In the four years since the last MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film (GHOST PROTOCOL), the real world has become a significantly darker place. So from its demi-title - ROGUE NATION - you could perhaps be forgiven for thinking writer/director Christopher McQuarrie might have followed a dud, clichéd instinct to make his stab at the series ‘grittier, darker, more realistic.’ But fear not – that couldn’t be further from the case; McQuarrie is quite wisely not going anywhere near ISIS or anything like it. The fifth MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE movie is a return to basics: the good, old fashioned, “completely made up shadowy nemesis organisation” plot; everybody’s here purely for some escapist, adrenalised fun.

Broadly speaking, simplicity is the key to McQuarrie’s approach – Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team must prove the existence of and destroy ‘The Syndicate’, an enormous dark network of disavowed and presumed dead agents with no regard for borders or previous allegiances, led by menacing Brit Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). As Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) helpfully spells out for us, “they're SPECTR - the anti-IMF.” The CIA and MI6 are still making things difficult, with Alec Baldwin peskily shutting the IMF down (again), while Ethan has trouble trusting the mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), whose allegiances are harder to read than Bronwyn Bishop’s travel receipts.

The tried and true plot structure is once again draped over three protracted and precise globe-trotting action set pieces (plus a short opening salvo) involving all the old favourites – assassination attempts, the acquisition of very important devices via extremely convoluted means (the “impossible” bit), and - well, you'll know the last one.

ROGUE NATION has no shortage of spectacle: Robert Elswit’s cinematography is exciting and atmospheric; the in-camera stunts are up there with the best in the series; the editing is pin-sharp, and Joe Kraemer’s score goes further than just rehashing Lalo Schifrin’s iconic theme (although it’s always a babymaker-tingling moment when that fires up). But it’s frequently McQuarrie’s writing that elevates the movie, easily assimilating the best aspects of the series and strengthening any previous weaknesses. Case in point: the beefing up of Benji’s screen time. No longer simply comic relief, McQuarrie fully utilises Pegg’s considerable talent for drawing empathy when playing it straight. There's an abundance of tiny character flourishes - Ilsa removing her footwear whenever she needs to a) run away or b) kick someone’s arse, is a lovely touch in a movie full of them. Meanwhile, romance past or present - is refreshingly left out in favour of professionalism and a subtle nod to equality.

Cruise remains a solid lynchpin for all of this, even if when he isn't running, jumping, running, riding motorbikes, running, and stands still long enough we start to see weariness behind his eyes. His performance is fine here, though you suspect there may be a handover coming in M:I 6 or 7.

If we're going to looking for a flaw, it’s that we’re now perhaps too frequently one step ahead of the action – we’ve reached a point where we can literally guess with specificity and accuracy what’s going to happen next; sometimes this is fun (“mask… TOLD YOU!”), and sometimes it’ll induce a small eye-roll. But there are also occasions where McQuarrie’s imagination bests us, and it’s here that ROGUE NATION shines: a seemingly done-before sequence taking place behind the scenes of a performance at an opera, for example. What starts as QUANTUM OF SOLACE deja-vu quickly pivots into a masterclass in Hitchcockian cause-and-effect action storytelling.

If you have the opportunity to see ROGUE NATION in IMAX, this is highly recommended (I don’t, but it’s easily spot which sequences are intended for the larger format and how well they would work); it can only add to what is already a superbly crisp, exhilarating experience. In keeping it simple, McQuarrie and his team have crafted one of the summer’s big winners.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION is released July 30 in Australia and NZ, and July 31 in the UK and US.

Review: UNDERDOG (Svenskjävel) and Australia's 2015 Scandinavian Film Festival

A quick primer in Scandinavian politics will help considerably before heading into Ronnie Sandahl’s debut feature: the richest nation in the region was Sweden, until they did very badly out of the GFC, while Norway’s economy boomed on North Sea oil. This reversal of fortune has led to an exodus of young unemployed Swedes, many of them into the previously sneered-at Norway.

Such is the case for Dino (Bianca Kronlof). She’s sent by her temping agency to the restaurant of former tennis champ Steffen (Henrik Rafaelsen), despite a broken arm leaving her useless for the position. However, she develops a rapport with Steffen’s youngest daughter, and is soon taken on as au pair while his somewhat estranged wife finishes up work contract in Africa. Over time, the Swede not only begins a sexual relationship with Steffen, but also begins to bond with his eldest daughter, who has a similar array of self-esteem issues.

Sandahl has created an understated but sometimes overly neat and occasionally predictable story, for which he draws solid performances from his cast. What it lacks in cinematic flair it makes up for with an authentic taste of regional relations, making it a fine inclusion for this year’s Scandinavian Film Festival.

UNDERDOG screens in Australia as part of the Scandinavian Film Festival, which runs from 8 – 29 July. Session times vary between cities: consult for details.


Brendan Cowell’s movie from his own stage play has a decent idea in its' centre: Australia’s drinking culture compounds the difficulties of alcoholism. Unfortunately this is expressed in a stagey, lazy, inconsistent screenplay populated almost exclusively by arseholes – none moreso than self-entitled ad man Ruben (Patrick Brammel, giving his best in spite of the material), who ends up at the bottom of his luxury pool with broken bones after partying a bit too hard for a way too long, and is forced to re-evaluate his life. He attempts to live sober for a year, but this turns out to be more difficult than expected, as nearly every one of his friends and family begs or tries to coerce him back to the boozer's lifestyle he’s always known.

For every valid point Cowell makes, he undoes any good work by placing us in the company of utter wankers – even when he’s sober, Ruben's an unlikeable prick, and by the film's end we wish he'd just drowned in that opening scene, and saved everyone a lot of time.

RUBEN GUTHRIE is released July 16 in Australia.


No, that's not Keira Knightley

The fifth cinematic adaptation of Gustav Flaubert’s novel overall and the second to arrive on Australian screens in as many months (after the Anne Fontaine/Posy Simmonds ‘more-or-less inspired by’ version GEMMA BOVERY), director Sophie Barthes (COLD SOULS) opts for a pared-down, realistic interpretation - heavy on hand held camerawork and beautiful locations - rather than a romantic one. It’s an approach that serves Mia Wasikowska (TRACKS; STOKER) well as Emma, the inexperienced 19th century finishing school drop-out who is quickly married off to a promising but unambitious young rural GP (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), and almost as quickly becomes bored and frustrated with her modest country life.

Though Wasikowska never shies from the less appealing aspects of Emma’s character – impetuous, selfish and often manipulative - for some reason it never amounts to quite enough. There may be untranslatable detail in Flaubert’s writing, but Emma on screen doesn’t have much of a character arc; she’s neither tragic heroine nor antihero nor villain, whether she’s spending money she doesn’t have with serpent-like purveyor of fineries Lheureux (Rhys Ifans) or taking lovers she thinks might provide her escape (Ezra Miller as the passionate young romantic Dupois, and Logan Marshall-Green as the Marquis), she’s just… not a very nice person to be around, but not much more. Which is not to say that Barthes’ film isn’t worthwhile – lovers of period detail will find much to enjoy in Benoit Barouh’s attentive production design and some gorgeous costumes by Christian Gasc and Valerie Ranchoux, while there’s a fine supporting turn from the always welcome Paul Giamatti.

MADAME BOVARY is released July 9 in Australia and New Zealand.


Six years since TERMINATOR: SALVATION disappointed and with seemingly few major events in John Connor's life left to explore, the franchise has gone fan-fic with TERMINATOR GENISYS, which quickly CTRL-ALT-DELs the previous timeline (presumably TERMINATOR: HARD RESET was voted down, but I’ll continue to imagine it was a close-run thing) and throws in mash-ups of favourite bits from previous instalments.

Opening in the series’ familiar future, on the eve of victory in the war against the machines John Connor (the ever-reliable Jason Clarke) sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect John’s mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke), but something quickly goes wrong, sending the entire timeline into uncertainty.

In spirit, it’s the closest film in the series to JUDGEMENT DAY. Directed by seasoned TV man Alan Taylor (Game Of Thrones; Mad Men; The Sopranos; Deadwood, but who also got burned on THOR: THE DARK WORLD), GENISYS has its fair share of mistakes, but at times there’s also a pleasing playfulness to it; at times it feels as though the creatives have decided to write their way out of tight spots and budget constraints with ideas rather than continuous reliance on big CG (and on that note, the quality of the effects varies greatly throughout). Schwarzenegger remains comfortable in the role that made him a superstar, around which a few compensatory tweaks have been written to accommodate the ravages of time. Sadly though there’s not much here for Courtney and E. Clarke, and virtually any scenes they get between the action fall flat. Meanwhile the always welcome appearance of 27 percenter J.K. Simmons is all too brief, either the victim of post-production trimming, or his character being seeded in the hope of future recall.

How much you enjoy TERMINATOR GENISYS will most likely boil down to two things: 1) How low your expectations are after SALVATION, and 2) How much of the wholly spoilerific publicity campaign has landed on your eyes (let this be a lesson to the marketeers of summer juggernauts that less can still be more – sometimes surprise can be a wonderful thing, and audiences don’t need to know everything about a movie before we’ve paid for it). Personally, I was fortunate enough to have avoided the worst of these and enjoyed GENISYS as a middling entry to the series, marginally more so than RISE OF THE MACHINES.


Here’s a fine example of varied interpretations being different things to different people. David Stratton has compared this latest rendering of Thomas Hardy’s FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, by Thomas Vinterberg (THE HUNT; FESTEN) as being inferior to John Schlesinger’s 1967 version, feeling that Vinterberg’s effort is too rushed.

I’m of the opposite view – I found Schlesinger’s film, with it’s near three hour running time, to be like eating a bowl of particularly chewy, dour muesli. Without any golden syrup on it. Made with cold water. My memories of boredom and restlessness with that production are such that I was secretly dreading this new one. How wrong I was.

Carey Mulligan (THE GREAT GATSBY; DRIVE; AN EDUCATION) is Bathsheba, a young woman living in Hardy’s fictional 19th century county of Wessex. She’s more interested in her own independence than settling for nice-but-graceless farmer next door Gideon (Mattias Schoenaerts: A LITTLE CHAOS), and soon inherits a large farm of her own. From there trials, tragedy, tribulations and two more potential suitors - fiery soldier Troy (Tom Sturridge: ON THE ROAD; THE BOAT THAT ROCKED) and a bachelor neighbour as repressed as he is mature, Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen: TWILIGHT; THE QUEEN; Masters Of Sex).

Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nicholls (ONE DAY) cut to the heart of the story, sparing little else, giving the story a fizz and energy at every level of production; Mulligan is superb (has she ever not been?), playing Bathsheba as level-headed, intelligent and patient rather than snippy or angrily contrarian in her defiance of the norms of her time. Charlotte Bruus Christensen's (who also photographed Vinterberg’s glorious THE HUNT) sumptuous cinematography places us in an England lush and romantic, where the sun is never more than thirty degrees from the horizon - all glorious, crisp blue sky mornings and glowing golden afternoons. Craig Armstrong's score certainly doesn't hurt, either.

Granted, Stratton's argument isn't without merit, and Vinterberg's film is in places a little too abridged. The excising of 50 minutes from the story does lead to motivations and actions feeling at times rushed and rash - particularly, but not only, with the male suitors. But ultimately the sacrifice feels worth it for the sake of dramatic pace and excitement.

This is gorgeous, swooning romantic cinema, and a wonderful surprise. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD deserves to be a hit of THE NOTEBOOK proportions.

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is released April 30 in NZ, May 1 in the UK, May 22 in the US and June 25 in Australia.

Review: ALOHA

The depth of field inadvertently speaks volumes

Cameron Crowe’s filmography hasn’t been having a very good decade. Actually, depending on your opinion of VANILLA SKY (I don’t mind it – many did), and discounting music documentaries made from having 20 years worth of priceless footage duped in your lap, it hasn’t been having a good millennium. The director has been in need of something simple and solid to get him back on sure footing, ala Jon Favreau’s CHEF. Sadly, ALOHA is not that movie, despite an impressive cast.

Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is an ex-army boy turned ‘consultant’ for the US defense forces. He’s been brought back to his home in Hawaii to earn his way back into the good graces of billionaire space nut Carson Welch (Bill Murray) by negotiating a land grab from the locals (Dennis ‘Bumpy’ Kanahele plays himself) on behalf of the US DOD. Assigned to assist him is the spritely, precise and upbeat USAF pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone). Meanwhile Brian’s ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) still lives on the island with her husband (John Krasinski) and their two kids.

ALOHA has already come in for a kicking for its marginalisation of indigenous Hawaiian culture – and deservedly so - but let’s take that as read, and focus on its other most egregious flaw: the screenplay. It’s a hot mess, and if it didn’t have Crowe’s name on the title page it would never been greenlit. It’s like he set out to fuse LOCAL HERO and THE DESCENDANTS (not a bad idea in itself), but then the night before shooting had a Netflix double of THE RIGHT STUFF and THE HURT LOCKER, and crammed those elements in on the fly. God knows what the shoot was like, but I can guarantee you by the time editing came around people were panicking, slashing and burning; the result is every bit as uneven and jarring as you could expect – gaping holes and unfollowed-up plot threads, characters we're not sure we should like or forgive, facepalm-inducing “WTF?!” contrivances (including a late action sequence where Brian displays mad skillz that haven't been so much as mentioned until that point) and a tone as unstable as the volcanoes it all takes place on.

But among the calamity and infuriating errors of judgement, there are fragments that do work. Not nearly enough of them, but they’re in there. Almost without exception these are drawn from the abilities and comic timing of ALOHA’s stars, and their in-built audience goodwill - Murray and Stone are the most obvious examples, but also a restrained Danny McBride, and Krasinski’s almost silent performance provides the most interesting and enjoyable scenes of the entire piece. Cooper meanwhile has to use every ounce of his charisma in trying to win the audience over to his essentially rather despicable (ex-Iraq war mercenary and profiteer looking for a third chance) character. His success in this will be very much down to the individual.

With the world’s pitchforks already out for it (already one of the most derided films of the year, it’ll doubtless it will go on to win every Razzie going, unless their favourite whipping boy Michael Bay has so much as a finger in any film between now and awards season), it’s important to remember that there’s a smidgen of crazy courage in ALOHA – it may be an excited puppy of a film, wildly chasing whichever ideas it feels like in any given moment, but it least it has some promising ideas to chase, which automatically puts it several steps up from the soft, saccharine shite that was WE BOUGHT A ZOO. So on the bright side, Crowe is slowly improving.

ALOHA is released May 29 in the US, June 4 in Australia and NZ, and September 4 in the UK


Whether by coincidence or design, Gemma Arterton is again starring in the title role of a Posy Simmonds novel adaptation that re-jigs some classical source material. In 2010 it was the successful TAMARA DREWE, which took inspiration from Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd. On this occasion, the influence is more overt – Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

This isn’t, however, simply a case of recycling a winning formula. Where the former was a more or less straightforward contemporisation of Hardy’s story, director/co-screenwriter Anne Fontaine here gives us an outer meta-layer in Martin (Fabrice Luchini), an advancing in years village baker, who is all too aware that life has begun imitating his favourite novel; he can scarcely believe it when his new neighbours’ entanglements begin to mirror that of the fictional 19th century doctor’s wife.

Gemma Bovery (Arterton) is an upper middle class English woman with a knack for standing in perfectly picturesque natural light (full credit to cinematographer Christophe Beacarne) who has moved with her antique restorer husband Charlie (Jason Flemyng in another strong, understated everyman role) to rural France. Interior design is her passion, which she’s soon able to make a living off of the local bourgeois, chateau dwelling expats. Despite all this she soon becomes bored and restless, leading to complications and drama - which our quietly besotted, nosey and somewhat unreliable narrator Martin does his best to steer her clear of.

The film repeatedly references the book, with characters praising Flaubert’s ability to hold the reader riveted even when his plot isn’t moving. The film however doesn’t have this power, and it’s all the more unfortunate for it to keep drawing our attention to the fact. It’s doubly distracting when the viewer finally figures out that the themes of the novel have (presumably, from what evidence Martin gives those of us who have never read it), so little bearing on the film’s real point.

This is a curious misstep for Fontaine, normally so right-footed in material like this (COCO AVANT CHANEL; ADORE). Despite strong performances, muddy characterisation and an inconsistency of tone (the more successful, comic scenes are pretty much confined to bookending the film) will leave some scratching their heads. Fans of French rural scenery however, will be pleased.

GEMMA BOVERY is released May 28 in Australia, August 15 in the UK.


At this point, to be outraged by the rampant chauvinism in Entourage is to be the frog to writer/director/series creator Doug Ellin’s scorpion, so let’s just take all criticisms of sexism as read (and legitimate) from here – after all, you can understand Ellin’s reluctance to mess with a profitable formula.

What is less easy to comprehend is how the last hurrah for a TV comedy about the unabashed celebration of material success ended up being so flat in every conceivable way.  What’s noticeable first is the dull, cheap-looking cinematography, which frequently betrays the illusion of the gang’s lifestyle; what’s supposed to be glitz and glamour looks about as convincing as a display home built by the Bluth Company. Then there’s what smells awfully like a panic edit; the slim 100 minute run time is a fair indicator of why some subplots wither on the vine (Turtle’s dating MMA champ Ronda Rousey for example, is simply never followed up). My guess is 20 minutes or so is going to turn up on an ‘extra-large’ DVD gimmick edition.

But the real weakness is Ellin’s hollow writing, crystallised by the climactic scene (and frankly I couldn’t give a rat’s arse about spoilers on this one, so deal with it or look away now): Ari (Jeremy Piven) has just won the day against oil magnate financier and the plot’s senior antagonist McCredle (Billy Bob Thornton) in front of the rest of the film studio’s board members, saving Vince’s directorial debut masterpiece from – ironically – being mangled in the editing suite by McCredle’s son (Haley Joel Osment), and exposing him for the petty, deal-welching, interfering jerk that he is. But then, in what feels like a Freudian slip of Ellin’s pen, McCredle has the gumption to lecture Ari on business etiquette, something along the lines of “yeah, my boy’s a jerk and an idiot, but you’re using my money so you might at least have pretended to show him some respect.” So in essence, money = license to be as much of an arsehole as you want. But even that’s not the most egregious part: Ari Gold, one of the greatest, most viciously accomplished princes of the putdown – rivalled only by Malcolm Tucker – says nothing. It’s ENTOURAGE’s ‘Greedo fired first’ moment, only it’s happening in the climax of the film. It's an unforgivable letdown, and the few laughs that have been mustered up to that point don’t come anywhere near compensating for it.

Which will leave HBO fans coming out with one important question: how the hell did this get approved and financed while we’re still waiting for the proper, feature-length ending of Deadwood?

ENTOURAGE is released June 4 in Australia, New Zeland and the US, and June 19 in the UK

Oh yeah, the plot. Actually no, fuck it – they couldn’t be bothered so neither can I.


Given the huge box office success of EARTHQUAKE (third highest grossing film of 1974, yet forever in the shadow of the same year’s THE TOWERING INFERNO), it’s something of a mystery why Hollywood has taken so long to return to the fault line beneath it for inspiration. Even among the CG-driven ‘second wave’ of disaster flicks in the ‘90s and ‘00s (INDEPENDENCE DAY, VOLCANO, DANTE’S PEAK, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW etc.), the ground remained largely intact. We need wonder no more of course, but even now it’s taken the colossal star power of Dwayne Johnson to crack it back open. (Yes I sidestepped the ‘Rock’ pun.)

Reteaming with his JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND director Brad Peyton for this bigger, weightier action spectacular, Johnson is California Fire & Rescue Captain Ray Gaines. It should go without saying that Ray is exceptionally good at his job. In his downtime he wants to be driving his daughter Blake (Alexandria Daddario) from L.A. to college in San Francisco, but a quake in neighbouring Nevada puts him back at work. Blake is instead flown upstate by her skyscraper-erecting, soon-to-be stepfather Daniel (Ioan Guffudd).

Meanwhile, the Nevada quake has been studied by Professor Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), and it has given him the acumen to determine that California is about to break like a Saltine cracker - beginning with L.A. and ending at San Fran. But it’s already started, and as Lawrence struggles to get the message out , Ray sets out on a mission through the carnage to bring his fractured family back together as everything else falls apart.

It’s best not to get too bogged down in the details – plot or politics - of a movie like SAN ANDREAS at the best of times, and sure - nitpickers will have a field day (how exactly did Ray get his helicopter back out of that gorge? And why is he allowed to do basically whatever he wants with a taxpayer-owned helicopter while there’s a national emergency going on?), but let’s be honest – it’s not why we’re here.

We’re here for spectacle, and on this front, Peyton and his team deliver. Among the visual effects shots and sequences we’ve become accustomed to (lengthy, unbroken follow shot behind a character fleeing chaos and debris; supporting object falls away beneath a character holding on to a cable clasped at the last second; skyscraper across the street falls from the view of the skyscraper we’re in), SAN ANDREAS ratchets up a few stylistic signature shots of its own, most gloriously when it pulls back and goes wide – real wide – above and behind Ray's helicopter, showing an entire city undulating like a city-sized bedspread being shaken out, or from sea level, facing the inevitable tsunami that follows. It’s old school 3D camerawork, and it still works beautifully – all of course aided by a thunderous sound mix.

With so much visual action pelting our eyes, Peyton wisely bucks the trend of disaster movies past, opting for a simpler story uncluttered by too many characters. Apart from cutting to Giamatti’s Professor Exposition (and boy does he get the short end of what’s already a pretty short dialogue stick), we never stray far from the Gaines family, and anyone not sticking with them is a barely more than a character sketch. It gives better time for their backstory among the bombast, and it works. One particular scene - quiet, calm and in the film’s middle between Ray and his soon-to-be-ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is gently, genuinely affecting; had he ever needed one, it would be on Johnson’s audition reel. Daddario too is allowed moments to be more than unfairly beautiful, giving Blake energy and resourcefulness as she shepherds two English brothers, twenty-something Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and pre-teen Ollie (Art Parkinson) to the less obvious, safest ‘plan B’ she’s been taught to find. On the downside, there’s really no deviation in Ray’s patriarch hero from the tried and trusted pedigree of Heston and Schwarzenegger, and there was certainly room for it.

Yes SAN ANDREAS predictable and unabashedly old-fashioned (indeed, perhaps particularly unfortunate to be landing within two weeks of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD), but more so it's giddily spectacular and thunderously entertaining. See it big, see it loud.

SAN ANDREAS is released May 28 in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, May 29 in the US.