Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Local Cinema Round-Up for 21st to 29th January 2015 by Peter Clarke

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

This is a good week for new releases. We have action, drama and suspense with Mortdecai (12A); Kingsman: The Secret Service (15) and The Gambler (15). Also there is the amazing dark comedy Birdman (15).

We have lost the films Dumb and Dumber To; Exodus: Gods and Kings and Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast. Also Fifty Shades of Grey has left the screens, but this will return in February. However we do see the return of The Nut Job and Love Rosie.

The must see movies of the period are the excellent science fiction Ex Machina and the rather harder to categorize Birdman. However there is still plenty of family entertainment with Penguins of Madagascar; Paddington; Into the Woods and Peter Pan. In addition there is still chance to catch the excellent drama Foxcatcher or enjoy horror with The Woman in Black: Angel of Death.

High culture represented this week with NT Live: Treasure Island; Bolshoi: Swan Lake and Royal Opera House: Andrea Chenier.

Reviews

American Sniper
Director: Clint Eastwood
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Ben Reed, Luke Grimes.
This is the story of Chris Kyle (Cooper), the most lethal sniper in American History with 160 confirmed kills. Following the attacks of 9/11 Kyle enlisted, and became a Navy SEAL marksman serving four tours of duty in Iraq. The film is based on his autobiography. As a sniper, Kyle was separate from the other troops and was forced to make life and death decisions depending of his perception of whether the person in his rifle cross-hairs was a terrorist or simply an innocent bystander. The film does not address the politics of the Iraq conflict, but is told from Kyles point of view. Thus his is the only character who has any depth (his history and the increasingly strained relationship with his wife is told in flashbacks). This is a tense movie, well acted and thought provoking, if a little one dimensional. Still it merits a trip to the cinema.

Big Eyes
Director: Tim Burton
Certificate: PG-13
Cast includes: Amy Adams, Christopher Waltz, Danny Huston
The film is based on a true story. Margaret Ulbrich (Adams), a divorcee with a child, married the estate salesman Walter Keane (Waltz). Margaret was an artist, producing enigmatic pictures of children with big eyes. Her husband had artistic pretensions and when his wife's work started to sell, he claimed it was he that was the artist. The paintings became best sellers and, with their success, Margaret's confidence grew. The movie follows their turbulent divorce in a Honolulu court as both the Keane's claimed the big eyed pictures to be their own. This is something of a change of style for Burton. The movie benefits from excellent acting and impressive photography of San Francisco. It is a something of a quirky movie, but excellent entertainment.

Birdman
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Lindsay Duncan, Edward Norton, Michael Keaton, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifiankis, Emma Stone.
Subtitled 'The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance' this is the story of washed up actor Riggan Thomas (Keaton), once famous for playing a movie superhero Birdman. However once he left the franchise, his career never recovered. Thus he is making a last ditch attempt to revive his fortunes by directing and acting in a play at the St James theatre on Broadway. The play is not going well and Riggan is plagued by his inner voice (manifest as the character Birdman), by quarrels with his actors and arguments with his family. The film appears to be shot as a single, cut free. sequence and it contains surreal, 'over the top' interludes. This is a dark comedy, a flight of fancy, about a self absorbed man. The acting is superb (especially Keaton) and the whole is a quirky must see movie that could be the film of 2015. If you can only see one movie, this is the one.

Ex Machina
Director: Alex Garland
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Oscar Issac, Alicia Vikander, Corey Johnson, Domhnall Gleeson.
Caleb (Gleeson) is a twenty-four year old programmer working at the world's largest Internet Company. He wins a competition and so gets to spend a week at the private estate of Nathan Bateman (Issac), the CEO of the company. Nathan unveils his work, a female android Ava (Vikander), and explains to Caleb that his role is to perform a Turing test on her to explore if her thinking and behavior is indistinguishable from that of a human. As Caleb gets to spend time with Ava, she starts to become dominant in their relationship, trying to recruit Caleb for her own ends. The film is reminiscent of Frankenstein, with Nathan increasingly taking the role of mad scientist who does not have the emotional empathy to support his creation. The movie is excellently shot with impressive special effects that do not get in the way of the story. A superb, thought provoking science fiction drama that explores the interaction between man and machine.

Foxcatcher
Director: Bennett Miller
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell, Channing Tatum.
A sports movie (Wrestling) based on a true story. Mark Schultz (Tatum) is a wrestler who won a gold at the 1984 Olympics. However he lives rather under the shadow of his more charismatic brother Dave (Ruffalo), who is also a wrestler and his coach. Meanwhile, the millionaire John du Pont (Carell), heir to the Du Pont chemical corporation, bankrolls the American National wrestling team. He offers to train them at Foxcatcher farm, the home of the Du Pont family, ready for the 1988 Olympic games to be held at Seoul. John DuPont has his own demons, feeling inadequate and trying to impress his mother (Redgrave). Mark Schultz, at first pleased to be invited to train at Foxcatcher, becomes increasingly disillusioned as does his brother as they are manipulated by du Pont. The alienation between the three men builds to a horrifying climax that makes for a really gripping movie.

Into the Woods
Director: Rob Marshall
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, James Corden, Anna Kendrick
This is a Walt Disney adaptation of Sondheim's 1987 hit musical of the same name. The film posits that the fairy tales of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel are all happening simultaneously. Meanwhile a Baker and his wife wish to begin a family, but they cannot due to a witches curse. To lift the curse they must collect items from each of the fairy tales. This is a star studded musical with excellent performances, especially from Meryl Streep who plays the wicked witch. The original stage musical had a number of adult themes which are softened for the Disney version, but the end result is a great and entertaining family movie.

Love, Rosie
Director: Christian Ditter
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Lily Collins, Sam Claflin
Rosie (Collins) and Alex (Claflin) have been friends from early childhood and repeatedly become close to falling in love with each other. However every-time they start to come together other people and situations serve to come between them and they drift apart. In time. Rosie becomes a single mother and Alex in turn gets married. However there remains a spark between them - but will they ever get together? The movie is based on the 2004 novel 'Where Rainbows End' by Cecelia Ahern. The acting is first rate and the whole is a first rate romantic comedy.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Director: Peter Jackson
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Ian McKeller, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, Elijah Wood, Richard Armitage, Stephen Fry, Christopher Lee
This is the long awaited final installment of the Hobbit trilogy and it concludes the adventures of Bilbo Baggins. The action immediately picks up where the previous movie left off. Thorin and his dwarves have reclaimed their homeland from the dragon Smaug, but Smaug now mounts an attack on Laketown. Meanwhile Sauron has sent legions of Orcs to the Lonely Mountain. Hence armies of Dwarves, Elves and Men must come together to determine the future of Middle Earth. The film is full of action, with numerous set pieces, as each of the major characters is give chance to shine. However, with the exception of Thorin who develops 'dragon sickness' there is little of interest taking place at an emotional level among the characters. Bilbo increasingly starts to be sidelined by the plot. This reviewer could not find any fault in the movie, but neither could he summon the enthusiasm to care about the destiny of Middle Earth.

The Imitation Game
Director: Morten Tyldum
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Kinnear, Keira Knightley
A portrayal of the life of computer genius Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) who masterminded the cracking of the German Enigma code in the second world war and continued to develop computer theory at Manchester University. The film opens in 1951 with a robbery taking place in Turing's house. Thence the film explores Turing's life by flashbacks to his schooling and his life in Bletchley Park. The acting in the film is excellent with Cumberbatch giving a particularly good performance. However the film rather backs away from Turing's homosexuality and his subsequent suicide after his persecution by the British Government.

The Nut Job
Director: Peter Lepeniotis
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl
Set in the 1950s, this animation follows the adventures of Surly the squirrel who, with his friend Buddy the rat, plan to steal from Maury's Nut shop. However the shop proves to be a front for gangsters who are planning to rob the nearby bank. This combination leads to action, car chases jokes and general mayhem. This is an inoffensive film that will amuse children but leave parents a little bored. An enjoyable romp, but not destined to be a cartoon classic.

The Theory of Everything
Director: James Marsh
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox
A biopic of the early years of the world renown physicist Stephen Hawkins, based on the memoir 'Traveling to Infinity: My life with Stephen Hawkins' by Jane Hawkins. At Cambridge, Stephen Hawkins was an active young man who fell in love with literature student Jane Wilde. However, aged 21, Hawkins had an accidental fall which led to his being diagnosed with motor neuron disease and given just two years to live. The film shows the marriage of Stephen and Jane and how she supported him and their children during the years of their marriage (they divorced in 1995). This is a beautiful film likely to leave the audience in tears. The acting is excellent especially Redmayne's portrayal of Hawkins and the movie shows the lighter side of Hawkin's character, his humour and his passion.

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death
Director: Tom Harper
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Phoebe Fox, Oaklee Pendergast
This is the sequel to the film 'The Woman in Black' which was based on the novella by Susan Hills. The Second World War is raging and a group of eight school children are evacuated away from London and the Blitz to rural England. They are accompanied by their Headmistress Jean Hogg (McCrory) and teacher Eve Parkin (Fox). The group occupy the abandoned Eel Marsh House which had been haunted forty years ago. Eve tries to build trust with Edward (Pendergast), one of the vulnerable children, who starts to exhibit trance like stages. Subsequently other children start acting strangely as a dark force is awakened. Eve seeks the cause of the problem aided by a pilot Harry Burnstow (Irvine). The film is a very competent horror movie with some romantic interest. It is well acted and has plenty of frights. However like many sequels, it does not quite live up to the suspense of the original.

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