much prominence is given to the couples’ dead child for her to fall back on as madness descends. To that end, purists may be less impressed, but overall this is a mightily impressive effort that works as cinema in its own right, rather than simply an adaptation.

MACBETH is released October 1 in Australia and New Zealand, October 2 in the UK, and December 4 in the US.


The good news is Rachel (Olivia Cooke) - the titular dying girl in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s adaptation of Jesse Andrews’ novel – is not a manic pixie dream girl (although she is used as catharsis for Thomas Mann’s Greg – the ‘me’ in said title). The bad news is she might be the only thing in ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL that isn’t. Welcome to manic pixie dream world.

Here high school kids can afford loads of Criterion DVDs and have tons of spare time to be inspired by them, because they apparently don’t need part time jobs to pay for these movies (which, trust me, are actually really bloody expensive). Meanwhile Greg’s father (Nick Offerman) seems to have the similar luxury of wandering around the house in a kimono all day and occasionally cooking exotic Asian food. It’s quirk for quirk’s sake – or worse, it’s quirk calculated and engineered so that the film will be noticed by someone important at Sundance or South By Southwest.

The string of clichés involves introvert high school film geek Greg (with a convenient appreciation for world cinema developed well beyond his years) is forced by his mother (Connie Britton) to visit Rachel, who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Apparently this will make at least one of them feel better. Despite an awkward start, a genuine friendship develops, and they must both confront Rachel’s impending death. Greg and best friend Earl (RJ Cyler) hit upon the idea of making a special short film just for her, but Greg struggles to find inspiration, and to express it.

There are moments that work, but usually only in fits and starts than anything overarching or consistent – some of the relentless quirk lands (the quiet appearance of a low budget, home-made version of Errol Morris’ Interrotron to interview fellow students for a tribute video is a particularly nice touch) and the sweded, pun-titled short films raise a smile, but more often it just feels like a compilation of ideas that have been done before and better, and that the performers – particularly Cooke - are better than the material they’re working with.

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is released June 12 in the US, September 3 in Australia and September 4 in the UK.


In a flash of tragedy, the champion boxer who grew up tough on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen loses everything and has to fight to get his life back – SOUTHPAW’s plot comes straight from the golden age of Hollywood; it’s the sentimentality of THE CHAMP fused with the blood, the physicality and (some of) the sweariness of RAGING BULL. It’s aiming for the feat pulled off a few years ago by WARRIOR, but SOUTHPAW doesn’t have anything like Tom Hardy’s character defying expectations in the non-fighty bits, leaving this as a ‘same old same old’ story punctuated by tears, punching bags in frustration, training montages, inspiring speeches and ‘the big fight’. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it’s the difference between good and great – or, if you like, a pretender and a champion.

From writer Kurt Sutter (TV’s The Shield, and Sons Of Anarchy) and director Antoine Fuqua (who has still never bettered 2001’s excellent TRAINING DAY), SOUTHPAW relentlessly hits the genre beats; it’s predictable to a fault, but then offers no real contribution of it’s own. Plus, because it’s sticking so rigidly to the well worn trail, key dramatic moments start to feel either unbelievable or unearned, or both (see: the courtroom custody scene).

Everything else is fine: Jake Gyllenhaal has again physically transformed to inhabit prizefighter Billy Hope, and he mines the character for all its dramatic worth - all popping veins and strained muscle (safe to say we can all be grateful that Eminem dropped out). Forest Whitaker comfortably wears the ‘no nonsense mentor/trainer’ gloves, while Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson surprises, finally getting a role he can be proud of in the slippery promoter. Rachel McAdams sets up the film, and young Oona Laurence runs the gauntlet of tortured emotions as Billy’s traumatised daughter.

Being perhaps the most popular movie sport, it must be hard to find new and effective ways to film boxing, but director of photography Mauro Fiore finds a few new surprises, and the late James Horner’s score delivers some characteristically fine cues.

It’s a shame that all SOUTHPAW’s talent and achievements are bound by a glass-jawed script. If Sutter and Fuqua had something – anything – new to say, we would remember their film very differently, or at least remember it.

SOUTHPAW is released August 20 in Australia and New Zealand.


As big screen adaptations go, this feels like a strange choice. On paper, you can see what was going through the minds of Guy Ritchie and Warner Bros. at the time: “people are sick of tough and gritty spy movies - bring back the gadgets and the quips!” But even as a comedy, a period spy thriller seems like a tough sell for a big budget summer film.

That's a shame (and don't even get me started on the 'narrowing audience tastes / safe studio bets' problem), because beneath the enormous “huh?” factor which shouldn't even exist, Ritchie (SNATCH; SHERLOCK HOLMES) has made a rollicking film, bringing every ounce of his trademark style. Cat burglar turned C.I.A. puppet Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is forced to work with KGB anger management case Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) for the greater good. The pair are sent to find the uncle of German mechanic Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander) before he can play his part in building a nuclear device for some Nazi-descended Italians. Or something.

The hokeyness of the old ‘kidnapped scientist’ plot and the pin-sharp retro feel – particularly in the production and costume designs, in Daniel Pemberton’s Schifrin/Morricone-fused score, and in the meticulous choreography between camera and splitscreen editing – adds volumes to Ritchie’s vibe; the sheer energy and fizz of the action on screen is almost enough to cover the film’s muddy midsection and chaotic second half. Cavill is clearly relishing his Roger Moore moment (although you can see why he missed out on Bond when that character was getting the gritted-down reboot), while Hammer and Vikander make fine sparring partners.

(Side note: There’s quite a feat of international casting here: the main cast is made up of an American playing a Russian, two Brits playing Americans, a Swede playing a German, and a Frenchwoman playing an Italian. Hugh Grant, presumably scared by criticisms of CLOUD ATLAS, has gone back to playing himself.)

There’s obviously a long game being played here, as this is very much an origin story. Sadly that means we only get a taste of Grant as Waverly (another key cast member of the show) - but if luck is just, Ritchie’s long odds will pay off and there will be more to come.

In the meantime though, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is up against THE PRINCESS BRIDE factor: if they can get them through the doors, the audience will most likely have a great time; the real trick is finding said audience for a show not many young people have even heard of, not all middle aged folk will have seen (I’ve watched a lot of old telly, but I don’t remember this running on any Australian network), and not many older viewers were all that bothered about in the first place. But to paraphrase Steven Soderbergh, you should never remake something done perfectly the first time; this worth your time and money – a film that looks and sounds great on a big screen, regardless of its seemingly questionable existence.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is released August 13 in Australia and NZ, and August 14 in the US and UK.


This is bad. Bad? Worse. Worse than was rumoured. Really bad. Like 'makes you seriously re-evaluate the 2005 version' bad. This is an unutterable fuck-up to launch a million angry blog posts and mocking GIFs; books will be written and documentaries will be filmed on the behind-the-scenes disasters which led to its mangled creation. These will doubtless all be more enjoyable than the experience of watching FANTASTIC FOUR (or as they are calling it on the poster, 'FANT4STIC').

The script is piecemeal to the point of nonsensical, and the actors – who are uniformly so far above the material it’s painful to watch such talent being so contemptuously wasted for 100 straight minutes - struggle to hide their embarrassment as they perform it. The visual effects are occasionally impressive, but too often they're shithouse. The cinematography is as flat and unremarkable as the themeless, aimless score from Marco Beltrami and – bizarrely – Philip Glass. Even the set dressing sucks, never letting you forget you're watching a movie. The editing is so off-kilter that the tone varies wildly within individual scenes – pay attention early on to Dr Franklin Storm (Reg E. Carthy) telling off his son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), first in the hospital, then in the car. The emotional continuity of this performance jars like slamming a kitchen drawer on your fingers. Repeatedly.

Which all brings us to Josh Trank’s direction. Whether solely his fault or not (he’s also one of the credited screenwriters, so he’s got to shoulder at least a chunk of the blame), about the kindest, most understated thing you can say of it is that it’s never self-assured, leaving a movie that is neither fish nor foul. One of the better ideas Trank touches on is to make the four younger, and have this be a journey of reckless youth. But any youthful energy the cast attempt repeatedly gets sucked out by a muted colour palette just short of MAN OF STEEL’s dour-o-vision and moments of violence that sit uncomfortably beyond what five minutes ago we thought was being made and played for youngsters. And this is just a tip of the iceberg...

20th Century Fox were contractually obliged to make this movie to avoid surrendering the intellectual property rights of the Fantastic Four characters back to Marvel. So basically a bunch of people couldn’t agree over something that they were told they had to make. FANTASTIC FOUR will come to represent everything wrong with licensed franchise filmmaking – and it deserves to. Hopefully this will go down as the nadir of the modern comic book movie, and anything else can only be better than this. No-one, least of all the fans, deserves any worse.

FANTASTIC FOUR is released August 6 in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, and August 7 in the US.


Amy Schumer is American comedy’s woman of the moment, and deservedly so (if you don’t believe me, you probably haven’t seen the magnificent 12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer yet - watch an excerpt here), so it was only a matter of time before she gravitated towards Judd Apatow (KNOCKED UP, FUNNY PEOPLE), Hollywood’s foremost enabler of new comic talent.

Schumer is writer and star of TRAINWRECK, which judging from her stand-up would appear to be loosely based in her own experience.  She plays Amy (see?), a dyed-in-the-wool commitment-phobe in her early thirties. She makes her living writing features for a god-awful lad’s mag, which brings her into contact with sports surgeon Aaron (Bill Hader) who, much to everyone’s surprise but most of all Amy’s, likes her and wants for them to fall conventionally in love – but of course she’s going to make every attempt to sabotage it.

With three seasons of her TV show under her belt, Schumer is going from strength to strength, but you get the feeling that TRAINWRECK was either written some years ago (that career in magazine journalism is now a horribly outdated fantasy - which only gets waaaay more fantastical as the movie progresses, but I digress), or this is her first attempt at a feature screenplay and she’s not confident enough with the story format yet to throw in any truly exciting or original moves. Which isn’t to say that the film’s not funny - TRAINWRECK’s jokes are hilarious; its plot is first base.

Likewise, this isn’t exactly a stretch for director/producer Apatow. His benchmark as a storyteller remains FUNNY PEOPLE, which allowed us an authoritative, sophisticated glimpse into the world of professional comics, and he allowed his characters to make complex decisions. But here we’re back in the familiar formula of THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP – beneath all the R-rated one-liners lies a safe, even conservative story arc where in the end, the main players can be expected to do what middle American audiences want them to (a burden that the Apatow produced BRIDESMAIDS managed to overcome).

That said, TRAINWRECK is wonderful in the moment: Schumer plays to her own brassy strengths, while SNL and South Park alumnus Hader sportingly plays the straight man not only her, but a surprisingly game and genuinely funny offsider in LeBron James (playing a version of himself). Kudos also to John Cena in a role as brave as it would be seemingly unlikely, but top honours go to Tilda Swinton as Amy’s all too familiar, Oopma-Loompa orange boss, a character so hilariously vile you just want to kill by force-feeding her own make-up collection.

It never becomes the stone-cold classic we want it to be, but TRAINWRECK is nevertheless is a very fun couple of hours, and a fine start to Schumer’s big screen career. The next step could produce something very special indeed.

TRAINWRECK is released July 17 in the US, August 6 in Australia, August 13 in NZ, and August 14 in the UK.