The heartbreaking reality of Alzheimer’s is not the stuff of Hollywood – and a movie about that cruellest of all diseases wouldn’t normally attract a star at the peak of her powers. But already a winner at The Golden Globes, Julianne Moore is truly mesmerising here with a portrayal of a brilliant academic who prematurely descends into dementia. Just turned 50, Alice Howland suddenly notices she’s forgetting things – most notably, where she is on her morning run. The rest of her life is perfect – a supportive workaholic husband (Alex Baldwin), a showcase apartment in the Upper West Side and beautiful, successful grown-up kids, but none of that will protect her from an inevitable, debilitating and ultimately hellish decline. Just as good is Kirsten Stewart as Alice’s youngest, finally given a role with substance. Their scenes together are the best things about the movie, and really ring true about how mothers and adult daughters relate.
M from Jan 29.
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One of the many great pleasures of Ava DuVernay’s bold and bracing historical drama is seeing faces we only know on-screen as drug dealers or hard-assed cops (yep, there’s Bunk from The Wire) in another context – this time in one of the grandest sagas of the American civil rights struggle. British actor David Oyelowo does a fine job as Martin Luther King – capturing both the man’s preacherly mannerisms and powerful cadences of his speeches without a trace of mimicry. King’s family refused permission to use the actual words, so much of the script is all tactics and machinations – and it’s like a dose of crack for us political junkies (yep, there’s The West Wing’sPresident Jed Bartlett– as a “goodie” of course!). King’s calculations, some brutally cynical, don’t escape notice, which is gratifying, though LBJ (Tom Wilkinson) doesn’t fare well. He seems to have stepped right out of House of Cards, and that’s a slur. The film didn’t need to invent a villain – not when it had what really happened. M from Feb 12.
The impressive prosthetic honker sported by Steve Carell in Bennett Miller’s equally impressive, gripping psychological drama serves two purposes: First, it liberates the comic actor. As billionaire John du Pond, the world’s most eccentric sporting coach, he barely raises a smile from start to finish – even though some of his scenes (and especially his preposterous motivational speeches) are as cringe-worthingly funny as anything Carell did in The Office. And it allows him to hoover up great slabs of cocaine – not a substance most coaches would recommend – let alone offer to the wrestling star Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) he was training up for an Olympic win at Seoul. Also starring Mark Ruffalo as Mark’s loving brother and based on a real-life tragedy, this is anything but a typical “rise and fall” sporting story. It’s brooding, edgy, unsettling – with an ending just as shocking as that nose. M from Jan 29.
According to a report in the NY Times, even North Korean defectors in the South who have seen Seth Rogen and James Franco’s satiric attack on their homeland are less than impressed. Far from applauding, they’re offended by the portrayal of their countrymen as “a bunch of idiots.” Amazingly, watching Seth Rogen push a large, uncomfortable object into his own anus failed to make them laugh. No doubt Kim Jong-un didn’t like the climax either – weeping and “sharting” (soiling himself while breaking wind). Don’t they get mainstream American comedy? MA15+ from Feb 12.
The Hurt Locker took us to the living hell of war-ravaged Iraq before, and Clint Eastwood’s study of the toll the occupation took on celebrated navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (played by a beefed-up Brad Cooper) is easily that gritty film’s equal. Take your pick whether it’s a celebration of self-sacrifice or a screed against the senselessness of it all – the director plays it both ways. Unendurably tense from start to finish – the battle scenes are rattling, intense and draining – we are instantly hooked. Then we hear Eastwood’s voice: “Why are you enjoying this?” That has confused some critics, who apparently like their message movies to be unambiguous and blunt. But anyone who takes this as pro-war flag-waving jingoism didn’t see the same movie I did. MA15+ from Jan 22.