‘Murder on the Orient Express’

v1.bTsxMjQxNTA3MjtqOzE3NTU4OzEyMDA7MTAwMDsxNDgwIndulgent telling of the Agatha Christie 1934 whodunnit, director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Cinderella) is limited in any radicalised new version – the very point is that it all takes place within the confines of the train.

Like his 1974 predecessor, Sidney Lumet who filled the train with stars (Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave), Branagh has opted for a stellar cast in the hope of skating over some of the shortfalls in the plot.

Branagh himself plays the famed Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot but even with support from the likes of Johnny Depp, Michele Pfeiffer and Judi Dench, the film never gets up enough emotional steam to thrill: it’s just a little too busy looking at its own sumptuous reflection to make sure it looks good.

Rating: 49%

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‘The Disaster Artist’

TheDisastorArtistTeaserPosterOccasionally laugh out loud, The Disaster Artist is the funny telling of the making of The Room, regarded as one of the worst films ever made.

When aspiring young actor Greg Sestero (a toothy, smiling Dave Franco – Now You See Me, 21 Jump St) meets the deeply strange Tommy Wiseau (a modulated and controlled wackiness from James Franco – Milk, Why Him?) at an acting workshop, their worlds change.

It’s all based on truth as the deluded Wiseau, tired of Hollywood rejections, sets out to make his own film. Money is no object as he writes, directs, stars and produces the mess that is The Room – a film so bad it becomes a huge cult hit.

A loving homage with lots of cameo performances (Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, J.J. Abrams, Kristen Bell and more), expect The Disaster Artist to appear in this year’s awards shortlists – particularly James Franco as lead actor (he also directed).

Rating: 74%

‘The Snowman’

MV5BNDg1NjYyMTEyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzY4MDMyMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Detective Harry Hole is an iconic character in the novels of international best-selling Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, having featured in eleven of his books. This first transfer to film (starring Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave, Prometheus) is unlikely to lead to a rush for more.

Sumptuous it may be, set as it is in the winter landscapes of Norway (cinematography courtesy of Oscar-winning Dion Beebe –  Memoirs of a Geisha, Collateral), but the film simply does not gel. In telling its story, whole chunks of the source material have been abandoned, with crucial plot and character development simply ignored.

Hole’s search for a serial killer should have been a dark psychological chiller of a thriller. Instead, it’s uninvolving, predictable and a waste of a seriously classy cast (J.K.Simmons, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rebecca Ferguson, Toby Jones, Val Kilmer). Not what was expected from Tomas Alfredson, director of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Let the Right One In.

Rating: 38%

‘The Lost City of Z’

large_large_ik3ebv7J18fs6cHkmu91oxz7EGtVisually grand, James Gray’s (The Immigrant, Two Lovers) The Lost City of Z is an old-school adventure yarn as British explorer Major Percy Fawcett spends large parts of his life in Amazonia searching for the elusive lost city of Z. He disappeared along with his son in the Brazilian jungles in 1925.

Yet, in spite of a likeable Fawcett portrayal by Charlie Hunnam (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Crimson Peak), the feature is strangely static, with little sense of thrill or suspense. It all becomes a little too episodic with Fawcett travelling between England and South America to spend time with his family, convince the Royal Geographic Society of the value of his expeditions before heading off, once again, into the wilds.

Rating: 58%

 

‘Family Life’

large_MV5BZjllOWE1YzYtZDlhZi00ZDdiLTk3MTctMjhlZDRkNGU0ZTZlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQ1NDQyNjQ_._V1_SY1000_CR0_0_678_1000_AL_Overtly commercial family comedy drama as a feckless Martin (Jorge Becker – Thursday ‘Til Sunday) house sits for a distant (successful) cousin in a cool part of Santiago. With three months accommodation on offer, a directionless Martin soon starts to take on the lifestyle of his cousin’s family.

Based on a short story by Alejandro Zambra and shot largely in director Alicia Scherson’s (Play, Il Futuro) own apartment, Family Life is something of a whimsical kitchen-sink dramedy which fails to significantly ignite.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 30%

 

‘Lady MacBeth’

lady_macbeth-431569675-largeSold into a stifling marriage by her parents, Katherine (a superbly scheming Florence Pugh – The Falling) is confronted with oppression and prejudice by husband and father-in-law alike. But a passionate encounter with the new hounds man sees a steely change in the newly wed.

A Victorian melodrama with a very definite contemporary twist as the female empowerment early in the narrative turns into something much darker. Renowned theatre and opera director William Oldroyd makes his film debut with this spare, expertly told narrative – and in less than 90 minutes!

Rating: 72%

‘The Beguiled’

timthumb.phpA languid, Southern Gothic psychosexual potboiler as a wounded Yankee soldier (Colin Farrell – In Bruges, Miami Vice) turns up at a Virginia girls school at the height of the American civil war.

His arrival awakens sexual longing for the adult teachers left at the school (Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst) as well as kindles burgeoning sexuality among the girls (particularly Elle Fanning). Erotic, poetic, tense – the southern humidity is palpable in the enclosed, claustrophobic space of the girls’ privileged environment.

The Beguiled, seemingly more expertly teased than directed by Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette), is a beautifully nuanced ensemble piece that, whilst at times a little slow, tells its visceral story with aplomb.

Rating: 73% 

‘My Cousin Rachel’

my_cousin_rachelMisunderstood innocent or scheming gold-digger? Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes) largely keeps you guessing about cousin Rachel (a superb Rachel Weisz – The Constant Gardener, Denial).

Intense close-ups, occasional tears, grubby manor houses, surly (and scruffy) servants all add to the uncertainties of Phillip (a doe-eyed Sam Claflin – The Hunger Games, Me Before You) for her role in the death of his guardian. Infatuation replaces revenge.

It’s a gorgeous potboiler (author Daphne du Maurier was one of Hitchcock’s favourites – that should give you a clue) with one caveat – the truly awful soundtrack that is at times cloyingly sweet and generally infuriatingly intrusive.

Rating: 64%

‘Berlin Syndrome’

5qBg9GxoCA8qu48iWp1obK5pBHsA sinister story of obsession, Australian director Cate Shortland’s (Somersault, Lore) latest is a tense thriller where backpacker Clare’s (Teresa Palmer – Hackshaw Ridge, Warm Bodies) one night stand sees her locked in the Berlin apartment of school teacher Andi (Max Riemelt – Free Fall, Before the Fall).

But Berlin Syndrome is no schlock bad guy/good guy shocker. Shortland’s skill, in building tension, is to create an element of sympathy for both characters. Andi’s grief at the death of his father is genuine, as is the continued terror felt by Clare as her imprisonment extends by weeks.

Shortland oozes confidence in (sadly) only her third feature film in 12 years in this stylish thriller/drama.

Rating: 66% 

‘A Man Called Ove’

A_Man_Called_Ove.pngSome 85 films were submitted for consideration for the 2017 best foreign language Oscar. Sweden’s entry, A Man Called Ove, made the final shortlist of five before losing out to Iran’s The Salesman. The other 80 must have been appalling if the Hannes Holm-helmed dramedy was seen as one of the best of the year (Julieta, Elle, Neruda, My Life as a Zucchini are just a few that failed to make that final five).

Lonely, grumpy widower Rolf Lassgard (After the Wedding, The Hunters) learns to smile again after a new family moves into the neighbourhood. Off-kilter humour early on gives way to crowd pleasing tosh, resulting in disjointed comedic sentimentality. Deeply unimpressed.

Rating: 31%