Yep, some might think a drama about a maths competition (that’s right – maths) is just about as appealing as sitting the HSC-Extension 1 exam. And featuring an awkward teenage boy with mid level autism, further damaged by the traumatic death of his father? That does sounds tough, but wow, what surprise debut director Mathew Morgan’s heart-warmer turns out to be. Nathan (Asa Butterfield) in fact finds everything tough, even connecting emotionally with his patient and loving mother (Sally Hawkins). But with the help of Britain’s most delinquent teacher, the spliff toting sarcastic Mr Humphries (Rafe Spall), Nathan scores a place in the British International Maths Olympiad team, and is off to Tapei, where he’s teamed up with a precocious Chinese girl (Jo Yang). She’s easily his equal prodigy with those tricky equations, but also able to teach him a thing or two about (ahh shucks) love… This sounds sugary (yes maybe, just a touch) but so nicely done and lovely, you won’t mind. M from April 9.
* Thanks to Pinnacle Films we have 5 double in-season passes to give away. To go into the running see our Giveaways page.
Spanish Film Festival
So many film festivals from all over the world are vying for our attention these days – just one after the other! But one that never has any trouble pulling in the crowds is just about to start at Palace Norton St and Verona from April 21. This year the Spanish Film Festival has 38 features, a complete season of award-winning, entertaining, provocative and beautiful films from across Spain, Latin-America and beyond. Special fiestas and screenings to look out for at Norton St include a cooking demonstration with the well-loved Spaniard chef and Freixenet spokesperson Miguel Maestre (Channel Ten’s The Living Room) before Finding Gaston on Thurs April 30, 6.00pm. Then there’s a tango performance before the Argentinian Tango Glories – a film that explores the nostalgic memories of 85-year-old tango veteran Fermín Turdero, who expresses himself through the lyrics of tango songs.
Opening Night: Spanish Affair
Spain’s biggest ever box office hit – seen by over two million people in it’s first fortnight alone is the inspired choice for the opening night party. It’s a comedy poking mischievous fun at cultural differences in Spain as it tracks a young southerner tenaciously trying to win the heart of a Basque girl. Afterwards – there’s that live-wire party. Hola!
* Spanish Film Festival Opening Night Gala
Tues 21 April at Palace Norton St
Closing Night: Wild Tales
Argentinian director Damian Szifron’s Wild Tales is a collection of six darkly funny short films united by a theme of vengeance. Pedro Almodóvar is credited as producer, and his early manic style is very evident. That may well be why it scored an ovation (very rare!) at the critic’s media screening (or was that the free Spanish rosa and tapas working?) Whatever, it’s brilliant and just gets darker and funnier as it romps towards the grand finale – a cuckold bride at a wedding reception on a hilarous rampage. It lost out as Best Foreign Film at the Oscars to Poland’s Ida… which, yes, was good… but clearly those judges weren’t given complimentary Torres wines!
* Spanish Film Festival Closing night, May 10
* This issue and next we’ll be giving away 5 double in-season passes in each to festival films. To go into the running see our Giveaways page.
Is this the ultimate “Just Say No” sex education film? Remember kids, when you “do it”, you’re having sex with everyone else your partner’s ever been with. And, oh yes… there’s a demon stalking you. It intends to kill you, it will never give up but you can get rid of it by passing it on – sexually. That’s the creepy notion behind David Robert Mitchell’s startlingly original horror thriller set in a desolate Detroit and starring a terrific Maika Monroe as an infected teen… Now, go on, do it… Or maybe, don’t! MA15+ from April 16.
While We’re Young
Hipster-watching is our very favourite thing to do in the inner west, but heading into the Dendy at Newtown for Noah Baumbach’s latest Brooklyn comedy (he made the wonderful Francis Ha) would be a very close second. For anyone old enough to need reading glasses like Josh’s 50s retro ones the jokes may have a real sting in their tail. For is there anything more pathetic than a 45 year-old man in a trilby? Josh (Ben Stiller) is a career-stalled filmmaker whose marriage to Cornelia (Naomi Watts) lacks more than a child they could have given an ironic name to. When they meet the younger, hipper couple Jamie and Darby (a hilarious Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), whose infectious energy and cool super nerdy style (they have a warehouse with a pet rooster) brings back both memories and zest into their stale lives, suddenly things change for the better. Or maybe not… What happens next is very clever and funny – and both sides of the generational divide get a swipe. But the lessons we are supposed to take away from all of this are laid on a bit thick. Outside the Newtown cinema you will see men just like Jamie and Josh. You may be one! Only now you will not be laughing. M from April 16.
Testament to Youth
The early scenes of James Kent’s largely factual but oddly flat account of anti-war novelist Vera Brittain’s experiences growing up are all glowingly nostalgic. The Vaseline-lensed English countryside is gorgeous, its bucolic fields and cottages are dappled in pale sunlight. The date: 1914. Instantly we know the fresh-faced lads larking about on a picnic and flirting with the plucky and pretty Vera (Alicia Vikander) will soon be dead. There’s no sunshine after that, just drizzle and grey skies (England) and pelting rain and mud (France). And tears – buckets of them. Kit Harington plays one of the boys anxious to “do their bit,” he’s Vera’s toffy b-f and has a particularly grim time. But he’s stiff even before he gets to the front – minus that Jon Snow stubble and a sword, this dour actor seems to have lost all his swagger. He and his upper class chums were all instant officer material of course – and they’re the men in our own post-Gallipoli Anzac mythology demonized as foppish incompetent twits. That’s all part of the hoopla we’re supposed to be celebrating, but the truth is both more nuanced – and banal. The Brits bled too, like our diggers, doing what they thought was right and honourable. And died young – just as uselessly, horribly, senselessly… M from April 23.
Hard to know if this is a vanity project for Sean Penn (he’s listed as producer), a thoughtful geopolitical action thriller or an extended ad for Viagra. The ageing Penn is the muscular, sinewy ex-CIA triggerman with lines like “I did some bad things” – all of them in the services of multinational capitalism. Naturally enough, now everyone wants to kill him. Javier Bardem, enjoying himself being a bad-ass, ever-dependable hard man Ray Winstone – ditto, and The Wire’s Idris Elba all turn up with guns blazing. Pierre Morel’s (Taken) movie is not without its thrills – most of them Sean’s. He remains upright and yes, he lasts the distance. CTC from April 16.
* Reviews – Russell Edwards