Film Reviews

The Light Between Oceans

the-light-between-the-oceansDreamWorks Pictures’ “The Light Between Oceans” is a heart-breaking drama about fate, love, moral dilemmas and the lengths to which one couple will go to see their dreams realized. Starring Academy Award (R) and Golden Globe (R) nominee Michael Fassbender, Oscar (R) winner Alicia Vikander, Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson, the film is written for the screen and directed by Derek Cianfrance based on the acclaimed novel by M.L. Stedman.

In the years following World War I, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a young veteran still numb from his years in combat, takes a job as lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a remote island off the coast of Western Australia. As the island’s sole inhabitant, he finds comfort in the monotony of the chores and the solitude of his surroundings. When he meets the daughter of the school’s headmaster, Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), in the local town of Partageuse on the mainland, Tom is immediately captivated by her beauty, wit and passion, and they are soon married and living on the island. As their love flourishes, he begins to feel again, their happiness marred only by their inability to start a family, so when a rowboat with a dead man and infant girl mysteriously washes ashore, Isabel believes their prayers may have finally been answered. As a man of principle, Tom is torn between reporting the lost child and pleasing the woman he loves, and against his better judgment he agrees to let Isabel raise the child as their own, making a choice with devastating consequences. It is a choice that will forever change two worlds.

the-light-between-the-oceans2This is where a normal story becomes thought provoking and exciting. It is brilliant in describing the angst of the adopted children, the adopting parents and the biological parents. It also begs the question “is denying the adopted children the name of real parents one of life’s’most profound deceptions. Lucy’s depiction of unqualified maternal devotion is powerful but Tom’s creeping sense of love for Lucy is beautifully portrayed.

The films greatest achievement is the validation given to their disparate views despite the fact they are largely determined by personal interest. Moral ambiguity is rarely so compelling.

This is the first time Derek Cianfrance has adapted a novel but he has long been interested in creating a cinema of intimacy and probing the themes of love, family, legacy, loneliness and choices – the same themes that made Stedman’s novel so resonant to so many.

Derek Cianfrance is said to have said “I feel my mission as a film-maker is to explore the most intimate relationships in both a private and expansive way. This he has done brilliantly in this film.

The important fact drawn out by this film is how the most isolated and intense love must weather the harsh consequences of life’s choices.

People are drawn to this film not only because it is so honest about the pain of love and love lost but also because it then becomes a beautiful rendering of redemption and healing. I can only describe this film as an unforgettable and deeply moving experience.

The directors ability to paint a picture of the exquisite Australian landscape as well as the emotional dilemmas that were faced by Tom and later Hannah as well as Lucy were very well executed.

I give the film 4and a half stars out of 5.




When Edward Snowden tore the veil from the NSA’s secret global surveillance programs, he simultaneously opened the eyes of the world and closed the doors of his own future—giving up his career, his long-time girlfriend, and his homeland.

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Snowden looks at what compelled Edward Snowden to perpetrate the largest disclosure of classified documents in World History.



Thanks to Tegan Johns and Event Cinemas, Innaloo, I attended a preview screening of Jason Bourne, the hotly anticipated new entry in the Bourne franchise.

This was a ‘Black Carpet’ affair – an opening on a grand scale, with the issuing of entry tags on lanyards, photos in front of a promotional backdrop and a specially filmed intro. from the man himself – Matt Damon.

Does it live up to expectations?  For once, yes!  And then, some.  You need a tight seat-belt for this one because, as was expected, there’s little pause in the action.

See you in the dark, Phil.


bourneLudlum’s kinetic spy ‘re-Bourne’

U.S.A. : 123 mins : PG-13                          4/5

After the diversion of The Bourne Legacy in 2012, Jason Bourne sees Paul Greengrass back at the helm (and co-writing, along with Christopher Rouse) and Matt Damon returning to the role he has made his own.  Also starring are Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones and Vincent Cassell.

With his memory restored, it seemed that the Bourne saga had come to an end.  But, with a degree of ingenuity the production team has succeeded in a high-octane resurrection which begins with some bridging scenes from the end of The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) to show that Jason Bourne is its direct sequel.  This time, the plot deals with secrets about the forging of his own identity and the demise of his father that were hidden from him by the CIA, right from the beginning.

But Greengrass and Rouse have hit the target by grounding the new film in a context of great concern in real-life America – the constant and growing government surveillance of everyday citizens (and the invasion of their privacy).  In effect, the Director of the CIA, Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and the whole establishment assumes the persona of a corporate villain while, on a personal level, a suitably venomous Vincent Cassel is Agent Asset, in hot pursuit of the hero.  Bourne is a lone crusader with physical strength and knowledge but who is now armed with enough Top Secret information of the CIA’s systematic killing programme to threaten its very existence.

Giving Jason Bourne even greater contemporary potency is the inclusion of a whistle blower named Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) who is a technical wizard but is unwilling to assist the authorities in duping the public.  Kalloor is obviously modelled on the real-life figure of Edward Snowden (he is mentioned several times in the film and his dramatic revelations of government surveillance were featured in the 2014 documentary, Citizenfour).

Matt Damon gives Bourne just the right sense of dour, steely resolve and a resolute moral core.  Tommy Lee Jones has a face that has always looked weather beaten but, here, it has taken on an extra cragginess and he looks every bit as though he has the weight of the world on his weary shoulders.  But (with the appealing performance from Julia Stiles, as Agent Nicky Parsons, coming to a premature end) it is the beguiling Alicia Vikander, in the role of CIA Agent, Heather Lee, who is the real anchor point in the cast.  In spite of a script that hardly allows her to breathe life into her character, Vikander has just enough toughness to make her appointment to the top job feasible and (as the final scenes may imply) she looks set to play a major part in the next Bourne instalment, should there be one.

Greengrass is an impressive director, especially of action on a huge scale and, in Jason Bourne, the scene of a mass riot in the streets of Athens, with Bourne, frantically pursued on a motor-bike, is virtually a master-class demonstration.  The air is thick with flame red smoke and there is an almost palpable sense of chaos with panic just a heartbeat away.  Later in the film, Greengrass again opens the throttle (but less effectively) in the chase through the streets of Las Vegas.  Here, Asset engages Bourne in a frenetic (but utterly implausible) pursuit that sees cars tossed into the air like toys and the biggest assemblage of wrecked vehicles outside of a car scrap yard.

These are high points in a film that maintains tension and excitement almost without pause for the best part of two hours (aided by the signature, repetitive soundtrack).  Even though the hero’s invincibility brings him close to self-parody, Jason Bourne is pure escapist fare which doesn’t get much better than this.

Phil. 27.07.16.

(Jason Bourne will screen at Event Cinemas from Thursday, 28th July. Check at or the press for details).




Here’s a mainstream film which is a mix of action and humour and starring two names who were new to me.   What I expected was low-brow, un-funny stunts laced with foul language but what I saw wasn’t like that at all and much, much better.  The two leads came across as warm, personable and with real skill on display – a pleasant surprise.  If you want some light-hearted escapism, then you may well take to Central Intelligence – just don’t take it too seriously!

Thanks to Tegan Johns and Universal, I attended a preview screening at Hoyts Cinema, Garden City.

See you in the dark, Phil.


intelligence, yes, but heaps more heart in this action comedy

U.S.A. : 107 mins.: PG-13 :     3/5

In director,central Rawson Marshall Thurber’s Central Intelligence, Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson) and Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) were fellow students in their graduation year of 1996 and re-unite via a web page that advertises a twentieth anniversary reunion.

Beginning with the 1996 graduation assembly, Stone (then known as Robbie Weirdich, which makes it easy to see why he went for a name change) is the overweight figure of ridicule (he had a penchant for dancing nude in the showers) while Joyner was the school ace – tops in everything from sport to drama.  As Joyner is receiving a bunch of accolades and cited as the ‘graduate most likely to succeed’, Robbie is humiliated by a group of guys who throw him (naked) onto the assembly floor (tastefully done).  Calvin is the only one to feel Robbie’s pain.  This is the (serviceable, though rather thin) premise on which the film is built.  But underneath the madcap capers, the cruel treatment o
f Robbie provides the film with the more sober theme of bullying.

Fast forward twenty years and time has turned the tables on the two.  Robbie is no longer Weirdich but Bob Stone and his overweight flab has turned to an imposing frame of solid muscle. What’s more, he’s now a CIA operative (or was, until he supposedly murdered his partner and ran off with some top-secret info. and is now being pursued by a team of agents). Calvin, however, is stuck in a dead-end job as a forensic accountant.

Bob is openly overawed at meeting his college hero and insists that Calvin be his friend.  However, the situation rapidly becomes a nightmare for Calvin when Federal agents, in pursuit of Stone (headed by a clever, funny, deadpan Amy Ryan as agent Pam Harris) start firing their weapons with abandon and the hapless (and now terrified) Joyner does his utmost to escape.

The teaming of an unwilling collaborator, swept along by the enthusiasm of an admiring partner has been used on many occasions as a comedic device (one of the better examples is Francis Veber’s Tais-Tois! in 2004, when Gerard Depardieu and the unwilling Jean Reno made a very funny duo).  Here, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart display some substantial acting skills and comic timing.  But it is the chemistry between them that carries the film.  They obviously enjoy each other’s company and bounce off each other effectively (be sure to stay for the end credits which have some funny out-takes showing scenes that collapsed in laughter).  Physically, they make a funny pair with the white, muscular Johnson (whose nickname of ‘The Rock’ has no regard for his skill and should be dropped) towering over the black and much smaller Hart.  While Johnson’s voice is deep and composed, Hart’s, by contrast, is high-pitched and frenetic (although, at times, a little forced).

The two actors are assisted with some snappy writing by Thurber himself, along with Ike Barinholz and David Stassen and the director moves it along at a brisk pace. While the plot becomes increasingly convoluted, the audience will be kept guessing as to what is actually going on.  There are a few laugh-out-loud moments amongst the general amusement and the film is consistently warm and entertaining, avoiding the crassness and silliness that kill the enjoyment of many, so-called comedies.

In a satisfying conclusion, the film turns full circle, with Johnson’s personal warmth and his character’s (‘gentle giant’) passive approach to aggression being well suited to underscore the key theme of bullying (with some former pranksters getting a delicious comeuppance).

Central Intelligence, with its two likable stars, slapstick and wild, improbable chases, should be a fun ride, as long as the audience follows the cast’s lead in not taking it too seriously.

Phil. 28.06.16.

(Central Intelligence will screen at Hoyts, Garden City from Thursday, June 30th.   Check the website or press for details).

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warfull of sound and fury, signifying …?

USA : 123 mins : PG 13 :    2/5


Online video games have little or no dependence on plot or character development so, director Duncan Jones must have had reservations about filming Warcraft:The Beginning, based on the hugely popular Blizzard Entertainment game called World of Warcraft.  His fears were not allayed when he read Charles Leavitt’s original script and insisted on re-writing it himself.  In addition, as the project features a mythological world (Azeroth) inhabited by Humans and invaded by Monsters (Orcs) from another world, Jones was aware that the film would, inevitably, be compared to Peter Jackson’s landmark fantasy trilogy, Lord of the Rings.

Jones’ debut film was the impressive sci-fi, Moon (2009) with two heavyweight names, Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey as drawcards.  In Warcraft, he has a little-known cast but also a fan-base of the game, numbered in their millions.  Many of them, no doubt, will want to see it played out on the big screen.

While game-players may find themselves in familiar territory, for the uninitiated there is a bewildering array of characters, tribes, lands and supernatural forces.  Jones wastes very little of the epic’s two hours in explaining this tangled web but gets down to the serious business of beating the opposition to a pulp.  The Orcs are giant, muscle-bound humanoids with fingers the girth of of a man’s arm, enormous lower canines (totally impracticable and hindering what little dialogue there is) innumerable body piercings and decorated with animal skulls and other body parts. No doubt the visual designers had a field day and, it should be said, the results are impressive.

In essence, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) one of the Orc leaders, unites the disparate tribes into an army referred to as the Horde.  Their own homeland of Draenon is being destroyed by internal conflict and their only option is to invade the Humans’ world by gaining entrance through a magic portal.  In a snippet of explanatory background the audience is informed that ‘Orcs and Humans have been at war for as long as could be remembered’ (like many of the real world conflicts whose origins have been lost in the mists of time).

However, to his credit, Jones has resisted demonising the monster-like Orcs, investing them with some laudable personality traits like loyalty and courage and even compassion.  Another plus is the presence of Garona (Paula Patton) a green-skinned creature, half Orc and half Human whose affiliations are torn between her dual identities (producing a few moments of emotional tension) and which culminates in one of the few acts of violence with dramatic resonance.

But these are small rewards in what is an interminably noisy, violent and tedious affair, completely overwhelmed by the CGI and benefiting little by the  unimaginative use of 3D (unlike in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, 2012, in which it created a sense of wonder).  Warcraft is a shallow, derivative affair with little to attract other than the action and fantasy junkies who will, no doubt, enjoy it immensely.

And, apart from the obvious implications of the sub-title, if there was any doubt as to Universal’s aspirations to make a sequel (or three) just listen to the scene-stealing (Spock-eared) baby who has the final squeal.

Phil. 08.06.16.

(Warcraft:The Beginning will screen at Event Cinemas, Innaloo.  Check or the press for details).

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a chilly affair                                                    

HuntU.S.A./Britain : CTC : 114mins.   2.5/5


Taking the reins as director, for the first time, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (who worked on Snow White and the Huntsman) creates this ‘prequel’ to the earlier film with Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth reprising their roles of Ravenna, the Evil Queen and Eric, the Huntsman.  New cast members include Emily Blunt, Rob Brydon and Jessica Chastain.

Freya (Emily Blunt) Ravenna’s sister (and with the power to freeze her enemies) has been betrayed and sets out to train an army of huntsmen, including Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain).

In an attempt to beef up the new film’s emotional clout, Huntsman puts love front and centre.  In fact, Freya, the Ice Queen, issues a mandate to her subjects that ‘there shall be no love’ in her kingdom (words which prove to have an ironic truthfulness about them).  When Sara and Eric break this rule with a mutual attraction, the stage is set for a prolonged struggle between the troops of Snow White and those of the Ice Queen.  Unfortunately, the chemistry between the two characters has more of a brother/sister feel to it and any potential love-making is swiftly cut off (this is a family film, after all).

One of the redeeming elements of the first film was the inclusion of the dwarfs – miniaturised but life-sized actors such as Eddie Marsan and Toby Jones.  Writers Craig Mazin, Evan Spiliotopoulos and Frank Darabont have wisely introduced two more, early in The Huntsman – Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon) and they are a comic delight.

But, apart from flashes of humour, The Huntsman is a rather cheerless affair, with little emotional warmth or depth.  Perhaps, those who have the most fun are the CGI guys who gleefully over-indulge, even though their creations are reminiscent, if not derivative, of those of the vastly superior Pan’s Labrynth (2006).

However, the effects and the continual altercations will keep most of the audience distracted from the rather flat writing and confused storyline that challenges the viewer to work out which side the characters are on, so often do they swap allegiances.

The Huntsman:Winter’s War is a film best enjoyed for the spectacle rather than a coherent storyline (in spite of Liam Neeson’s voice-over which tries to keep proceedings on track).  And, there is enough for the eyes to feast on.  Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography provides some evocative scenes of (for instance) barely visible mounted soldiers riding through mist-wreathed woods.

If audiences have not had enough of Snow White, after this second, two hour outing, there is the prophetic line at its conclusion that ‘fairy tales never end’, thus flagging the prospect of a third chapter.  These words (apart from serving to justify mainstream’s insatiable appetite for sequels) are enough to enthrall some in the audience while, for others, they may chill the heart more effectively than the icy tendrils of the malevolent Queen.




Phil.  06.04.16.

(The Huntsman:Winter’s War will screen at Reading Cinema, Belmont from tomorrow, Thursday, April 7th.  Check or the press for details).