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Thursday
Mar292018

AUSSIE CINEMAS FATTEN UP ON EASTER MOVIE TREATS

Australian exhibitors could not be more grateful for the annual Easter Holiday box-office surge. With the award season favourites closing out their runs and the American summer blockbusters just around the corner, the March/April window would be bring patchy revenue if not for the Easter break and the accompanying school holidays (the rainier, the better). From virtual realities to gay romances to prehistoric soccer, the Easter 2018 line-up offers an eclectic mix. SCREEN-SPACE reviews eight new bigscreen entries vying for your non-chocolate Easter dollars (with apologies to SHERLOCK GNOMES, but you kinda know what you’re in with the punny sequel)…

BLOCKERS
Director: Kay Cannon
Stars: Kathryn Newton, John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, Gideon Adlon, Geraldine Viswanathan (pictured, above).
Plot: Julie, Kayla and Sam are three high school seniors who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. Lisa, Mitchell and Hunter are three overprotective parents who flip out when they find out about their daughters' plans. They soon join forces for a wild and chaotic quest to stop the girls from sealing the deal - no matter what the cost.
Verdict: The ‘capital-C’ comedy moments deliver the pacing and skill that have become de rigeur in this post-Apatow movie world; anything goes, if the timing is right. But the narrative works best when debutant director Kay Cannon applies her understanding of strong independent women; she wrote the Pitch Perfect films and was a key creative on TV series 30 Rock and Girl Boss. Leslie Mann gets an all-too-rare shot at a leading role, and nails it; John Cena and Ike Barinholtz share scene-stealing honours. Admirably, the teen characters are as fully-fleshed out as the protagonists. Middle section sags, but Acts 1 and 3 are hilarious. RATING: 3.5/5

A WRINKLE IN TIME
Director: Ava Duvernay
Stars: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey (pictured, right), Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis, Chris Pine, Levi Miller.
Plot: Meg Murry and her little brother, Charles Wallace, have been without their scientist father ever since he discovered a new planet and used the concept known as a tesseract to travel there. Joined by Meg's classmate Calvin O'Keefe and guided by the three mysterious astral travelers, the children brave a dangerous journey to a planet that possesses all of the evil in the universe.
Verdict: The desperation of all involved to make this adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved YA fantasy novel soar infests this monumental dud. From director Ava Duvernay’s heavy-handed direction to the suffocating special effects to the cumbersome, plodding sentimentality and bloated self-importance that imbues the grinding plot, A Wrinkle in Time throws everything at the screen with no idea as to how to make it gel. A lifeless lead performance from Storm Reid and utter lack of humour doesn’t help; garish set/costume/production design proves nauseating. RATING: 1.5/5  

THE DEATH OF STALIN
Director: Armando Iannuci
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor.
Plot: Moscow, 1953; Soviet leader Joseph Stalin collapses unexpectedly of a brain haemorrhage. A frenetic surge of raw panic spreads like a virus amongst the senior members of the Council of Ministers, as they scramble to maintain order, weed out the competition, and, ultimately, take power. In the end, who will prevail after the death of Stalin?
Verdict: There is ‘political farce’ and then there is Armando Iannuci’s The Death of Stalin, a comedy so black as to almost absorb one’s capacity for laughter. Iannuci’s past pointed barbs designed to tear apart the hypocrisy and immorality of our leaders (TV series Veep and The Thick of It; the feature In The Loop) did the job but left us with one finger grasping humanity; not so The Death of Stalin. It’s funny, but in the same way that joke about the uncle who walks into the woods with his nephew at sunset is funny; we laugh, and we get why we laugh, but everything about the humour is painfully uncomfortable. RATING: 3.5/5

   

LOVE, SIMON
Director: Greg Berlanti
Stars: Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner, Tony Hale, Katherine Langford.
Plot: Everyone deserves a great love story, but for 17-year-old Simon Spier, it's a little more complicated. He hasn't told his family or friends that he's gay, and he doesn't know the identity of the anonymous classmate that he's fallen for online. Resolving both issues proves hilarious, terrifying and life-changing.
Verdict: Far too many contemporary teen comedies anoint themselves as ‘Hughes-ian’, desperate to align themselves with the smart, sweet, insightful teen movies of the genre’s golden years, the 80s. Finally, a film earns the accolade; Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon is a deeply moving, genuinely funny, gorgeously cinematic film that recalls the iconic filmmaker’s outsider classics Sixteen Candles and Some Kind of Wonderful, as well as Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything. That Berlanti’s film might also be at the forefront of the next great teen film era – in which teenage protagonists alter how their world understands and accepts who they are on their terms – makes it an extraordinary achievement. RATING: 4.5/5   

THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE
Director: Aki Kaurasmaki
Stars: Sherwan Haji, Sakari Kuosmanen, Janne Hyytiäinen, Ilkka Koivula.
Plot: When the authorities turn down his application for asylum, Syrian refugee Khaled is forced underground, where travelling-salesman-turned-restauranteur Wikström finds him sleeping in the yard behind his establishment. He offers him a job and a roof over his head and, for a while, they form a Utopian union with the restaurant's waitress, the chef and his dog.
Verdict: The best films from Finnish director Aki Kaurasmaki find the faintest glimmer of hope amongst the darkest deadpan melancholy (Leningrad Cowboys Go to America; The Man Without a Past; Le Havre). The Other Side of Hope may be his most effortlessly constructed yet deeply affecting film to date; it won him the Best Director Silver Bear in Berlin last year. One immigrant’s seemingly insurmountable struggle to deal with his new life in modern Helsinki is real-world funny; there is not a false note in the film’s humanity, despite a reality that at times seems entirely cinematic. RATING: 4/5

EARLY MAN
Director: Nick Park.
Voices: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Miriam Margolyes, Timothy Spall, Rob Brydon, Richard Ayoade
Plot: Plucky caveman Dug, his sidekick Hognob and the rest of their tribe face a grave threat from Lord Nooth, who plans transform their land into a giant mine. Not ready to go down without a fight, Dug and Hognob must unite their people in an epic quest to defeat a mighty enemy - the Bronze Age. The field of battle – the newly-invented realm of the soccer pitch.
Verdict: The Aardman Animation oeuvre aren’t the films you go to for gut-busting laughs. Curse of The Were-Rabbit, Chicken Run and their masterpiece, Shaun the Sheep, were sweet, gentle, character-driven charmers; when Aardman went for broad schtick, with 2012’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits, it produced their least satisfying film. Early Man falls somewhere in between. The high concept comedy seems to circle around inspired moments of mirth; one senses there is a better movie lurking inside director Nick Park’s hit/miss grab at World Cup football fever relevance. The stereotypically ethnic bad guys feel anachronistic in 2018, too. RATING: 2.5/5 

 

PAUL APOSTLE OF CHRIST
Director: Andrew Hyatt
Stars: James Faulkner, Jim Caviezel, Oliver Martinez, John Lynch, Joanne Whalley.
Plot: Risking his life, Luke ventures to Rome to visit Paul -- the apostle who's bound in chains and held captive in Nero's darkest and bleakest prison cell. Haunted by the shadows of his past misdeeds, Paul wonders if he's been forgotten as he awaits his grisly execution. Before Paul's death, Luke resolves to write another book that details the birth of what will come to be known as the church.
Verdict: The resurgent faith-based film genre grows sturdier with Andrew Hyatt’s retelling of the story of apostle Paul and his mentoring of friend and follower, Luke. Well-crafted and solidly dramatic, the film rises above recent shoddy, preachier Biblical renderings (notably the God-awful Samson, featuring Billy Zane and Rutger Hauer). Not likely to convert any heathen non-believers; the narrative feels deceptively fictitious, which may not please the devout. It is, however, an immensely watchable story, with solid performances from Jim Caviziel (returning to the flock 14 years after his iconic role in The Passion of The Christ), Oliver Martinez and the terrific James Faulkner. RATING: 3/5

READY PLAYER ONE
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, Ben Mendehlson and Hannah John-Kamen.
Plot: In an overpopulated 2045, people have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant if eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg, hidden somewhere in the OASIS. When unlikely hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger.
Verdict: Should Steven Spielberg, arguably the most influential pop culture figure of the last 40 years and inspiration for much of what author Ernest Cline celebrated in his bestselling novel Ready Player One, be the filmmaker that oversees the blockbuster adaptation? Of course he should; who better to reflect upon the decades that made Spielberg the most successful filmmaker of all time than Spielberg himself. The result is the most playful, exciting and beautifully envisioned Spielberg-directed movie since 2002’s Catch Me If You Can. The great director has some issues wrapping up all the strands of the story; the last half-hour is a bit clunky and he allows some awkward sentimentality to seep in. The journey, however, is filled with some truly wondrous sequences that confirm the director can still craft thrilling popcorn entertainment better than anyone on the planet. RATING: 4/5 

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