Magical Manhattan

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Director: David Yates

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Faith Wood-Blagrove

J.K. Rowling made an absolute fortune out of the Harry Potter novels and now to capitalize on her continued success she attempts to write the screenplay for a spinoff series Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The Legend of Tarzan director David Yates is pulled in to coerce all the elements of an ultimately bland screenplay into a presentable and visually impressive fantasy film.

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Yates who helmed the last three Harry Potter films, does an impressive job with Fantastic Beasts even though Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) maintains a continued perplexed expression on his face throughout this film as he plays the British wizard Newt Scamander who arrives in New York with a suitcase brimming with diabolically strange creatures.

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Redmayne is joined by British actresses Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs, Inherent Vice) as Tina Goldstein and Oscar nominee Samantha Morton (Minority Report, In America) as the cruel Mary Lou along with Colin Farrell as an American wizard Graves who is chief enforcer of Macusa or the Magical Congress of the United States of America.

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Dan Fogler plays the hapless wannabe baker Jacob Kowalski who effectively serves as a sidekick character to the infinitely cooler Newt Scamander.

Whilst Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is visually impressive and for once the filmmakers make effective use of the 3-D format and all the Beasts are both alluring and comical, the film itself suffers from a badly written script and an overdose of visual effects and a lack of critical editing.

Redmayne is far better in brilliant period films like My Week with Marilyn and The Theory of Everything and comes across throughout Fantastic Beasts with the impression of how the hell did I land up in a Harry Potter spin off franchise set in New York?

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Unfortunately the rest of the characters do not get sufficient back story including the talented Samantha Morton’s portrayal of a cruel orphanage mistress Mary Lou who constantly punishes the repressive Credence Barebone played by Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Suicide Squad).

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Colin Farrell (Total Recall, Crazy Heart) is suitably bland as Percival Graves but that is perhaps due to Rowling’s script not giving him much to work with.

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Whilst there is an inherent fan base, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is not as dazzling as one expects although the visual effects are superb. Let’s hope the Fantastic Beasts sequels which Warner Bros intends making employs a better scriptwriter. No offense to Rowling but she does not possess a talent for snappy dialogue. Then again who needs brilliant dialogue when the audience is constantly overwhelmed by magical creatures roaming 1920’s Manhattan?

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Sacrifice

Indignation

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Director: James Schamus

Cast: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracey Letts, Linda Emond, Ben Rosenfield, Noah Robbins, Danny Burstein

Logan Lerman (Noah) has come a long way from portraying a teenage hero in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians franchise. He proved his acting abilities in the David Ayer war film Fury and now takes a central role in director James Schamus’s film Indignation based upon the novel by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Phillip Roth. Roth’s novels are notoriously difficult to be adapted to the big screen.

One of Philip Roth’s novel’s The Human Stain was adapted into a provocative 2003 Robert Benson film starring Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman and Wentworth Miller. Roth’s outstanding novel American Pastoral has recently been made into a film starring Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning.

Schamus does a sterling job of bringing Indignation to the big screen and Loman is nuanced and brilliant as the seriously conflicted young Jewish freshman Marcus who has a crisis of faith while attending a conservative Ohio college which forces the students to attend mass every Sunday.

Religious disaffection, sexual repression and social pressure are all perfectly framed within the 1950’s Korean War where young American serviceman were being conscripted to fight in the first of many US led foreign wars against the Communists.

At college Marcus while working in the library is attracted to the gorgeous Olivia Hutton who is not only sexually provocative but also slightly mentally unstable. On their first date Olivia performs a then unspeakable sexual act on Marcus, which releases years of pent up repression and rage.

Marcus fights with his roommates and soon requests a transfer which comes to the attention of Dean Caudwell wonderfully played by Tracy Letts (The Big Short). The religious conflict is evident when Marcus tells Caudwell that he is happily atheist, even though he was brought up in a Jewish home and worked for his overbearing father in a kosher butchery back in suburban New Jersey.

When Marcus falls ill, his sympathetic mother Esther Messner wonderfully played by Linda Emond (Julie and Julia, Oldboy) comes to visit and soon meets the illustrious Olivia. In the emotional crux of the film, Marcus makes a deal with his mother to stop seeing the clearly damaged Olivia superbly played by Canadian actress Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis, A Royal Night Out).

This arrangement along with Marcus’s continued conflict with Dean Caudwell on religious grounds has disastrous effects. Much to Caudwell’s horror, Marcus even quotes from the philosopher Bertrand Russell in his defence of atheism and his anti-establishment viewpoints.

Indignation is an intelligent exploration of one young man’s coming of age and his ultimate spiritual sacrifice on the cusp of what could have been an illustrious future. Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon hold their own in Schamus’s tightly controlled script based on Roth’s novel.

This atmospheric period drama is recommended viewing for those viewers that like their cinema thought-provoking, but ultimately Indignation does justice to Roth’s complex literary aesthetic.

 

2016 Venice Film Festival

2016 Venice International Film Festival Winners

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Venice International Film Festival, known as La Biennale di Venezia takes place annually
in late August, early September and is regarded as the oldest Film Festival in the World

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Golden Lion (Best Film): The Woman Who Left by Lav Diaz

Silver Lion (Best Director):  shared between –

Amat Escalante for The Untamed  (No film poster available)

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Andrei Konchalovsky for Paradise

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Best Actor:  Oscar Martínez for The Distinguished Citizen

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Best Actress: Emma Stone for La La Land

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Best Screenplay Award: Noah Oppenheim for Jackie

 

2016 Cannes Film Festival

2016 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL WINNERS

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Winners of the five main prizes at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival were as follows: –

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Palm d’Or:  I, Daniel Blake  directed by Ken Loach

Best Director: shared between :

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Cristian Mungiu for Graduation

and

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Olivier Assayas for Personal Shopper starring Kristen Stewart

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Best Actor:  Shahab Hosseini for The Salesman

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Best Actress:  Jaclyn Jose for Ma’ Rosa

Best Screenplay:  Asghar Farhadi for The Salesman

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Queer Palm Award: The Lives of Thérèse directed by Sébastien Lifshitz (documentary)

2016 Berlin Film Festival

2016 Berlin International

Film Festival Winners

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The 66th annual Berlin International Film Festival was held from 11th to the 21st February, 2016

The Berlin International Film Festival known as the Berlinale takes places annually in February and is regarded as one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.

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Opening Night Film: Hail, Caesar! directed by Joel and Ethan Coen starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand and Channing Tatum

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Golden Bear for Best Film:  Fire at Sea  by Gianfranco Rosi

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Silver Bear for Best Director:  Mia Hansen-Løve for Things to Come

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Silver Bear for Best Actor:  Majd Mastoura for Hedi

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Silver Bear for Best Actress:  Trine Dyrholm for The Commune

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Silver Bear for Best Script: Tomasz Wasilewski for United States of Love

2016 Toronto Film Festival

2016 Toronto International

Film Festival Winners

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Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) takes place every year in September in Toronto, Canada.

Films which premiere at Toronto are often nominated for Academy Awards the following year.

TIFF does not hand out individual prizes for Best Actor or Actress but focuses on amongst others the following awards:
People’s Choice Award & Best Canadian Feature Film

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Opening Night Film: The Magnificent Seven directed by Antoine Fuqua starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke

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People’s Choice Award: La La Land directed by Damien Chazelle – starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Finn Wittrock, J. K. Simmons & Rosemarie DeWitt

Best Canadian Film: Those who make Revolution only Dig their Graves Halfway directed by Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie

 

They are all packing in Texas

Hell or High Water

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Director: David Mackenzie

Cast: Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Dale Dickey, Gil Birmingham, Katy Mixon

British director David Mackenzie’s riveting and quick-witted Texan thriller Hell or High Water features some brilliant performances by Ben Foster (The Program, 3:10 to Yuma) and Oscar winner Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart).

Foster along with Chris Pine (Star Trek, Into the Woods) play brothers Tanner and Toby Howard who set out by terrorizing West Texas in a series of well-executed bank robberies in small towns only hitting the branches of the Texas Midlands Bank stealing untraceable notes. This is the same bank that is about to foreclose on their late mother’s farm, whilst there are possibly oil drilling rights on the land.

Mackenzie paints a decaying portrait of rural Texas, a backwater where everyone is struggling to make ends meet, an environment ripe with desperation and reckless activity. This would be quite an ordinary film except for the extraordinary performances by all three leads especially Bridges as Marcus Hamilton, a Texan law enforcement officer who is dreading the banality of retirement. Instead Hamilton likes teasing his half-native American partner Alberto Parker played by Gil Birmingham during a stakeout.

Ben Foster is equally striking as the hot-headed and reckless ex-con Tanner Howard, clearly not the brains behind the heists. Tanner even robs a bank while his brother Toby is being chatted up by a curvaceous waitress wonderfully played by Katy Mixon, as he finishes his steak in a diner.

With a particularly insightful and witty script by Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water is an amusing and enjoyable contemporary Western, without resorting to levels of unexpected violence so frequent in such Coen brothers’ films as No Country for Old Man or True Grit.

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Instead director David Mackenzie delivers a smartly scripted film about two brothers trying to rectify their financial situation through unlawful means whilst a patient and watchful Hamilton waits for the two to make an irrevocable mistake. That happens in the final heist in a small town called Post, Texas where even the locals give chase to the Howard brothers through the expansive and desolate terrain. For everyone is packing a gun in Texas.

A touching moment before the fatal heist the night before between the Howard brothers, is a precursor to their luck running out. Like in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as with most cops and robbers tales, eventually the tide does turn.

From Texas to Oklahoma and back again, Hell or High Water is a thoroughly enjoyable and well scripted film, featuring superb performances by Foster, Pine and Bridges and is definitely worth watching.

The Universal Language

Arrival

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stulbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma

With a screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by Ted Chiang, French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s latest film Arrival gives Oscar nominee Amy Adams (American Hustle, The Master, Doubt) full scope to flex her truly extraordinary acting abilities.

Adams plays a Linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks who is enlisted by the US army, when an alien space craft lands in Montana. However as Arrival gains momentum, it appears that there are 11 other similar alien space crafts that have landed unexpectedly in places throughout the world from The Sudan to Venezuela.

Banks is joined by Ian Donnelly played by Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town) as they become the proverbial couple who must make first contact with the aliens and decipher their complicated circular means of communication and ultimately discover what their true purpose is on earth? Are they friendly aliens or have they come to annihilate earth?

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As other nations around the world become increasingly hostile to the foreign ships in their territories, mainly China and the American military is becoming more trigger happy that the aliens which take the form of giant squid have malignant intentions, Banks and Donnelly must race against time to establish a pattern of communication to discover their real intention.

Skilfully shot and mostly done in a murky light, cinematographer Bradford Young photographs Arrival very dimly at first but soon as the narrative progresses, the film becomes brighter and more explanatory.

What really makes Arrival so distinctive a film, especially about the possibility of contact with alien life forms is the skillful direction of Villeneuve who portrays the contacts between Banks and the aliens in a non-linear form.

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Secondly, it is Amy Adams superb performance as Dr Louise Banks who is desperate to not only save humanity but forge a future for herself beyond this supernatural event. Adams is brilliant in this role and most of the screen time is taken up with her contradicted thoughts and emotional turmoil as the mental toll of what she is trying to achieve is distinguishable in every frame.

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Whilst the rest of the cast including Renner and Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) playing Colonel Weber along with character actor Michael Stulbarg as Agent Halpern all inhabit peripheral roles, it is Amy Adams’s performance which makes Arrival so absorbing to watch.

Visually the film is dark and almost perplexing but director Villeneuve handles the subject matter of first contact so elegantly that for moments, audiences will forget they are watching a sci-fi film.

Arrival is an extraordinary film with many intuitive moments much like the Universal Language that Dr Louise Banks discovers and ultimately ends on a poignant note, without resorting to corny or special effects laden farce. Arrival is a cinematic treat exploring how we as human beings assimilate language, despite there being so many different variations. Highly recommend viewing.

 

 

 

Guns for Opium

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

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Director: Edward Zwick

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Holt McCallany, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Robert Knepper, Aldis Hodge

After Jack Reacher was first introduced to cinema audiences in 2012, the first film simply titled Jack Reacher featured an all-star cast including Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike, Werner Herzog and David Oyelowo and of course superstar Tom Cruise in the titular role.

While the first film had a brilliant cast, this sequel seems to be less concerned with attracting big stars and rather making Jack Reacher: Never Go Back another Tom Cruise action film.

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Tom Cruise (Mission Impossible, Top Gun) returns in this stand-alone sequel mainly set in Washington D.C. and New Orleans. He stars opposite Canadian star Cobie Smulders of How I met Your Mother TV fame as Captain Susan Turner.

Smulders (The Avengers: Age of Ultron) turns in a solid performance as the no-nonsense Captain Turner who is inadvertently arrested after two of her officers are killed in Afghanistan under mysterious circumstances.

Naturally it’s the everyman’s hero, one who has no flashy cars or gadgets, Jack Reacher who comes to the rescue breaking Turner out of a military prison whereby they embark on a quest to uncover the truth behind a shady private military contractor Parasol, represented by the villainous Robert Knepper of Prison Break TV fame.

In the process Reacher, a character based on a series of novels by Lee Child, discovers through a paternity suit filed against him, that he may have a teenage daughter, the Blonde haired and skilful Samantha, a suitably wilful performance by Danika Yarosh who soon forms a close bond with Reacher and Turner as they escape the American capital and head for Louisiana.

Close on their tail is a merciless assassin, The Hunter played by Patrick Heusinger (Black Swan) who ruthlessly hunts the trio to the Mardi Gras capital of America.

As the conspiracy deepens and the body count rises, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back becomes an absorbing and fast-paced thriller with loads of action skilfully directed by Edward Zwick, an accomplished American filmmaker responsible for films like Glory, Pawn Sacrifice and Blood Diamond.

While this film is not as good as the brilliant original film, Jack Reacher directed by Christopher McQuarrie it certainly will stand up as a continuation of another action franchise for Tom Cruise who inhabits the role of Reacher with ease and confidence.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is worth watching, while the plot is not particularly inventive, but certainly entertaining, is recommended for those that enjoy a good old fashioned action thriller, without the CGI, fancy cars or exotic locations. Although there is a particularly well executed action sequence during a Halloween Parade down Bourbon Street which is the highlight of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Mastering your Demons

Doctor Strange

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Director: Scott Derrickson

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stulbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Chris Hemsworth

Marvel is certainly expanding their cinematic universe at a rapid rate. First it was The Avengers and then The Guardians of the Galaxy and now they have turned their attention to the mystical antihero Doctor Strange, transforming the comic book character into a visually dazzling film version by director Scott Derrickson.

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Heavily influenced by Christopher Nolan’s surreal city scape bending visuals in his 2010 blockbuster Inception, Doctor Strange is a spectacular anti-hero film centred on an arrogant neurosurgeon wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game).

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As the film begins, audiences catch a glimpse of Doctor Strange medical expertise as well as his supreme arrogance and wealth. However all that suave egotistical bravado comes crashing down when he plunges his sports car off a cliff outside New York City and soon loses all nerve sensations in his hand.

At first he is naturally devastated and despite being comforted by sometime lover and co-worker Dr Christine Palmer, played by Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Doctor Strange sets off for an alternative cure prompted by a meeting with a miracle paraplegic Jonathan Pangborn played by Benjamin Bratt (Love in the Time of Cholera, Traffic).

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Naturally the action shifts to Kathmandu, Nepal, where Doctor Strange is introduced to the mystical arts by the shaven head guru The Ancient One, superbly played by Oscar winner Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton). The best dialogue in the film are reserved for Cumberbatch and Swinton as The Ancient One strips Doctor Strange of his arrogance and he discovers a mystical world of parallel universes and scriptures written in ancient languages.

Soon Doctor Strange takes a liking to a flying crimson cape and has sideburns to match Frankenstein. With a new mystical persona, Doctor Strange delves into pure fantasy with brilliant mind bending visual effects to match.

The Visual Effects are so inspiring that they should get an Oscar on their own. In this case Doctor Strange has come up trumps with a perfect cast, most of them Oscar nominees and winners and a strong narrative which establishes more films in the Defenders Universe.

As the action shifts to Hong Kong, Doctor Strange with the help of Mordo played by Oscar Nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and Wong played by Benedict Wong, this diverse mystical trio must battle the evil and embittered Kaecilius played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) who is intent on unleashing dark forces on planet earth in a bid to achieve immortality.

Doctor Strange is visually brilliant and superbly acted by the cast, due to some clever casting choices by Marvel Studios. The fact that Tilda Swinton, initially known for her art house films like Sally Potter’s Orlando and Benedict Cumberbatch seen in British period films like Atonement and Creation are both in a Marvel’s Anti-Hero movie is testament to how seriously the film studio takes their brand as they continuously expand all the various superhero franchises and even delve into quirky Sci-Fi.

Audiences must stay seated after the credits as Doctor Strange has an unexpected meeting with Asgard’s protector…

Highly recommended viewing for those that enjoy all of Marvel’s films or would love to visit Comicon.

 

 

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