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  • Penguins of Madagascar

    Penguins of Madagascar 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 28 Sep, 2015

    Utterly bonkers animation from Dream Works that crams in the gags like a fluffy Airplane! Although not breakout icons to the extent of the Minions from the Despicable Me franchise, the penguins were easily the best thing in the Madagascar, and its rather pleasing to see them have their own showcase.

    The plot is throwaway lunacy that comes nowhere near close to troubling the best the Pixar and Disney have to offer, yet there are plenty anarchic laughs to be…

  • A Royal Night Out

    A Royal Night Out 2015

    ★★★ Watched 19 Sep, 2015

    Based on an actual event, in which Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were granted temporary leave from their cosseted confines on VE day and mingle with the common man, A Royal Night Out takes that basic premise and runs with it to absurd lengths.

    In reality, the regal pair was part of a chaperoned party of sixteen, and were tucked up safe and snug in their four-posters by 1am, unsullied by contact with any less-than-proper gentry. An interesting film this would…

  • The Imitation Game

    The Imitation Game 2014

    ★★½ Watched 04 Sep, 2015

    Benedict Cumberbatch was apparently a frontrunner for the best actor Oscar, as far as such things matter, for his role as Alan Turing, before Eddie Redmayne conquered all as Stephen Hawking. He undoubtedly keeps afloat what is otherwise an overly-mannered, safe and surprisingly quaint affair.

    Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s previous film Headhunters injected some gleeful anarchy into the glower of Scandinavian crime drama to wonderfully entertaining effect, so it is a real disappointment that The Imitation Game feels like an…

  • What If

    What If 2013

    ★★★½ Watched 10 Sep, 2015

    Normally, ‘quirky rom-com’ is a phrase to rake the eardrums like nails down a blackboard. Add the spectre of the manic pixie dream girl, and we’re in seriously dangerous territory. It’s something of a minor coup then, that What If diffuses that bomb with blue-beret precision.

    The assembled cast helps tremendously. Zoe Kazan has previous in dissecting the dream girl trope in Ruby Sparks, which was a clever idea, even if it perhaps didn’t go far enough, and manages to…

  • Inside Out

    Inside Out 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 08 Sep, 2015

    Even before realising both films share a director, I thought Inside Out felt like a companion piece to the glorious Up!. Both deal, in pretty unflinching terms, with the heights and depths of human experience and emotion. It’s another reason why Pixar’s relationship with Disney feels like a great symbiotic fit. The House of Mouse have rarely sugar-coated the pill for its younger audience; generations of traumatised post-Bambikids will attest to that.

    Pete Docter’s latest gem examines the other end…

  • St. Vincent

    St. Vincent 2014

    ★★★ Watched 07 Sep, 2015

    Bill Murray back in a starring role can only be a good thing, especially in a more overtly comedic role than the likes of Broken Flowers, fine film and performance though that was.

    Fortunately, the great man is at the top of his game, and he needs to be, as St Vincent is otherwise a slushy and predictable affair. Theodore Melfi’s film is a familiar riff on the classic odd-couple dynamic as Jaeden Lieberher’s bullied, socially awkward Oliver is flung…

  • Mommy

    Mommy 2014

    ★★★ Watched 04 Sep, 2015

    At the rate he’s going, Xavier Dolan’s going to be considered a veteran by the age of forty. Mommy was his fifth film by the age of twenty-five, and he’s got another one in the can, complete with heavyweight cast.

    Mommy is pretty unanimously being praised as his most accomplished work so far. The only one I’ve seen is Tom at the Farm, which I rather enjoyed as a low-key exploration of grief and small-town secrecy. Mommy retains a little…

  • Whiplash

    Whiplash 2014

    ★★★★★ Watched 02 Sep, 2015

    From the first strike of a snare ringing out from a black screen, Whiplash was completely riveting. Damien Chazelle’s debut feature is a barbed, relentless examination of the male psyche and the obsessive drive to succeed. One may think of jazz as laid-back; improvisational but this is a film of death-metal intensity.

    Miles Teller is great as the first-year music student consumed by his drive to be the best jazz drummer since Buddy Rich. He’s a combination of determination and…

  • Beyond the Hills

    Beyond the Hills 2012

    ★★★½ Watched 02 Sep, 2015

    Christian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills is a film as stark and austere as its setting, an Orthodox Romanian convent devoid of electricity and utterly under the control of the aggressively patriarchal priest in charge.

    The film is an examination of friendships and their resilience or otherwise after a period of separation; and the efficacy of faith in medical treatments. At its core is a tale of a real-life attempted exorcism, but this is resolutely low-key drama that eschews sensationalist thrills…

  • The Signal

    The Signal 2014

    ★★ Watched 28 Jul, 2015

    It’s nice to see the return to provenance of low-budget science fiction (lo-sci-fi?), driven by ideas rather than spectacle. The Signal attempts to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Shane Carruth’s Primer and Upstream Color, Mike Cahill’s Another Earth, and Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed.

    Sadly, William Eubank’s head scratcher is hamstrung by the story, which fails to engage, flat characters, and an obvious and bungled ending. It’s a shame; because the approach of going for a slow-burn,…

  • Winter Sleep

    Winter Sleep 2014

    ★★★ Watched 12 Jul, 2015 11

    I had high hopes for Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s much-lauded Winter Sleep. In my head I had it down as almost a companion piece with Andrey Zvyagintsev’s magnificent Leviathan; mainly because of them both being lengthy, opulently shot, and thematically hefty.

    The main difference I saw right away is that while Leviathan is very much about the dehumanising and corrupting influence of progress, Winter Sleep seems to be a cautionary tale of the ossifying effect of stasis. Indeed, the incredible landscapes…

  • Starry Eyes

    Starry Eyes 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 04 Jul, 2015

    It's strange timing that David Cronenberg's vicious dissection of the Hollywood ego, Maps to the Stars roughly coincided with this partly Kickstarter-funded feature from writer/director Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer. Starry Eyes tackles similar themes to Cronenberg's film while slathering on great dollops of the kind of body horror that the Canadian maestro was famed for in his earlier work.

    In fact, the price that Hollywood demands from its young starlets is a fertile topic for that kind of horror.…