The GamblerAndrew O'Dea
A lit professor and gambler's debt causes him to borrow money from his mother and a loan shark.
"The Gambler" is a tale of personal redemption and the moral muddiness of gambling. Unfortunately it's difficult for an audience to sympathise with a pretentious protagonist bent on self-destruction, throwing money against the wall while failing to garner any semblance of a lesson from the experience. Despite a host of terrific performances from the supporting cast, the story feels a little over-wrought, as it meanders to a point where we end up not caring enough to be invested in the tormented anti-hero's fate. Got to know when to fold em'...
Jupiter AscendingAnthony Macali
Jupiter's boring and destitute life of house cleaning changes when Caine, a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down.
"Jupiter Ascending" shoots for the stars and falls flat on its face, relying on worn conventions and hopeless romanticism to propel its story. There's no question the visuals are amazing; a galaxy of brightly coloured planets, outrageous outfits, and finely detailed mazes and structures. Once the exposition finally kicks in, the back-story is a little more interesting, but also quickly forgotten, as we query some of the more gaping aspects of the plot. Box-office descending.
Dumb and Dumber ToAnthony Macali
20 years since their first adventure, Lloyd and Harry go on a road trip to find Harry's newly discovered daughter.
"Dumb and Dumber To" is one of those sequels that sadly sours your experience of watching the first instalment. Revisiting the characters 20 years on was always a dangerous proposition, and this agonising journey does very little to validate the idea. A large number of the jokes are mere imitations of their first incarnations, and anything else that is somewhat original is generally pretty poor. For most part, the film trudges along before grinding to an inevitable halt. Just dumb.
After her marriage crumbles and the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed tries to put her past behind her and hikes more than a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, alone.
"Wild" brings an uplifting memoir about seeking redemption through physical challenges from the page to the screen, and is true to original text. While managing to traverse a full gamut of emotion, there are funny and even uplifting moments. It’s impossible to say if it is the walker or the rugged walk that most impresses, and even harder to resist the urge to pull on your hiking boots. Wild thing might make your heart sing.
The InterviewAnthony Macali
Dave Skylark, host of the celebrity tabloid show "Skylark Tonight" lands an interview with a surprise fan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
"The Interview" has a few funny segments, but will struggle to capture your attention for the life of the film. The 'Skylark' character is a great one, and his gaudy and obnoxious behaviour provides some unique entertainment. Problems arise when they eventually land in the People's Democratic Republic and they're not exactly sure what to do with the supreme leader, resulting in a number of lame cultural references that fail to gain applause. Slightly controversial, even less laughter.
Taken 3Andrew O'Dea
Ex-government operative Bryan Mills is accused of a ruthless murder he never committed.
Action junkies will find "Taken 3" enjoyable in a cheesy sort of way, while the rest of its audience must be prepared to switch their brains off. Bordering on tedious, this film plays out like a family melodrama interspersed with car chases and fight scenes. Thankfully there's some semblance of a cohesive plot, despite holes in it gaping enough to drive an aircraft through, before flipping it end-on-end and exploding in a fiery spectacle. Let's hope the film lives up to its tagline and "ends here". Taken the piss...
The Theory of EverythingAnthony Macali
A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.
"The Theory of Everything" is an inspiring look into the great physicist, focusing on his endeavour rather than his achievement. With great heart and warmth, and minimal mention of science, we see a man confronted with a terrible condition and the inescapable effects on his relationship. Together with his equally resilient wife, they battle each obstacle and embrace it with good humour. The central performances are seamless, and as remarkable as they are, thankfully do not distract from the story considering the subject. The theory is sound.
American SniperAnthony Macali
U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle becomes one of the most lethal snipers in American history.
"American Sniper" is the story of a war veteran and his ongoing conflict with the before and after effects of his ceaseless tours of duty. The action is fierce as the camera lies beside the sharp-shooter. You can almost feel the long, cold gun in your very own hands, unwittingly raising questions about the necessity of all the brutality. Unrelenting short scenes fuel the adrenalin and thrill of combat, astutely contrasting against the quiet and aimless life back home. American hero.
After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he's caught by the Japanese navy.
"Unbroken" is a prisoner of war drama that shows the limits of how many beatings a single person can take. The camera is placed firmly in the thick of the action and lets the remarkable true story do the heavy-lifting, revealing an incredible, resilient man and his ever-constant fight for survival. Unsurprisingly, this film encompasses all the inspirational quotes accustomed to the genre, but thankfully these clichés don't overshadow the impact. Unrelenting.
A fading actor tries to reclaim his past glory by starting a Broadway play.
"Birdman" is a remarkable movie. Its a continuously moving story in narrative, emotion, and camera-work. It feels like one unbroken scene, pieced together with a seemingly single shot. We're situated more like an observer than an audience, peering over shoulders and watching a man's life falling apart piece by piece. More European in style than American, it's still intangibly Hollywood. The highlight is the performances, you can't walk away without remembering them. It's all really unique, almost a little absurdist at times, but definitely worth your time. High in the pecking order.
The Imitation GameAndrew O'Dea
During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing tries to crack the enigma code.
Part history lesson, part tragedy, "The Imitation Game" is a compelling biopic. This suspenseful drama reveals pieces of the puzzle slow and steady, with flashes of brilliance that unfortunately aren't sustained throughout. Nonetheless, with a constantly shifting chronology, it brings the remarkable legacy of the troubled mathematical genius to screen in an affecting portrait. The lead provides a sensitive portrayal in what is an empathy-stirring performance, outstanding in its awkwardness. An enigmatic man, cryptic and clever.
Into the WoodsAnne Murphy
A witch conspires to teach important lessons to various characters of popular children's stories including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.
Though the musical score is enchanting and performances from the cast magical, "Into the Woods" doesn't deliver. We venture out with plenty of charm, colour, and costumes, but somewhere before halfway the story is lost. The glamour of the production doesn't compensate for an overly long and muddled plot. Sad but true that we can't see the woods for the trees in this confused offering. Get outta there.
St. VincentAnne Murphy
A young boy whose parents have just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door.
At some point the audience will realise they're watching the aging lead actor playing his elderly self, or some down-on-his-luck movie character version of himself. Don't feel like a sucker for playing along and enjoying the film. The endearing qualities of the protagonist allow you to put cynicism aside, forgive the unlikely plot elements, and be entertained by the ubiquitous fogey next door with a proverbial heart of gold. Wholly unlikely Saint.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the TombJan Di Pietro
Larry spans the globe, uniting favourite and new characters while embarking on an epic quest to save the magic before it is gone forever.
The third installment of the "Night At The Museum" franchise is a fun one. There are cameos galore, all of which actively contribute to the comedy and story. You don’t need to have watched the first two to follow, and the narrative is palatable for viewers of any age. The special effects are fun but not overdone, and although the scenes do lose their way at times, they're redeemed by great performances. Come alive and enjoy the ride.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesAndrew O'Dea
Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the Lonely Mountain from falling into the hands of a rising darkness.
Grand in its scope and ambition, "The Battle of the Five Armies" is an action-ravaged adventure saturated in the director's customary visual splendour. Pitting dragon against man, against dwarf, against elf, against orc, the battle sequences are exquisite, especially during the film's mammoth finale. Although characterisation is somewhat neglected, there's enough tension and thrills to make the journey there (and back again) a satisfying conclusion to the Hobbit trilogy... one last time.
Big Hero 6Anthony Macali
The special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.
"Big Hero 6" is a whiz-bang robotic romp, self-assured in its style and execution. Set in the clever and aptly titled 'San Fransokyo', we are presented with an awesome mix of colourful and futuristic animation to suit the story. The unlikely hero is an oddly marshmallow-looking invention, a functional and affable health bot whose impassive questions and incessant shuffling generate the greatest laughs. Kids and adults will escape unscathed in this action-packed adventure. Pain-free.
Exodus: Gods and KingsJan Di Pietro
The defiant leader Moses rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses, setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.
Moses... know him, right? Too bad if you don't! It's his story, although instead of a story, "Exodus: Gods and Kings" presents itself like a literal recounting of events. Like Moses' walk in the desert, this film is long, arduous, and is likely to cause hunger and thirst. It's always strange to watch historical figures behaving like modern folk. Ancient Egypt is recreated with astounding visuals... about all it's worth. Might be fun for "believers", but the movie gods have abandoned the rest of us.
When Lou Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant.
"Nightcrawler" is a film that will immediately capture your attention and maintain it throughout. Roving through the night is a chilling anti-hero, unabashed and unafraid to succeed. His unrivaled determination forms the film's backbone, exposing society's startling and interminable thirst for news, bloody news. It's a brilliantly eerie performance from the lead, and combined with edge-of-your-seat thrills, will be sure to shock and entertain its viewers. Must-watch video.
A young Peruvian bear with a passion for all things British travels to London in search of a home.
Based on a beloved children's book written in the 1950's, themes of dislocation and finding a home translates as a story for today. The tale of a well-mannered, marmalade-loving stowaway has been updated without losing any of its charm. Sometimes the bear finds trouble and sometimes trouble finds the bear in this relentlessly funny adventure. The humour works for young audiences and is witty on another level to amuse the grown-ups who buy the cinema tickets and popcorn. Bear hug.
Men, Women & ChildrenAndrew O'Dea
Parents and their teenagers grapple with the many ways the Internet affects their lives.
"Men, Women & Children" is a character-driven ensemble drama that provides a glimpse of our cultural evolution (or some may argue devolution) through social media. Perhaps a victim of its own scope and ambition, the exploration of this Wi-Fi culture across a multi-story narrative is thought-provoking, although the delivery is somewhat heavy-handed. The vulnerability and sentiment at the film's core is sure to divide its audience; it will either resonate or leave them with a sense of contrivance. A family conversation still worth having.
Let's Be CopsAnthony Macali
Two struggling pals dress as police officers for a costume party and become neighborhood sensations
"Let's Be Cops" take dress-ups to an entirely new and ridiculous level. While the premise can be easily dismissed, it provides the setup for many of the outrageous skits and varied laughs on patrol. Apparently being an officer of the law is great for picking up women, and if you can get past blatant objectification and not take the rest of the film too seriously, the outcome is mildly entertaining. Let's leave our brain at the door.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1Anthony Macali
In District 13, Katniss Everdeen works to a nation moved by her courage under the leadership of President Coin and the advice of her trusted friends.
Just as this franchise begins to catch fire, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" is reduced to a slow-burn, which can only be attributed to its division into two separate films. World war has begun and the images are striking, but their emotive impact is lost when the characters continue to tread over the same ground... literally. The strength still lies in the ensemble cast, as their bravado resides over some of the more spectacular set pieces. It's less games, more politics.
Love, RosieAnthony Macali
Lifelong friends Rosie and Alex discover the challenges of staying in touch as they grow older, live apart and meet new people.
"Love, Rosie" is a glossy and predictable romantic comedy that forgoes personality. Despite the best efforts of the charming and gorgeous leads, we care very little for their fate. This is a film of close-up passionate kisses and beautiful sun rays gleaming through the background, interlaced with awkward and unrealistic comedy setups that draw restrained bouts of laughter. Many years pass, boredom sets in, and we're still left looking for something real. Lots of love, but no heart.
With Earth on the brink of extinction, a group of space explorers search for a new habitat.
"Interstellar" is an unparalleled visceral experience. This epic feature hurtles by at the speed of light, its jolting emotional course riding the bumps of a family growing and living apart. We cannot help but marvel at the enigmatic and visual amazement of deep space, and the unforgettable adventure of traversing into a new galaxy. This film represents a commanding feat from its director, and demands big-screen cinematic attention to fully appreciate the illustrious detail and absorbing sound and score. Out of this world, out of this time.
The Best of MeJan Di Pietro
A pair of former high school sweethearts reunite after many years when they return to visit their small hometown.
There have been fine romance-dramas of a similar ilk to this film, but this one falls far short of the mark. You will not learn anything, you will not feel anything; no, scratch that... you might actually love it if you keep a stack of cheap romance novels on your bedside table. The story is unbelievable in a bad way, and the key narrative events can be sniffed a mile off. Sure to polarise audiences, "The Best Of Me" is not the best of cinema.