This month’s selection features a number of new releases, as well as some older films we’ve rediscovered and a handful of TV series to keep you occupied.
Brilliant adaptation of the popular Gillian Flynn novel (scripted by Flynn herself), directed by David Fincher & featuring Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck as the perfect couple, Nick and Amy Dunne. When Amy mysteriously vanishes on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary leaving behind what appears to be evidence of a struggle in their living room, the police & media suspect a disappearance of some kind, and everyone is quick to rally round Nick and set up a campaign to bring Amy home. Nick seems a nice guy, but gradually his answers begin to become oddly evasive, and more & more evidence turns up pointing in his direction…There are still probably people who never read the book at the time, so to say anything more would give away the twists in this nasty thriller. Affleck is great as the Nick, managing to tread the fine line between making the character sympathetic & likable, while also coming across as a glib douche, but it’s Rosamund Pike as Amy whose performance sears the screen. At times an indictment of media sensationalism as much as a portrait of the cracks in the personalities of those closest to you, even the one you are married to. Recommended. (Mark)
A most wanted man.
This film comes with at least three very good reasons to view: it was directed by Anton Corbin, the famous photographer, whose film directorial debut was 2008’s Control, the haunting film about Joy Division singer, Ian Curtis; it is an adaptation of the 2008 novel by master of espionage storytelling, John Le Carre: and it was the final performance, before his sad demise, from gifted actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Do these elements work together to create an exceptionally fine film? They definitely do, with Le Carre’s intention to portray the effects the war on terror has on democratic processes honoured in a confident, understated and outstanding contemporary espionage thriller. (John)
Helix. Season 1.
There’s trash & then there’s quality trash, and the SyFy channel original show ‘Helix’ is definitely on the right side of the line. The series follows a team of scientists from the CDC who travel to a research facility in the Arctic to investigate a potential outbreak of a mysterious disease. Aided by the claustrophobic setting, the amazing production values & the stiff-upper lipped performance of lead scientist Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell) the show offers plenty of creepy suspense. But just when think it’s firmly in the mould of The Thing or the ‘X-Files’ episode Ice, it throws up a bunch of outrageous plot twists, and morphs into a ridiculously over the top conspiracy akin to a ‘Resident Evil’ video game. While the story concludes the show reinvents itself for Season 2, which is even more outlandishly cheesy. File under ‘So bad, it’s good…’…(Mark)
A film festival regular Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) once again teams up with writer Jon Raymond (Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy are based on his short stories), and presents another superb minimal drama but in a very different setting. Three environmentalists attempted to blow up the dam, which changed the ecosystem, in rural Portland. Although the mission was accomplished, an ordinary person was killed by accident, and caused them post trauma. It may appear that it’s about eco-terrorism but there is no political statement or judgement. Reichardt, with her well-established no-explanation, anti-climactic style, simply focuses on the psychological waver and the moral dilemma, and brilliantly portrays the sense of anxiety. It’s a slow-burning movie and may not give you a great impact when you watch, but will stay burning inside of you. (Shinji)
The best true stories are those that would be unbelievable if they were made up, and this bio-pic about a famous Irish record shop is one of those stories. What do you do if you are a music fan in a city ravaged by civil war? Of course……. you open up a record shop in the middle of town and call it Good Vibrations! That is exactly what Terri Hooley did in Belfast in the early ‘70’s and this film tells the story of his crazed venture. Responsible for the success of Irish post-punk band, The Undertones, Hooley’s shop and label traced a wonky path through the 70’s and 80’s and is still there today. A film about obsession and belief in the power of music. (John)
A walk among the tombstones.
Based on the 1992 Lawrence Block novel of the same name, ‘A walk among the tombstones’ is the 10th novel in Block’s series about unlicensed New York private-eye Matt Scudder, played in this adaptation by Liam Neeson. The series of books began in the 1976, with Scudder a borderline alcoholic who left the NYPD after a stray bullet in a shootout took a bad ricochet & claimed the life of a young girl, and continued for 16 more novels & one short story collection. By the time of the 10th novel Block’s character is clean & sober but still accepts unofficial jobs from people in trouble, often those who have no recourse from the police & ‘A walk among the Tombstones’ finds him working for a rich drug dealer whose wife was abducted & killed – even though he paid her ransom money. Neeson soon finds connections to other kidnappings & realises a sadistic team of kidnappers are preying on other criminals. While Neeson is an inspired choice for the Scudder character, the adaptation from writer/director Scott Frank (who helmed the underrated Lookout), is more about establishing character & the grimy New York milieu of the books than the kind of action-fest that Neeson has become known for. Gritty & never dull it’s only fault, perhaps, is that being the first in what is obviously aimed as a franchise, the film tends to bog down a bit as it sets up the TJ character, a young street kid who becomes Scudders friend and ally through the rest of the series. All in all a good watch if you are a fan of Blocks novels or Liam Neeson. (Mark)
The lucky one.
This movie is based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. It is a story of a young man in his 20’s back from 3 tours of duty in Iraq. He finds a photo of a woman whilst over there which he believes has been a lucky photo for him. And saved his life. When back in the United States he decides to go in search of her. He finds out her name is Beth and turns up on her doorstep. How he finds the photograph and how it got there is also an interesting part of the story. This movie is definitely a chick flick and a nice romance. Like other books of Nicholas Sparks, it has some twists in it. If you like this you may also like Nights in Rodanthe, The Safe Haven, and Dear John. All based on the books of Nicholas Sparks. Books also available at Wellington City Library. (Brigid)
The keeper of lost causes.
Another great entry in the Scandi-noir genre, based on the first book in Jussi Adler-Olsen ‘Department Q’ series. After choosing to enter a suspect’s home without back-up, an ambush ensues leaving one of his colleagues dead & another paralysed and Danish Police Inspector Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaaes from season 3 of The Killing) finds himself banished to the basement cold case files ‘department’. Told to write pro-forma reports & to close files he soon becomes intrigued by the case of a female politician who disappeared 5 years previously, and with the help of his new Syrian assistant begins to investigate…More dark, brooding Scandinavian noir, elevated by the tight plot & the great chemistry & understated acting of the two leads. Recommended to anyone who enjoyed Scandinavian crime fiction & shows such as The Killing and The Millennium Trilogy. Hopefully the beginning of a new series. (Mark)
Omar is another gripping drama from Israeli-born, Netherland based Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad. Like his predecessor, universally acclaimed Paradise Now, it depicts the life of young Palestinians under the Israeli occupation, their resistance and a chilling reality they face every day. The film follows young baker, anti-Israel activist Omar who was trapped and became an informer. He tries to do the right thing, not only for him but for friendship and most importantly for his love interest, but everything gradually falls apart. Abu-Assad ingeniously orchestrates the intricate plot and highlights Omar’s dilemma marvellously. Although it’s not action-led movie, the tension is high and stinging twists hold you until the shocking end. Compelling. (Shinji)
In order of disappearance.
The Scandinavian’s seem to have cornered the market on black comedy revenge thrillers (Jackpot, Headhunters) and ‘In order of disappearance’ is another film along similar lines. Stellan Skarsgard is Nils, a taciturn Norwegian snowplough driver who has just received a ‘Citizen of the Year’ award. However soon after he receives news that his son has died of an overdose. Disbelieving the official police verdict Nils soon discovers that his son was innocent of all wrongdoing, and was killed by the henchmen of a local drug dealer known as ‘The Count’. With the police no help, Nils decides to take matters into his own hands, starting at the bottom of the local drug chain & working his way up (hence the title), accidently initiating a drug-war between rival Norwegian & Serbian factions along the way. Very black revenge comedy. With lots of snow. (Mark)
Burn after reading.
This is a black comedy starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich. R.16. Lots of violence and bad language, sex scenes. This is a movie about an ex-C.I.A low level agent who is sacked so decides to write his memoirs. The information he has is stolen by bungling instructors from the gym who try and blackmail him. Everything goes from bad to comic and has unbelievable consequences. Not George Clooney’s best work but certainly entertaining in parts. (Brigid)
Back in crime.
When French Police Captain Richard Kemp (Jean-Hughes Anglade) investigates the murder of a woman found beside a river he meets beautiful psychologist Hélène (Mélanie Thierry), who discovered the body. He soon links the mystery to a serial killer known as ‘Earwig’ from a time earlier in his police career. But when he is attacked by an unknown assailant and left for dead in the same river as the victim, he awakens twenty years in the past – May 1989 – the day before the first murder committed by ‘Earwig’. With an opportunity to prevent the murders ever taking place Kemp decides to investigate the crimes from the past, using his knowledge from the case files in the future. However his investigation soon leads to him becoming the main suspect, as he tries to juggle his foreknowledge of the crimes with the actions of his younger police self and also re-connect with the younger version of Helene. With a couple of exceptions (La Jetee, Camille Rewinds) the French don’t seem to use Time Travel much as a plot device, so this is a bit uneven with some plot contrivances & the odd cheesy moment, but it’s still entertaining enough. (Mark)
The dark horse.
I strongly recommend New Zealand movie ‘The Dark Horse’. This movie is similar style to Once Were Warriors, yet has a happy ending (Yu)
This film, in Farsi with English subtitles, transfixed me from the beginning. It’s about trust, responsibility, guilt, religion, family and choices in an impossible situation – and so well acted that the characters evoke empathy even while behaving in a questionable manner. Their humanity was what I connected with. It’s easy to see why it won so many awards. (Sandy)
The son of a Russian gangster (the weasely Alfie Allen) antagonises a man (Keanu Reeves) he meets at a gas station after admiring his car. Later that night he returns to the man’s home with some cohorts where they brutally attack him, kill his dog & steal his car. What they don’t realise, however, is that the man is John Wick, a lethal ex-assassin still grieving over the death of his wife. And if Wick knows how to do one thing, it’s dispense payback…Easily Reeves best role in ages, and this kind of minimalist dialogue/extreme action was always his strong suit (The Matrix, Speed). Directed by two men with previous experience as stunt doubles & co-ordinators, this is the perhaps the best action film from 2014, with the shootout inside a nightclub the closest anyone has come to replicating the Hong Kong movies of John Woo. (Mark)
It is the best movie ever made. So watch it. (Simon)
The folk revival of the ‘50’s paved the way for the protest movement of the ‘60’s and Pete Seeger, composer of ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ and ‘If I Had A Hammer’ was the guiding hand behind that original folk music revolution. He was a victim of the communist witch hunts of the ‘50’s and banned from US media for 17 years for his views on peace, unionism, civil rights and ecology. Featuring archival footage from the singer’s own home films, this Doco traces the story of one of the most influential artists in recent American history, from his work with Alan Lomax in the late ‘30’s, which began the folk revival, through his post-war activist days, to the recognition of his life as a great patriot by Bill Clinton in the 90’s. The term legend is used very easily, but this man, with his unswerving pacifist ideology, truly deserves the description. (John)
James Gray (We Own the Night, Two Lovers)’s period drama shows us the dark side of 1920s’ New York, the time people enjoyed hedonism which is often called the jazz age. It’s about a beautiful Polish immigrant and her struggle and determination to turn things around in a new world. It’s a bleak story highlighting her relationship with a pimp who once saved her but evolves fascinatingly, led by poignant performances by two outstanding actors; Marion Cotillard and Gray’s regular Joaquin Phoenix. From the first shot (arriving NY, view of Statue of Liberty) to the moving last scene (the departure by the boat), this beautifully shot film maintains impeccable mood, tone and texture. This is one of Gray’s most rewarding works. (Shinji)
Boardwalk empire. The complete fifth season.
Steve Buscemi’s depiction of Atlantic City crime lord, Nucky Thompson may well be the crown of his acting career so far, and for the final season of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ the character of Thompson takes central stage as the directorial style takes a sudden sideways swing away from the dark menace of the previous season, incorporating flashback sequences depicting the early years of the character. This is an unexpected and highly successful dramatic shift that steers another standout HBO series to a very satisfying conclusion. (John)
Strange but compelling adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s famous time-travel short story ‘All you zombies’ by Australian brother writer/directors. A bartender (Ethan Hawke) encounters a customer (Sarah Snook) one night who proceeds to tell him the strange story of his life, beginning when he was born a girl. However the bartender has a lot more to add to the story than the customer knows…To say anymore would give away the twists and turns in what might be the ultimate exploration of paradox theory. Slow moving and very talky, it nonetheless rewards purists who like ideas more than the action-fests that most others time-travel movies adhere to. (Mark)
The village. Series one.
Presenting a welcome counterpoint to Downton Abbey, this six part BBC series depicts the working class story of a small Derbyshire village during the days of WW1 through the experiences of one family. Covering the years 1914 to 1920, the story is well researched, brilliantly acted, and presents an engrossing, bleak and historically accurate depiction of the lives of the rural underclass in their day to day struggle to maintain dignified lives. Season 2 has been finished, continuing through the ‘20’s, and the plan is for successive seasons to follow the village through the decades up to the ‘80’s. This production received three BAFTA nominations in the categories of Best Drama Series, Leading Actress and Supporting Actor. (John)