Wednesday, 25 February 2015


20th Century Fox Films

If you enjoyed your first stay at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, then there is no reason why you shouldn't check-in for a second time. The same guests from the 2012 hit are back -- Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy -- and Richard Gere has also booked what passes for a suite in this refurbished Indian hotel for those in their twilight of years (though not the twilight of these old pros' careers).

But as with many a sequel, lightning fails to strike twice. Not that Marigold 2 is a bad film, more a pale imitation of its predecessor. Like returning to a vacation spot filled with wonderful memories, everything is more or less the same but that sense of magic is no longer there.

There's also the spectre of death hanging over John Madden's film which is not to be unexpected in story populated by post-retirement ex-pats in Jaipur, India. What is a little more unexpected -- perhaps more so for younger viewers tagging along with the parentals or grandparents -- is the saltiness of the conversations and the amount of geriatric sex (all off-screen, of course). Fifty shades of grey, indeed.

So while ambitious local hotelier, Sonny (Dev Patel), and his fiance, Sunaina (Tina Desai), try to keep their cool and their heads in the lead-up to their wedding -- complicated somewhat by Sonny's trying to impress whom he believes to be a hotel inspector, Guy Chambers (Gere), sent by a possible American investor -- the residents of the Marigold are dealing with matters of the heart. And the bedroom.

Evelyn (Dench) and Douglas (Nighy) are obviously meant to be together but her new job as a procurer of textiles for a garment operation, and his general nervous-nelly ways have failed to see their seemingly inevitable relationship consummated. Even Douglas's wife Jean (Penelope Wilton), who returns to Jaipur seeking a divorce, is a little surprised she can't invoke adultery as legitimate grounds.

Meanwhile, the randy ladies man, Norman (Ronald Pickup), seems to have found love with Carol (Diana Hardcastle) but can't decide if monogamy is a blessing or a curse, while his business partner at the Viceroy Club, the equally-randy Madge (Celia Imrie), is torn between two wealthy local suitors.

And then there's Maggie Smith's Muriel, who may not have any interest in romantic shenanigans but who reminds everyone that when it comes to brutal honesty, she's the grandmother of them all. A redeemed bigot in the first film, Marigold 2 finds Muriel overseeing the hotel's operations but planning for a time when she may no longer be around.

Regardless of the strength of the material (Ol Parker once again fulfills script duties), it's a delight to see an old pro like Smith reveling in it all and with seemingly little effort. The same goes for the rest of the veteran cast who make the film an amiable delight, even if The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel does linger a little too long beyond an appropriate check-out time.

Monday, 23 February 2015


Roadshow Films

The district attorney in A Most Violent Year informs us that 1980 saw the highest rate of murders and rapes in New York City -- ever. But in early 1981, where J.C. Chandor's drama unfolds amid post-Christmas snow, things are just heating up and the most dangerous game in town is the heating oil business.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) has just purchased a river front property that will take his Standard Heating Oil company into the big leagues -- and the big leaguers aren't happy. Even as the ink is drying on the contract, one of Abel driver's, Julian (Elyes Gabel), is pistol-whipped and left on the highway as his truck and cargo are stolen.

The competitive world of heating oil may not sound like the basis of a good thriller but Chandor slowly turns up the heat -- the 30 days Abel and his wife and business partner, Anna (Jessica Chastain), have to come up with the rest of the money to secure the land deal serves as a ticking clock device -- in a film which recalls those of the 1970s, and not just aesthetically: character is more important than action and everything is revealed in what is and, more importantly, what isn't said.

As well as securing finance and battling their competitors, Abel must also deal with that pesky D.A. (David Oyelowo), who is investigating the corrupt heating oil industry and is determined to bring charges against Standard Heating Oil; charges which Anna and business partner, Andrew (Albert Brooks), may know more about then they're letting on.

Like the film, Isaac's magnetic performance is quietly on the boil. There are parallels between Isaac's Abel and Llewyn Davis; both men struggling to make a go of their chosen professions. But where Llewyn was his own worst enemy, Abel strives to be as honorable as his situation allows: he chooses to take 'the most right path'; wanting to succeed in a corrupt industry without stooping to the level which is seemingly required.

Chastain's Anna on the other hand is prepared to roll up her sleeves and get dirty, and beneath her Krystle Carrington hair and Armani wardrobe, Anna is a lioness. (There's the suggestion that Anna's family, who Abel does not want involved in his business affairs, may belong to "the family".) It's just a shame that Chastain isn't given enough screen time to fully unleash the Lady Macbeth within.

That's a minor quibble, for Chandor has written and directed a solid and engaging drama which is first and foremost about its people. After the GFC-centred talk-fest Margin Call (2011), and the one-man survival tale All Is Lost (2013), Chandor has made arguably his best film yet; aided greatly by Bradford Young's cinematography, and production and costume design which, while period-perfect, doesn't call attention to itself (nor does the soundtrack; thankfully absent of late '70s-early '80s chart hits).

Don't be misled by the title or the heating oil subject matter; A Most Violent Year is a gripping human drama.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015


A brilliant high school student and his friends uncover blueprints for a mysterious device with limitless potential, inadvertently putting their lives in danger.

To celebrate the release of PROJECT ALMANAC we have 5 double inseason passes to be won. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed (@TheLennoXFiles) for your chance to enter the draw. Note: Movie tickets valid in Australia only.



©2014 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Watch the trailer here:

Tuesday, 10 February 2015


*This is a piece which was originally intended to run in the February 2015 issue of Cafe Society magazine*

It's an international publishing phenomenon that's about to become a much talked about film, but why has Fifty Shades of Grey been so popular? As the old adage goes, sex sells but is it as simple as that? And will the film (opening just ahead of Valentine's Day!) satisfy the book's millions of fans or prove to be a terrible tease?

Released upon an unsuspecting public in 2011, the Fifty Shades trilogy (yes, there are three books), written by British author E.L. James, has gone on to sell more than 100 million copies worldwide; 4 million of those in Australia. The books detail the sexual relationship between literature student, Anastasia Steele, and the more experienced Christian Grey, an entrepreneur with a mysterious air who becomes Anastasia's sexual mentor and master.

"E.L. James captured both romance and eros. Readers found the story liberating and at the same time totally addictive," says Brett Osmond, Marketing and Publicity Manager for Random House Australia, who publish the book in Australia. "E.L. James was able to craft the right balance and to combine this in a story that readers couldn’t put down. It’s very clever and disarmingly entertaining."

Mason says he genuinely believes Fifty Shades was "the right story at the right time". And it is not just about the sex. "In reading thousands of reader comments it is the romance, not the sex, that readers highlight and remark about," he says, by way of explaining the book's popularity.

It remains to be seen if the film adaptation of the book, released by Universal Pictures Australia, will be as warmly received. Directed by artist-turned-director, Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy, 2009), there has already been some conjecture about whether or not the film will feature the explicit sex detailed in the book (if not, then what is the point?), with some suggestion that there will be two cuts of the film.(This has since been denied.)

Irish actor Jamie Dornan (from TV series The Fall) won the coveted role of Christian Grey (after initial choice, Charlie Hunnam from TV's Sons of Anarchy dropped out), while Dakota Johnson (star of sit-com Ben and Kate, and daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) will play Anastasia Steele. But will the lack of marquee names hamper the film's box office pulling power (no pun intended)?

One thing in the film's favour is that there is a built-in audience, and even in the absence of big name stars there will still be a high level of curiosity about the film, its explicitness and its fidelity to the book. "I imagine that everyone who loved the books will want to see the film. We can’t wait!" Mason says.

Of course, it won't just be women buying tickets. And even if men profess to seeing the film only because their partner "dragged them along", there's no doubt more than a few husbands and boyfriends will be just as keen to see if the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey is equally as beneficial. "I know of a number of men who’ve found the books both entertaining and educational," Mason says.

Fifty Shades of Grey opens in cinemas February 12; the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is published by Random House Australia.

Friday, 6 February 2015



Biopics are fraught with hazard. How do you capture the entire life of one person in 120 to 180 minutes? What do you leave out and what do you leave in? And do you go into the dark and hidden corners of one's life or do you keep everything on the positive, and risk veering into hagiography?

Then there is the question of historical accuracy, if the biopic subject was someone of import. From whose point of view is this history being recounted? History is written by the victors but while 'winners are grinners' they're not always the good guys.

The creative team behind Selma (spearheaded by director Ava DuVernay) have wisely chosen not to cover the life of American civil rights activist Doctor Martin Luther King Jr from birth to death. Instead, the film, written by Paul Webb, focuses on a particular episode in his life and an event -- the 1965 'right to vote' march from Selma to the Alabama captial of Montgomery -- which crystallized all that he stood for and cemented his legacy.

In the wake of desegregation, black people in the southern states of America were still refused the right to vote; white lawmen and officials using any means at their disposal, from intimidation to murder, to prevent black citizens from registering and thus denying them from exercising their democratic right.

King (David Oyelowo) wants for President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to use his considerable powers to remove the impediments to black voter registration; Johnson, also overseeing the war in Vietnam, insists that King and his movement can wait just a little longer.

But they cannot, and King will not: time, tide and history wait for no man. Marshaling his supporters and fellow civil rights activists in Selma, King plans to provoke a reaction from the racist law officials and, by being played out in front of television news cameras, action from the President. One of Selma's impressive achievements is to elucidate the political process on both sides: the thinking, the strategy, the public relations; the needs of the many versus the few.

Arguably its greatest achievement is to depict Doctor Martin Luther King Jr as a flesh and blood human and not a saint. That's aided a great deal by the "anonymity" of David Oyelowo. A British actor of Nigerian descent, he's appeared in several Hollywood productions over the years (Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Jack Reacher) but remains just unknown enough not to have any star power interfere with his portrayal of the icon.

Not that Oyelowo and DuVernay depict him that way. Yes there is the speechifying (and impressively so) and the well-known public face of the civil rights movement, but the film is equally interested in King's quieter moments, the human moments; capturing a man who doubts himself; who flinches at the physical pain inflicted on his supporters; who loves his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo, in a very fine supporting role) but even as a man of faith, strays from the marital bed. It's a towering performance by Oyelowo -- more so on repeated viewing -- which vibrates, resonates and reverberates.

So, too, does the film. Almost 50 years to the day since King and company marched from Selma to Montgomery, race relations in the United States remain strained. Recent events such as is in Ferguson, where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed young black man with almost no repercussions -- certainly not for the officer -- is, sadly, just a recent example of entrenched racism within the institutions designed to protect all Americans. A black president hasn't magically solved all of America's race problems: the more things change et cetera, et cetera.

But Selma is not a downer. It's a powerful and affecting film -- rousing, anger-inducing, heart-swelling -- but its ultimate message is one of hope. Doctor King may have only lived another three years after the triumph of Selma and Johnson's subsequent signing of the Voting Rights Act, but his spirit and his legacy live on. Selma, by no means a perfect biopic -- name one that is -- honours the man and the cause.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015


20th Century Fox Films

Remember when James Bond films were fun? Kingsman: The Secret Service does. There's no dark and brooding British agents in this comic book adaptation by Matthew Vaughn, the same director who also lightened-up the superhero genre with 2010's Kick-Ass.

Not surprisingly, both Kick-Ass and Kingsman are adapted from graphic novels by Mark Millar, and as he did with that previous film, Vaughn injects some much needed youthful exuberance and irreverence into the secret agent genre.

In Kingsman, the name given to a clandestine British spy organisation headed by Arthur (Michael Caine), young hooligan, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), is taken off the streets and transformed into a suit-clad spy. "Like My Fair Lady?", the diamond-in-the-rough suggests to his surprised yet unflappable mentor, the very Henry Higgins-like Harry Hart, code-named Galahad (Colin Firth).

Harry actually inducted Eggsy's father into the Kingsman, an experiment (the 'working class' aren't considered Kingsman material) which goes wrong in the film's opening scene. But in Eggsy Harry sees both redemption and potential. Despite his dabbling in petty crime and drugs, Eggsy is a good egg, and Kingsman material, however raw. A former school gymnastics champ and marine drop-out, Eggsy is also loyal-to-a-fault; lion-hearted in the protection of his mother, who has shacked-up with a low-level crim, and baby sister.

Cue training montages where the wheat is sifted from the chaff and the English cream rises to the top, and it's not always those of aristocratic stock (Vaughn, Millar and co. are effective if not subtle in their dissection of British class warfare) or in possession of male genitalia; the best Kingsman candidate in Eggsy's induction class is Roxy (Sophie Cookson).

Like all spy films there is an ego-maniacal, larger-than-life villain with an evil plan for world domination. Or in the case of communications billionaire, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), population control. Convinced that the effects of climate change are irreversible, Valentine plans to counter the impact by reducing the world's population via means of a cleverly technological but not-so democratic process.

Firth and Jackson, both having fun in their respective roles, make for excellent adversaries, and Egerton is a cocky yet appealing protag (both in attitude and aesthetics). Mark Strong is also good as Kingsman's Scottish tech guy, Merlin, and Sofia Boutella makes an impression as Valentine's 2.I.C, Gazelle, the fiercest henchwoman since Grace Jones in A View To A Kill (1985).

Not nearly as violent or controversial as Kick-Ass (there's no c-bomb dropping, gun-wielding little girl), the level of violence and language in Kingsman: The Secret Service ensures that the younger (male) demographic it is aimed at won't necessarily be able to see it, certainly not without an adult companion.

But adults, particularly those who enjoyed Cold War-era Bond films, and more so those at the preposterous end of the spectrum, will no doubt watch on in giddy delight.