Wild | Film review – Reese Witherspoon’s troubled hiker goes the distance to put her life on track

Wild (2014)

A gutsy Oscar-nominated Reese Witherspoon goes the distance as a troubled woman hitting the wilderness trail in a bid to conquer personal demons in this compelling adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir Wild. Accompanied by flashbacks showing how Cheryl’s life had been knocked off course in the mid-1990s by grief, heroin addiction and self-destructive promiscuity, the film tracks her initially stumbling footsteps as she attempts to hike the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Aided by Nick Hornby’s well-structured script, Witherspoon admirably captures Cheryl’s volatile mix of naivety and stubbornness, vulnerability and resilience, while director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) and cinematographer Yves Bélanger beautifully convey the harshness and majesty of the landscapes she crosses.

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Certificate 15. Runtime 115 mins. Director Jean-Marc Vallée.

Wild is released on DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 25th May by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes | Film review – Hail Caesar! Andy’s intelligent ape rules superior sci-fi fantasy

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 1

Both an exciting action movie and an intelligent moral fable, the sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes is another superior slice of sci-fi fantasy. Where the previous film explored how the apes got their super-intelligence, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes shows what happens when they start flexing their muscles.

The setting is ten years after the events of Rise and in the interim humanity has been nearly wiped out by an outbreak of the simian flu triggered, you will recall, by scientist James Franco’s gene therapy experiments.

Caesar (Andy Serkis), the chimp raised by Franco, is now the leader of a tribe of sapient apes living in the forests near San Francisco, but he finds his rule challenged by the militant Koba (Toby Kebbell) when the apes come into conflict with a band of human survivors living in the nearby city.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

The storyline has echoes of 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the fifth and final film of the original Apes cycle. Surprisingly, when war breaks out following human efforts to re-start a hydroelectric dam, the viewer is more likely to end up rooting for the apes.

There are good and bad elements on both sides, ranging from the heroic Caesar to the vengeful Koba among the apes, and from Jason Clarke’s pacifist Malcolm to Gary Oldman’s militaristic Dreyfus among the humans.

But the apes have more complex characters than their human counterparts, and thanks to the stunning motion-capture performances by the likes of Serkis and Kebbell their acting is better, too.

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Certificate 12. Runtime 125 mins. Director Matt Reeves.

Showing on Sky Movies Premiere at 8pm tonight

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Tomorrowland | Film review – Back to the future for a zippy sci-fi romp with George and Britt

Disney's TOMORROWLAND - Britt Robertson as Casey

A world away from the doom-laden prophecies of The Hunger Games and its dystopian teen-movie kin, peppy sci-fi adventure Tomorrowland attempts to persuade us that a dose of 1960s can-do, space-race optimism is just what is needed as an antidote to today’s cynical pessimism and apocalyptic fears; our default response, it seems, to the problems of the planet.

To arrive at this message, though, it’s necessary to sit through some cumbersome plotting as director/co-writer Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) sets up a mystery involving two bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youngsters from different eras: plucky 11-year-old would-be inventor Frank (Thomas Robinson), a visitor to New York’s 1964 World’s Fair, and spirited 18-year-old student Casey (Britt Robertson) in present-day Florida.

Disney's TOMORROWLAND - Britt Robertson as Casey

Both find themselves in possession of a mysterious badge that briefly whooshes them to a gleaming, futuristic place – the Tomorrowland of the title – where folk whiz about on jet packs and swimming pools levitate in the air.

By the time we’ve begun to get a handle on what is going on Casey has hooked up with the grown-up Frank – a grizzled, grumpy, thoroughly disillusioned recluse played by George Clooney – for a world-saving race against time in the company of an enigmatic, seemingly ageless little girl (Raffey Cassidy). Bird gives the action plenty of zip and there are some enjoyably inventive set pieces – just wait to see what’s in store for the Eiffel Tower.

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Certificate 12A. Runtime 130 mins. Director Brad Bird.

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The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981) | Blu-ray release – A ravishingly surreal take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Victorian tale

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss OsbourneFrom Arrow Video, comes the Blu-ray release of Polish director Walerian Borowczyk’s 1981 French-West Germany cult-worthy arthouse erotic thriller, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, featuring genre faves Udo Kier, Patrick Magee and Howard Vernon.

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A genteel engagement party for Dr Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) and his fiancée, Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro) descends into murder and mayhem when a madman breaks into Dr Jekyll’s London townhouse and starts raping and killing his guests. But why is the good doctor never around whenever another guest comes under attack?

We know the answer, of course, but director Walerian Borowczyk’s arthouse take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic allegorical tale is a ravishingly surreal oddity laced with dark humour; an important work within the director’s oeuvre; and one of the best interpretations of the iconic story.

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While Borowczyk is best known for his sensational erotic offerings like The Beast and Immoral Tales, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is a poetically macabre offering that’s ripe for reappraisal, and this meticulously-curated Arrow release is the way to go. It also looks and sounds fantastique, and makes for a great companion piece to the Borowczyk retrospective box set that Arrow released back in 2014 (and which quickly sold out).

THE ARROW ACADEMY BLU-RAY RELEASE
Featuring a brand-new 2k restoration, the Arrow Academy dual format release contains both the French and English versions of the film, as well as a new audio commentary based an from archival interviews with the director that have been intercut with new interviews with key members of the film’s crew, including cinematographer Noël Véry. Plus, there’s a host of featurettes and shorts celebrating Borowczyk cinema, as well as an insightful booklet featuring articles and archive material.

***READ MORE ABOUT THE FILM, HERE***

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Cold in July | Film review – Cunning neo-noir thriller takes us down gore-soaked, body-strewn paths

Cold in July - Michael C. Hall

A world away from his cold-blooded serial killer in Dexter, Michael C Hall plays a jittery everyman hero in Cold in July, a heart-stoppingly tense, cunningly twisty crime thriller adapted from a novel by cult author Joe R Lansdale.

The setting is 1989 small-town Texas, where one sweltering summer night meek family man Richard Dane gets up to investigate strange sounds in the home he shares with his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and young son (Brogan Hall). His fingers slipping on the trigger of his late father’s gun, he ends up accidentally shooting dead a would-be burglar.

The town hails him as a hero, but the traumatised Richard finds the backslapping acclaim far from welcome, and the discovery that the intruder was a wanted criminal fails to put his mind at rest. Then the dead man’s menacing ex-con father (Sam Shepard) turns up in town seeking vengeance…

Cold in July - Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard

At this point you would probably feel confident about guessing the rest of the story. Yet things don’t turn out as you might expect. Indeed, director Jim Mickle and screenwriter Nick Damici send the story down so many unforeseen, gore-soaked, body-strewn paths that you will be continually wrong footed.

Police corruption and organised crime are involved, and so is Don Johnson’s strutting private detective Jim Bob Luke (a recurring character in Lansdale’s novels), who turns up in a flashy red Cadillac and equally flashy cowboy outfit and provides a lively foil to Hall’s mullet-haired hero and Shepard’s glowering ex-con. The plot that ties them all together couldn’t be more gripping, but it is this trio of richly drawn, superbly acted characters that makes the film so compelling.

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Certificate 15. Runtime 110 mins. Directors Jim Mickle.

Cold in July is showing on Sky Movies Premiere tonight at 10.15pm.

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Testament of Youth | Film review – Stiff upper lips aquiver in Vera Brittain’s heartbreaking WW1 memoir

Testament of Youth

Vera Brittain’s heartbreaking World War One memoir Testament of Youth gets a superb feature film adaptation that more than measures up to the beloved five-part BBC TV series from 1979.

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander might seem a curious choice for the lead role (memorably played on TV by Cheryl Campbell), but she proves outstanding, involving us from the start in Vera’s overwhelming emotional journey as the starry-eyed young woman with dreams of studying at Oxford goes on to witness the horrors of war as a volunteer nurse and experiences the utmost depths of grief as she loses, one by one, the young men dearest to her.

Vikander gets striking stiff-upper-lipped support from Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones) as Vera’s fiancé Roland Leighton, Taron Egerton as her brother Edward, and Colin Morgan and Jonathan Bailey as their close friends Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow, and from Emily Watson and Dominic West as Vera’s stuffy middle-class parents, while director James Kent brings the story’s contrasting locations – from idyllic Derbyshire countryside to nightmarish trenches  – vividly to life.

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Certificate 12. Runtime 124 mins. Director James Kent.

Testament of Youth is released on DVD & Blu-ray by Lions Gate Home Entertainment UK.

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A Most Violent Year | Film review – Oscar Isaac’s self-made man plays for high stakes in 80s New York

A Most Violent Year -  Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac

Writer-director JC Chandor follows up his highly assured first two films, riveting financial thriller Margin Call and gripping survival drama All Is Lost, with A Most Violent Year, a magnificent period crime drama set in 1981 New York.

Oscar Isaac is superb as the film’s ambivalent hero, Abel Morales, a self-made Hispanic immigrant businessman striving to build up his domestic fuel-oil company and keep his integrity in a murky world. Yet no sooner has he staked the future of his business on a risky deal (buying a Brooklyn waterfront terminal) than a wave of hijackings hits his delivery tankers.

There’s less violence than you would expect, given the film’s title, but as Abel seeks to come out on top while sticking to the ‘right path’ the scenes of moral suspense prove just as breathtaking as the episodes of physical jeopardy. Chandor’s feel for his story’s scruffy, sleazy milieu is spot on, too, while Isaac gets excellent support from Jessica Chastain, unexpectedly steely as Abel’s hard-as-nails wife, Albert Brooks, as his slyly affable lawyer, and David Oyelowo, as the canny assistant district attorney digging into his affairs.

 

starstrip5Certificate 15. Runtime 120 mins. Director J C Chandor.

A Most Violent Year is released on DVD & Blu-ray by Icon Home Entertainment.

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Foxcatcher | Film review – Real-life sporting drama turns into gripping psychological thriller

Foxcatcher - Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo

The brilliantly unsettling Foxcatcher turns the true story of the ill-fated relationship between a pair of Olympic wrestling champion brothers and their multi-millionaire benefactor into a gripping psychological thriller.

Insecure despite his gold-medal success at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Channing Tatum’s Mark Schultz feels overshadowed by his older brother, confident family man Dave (Mark Ruffalo), and jumps at the chance when filthy rich eccentric John du Pont (Steve Carell, creepy, maladroit and nearly unrecognisable behind a beaky prosthetic nose) offers to take him under his wing at the wrestling training camp he has set up at his sprawling country estate. Du Pont has delusional ideas of himself as an inspirational coach and patriot, but his interventions in the brothers’ lives leads to tragedy.

Anchored by three superb performances (Carell and Ruffalo were both Oscar-nominated but Tatum is equally impressive), Foxcatcher pins the viewer to the mat with its emotionally bruising tale of class, ambition and the pursuit of sporting excellence.

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Certificate 15. Runtime 129 mins. Director Bennett Miller.

Foxcatcher is released on DVD & Blu-ray by Entertainment One UK.

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Clouds of Sils Maria | Film review – Beguiling art-house drama finds Binoche, Stewart & Moretz at the top of their game

Clouds of Sils Maria- Kristen Stewart, Juliette Binoche

A bittersweet meditation on acting and ageing, Olivier Assayas’s beguiling art-house drama Clouds of Sils Maria finds three contrasting performers each at the top of her game.

Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz play, respectively, a legendary actress, her savvy personal assistant, and a young Hollywood star with a scandalous private life. Surprisingly, it’s the effortlessly naturalistic Stewart who proves the most compelling screen presence.

Clouds of Sils Maria - Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart

Binoche’s middle-aged diva Maria Enders is the story’s crux, however, as she frets over whether to appear in a revival of the celebrated play that made her name two decades earlier.

Called ‘Maloja Snake’ but clearly modelled on Fassbinder’s ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant’, this play revolves around a young woman who seduces and discards an older woman with fateful consequences. Originally, Maria played the young seducer; now she is being asked to play the older role, an invitation that offends and unsettles her.

With much of the action devoted to Maria’s efforts to rehearse the play, swapping lines with her assistant in a Swiss mountain chalet, Clouds of Sils Maria is talky and slow moving, yet the interplay of its leading women is as mesmerising as the strange weather phenomenon – a cloud bank pouring through an alpine pass – that gives the film its title.

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Certificate 15. Runtime 124 mins. Director Olivier Assayas.

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A Royal Night Out | Film review – Girls Just Want to Have Fun! Elizabeth & Margaret on the VE night razzle

A Royal Night Out - Bel Owley & Sarah Gadon

It’s VE Day, 1945, and teenage princesses Elizabeth and Margaret briefly slip the shackles of royal protocol to go out of Buckingham Palace and join the throngs of Londoners celebrating the end of the war.

Taking a cue from The King’s Speech, A Royal Night Out fashions diverting entertainment from a footnote from royal history. It’s not as polished or as witty as its predecessor, and doesn’t tug the heartstrings nearly as hard, but Julian Jarrold’s film is an amiable romp all the same.

A Royal Night Out - Sarah Gadon

Much of its charm lies in the performances. Sarah Gadon is a sweet-tempered, dutiful Elizabeth and Bel Powley a more broadly comic Margaret, very much the dim, pleasure-seeking flibbertigibbet.  A surprisingly restrained Rupert Everett puts his stamp on King George VI, while Emily Watson is a fussily concerned Queen Elizabeth.

The story is very slight. The princesses become separated after Margaret evades their chaperones at a stuffy party at the Ritz and sets off into the night in search of fun. A series of scrapes leads her to a Soho knocking shop run by Roger Allam’s deliciously sleazy spiv, while Elizabeth ends up in the company of AWOL airman Jack (Jack Reynor), a staunch republican unaware of her true identity.

As the pair enjoy their own adventures amid the jubilant crowds, the film contrives a tentative, near romance for them but takes pains to avoid any hint of lese majesty.

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Certificate 12A. Runtime 97 mins. Director Julian Jarrold.

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