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45 Years review – a very stylish marriage

16 hours ago

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling are at the top of their game in this compelling drama of lost love and missed opportunity

Superbly nuanced performances from Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay and exquisite direction by Andrew Haigh, who also co-wrote the film, turn an apparently everyday story of a marriage in quiet crisis into something rather extraordinary. A subtle examination of the persistence of the past and the fragile (in)stability of the present, this is a portrait of a rock-solid relationship facing a fissure that cuts to its very core in the runup to the titular wedding anniversary.

The source material is David Constantine’s enigmatic short story In Another Country, in which an ageing married man receives a letter telling him that the body of his previous girlfriend has been found, perfectly preserved in the ice of the Alps where she fell 50 years ago. This news gets a chilly reception from his wife, »

- Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

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Straight Outta Compton review – vibrant account of Nwa’s rise to rap fame

17 hours ago

Although laden with rock-pic set pieces, this is an energy-packed drama full of conflict, on and off the stage

Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton was initially due to direct this Nwa biopic, and he may have brought a more nuanced edge to the tale of the band’s controversial cultural status. Instead, F Gary Gray (whose CV includes Friday and Set It Off) plays it rather more straight, following Corey Hawkins’s Dr Dre, Jason Mitchell’s Eazy-e, and O’Shea Jackson Jr’s Ice Cube on a pulsating rags-to-riches journey involving all the usual rock-pic elements: talismanic recording sessions, boisterous concerts, riotous parties (replete with unquestioned misogyny), corrupt managers etc. After his caricatured turn as the svengali-esque Eugene Landy in Love and Mercy, Paul Giamatti offers another wiggy performance as Nwa’s manager Jerry Heller, whose contracts spark rifts between the rappers even as the authorities get federal on their act. »

- Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

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Addicted to Sheep review – under the skin of northern tenant farmers

17 hours ago

A terrific documentary explores the lives of a family in the north Pennines trying to rear the perfect sheep

Pitched somewhere between Nicolas Philibert’s Être et Avoir and Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte, this insightful account of a year in the life of a family of north Pennines tenant farmers proved a deserved hit at the 2015 Sheffield Doc/Fest. Told with affection but without sentimentality (life and death are unflinchingly intertwined), Magali Pettier’s debut feature gets under the skin of its subjects and the tough lives they lead. While Tom and Kay Hutchinson joke about his devotion to rearing the perfect prize-winning sheep, their children reflect on the ups and downs of rural life with a wonderful blend of innocence and experience. The whole family are terrific company and Magali captures both the beauty and the bleakness of the environment in which they live and work.

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- Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

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Barely Lethal review – cringe-worthy teen assassin hokum

17 hours ago

Everything about this Hailee Steinfeld adventure seems misjudged – from the terrible title to the action itself

Hey kids, school holidays are nearly over and to prove it here come the barrel-scraping dregs of the summer season. This time, it’s teen assassins attempting to make it in high school, as Hailee Steinfeld turns her back on the secret service and sets her sights on the prom. Samuel L Jackson is the former trainer who teaches her everything about killing but nothing about adolescent relationships. The film unwisely nods its head towards Mean Girls and Clueless, but (like Jackson’s recent misjudged adventure Big Game) can’t seem to make up its mind about the age or desires of its target audience. From the grisly punning title to the low-rent action sequences, this really is less fun than double maths.

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- Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

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The Roberto Rossellini Ingrid Bergman Collection review – a tempestuous affair both on and off screen

17 hours ago

(Roberto Rossellini, 1950-54; BFI, PG, DVD/Blu-ray)

In 1948 the Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman was Hollywood’s greatest star, having appeared in a succession of prestigious box-office hits including Casablanca, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Notorious. But she was deeply dissatisfied with the conventional roles she was offered and unhappy in her marriage to the Swedish dentist (and future neurosurgeon) who managed her career. Meanwhile in Europe, the Italian director Roberto Rossellini had become world-famous as a leading figure in the neorealist movement, making rough, honest movies played by nonprofessional actors on realistic settings. Out of the blue he received a brief, flirtatious fan letter from Bergman: “Dear Mr Rossellini, I saw your films [Rome,] Open City and Paisà and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and in Italian »

- Philip French

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We Are Your Friends review – music drama marks return to form for Zac Efron

17 hours ago

Efron puts in a smart performance as a would-be DJ facing new frontiers

This Eden-lite affair may not be the Saturday Night Fever for the 21st century for which director/co-writer Max Joseph was aiming, but it certainly marks a return to intriguing form for Zac Efron after the patience-testing trials of That Awkward Moment and Bad Neighbours. Efron plays Cole, a wannabe DJ holed up in the sun-drenched wasteland of the Valley, gazing across the hills in search of a better tomorrow. By day he holds down a miserable job cold-calling lonely mortgage defaulters; by night he twiddles knobs in the supremely uncinematic manner of the modern mixmaster – a man with a laptop and a pair of headphones. But when a chance encounter with Wes Bentley’s spiky superstar opens his eyes to wider horizons, Cole finds himself torn between old loyalties and new frontiers. The story is paper-thin, »

- Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

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Hitman: Agent 47 review – another game that doesn’t translate to the big screen

17 hours ago

Too much action and a senseless plot are the ingredients for a classic console-to-silver-screen turkey

Will a video game ever spawn a half-decent movie? Fingers are firmly crossed for Duncan Jones’s forthcoming Warcraft, but in the meantime this big-screen reboot of the Hitman series merely reminds us that in this genre Mortal Kombat and Silent Hill remain unremarkable high-water marks. Rupert Friend is the not-very-threatening eponymous bald man in a dodgy suit, born and bred to kill without conscience; Hannah Ware is the not-very-interesting heroine who must unravel the labyrinthine plot, which sees people constantly attempting to kill or kidnap her. That none of it makes any sense is not a problem, but the failure to raise the temperature despite endless shootouts, punch-ups, car chases et al is a fatal flaw. Zachary Quinto does some tight-jawed scenery chewing in the early stages and Ciarán Hinds keeps a straight face »

- Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

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Director Matthew Heineman: ‘Suddenly I was alone with my camera in the middle of this shootout’

18 hours ago

For three decades, Mexico’s drug lords have terrorised the country. New documentary Cartel Land tells the story from the inside, exposing the meth labs, the torture, the corruption – and the government collusion

One must hope that audiences appreciate the extraordinary scene with which the documentary Cartel Land opens: deep within a forest in Mexico, a group of men cook crystal meth, and discuss their metier.

“We know what harm we do with all the drugs,” muses one of them, masked. “But what are we going to do? We come from poverty. If we were doing well, we’d be like you, travelling the world or doing good jobs” – he addresses the director directly, but it could be many of us, almost accusing our good fortune, in contrast to his lot. “But if we start paying attention to our hearts, then we’ll get screwed over. We will do this »

- Ed Vulliamy

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Far from the Madding Crowd; Phoenix; The Good Lie; Top Five; Narcos – review

18 hours ago

Carey Mulligan’s Bathsheba Everdene is hardly Hardy’s in Thomas Vinterberg’s handsome adaptation, but Nina Hoss is immaculate in a postwar psychodrama

Months ago, I celebrated the rerelease of John Schlesinger’s fervidly epic 1967 version; now, Thomas Vinterberg’s take on Far from the Madding Crowd (Fox, 12) doesn’t quite weather the immediate comparison. To be fair, not many respectable corset dramas would. Vinterberg’s comparatively compressed adaptation is a restrained, russet, handsome thing; it honours the circumspect romanticism of Thomas Hardy’s novel, if not all the storied complications thereof.

What it lacks is any wildness in its turns of heart, or that of its independently reckless heroine: Carey Mulligan offers an attentive, serious-minded reading of Bathsheba Everdene, but hardly projects the aura of a woman animated by desire. As for Bathsheba’s men, Matthias Schoenaerts soulfully captures the sturdy, of-the-earth demeanour of Gabriel Oak, while Michael Sheen »

- Guy Lodge

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Gayby Baby's director: These are real kids that had to go to school on Wednesday

19 hours ago

Maya Newell on making the film, celebrations amid controversy and why a marriage equality plebiscite could have dangerous repercussions

Video: our families are told they are worth less Gayby Baby review – compelling look at children of same-sex couples

After days of controversy the film-maker Maya Newell has finally had a good morning. Even though her film Gayby Baby was not shown at Burwood girls high school as planned, the director spoke with the students, all dressed in purple, and celebrated Wear it Purple Day with 1,800 purple cupcakes.

“They’ve experienced a real coming together of their community which I think is what always happens when you realise that you’re in a little bubble of acceptance and tolerance,” she says.

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- Alexandra Spring

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Undead rewatched: aliens and zombies collide in a gung-ho low-budget classic

29 August 2015 5:30 PM, PDT

The Spierig brothers’ self-financed debut film was filled with severed limbs, cut-price but surprisingly sophisticated special effects and lashings of humour

Many prominent film-makers have cut their teeth making low–budget horror movies. Undoubtedly, the ability to create elaborate visual environments using scant resources is appealing to producers and financiers. Big hitters including Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi and James Cameron kicked off their careers with splatstick flicks – involving aliens, demons and killer fish respectively – as did the German-born Australian film-makers Michael and Peter Spierig.

The Spierig brothers’ 2003 debut Undead was a hands-on affair; they shared duties in writing, directing, producing, editing and visual effects. Their self-financed budget totalled about $1m: an astonishingly small amount given the visually high-end result, on a par with the sophistication of many more expensive movies that come out of the Hollywood studio system.

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- Luke Buckmaster

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Netflix takes on Hollywood with its first film premiere at Venice festival

29 August 2015 4:05 PM, PDT

Already shaking up TV with the likes of House of Cards, the on-demand pioneer is to unveil its move into film production

Like a heavenly body twinkling down from another time and galaxy, the Venice film festival still beams out the glamour of the old world. From its first incarnation in 1932, when the likes of Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, James Cagney, Ronald Colman and Joan Crawford, not to mention Boris Karloff, sipped drinks on the terrace of the Excelsior in the Lido, the festival has offered the perfect gilded backdrop for the shiny hoopla of film promotion.

This summer, however, the future is coming to the lagoon city and to the longest-established of all film festivals. As a billboard-sized sign of things to come, Netflix, one of the new breed of video-on-demand services, is bringing its first in-house production, Beasts of No Nation, to open at Venice 3 September. It stars »

- Vanessa Thorpe Arts and Media correspondent

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Hugo Weaving: Just because Australian films aren't seen doesn't mean they don't exist

28 August 2015 10:29 PM, PDT

CinefestOz’s screen legend for 2015 on Tony Abbott, reuniting with director Jocelyn Moorhouse and why you’ve probably never seen his best work

Hugo Weaving’s top 10 on-screen moments – in picturesRewatching classic Aussie films – follow our weekly blog

Hugo Weaving likes playing faceless villains, he once told an American journalist, because it means people are less likely to recognise him in real life. It’s a good tactic but one that certainly isn’t working for him in sleepy Busselton, Western Australia, where he’s in town to be honoured with the title of “screen legend” at the city’s annual CinefestOz festival – home to Australia’s richest film prize.

Over the course of five days, Weaving is repeatedly invited up to the mic – at opening ceremonies, screenings and lunches – and regularly stopped on the street by industry peers slapping him on the back or by local cinema-goers keen to take a selfie with him. »

- Nancy Groves

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All fuse and no bang? Sophia Loren interview: archive, 29 August 1974

28 August 2015 9:30 PM, PDT

Sophia Loren talks to Ian Woodward about Peter Sellars, Richard Burton and overcoming her shyness on screen

There are those who maintain that Sophia Loren is all fuse and no bang: she never seems to be ill, or fed up, or bored. Her answer is that she has never suffered from the feeling that she is missing something, for the simple reason that she knows she is not. It takes a lifetime’s wisdom, or a healthy bank balance, to reach that sort of conclusion.

Four years ago the Rome municipal tax collector’s office declared La Loren as the woman with the biggest income in Rome - a taxable figure of £231,100. Incidentally (because it helps feed the mouth of wisdom), the second highest income earner in the city was her husband, director Carlo Ponti, with a figure of £188,000. You can see how, with a cool £400,000 between you, it is »

- Ian Woodward

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‘We are the weirdos’: how witches went from evil outcasts to feminist heroes

28 August 2015 12:27 PM, PDT

Since Anjelica Huston took off her wig in 1990’s The Witches, we’ve made some progress and broken from lore that dictates witches are ugly and evil

Last week saw the 25th anniversary of The Witches, a movie that arguably reflects what’s now become an increasingly dated approach to witches and witch culture.

In the film (based on Roald Dahl’s 1983 book of the same name), a little boy and his grandmother rid England of its horrendously disfigured witches (including The Grand High Witch, played by Anjelica Huston) by turning them into mice.

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- Anne T Donahue

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Ed Helms on Vacation: 'There's no room for dignity in a movie like this'

28 August 2015 11:24 AM, PDT

In new film Vacation, the star of the Hangover movies and Us version of The Office plays another normal man unhinged by events. Ed Helms talks southern manners, prosthetic penises – and what he hated about doing the Daily Show

There is an atmosphere of embarkation and hangover at the Beverly Hills Hilton as the three-day junket for Vacation winds down. Suitcases are being hefted, cameras stowed and taxis are arriving outside in the hellish humidity. I’m Ed Helms’s last appointment of the day. He really should be in a much worse mood than he is.

So, I ask him, how many people have asked you about your worst-ever summer vacation? Eight? 18? “Try 80!” he laughs.

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- John Patterson

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Muhammad: Messenger of God review – evocative account of Islam’s gestation

28 August 2015 8:00 AM, PDT

Majid Majidi’s origin tale of the prophet Muhammad chronicles the birth and rise of Islam, rich with gestural flair and images of bracing beauty

This is not the first time the prophet of Islam has hit the big screen, but Moustapha Akkad’s 1977 film The Message chose to relay Qu’ranic history only from Muhammad’s point of view. Majid Majidi’s Muhammad: Messenger of God, on the other hand, takes the representation plunge.

Related: Rare portrayal of Muhammad’s youth in upcoming Iranian film

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- Phil Hoad

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Dirty Dancing lake had the time of its life, but now it's all dried up

28 August 2015 7:27 AM, PDT

It seems that Mountain Lake in Virginia – now nothing more than a reddish-brown pit – shows little regard for human intervention or Hollywood nostalgia

Seven miles up a winding road in Pembroke, Virginia, sits the Mountain Lake Lodge, an imposing 1930s stone building that looks out over a manicured lawn peppered with cabins. The hotel is instantly recognizable to fans of the 1987 film Dirty Dancing as Kellerman’s Resort, the luxurious summer retreat where the precocious Frances “Baby” Houseman meets hunky dance instructor Johnny Castle and romance ensues.

Mountain Lake Lodge is proud of its fame, and has preserved its history to the delight of thousands of fans who flock to the resort each year to visit Dirty Dancing landmarks on the property, like Housemans’ white latticed bungalow (now called “Baby’s Cabin”), the dining room featuring the famous “no one put Baby in the corner” table, and the spot where Johnny smashes his car window. »

- Susan Harlan

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Spike Lee to get honorary Oscar 25 years after Do the Right Thing

28 August 2015 6:48 AM, PDT

Director’s snub for 1989 film about racial tension in Brooklyn is considered by some to be one of the most glaring in Academy history

Spike Lee, the American director whose 1989 film Do the Right Thing was famously snubbed by the Us Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences more than a quarter of a century ago, is to receive an honorary Oscar for his contributions to film-making.

Lee joins fellow honoree Gena Rowlands, known for her 1960s, 70s and 80s films with director husband Nick Cassavetes, who has twice been nominated for the Academy award for best actress but each time failed to take home the prize. Both will receive their statuettes at the Academy’s annual governors awards on 14 November at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Los Angeles.

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- Ben Child

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Muhammad biopic director calls for more movies about the prophet’s life

28 August 2015 5:37 AM, PDT

Speaking at the premiere of Muhammad: Messenger of God, Majid Majidi says further films would help improve understanding of Islam around the world

It had the potential to be one of the most inflammatory film projects of recent times. Yet the world premiere of Iranian director Majid Majidi’s biopic of the prophet Muhammad not only passed mostly without incident, but even amicably – with a surprise call for rapprochement between the religion’s Sunni and Shia sects.

A small group of protesters gathered outside the Imperial cinema, Montreal, where the premiere was held. Holding signs declaring, “Down with Islamic republic of Iran”, members of the city’s Iranian community objected to what they saw as a glorification of the Islamisation of Iran.

Continue reading »

- Phil Hoad in Montreal

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