‘Beirut’

Beirut_(film)A tight and erudite script (Tony Gilroy – Michael Clayton, The Bourne Identity) ensures this 1990s set Middle East political thriller is a step ahead of predictable.

Former diplomat Jon Hamm (Baby Driver, The Town) returns to the city where 20 years earlier he lost his wife to a terrorist attack. Another threat to American national security needs Hamm’s inside knowledge of the city and the players involved.

No fireworks from director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, The Call) who looks to a solid cast along with Gilroy’s dialogue and skilled storytelling to tell a straightforward narrative.

Rating: 60%

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‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’

missionSheer unadulterated hokum – and hugely entertaining as a result.

The team is back – Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames along with MI6 rep Rebecca Ferguson – to stop the sale of three plutonium cores and the resulting massive atomic bombs that will lead to destruction on a massive global scale.

Naturally, things go awry – and there’s lots of twists as one would expect. Paris, London and Kashmir set the scene for car chases, rooftop dashes and the craziest OTT helicopter duel high in the Himalayas. It’s action all the way – but injected with a massive dose of tongue-in-cheek fun!

Rating: 76%

‘Leave No Trace’

Leave_No_TraceAs with her previous film, Winter Bone, director Deborah Granik builds slowly, a subtle, quiet grace in the relationship between father (Ben Foster – The Program, Hell Or High Water) and daughter (Thomasin McKenzie – The Changeover, The Hobbit).

Living an alternative lifestyle in a Portland national park, the two eke out a living from the land. But as the authorities step in, so the two discover their needs and wants diverge.

It’s a seemingly aimless film, meandering through a storyline essentially devoid of any conflict (even the authorities are polite and helpful). But it still manages to get under the skin, its acute sense of place and time drawing you in to the extraordinary chemistry between the two leads.

Rating: 68%

Screened in Melbourne International Film Festival

‘Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again’

Mamma_Mia!_Here_We_Go_AgainWhether you like/liked ABBA or not (and it’s more than 40 years since they won Eurovision), there’s no denying their catchy, upbeat pop is some of the most joyful around. And that’s true of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. Cheesy, superficial, predictable it may be as we travel back in time from Mamma Mia to see where it all started. Yet…

Casting is inspirational (Lily James – Cinderella, Baby Driver – for Meryl Streep and Hugh Skinner – Hampstead, Les Miserables – for Colin Firth in particular). Selection of songs perfect for the narrative (Cher as Meryl Streep’s mom!) and even Croatia standing in for the original Greek island is a perfect setting. Sheer unadulterated joy – even if, other than singing the songs, everything is forgotten about the minute you walk out of the auditorium.

Rating: 63%

‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

jurassicA fun if overlong templated blockbuster, the latest in the the Jurassic world of dinosaurs sees an imminent volcanic eruption on the island threatening, once again, extinction.

Back come Owen (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy, Passengers) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help, Gold) to save the day and thwart Eli Mills (Rafe Spall – One Day, The Big Short) and his money-making plans.

It’s Indiana Jones and derring-do revisited: hardly new, entertaining enough and more than (obviously) topical (private, unethical military sales to the highest bidder; privatisation; genetic engineering etc). Director J. A. Bayona (A Monster Calls, The Impossible) handles the material well enough, but this ain’t gonna change the world.

Rating: 53%

‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’

sicario_day_of_the_soldadoThat sense of menace sublimely achieved in the first instalment, Sicario, is retained by director, Stefano Sollima (TV’s Gomorrah), in this thrilling sequel. That mood is more than helped by the mesmerising soundtrack from Hildur Gudnadottir (A Hijacking, Mary Magdalene).

It’s more of the same as the US look to control illegal immigration across the border from Mexico – and the answer this time round is to start a war between the drug cartels.

Benicio Del Toro (Traffic, Guardians of the Galaxy) and Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men, Deadpool 2) return – but sadly no Emily Blunt. And it’s that lack of toughness and vulnerability that is sadly missing. The original was masterful: Sicario: Day of the Soldado is gritty and intense but too violently one-dimensional.

Rating: 66%

‘Hereditary’

hereditaryWhat a disappointment! Hyper-lauded by critics (87 on metacritic) as a true classic horror, director Ari Aster’s directorial debut is a derivative mishmash of much of what has come before it. Ghostly apparitions, (dead) granny on the ceiling, bumps in the night, devil-worship and ancient mythologies…

As a psychological family drama, Hereditary starts off well enough with Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, Muriel’s Wedding) and family barely grieving for her recently deceased, belligerent mother. But then her 13 year-old daughter dies in a freak accident and everything goes down hill from there – including the film.

For a horror film, there are few scary bits – and even those are a very long time coming.

Rating: 36%

‘LBJ’

LBJ_(film)A worthy, slightly dull talkfest of events immediately prior to and following the assassination of John F Kennedy – with a focus on Texan Vice President Lyndon B Johnson.

Forthright and vulgar – and diametrically opposed to a number of Kennedy’s key policies, including the Civil Rights Bill – Johnson nevertheless stepped up to the mark on Kennedy’s death. Some, including Bobby Kennedy (a fresh-faced Michael Stahl-David – Cloverfield, In Your Eyes), believing callously too quickly.

LBJ is an informative biopic of the man who pushed through a great number of landmark social policies but who is ultimately judged as the president who escalated American involvement in Vietnam. But the film very much belongs to Woody Harrelson (The People Versus Larry Flint, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and his vibrant, convincing performance as the man carrying the weight of the free world on his shoulders.

Rating: 56%

‘Ocean’s 8’

oceanGary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) is no Steven Soderbergh. Consequently, the quick-witted pizzazz and slick style of Ocean’s 11 and 12 (OK, 13 can be ignored…) are sadly and noticeably missing.

Released from prison, Sandra Bullock (sister of George Clooney’s recently deceased Danny Ocean) rounds up the gals for a massive diamond heist at the First Monday of May Met gala. Cue the likes of Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham-Carter, Rihanna and Sarah Paulson joining the fray – with the Cartier Toussaint necklace, to be worn by Anne Hathaway, the main target.

It’s more zircon than diamond, with a star-studded cast and plentiful cameos wholly wasted (with the exception of the quirky Helena Bonham-Carter). A damp squib.

Rating: 46%

‘Deadpool 2’

deadpoolMarvel’s follow-up to the refreshing 2016 Deadpool is a templated repeat formula of the first film – but with no suspense, off-the-mark humour and a derivative storyline.

Ryan Reynolds is back as the foul-mouthed Wade Wilson – and it’s fellow mutants who need to band together to save the young Firefist (Julian Dennison – Hunt for the Wilder People, Paper Planes) from the time-travelling Cyborg, Cable (Josh Brolin – Sicario, George W.)

An interesting casting decision regarding Brolin as Cable and Thanos in The Avengers but that’s where any interest in Deadpool 2 begins and ends. A bore.

Rating: 30%