Love Is All You Need

Director: Susanne Bier (2013)

Old-school charmer and former James Bond Pierce Brosnan has never been better than in this sweet and very funny romcom.

Embracing his age rather than denying it – the star will be 60 next month – he is matched for talent by Danish beauty Trine Dyrholm, a gorgeous 40-year-old.

Brosnan plays Philip, an emotionally closed businessman who hasn’t recovered from the death of his wife and spends his time burying himself in his work. Dyrholm is Ida, a hairdresser in cancer remission who has found out her husband Leif (Kim Bodnia) cheating on her.

Philip and Ida meet for the first time en route to a wedding in Italy. The bride is her daughter and the groom is Philip’s son, the soon-to-be -newly weds  indulging in an absurd conclusion to a whirlwind holiday romance.

As the film skips through the orange groves of Italy’s Amalfi coast, there is an abundance of hospitality with the alcohol consumption rising as the big day nears.

This is a comedy where the humour springs from character and there is plenty of character here. With both families being a mixed bag of nuts. As dalliances abound in the sun-kissed villa, the potential for a happy ending to the impending nuptials seem to move further and further put of reach.

The supporting cast have a wild time leaving us gaping at their exploits – but never going so far as to become caricatures.

The plot may not be original but the performances are wonderful and the writing excellent. With his usual charm and intelligence, Brosnan brings to Philip a deep sense of a wounded spirit in need of healing.

A skilful performance by Dyrholm, who’s also an accomplished singer-songwriter as well as respected actress, brings out Ida’s grace, stoicism and honesty.

Comic, confident and touching, this lovely film has you desperately wishing for a happy ending.

Blackhat

Director: Michael Mann (2015)

Twenty years after Angelina Jolie starred in Hackers, Michael Mann discovers the interweb in this dull, dated and disappointing cyber-terrorist thriller.

With its nineties action licks, wide-eyed wonder at the web, redundant explanatory visuals, evocation of 911 and stockmarket manipulation plot, it misses the zeitgeist by at least a dozen years.

When a computer virus causes a malfunction at a Chinese nuclear power plant, it results in eight fatalities and threatens a reactor meltdown.

Military computer expert Captain Chen (Leehom Wang) is ordered to find the ‘blackhat’ cyber-terrorist responsible. With the US also at risk of attack he travels to the US to link up with the FBI Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis).

Despite not trusting each other, they start putting a team together with Chen persuading his sister, network expert Lien (Tang Wei) to help.

Chen recognises the code virus as one he co-wrote at university with Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) – but he’s currently in jail for assault.

Hemsworth has an impressive physique, leading man looks, charm and talent – but it’s a stretch for him to convince as a mega-intelligent programmer.

The FBI agree to commute his sentence if he can solve the case and Hathaway is released in golden sunlight to the sound of soaring strings. Hallelujah.

But until the terrorist is caught he has to wear an electronic ankle tag and be accompanied everywhere by Jessup, a US Marshall  (Holt McCallany).

It’s an unusual investigation with glamorous nerds confronting suspects while FBI agents blackmail banker’s into giving up private information.

With the nuclear incident is contained and the hacker not making demands, there’s a tremendous lack of tension. This downtime allows time for Lien and Hathaway to become intimately acquainted.

There’s an awful lot of tapping at keyboards and staring at screens. Failing to illustrate the web in any inventive way the camera whizzes into computer hardware to follow miles of wires and acres of microchips before popping up on the other side of the world. Ho hum.

Anyway the script wanders off to China to retrieve some data from inside the highly radioactive but now stable nuclear facility. It’s a sequence devoid of drama but does give the team a chance to mess about in yellow radiation suits.

There’s helicopters, speedboats, private jets and shootouts in the street with automatic weapons. When the team takes casualties the mission turns personal.

The bizarre finale takes place in a huge open air parade in Jakarta. White guys wave guns about and happy-slap random members of the local populace – but not one person reacts in anger until shots are fired.

Ultimately the blackhat terrorist is revealed as a shabby bearded bloke called ‘The Boss’ (Yorick van Wageningen). His life would have been a lot simpler if he’d just joined Lloyd’s or gone to work with George Soros.

☆☆☆

The Wedding Ringer

Director: Jeremy Garelick (2015)

Failing to sound even the lightest peal of laughter, this sentimental gross-out bromance is a comedy title in need of a movie.

Comic turned actor Kevin Hart is a massive star in the US and the script encourages him to ad lib incessantly – but his sense of humour is lost in translation somewhere over the Atlantic.

Wealthy, fat and friendless, Doug (Josh Gad) can’t bring himself to admit to his bridezilla fiancee Gretchen he has no best man or groomsmen to attend their wedding.

Gretchen is played by Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting and as Penny in TV’s The Big Bang Theory she is charming and funny. But not here.

In desperation Doug turns to the wedding ringer Jimmy Callahan (Hart). He’s a professional best man for hire who operates out of an amusement park basement.

Question of the validity or morality of a service guaranteeing a marriage will begin with an expensive lie are sacrificed on the altar of the bride’s happiness and the success of the big day.

For a the $50,000 fee Jimmy hires a deranged bunch on unemployables to be Doug’s seven groomsmen. In only two weeks he has to train them up to be respectable citizens, each with an extensive invented personal background.

Jimmy himself pretends to be Bic Mitchum, an old university buddy who has joined both the military and the priesthood.

Like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Jimmy insists on no emotional attachment with his clients – but slowly he and Doug start to bond.

There’s drugs, sex workers, a bachelor party, a dog with lockjaw, a bloke with three testicles, a violent game of American football and a granny is set on fire. Doug falls through his glass-topped table for no reason.

Olivia Thirlby appears as Gretchen’s cynical sister Allison. She’s there to confirm Jimmy’s heterosexual status but her talent deserves far better than this and so do we. However Doug, Gretchen and Jimmy all deserve each other.

☆☆☆☆

Cake

Directed: Daniel Barnz (2015)

Jennifer Aniston learns suicide is far from painless in this dark, rich and tasty drama.

Playing a chronic pain sufferer who’s also coping with complex emotional issues, Aniston demonstrates how superb she can be with strong material. Hopefully this is a kick-start to an interesting new phase of her career.

With bad hair, baggy clothes and no make-up but copious scar-tissue, Claire Bennett (Aniston) is a divorcee with low self-esteem and high pain levels; sitting is awkward, standing is tricky and walking is difficult.

Despite months of physical therapy following an accident, her condition hasn’t improved. So Claire is self-medicating with wine and painkillers.

Doctors are scared of her and loyal maid Silvana (Adriana Barraza) is shouldering the emotional fallout as Claire indulges in unsatisfying trysts with the married pool guy and is kicked out of a support group due to anger management issues.

Nina (Anna Kendrick) was a support group friend who committed suicide by throwing herself from a multi-level motorway leaving only a succinct suicide note.

As an expression of Claire’s mental state, Nina now pops up for frequent fantasy conversations – in restaurants, in bed, even at a drive-in. Though Nina encourages Claire to commit suicide, these episodes are far more funny than morbid due to Kendrick’s sparky performance.

Claire is compelled to examine Nina’s life; visiting her grave, seeing the place where she died and even pitching up at the house where she lived – to the bemusement of widower Roy Collins (Sam Worthington).

Worthington’s screen presence can be underwhelming but here his dead pan delivery is warmly engaging and enjoys a sweet comic chemistry with Aniston.

Roy is not afraid to admit he’s bitter at his Nina’s choosing to leave him and their daughter. He and Claire bond over nachos, beer and anger issues. Both are looking for comfort and affection more than sex.

Aniston is the central ingredient of this sensitive, balanced, consistent and surprisingly humorous movie. With charm, intelligence, excellent timing and dramatic delivery she maintains our sympathies even when playing a complex, prickly and manipulative character.

Dusted with a light icing of hope this Cake is deeply satisfying, indulge yourself.

Rush

Director: Ron Howard (2013)

Roaring into the cinema is this amazing racing tale fuelled by testosterone, booze and occasionally petrol.

It charts James Hunt and Nikki Lauda’s rivalry as they race from Formula 3 to challenging for the F1 world title in 1976.

Both men have similar backgrounds of wealth and privilege – Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a champagne-quaffing show-off who sees racing as an extension of his social life. While Lauda (Daniel Brühl) is a yoghurt-eating Austrian who is arrogant, risk-averse and highly focused. He races because it offers huge financial rewards.

Each describes the other as assholes but only Lauda seems sufficiently self-aware to realise the term applies to both men equally.

The film creates great tension by focusing on the friction between the two men which is then released by the starter’s flag. The thrilling races are expertly staged, especially as they show how close stewards and spectators were to these ‘bombs on wheels’.

Among the parties, insults and weddings, Lauda suffers a near fatal crash that leaves him scarred yet defiantly he continues to race to the film’s gripping climax.

In this macho mechanical world the ladies fare badly; being married is seen as being incompatible with success and single women are disposable sex toys.

Sadly Hemsworth’s acting is hamstrung by the demands of maintaining an English accent and is at his best behind the wheel. Brühl is more convincing and the supporting cast are all excellent.

The film offers an great insight into the world of 1970s Formula 1. Smoking is allowed in the pit-lanes, rain is a common enemy and the drivers have to battle mechanical failure, financial disaster, personal demons, media interference and the politics of the racing authorities.

It’s a well-crafted story of competitive courage that’s told with humour and energy.

Wild

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée (2015)

Reese Witherspoon abandons her clean cut perky persona for sex and drugs in this meandering march to personal redemption.

Justifiably Oscar nominated she’s as engaging as ever playing the real-life Cheryl Strayed on whose memoir the story is based.

In order to distance herself from her chaotic past, Cheryl punishes herself by hiking alone over a thousand miles along the picturesque Pacific mountain trail; the barren deserts, snowy mountains and lush forests are all captured with tourist propaganda beauty.

Promiscuity, alcohol and drugs have contributed to a failed marriage, pregnancy and subsequent failed therapy. Despite her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) being a warm, inspiring and optimistic presence, it’s Bobbi’s story that has compounded Cheryl’s self-destructive behaviour and the trigger for her long walk.

Despite Cheryl’s anger issues we warm to her charm and humour, admiring her dogged determination and perseverance in maintaining a relationship with ex-husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski).

With insufficient preparation she battles grief, guilt and remorse as well as extreme temperatures, rattlesnakes, gun-toting hillbillies, loneliness, lack of food, inelegant toilet facilities and large amounts of unwanted male attention.

Even so the walk itself is fairly uneventful and she receives the frequent help of strangers plus a welcome taste of romance.

With a far from satisfactory script structure from Brit writer Nick Hornby, the reasons for her trek revealed in a series of flashbacks. This means most of the drama has happened before the film has even begun, creating a void where the tension should be.

In heavy-handed fashion inspirational phrases are scrawled across the screen as if we’re not capable of listening to or understanding literature. Worse, there’s no consistent application of the conceit.

It’s an unusual criticism to make – but what this film seems to be lacking most is a train of camels.

☆☆

Grace of Monaco

Director: Olivier Dahan (2014)

How is it possible to have made a terrible film like this out of such a remarkable story – the life of a Hollywood star who married into European royalty?

The tale of Grace Kelly, later Princess Grace of Monaco, has terrific elements – real-life drama, Tinseltown glamour, riches and royalty, fast cars, great locations, intrigue and international conflict.

But this is an insult to our intelligence. It is poorly cast and packed with unsympathetic characters who deliver dreadful dialogue with appalling accents. The script is terrible and the film looks like it has been edited with a hacksaw.

Stunningly beautiful and an Oscar-winner, Grace gives up her film career for a fairytale life in Monaco on the French Riviera. But now she is bored.

You need an actress who can make an audience sympathise with the plight of a beautiful, pampered, wealthy woman. Instead we get ice queen Nicole Kidman.

The self-pitying princess passes time watching videos of her wedding and, preposterously, is portrayed as an international diplomacy mastermind.

Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) pops by to offer her the title role in the film Marnie – playing a disturbed woman who was molested as a child. Grace, with the backing of her hubby Prince Rainier (Tim Roth), gladly accepts.

Dithering Rainier is trying to preserve his family’s lengthy rule by keeping Monaco as a tax haven for wealthy petrol-heads and gambling addicts.

However he’s driven to chain-smoking by the grasping president Charles de Gaulle (Andre Penvern) who wants to impose taxes on Monaco, exploiting the ‘scandal’ of Grace’s planned return to acting by trying to tax Monaco and threatening to blockade it.

In desperation, Grace takes a shopping trip to Paris and organises a jolly banquet to bring everyone together. Hoorah! And Marnie? In the end the role was taken by Tippi Hedren.

☆☆☆☆