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- American Sniper
- RSC Live: Love's Labour's Won
- Shaun The Sheep Movie
- The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
American Sniper 4 stars
Born and raised in Odessa, Texas, Chris Kyle becomes a professional rodeo rider until injury forces him to reassess his priorities. He enlists with the military and his keen eye - nurtured by his father who taught him to hunt at an early age - sets Kyle apart as a sniper. During four tours of duty in Iraq, he gains the reputation as the most lethal sniper in American military history, with 160 confirmed kills to his name.
- GenreAction, Biography, Drama, Historical/Period, Romance, War
- CastBradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Luke Grimes.
- DirectorClint Eastwood.
- WriterJason Hall.
- Duration132 mins
- Official sitewww.americansnipermovie.com
Heroes come in many shapes and sizes. Born and raised in Odessa, Texas, Chris Kyle became a professional rodeo rider until injury forced him to reassess his priorities. He enlisted with the military and his keen eye - nurtured by his father who taught him to hunt at an early age - set Kyle apart as a sniper.
During four tours of duty in Iraq, he gained the reputation as the most lethal sniper in American military history, with 160 confirmed kills to his name. Such was his notoriety, the enemy nicknamed him "The Devil Of Ramadi" and put a sizable bounty on his head.
When Kyle eventually returned home, deeply scarred by clashes with insurgents and the deaths of his brothers in arms, he gradually regained his humanity and reconnected with his family by working with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In a bitter twist, having survived Iraq, Kyle was killed by one of those traumatised veterans on a Texas shooting range. His achievements are celebrated in Clint Eastwood's impeccably crafted biopic, which opens on a rooftop in Iraq with Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) staring down a telescopic sight as a woman and her young son emerge from a building.
Tensions steadily cranks up as Kyle places his finger on the trigger. "They'll fry you if you're wrong," warns his compatriot Goat-Winston (Kyle Gallner). We rewind initially to Chris' childhood, where he learns how to handle a gun with his father Wayne (Ben Reed). "You're going to make a fine hunter some day," says the old man tenderly.
When dreams of bull-riding turn sour, Chris enlists and he meets Taya (Sienna Miller) in a bar. They marry and she raises their family alone while Chris fights overseas and attempts to outwit an elusive rival sniper called Mustafa (Sammy Sheik).
With each successive tour, Chris returns home unable to communicate effectively with his loved ones. "I need you to be human again," pleads Taya. "I need you to be here."
American Sniper unfolds from Kyle's fervently patriotic perspective and the lack of narrative balance might trouble some audiences. Eastwood is more interested here in the psychology of a father and husband than wading through the murky politics and morality of modern warfare.
Battle sequences are choreographed with meticulous precision and Cooper, who bulked up for the role, affects a drawl to perfection as he conveys the demons that haunt Kyle and drive him further from the people that love him the most.
Miller is solid in a meaty supporting role, reminding Chris of his responsibilities to his family as well as his country. "I'm making memories by myself. I have no one to share them with," sobs Taya. Kyle's memory is polished to a lustre by Eastwood's film.
Focus 3 stars
Nicky is a seasoned master of misdirection, who can charm even the most cynical targets into falling for his money-making schemes. He becomes romantically entangled with novice con artist Jess but realises that his feelings are clouding his judgement. So Nicky promptly ends terminates the relationship. Three years later, Nicky is in Buenos Aires at a race car circuit for a lucrative ruse. The stakes are high... then Jess reappears and throws the con man off his game.
- GenreComedy, Drama, Romance, Thriller
- CastWill Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerald McRaney, BD Wong.
- DirectorJohn Requa, Glenn Ficarra.
- WriterJohn Requa, Glenn Ficarra.
- Duration105 mins
- Official sitewww.focusmovie.com
The con men and women who bluff, distract and double-cross in Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's light-fingered drama, operate by clearly defined rules. They perform hundreds of petty thefts rather than one major heist because there is safety in volume, they refuse to steal from the vulnerable, and they never allow sentiment to cloud their cold-hearted, cash-oriented judgement.
"Love will get you killed in this racket," grizzles one veteran of the hustle. It's surprising then that Ficarra and Requa ignore their character's pithy advice and stake heavily on a fraught romance between their anti-hero, a consummate con man, and his sassy sex-bomb protegee.
The writer-directors' gamble might have paid off if lead actors Will Smith and Margot Robbie were gifted snappier dialogue, and their bedroom scenes were choreographed with passion rather than softly-lit precision to kindle smouldering on-screen chemistry.
As it is, the biggest con in Focus is not the climactic swindle, which strenuously tests the bonds of honour between thieves, but the sizzle of that central relationship, which supposedly pushes both characters to the edge of reason.
Nicky Spurgeon (Smith) is a master of misdirection, who can sweet-talk cynical targets into falling for his money-making schemes. Aided by a large crew of pickpockets and accomplices including right-hand man Horst (Brennan Brown) and technical wizard Farhad (Adrian Martinez), Nicky follows the money.
During carnival season, he operates out of New Orleans and becomes amorously entangled with novice Jess Barrett (Robbie). "You get their focus, take whatever you want," explains Nicky, teaching her the tricks of his shady trade.
After one major sting, Nicky acknowledges his distracting feelings for Jess and he terminates the relationship. Three years later, Nicky is in Buenos Aires at a race car circuit for a scam involving team owners Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) and McEwen (Robert Taylor).
The stakes are high and Garriga is protected by a straight-shooting bodyguard called Ownes (Gerald McRaney), who thinks sleep is for wimps. "I'll lie down when I get cancer or when I have sex," snarls the heavy. Just as Nicky is poised to initiate his elaborate scheme, Jess reappears and throws the veteran con man into an emotional tailspin.
Focus is a familiar tale of old scoundrels performing new tricks, which lacks the erotic charge of the co-directors' previous film, Crazy, Stupid, Love. Robbie is luminous and makes Smith seem lifeless, confirming her ability to steal a film after eye-catching work opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf Of Wall Street.
Ficarra and Requa engineer a dramatic crescendo at the end of the first hour against the backdrop of an American football game. The second act in Argentina is an anti-climax by comparison that plays its winning hand far too early. In the absence of jeopardy, we lose everything, especially interest.
RSC Live: Love's Labour's Won 3 stars
Benedick and Claudio return from the trenches weary with the world, and find themselves reacquainted with Beatrice and Hero in Shakespeare's comic romance, which has been reset to the autumn of 1918. Christopher Luscombe's production is broadcast live from Stratford-upon-Avon with Edward Bennett as Benedick and Michelle Terry as his sparring partner Beatrice.
- GenreAdaptation, Comedy, Romance, Special
- CastMichelle Terry, Tunji Kasim, Flora Spencer-Longhurst, Edward Bennett.
- DirectorChristopher Luscombe.
- WriterWilliam Shakespeare.
- Duration140 mins
- Official siteonscreen.rsc.org.uk/loves-labours-won/
- Release04/03/2014 (selected cinemas)
Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)
- Wednesday 4th March 2015
Selma 4 stars
In 1960s America, political bureaucracy and prejudice deny the African-American electorate the chance to vote. Martin Luther King entreats the President to right this democratic wrong but Lyndon Johnson and his adviser Lee C White don't consider voting rights to be high on their list of priorities. So King and his team head to the community of Selma, Alabama to lead a peaceful protest march with their friends from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
- GenreDrama, Historical/Period
- CastCarmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, Giovanni Ribisi.
- DirectorAva DuVernay.
- WriterPaul Webb.
- Duration128 mins
- Official sitewww.selmamovie.com
More than 45 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, director Ava DuVernay honours the memory of the leader of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement with this impassioned biopic. While there are lingering doubts about the historical accuracy of Selma, the emotional wallop the film delivers is beyond question.
In particular, the recreation of the iconic march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge chills the blood. Oxford-born actor David Oyelowo delivers a breakout performance replete with Georgia accent as the activist. He is mesmerising and would surely have been in Oscar contention as Best Actor later this month had Paul Webb's script gifted him a few more barnstorming speeches.
DuVernay opens with a chilling act of violence that exemplifies racial tensions of the era. In 1960s America, political bureaucracy and prejudice deny the African-American electorate the chance to vote in the forthcoming election in which President Lyndon B Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) hopes to be returned to the White House by the people.
Martin Luther King Jr (Oyelowo) entreats the President to right this democratic wrong but Johnson and his adviser Lee C White (Giovanni Ribisi) don't consider voting rights to be high on their list of priorities.
So King and his team head to the community of Selma, Alabama to lead a peaceful protest march with their friends from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The President seeks a private audience with J Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker), the first Director of the FBI, to discuss how to remove this thorn from his side.
"We can weaken the dynamic, dismantle the family," explains Hoover, referring to tensions between King and his wife Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo). In Selma, local police under the jurisdiction of Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) attack protesters with batons as TV cameras capture the brutality for horrified viewers.
Consequently, pressure grows on Johnson to intervene while King takes temporary leave of his wife and family to spearhead a second march.
Selma skilfully ebbs and flows between events in Alabama and Washington, relentlessly cranking up the tension between figures on both sides of the debate. Oyelowo is supported by a terrific ensemble cast including Ejogo as the dutiful wife, who stands by her man despite his dalliances away from home. "Do you love me?" coolly asks Coretta in one of the film's most memorable scenes. "Do you love the others?"
Roth chews scenery as the Governor who believes resistance should be met with extreme force, while Wilkinson brings a touch of desperation to the most powerful man on Capitol Hill. Luther King Jr had a dream and through the lens of DuVernay's film, we are minded that we must all continue to chase it.
Shaun The Sheep Movie 4 stars
Shaun and the flock grow tired of the daily routine on Mossy Bottom Farm under the watchful eye of Bitzer the sheepdog. So the herd hoodwinks the Farmer into taking a well deserved day. Unfortunately, the cunning plan goes awry and the Farmer ends up in the Big City suffering from a nasty bout of memory loss. Shaun and his fleecy friends head for the metropolis to bring the Farmer back home but they attract the attentions of a nasty animal containment officer called Trumper.
- GenreAction, Adventure, Animation/Cartoon, Children, Children's, Comedy, Family, Family
- CastJohn Sparkes, Justin Fletcher.
- DirectorRichard Starzack, Mark Burton.
- WriterRichard Starzack, Richard Goleszowski, Mark Burton.
- Duration85 mins
- Official sitewww.shaunthesheep.com
Bristol-based Aardman Studios works its stop-motion animated magic on a colourful big screen adventure for the mischievous sheep, who first appeared in Wallace and Gromit's 1995 escapade A Close Shave and has been baad to the bone in a self-titled CBBC series since 2007.
Drawing loving inspiration from other Aardman films including Chicken Run, Shaun The Sheep Movie is a shear delight, melding slapstick and subtler humour to appeal to young fans and their wranglers.
Directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzack shepherd this boisterous romp through various twists and turns at a breathless pace. They litter the screen with wry visual gags, including an airborne cow clearing the roof of the Over The Moon public house.
Stop-motion visuals burst with colour and action sequences are orchestrated with mind-boggling technical precision. As usual, Shaun is at the centre of the madcap action. The flock grows tired of the daily routine on Mossy Bottom Farm under the watchful eye of Bitzer the sheepdog.
So the animals hoodwink the Farmer into taking a well-deserved day off so they can do the same. Unfortunately, this cunning plan goes awry and the Farmer ends up with a nasty bout of memory loss after a high-speed journey to The Big City inside a runaway caravan.
Off the hoof, Shaun and his fleecy friends board the 62 bus from Mossy Bottom to the metropolis, determined to bring their beloved master back home. Unfortunately, they attract the attention of a nasty animal containment officer called Trumper, who doesn't want any farmyard escapees on the lamb on his patch.
Aided by an orphan dog named Slip, the sheep disguise themselves as humans to pull the wool over the eyes of unsuspecting residents of The Big City and track down the Farmer.
In human form, the sheep enjoy haute cuisine at a bistro called Le Chou Brule, while the Farmer discovers a new calling with hair clippers at an upscale boutique. Back at Mossy Bottom, The Naughty Pigs run amok in the farmhouse, oblivious to the hare-brained antics of the other four-legged residents.
Shaun The Sheep Movie will have families flocking in droves to local cinemas. There's nothing woolly about Burton and Starzack's screenplay, which doesn't pause to bleat between set pieces, propelling the narrative forward without sacrificing the characterisation.
There are some lovely interludes here like Shaun's temporary incarceration in an animal shelter, which also houses a psychotic cat from the same litter as Hannibal Lecter and a dog with BARK and BITE tattooed on its knuckles.
As with other Aardman offerings, the animators' imprints are occasionally visible in the expressive clay protagonists, which is part of the film's undeniable charm. Ewe won't be disappointed.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 4 stars
Sonny and his business partner Muriel consider expanding into a second hotel to cope with demand, aided by Douglas and Evelyn. The arrival of an American writer called Guy sends Madge into a swoon while Sonny has lots to keep him occupied with his impending nuptials to the beautiful Sunaina. Douglas and Evelyn's romance continues to develop but the course of true love, even in twilight years, never runs smooth.
- GenreComedy, Drama, Romance
- CastRichard Gere, Bill Nighy, Dame Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, Tamsin Greig, Penelope Wilton, Dev Patel, Tena Desae, Dame Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Lillete Dubey.
- DirectorJohn Madden.
- WriterOl Parker.
- Duration122 mins
- Official sitewww.facebook.com/marigoldhotel
Towards the end of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a secret inspector is asked for an honest assessment of Jaipur's luxury development for residents in their golden years. The inspector concludes that behind the scenes, management of the hotel is shambolic but unerring affection for the staff makes it a four-star destination for "the elderly and beautiful".
The same honest appraisal applies to John Madden's entertaining sequel: Ol Parker's script is haphazard and several plot strands are flimsy but our emotional investment in the characters papers over the cracks.
Audiences who check in to this second chapter will be treated to the same pungent Jaipur backdrops and good-humoured service, with a fresh lick of dramatic paint courtesy of new arrivals, played with easy-going charm by Tamsin Greig and Richard Gere.
The dashing star of American Gigolo and Pretty Woman takes on sex symbol status here, causing groom-to-be Sonny (Dev Patel) to quip, "The man is so handsome, he has me urgently questioning my own sexuality." At 65 years old, Gere evidently still has it.
While the first film was lovingly adapted from Deborah Moggach's novel These Foolish Things, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tumbles straight out of the scriptwriter Parker's imagination. He struggles to provide each resident with a compelling narrative arc: some are surplus to requirements while others relish the trials and tribulations that test fledgling romances and fractious friendships to breaking point.
Sonny and business partner Muriel (Maggie Smith) travel abroad to seek investment for a second hotel from business chief Ty Burley (David Strathairn) and return to India, mindful that funding is dependent on a review from a secret inspector.
"How was America?" asks Evelyn (Judi Dench), welcoming them home.
"It made death more tempting," retorts Muriel.
English traveller Lavinia (Greig) and American novelist Guy (Gere) arrive soon after and Sonny is convinced that Guy must be the inspector so he ignores Lavinia and lavishes attention on the writer. Guy's arrival sends Madge (Celia Imrie) into a swoon - "Lordy lord, have mercy on my ovaries!" she swoons - while Douglas (Bill Nighy) struggles to communicate his feelings to Evelyn.
Meanwhile, Sonny is pre-occupied with his impending nuptials to Sunaina (Tina Desai) and a simmering rivalry for his fiancee's affections from snake-hipped family friend Kush (Shazad Latif).
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel delivers the same winning formula of laughter and tears, eliciting strong performances from Dench, Nighy and Smith at her acid-tongued, indomitable best.
The course of true love, even in twilight years, never runs smooth and Parker composes variations on a theme of amour, while peppering his script with pithy one-liners. "There is no present like the time," professes one wise soul. Madden's film is certainly a gift: you get everything you expect but nothing more.