Friday, 21 April 2017

REVIEW: THE ZOOKEEPERS WIFE

4/5

She Brought A Zoo.

126 Mins. Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Michael McElhatton & Daniel Bruhl. Director: Niki Caro.

Lions, tigers and bears. Oh my! This is 'The Zookeepers Wife'. Jessica Chastain's study of zoology. But save your 'Dr. Zoolittle' or 'Jessica Rabbit' pathetic puns. Because one of the leading actresses in the world today, the Academy Award nominated Jessica Chastain is getting real serious here and with her compelling career. This isn't no 'Zookeeper', Kevin James crass comedy. Or a light, 'We Brought A Zoo' feel-good flick. But something which we're amazed didn't garner at least an Oscar nomination for a woman whose work in 'Miss Sloane' should have also been honoured, as she would have gone up against herself aswell as Emma Stone and 'Jackie's' Natalie Portman. All we can say is we can't wait for 'Mollys Game' from 'The Help' and 'Zero Dark Thirty' actress who right now is on the form of her life. What more could you expect from a woman of great power and variety (and we aren't just talking about the New York publications feature)? One who is leading a revolt and a revolution to close the so behind the times it should have been removed way back when in Hollywoodland like the rest of that sign that became iconic once it changed (see?!) gender pay gap? One of our best actors (do we really need to distiguish?) that recently turned down a major role because her male co-star of equal billing was getting more zeroes for the same invested work (our money is on it being some sort of superhero movie for this heroine). Sure the actress who has starred alongside the leading likes of McConaughey (the incredible 'Interstellar'), Damon (the Mars mesmerizing 'The Martian'), Pitt (the otherworldy, outstanding 'Tree Of Life' origins...which she was in more) and Isaac (the major 2015 calender best, 'A Most Violent Year') is in the privilege position of being a millionaire who gets to act in parts she picks and wants to play for a living. But don't get it confused! With all due respect, like a Suffragette (she should have been in that movie with fellow icons Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep) for the rich and famous she's doing this for others too. All the young up and coming actresses who can't catch a break unless they are pigeon-holed into a sometimes sexual stereotype in this la la industry lands look at a world that in reality is full of characters as complex and collectively different as a round hole. But Jessica is willing to show us the square peg and not get in where she fits in (or some other tired cliche), but instead change the mould. Unlocking and breaking down the barriers of Diane Ackerman's book and real life story of Polish Zookeeper Antonia Zabinski who in a 1939 war-torn Warsaw saved the lives of around 300 Jewish people by hiding them from Hitler's Nazis in her zoo in World War 2.

Played with hope in the face of harrowing heartbreak like Oscar winning Adrian Brody's 'Pianist', to the book like Speilberg's 'Schindlers List', Chastain is gold as the amazing Antonia, playing the piano perfectly like in her creepy 'Crimson Peak' as a warning my day and a safe to come out now song by night. A monumental woman of history, Zabinski's story is one of many real-life inspirations from World War 2 that go largely untold to the masses. Much like the art saving old troops of 'The Monuments Men' that George Clooney and his Oceans of Matt Damon and Bill Murray and John Goodman, restored to underrated brilliance two years back. What Antonia and her zookeping husband Jan Zabinski did in saving so many persecuted Jews goes beyond the power of the sheer number, all the way down to the personal touch they beautifully gave to each person. Treating them like the individuals that they are and not a discriminated people based on their faith that the evil Nazis did...the darkest time in human history that still beggars belief. But even out of the bleakest time comes light and shining it on this story, 'The Moon By Whale Light' novel writer and poet Diane Ackerman and 'Whale Rider' director Niki Caro scream it from every rooftop many decades later for everyone willing to hear and learn about a story from history that teaches us yet again how to be today in a world needing more inspiration and less influence from the ignorant. Ingrained into our collective consciousness no matter how lacking of luster we are in a spiritually stunted modern world of discrimination still rampant across the borders by a captivating performance by Chastain. This the vegan actresses passion project as she describes a trust that lies in the eyes of animals that runs deeper than humans. As she rides around her zoo and all its inhabitants on her biycycle to start the day and film. With a polished Polish accent and the sincerity of this sweet lady showing unfathomable strength behind the shyness. Just like when she nurses a baby elephant calf back to health with the trunk of her protective mother bearing down. Facing up to abhorrent, bullying soldiers of inhumane evil, bravely in the wake of them torturing and cruelly killing not only her people, but the beautiful animals of her zoo too in some of the most horrific moments you'll avert your eyes from on screen.

Keeping and protecing jews under Nazi hiding lock and key is reminscent of the under the floorboards, terrifyingly tense, extended opening scene of Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglorious Basterds'. Done with much more dignity from the ketchup and spaghetti western director and his German, Oscar winning muse Christophe Waltz. And here his breakout Berlin star Daniel Bruhl is back in Nazi uniform again like this great actor really wants us to hate us. Coming off playing the unmasked Baron Zemo villain and Captain America's 'Civil War' with Iron Man orchestrata, alongside 'Thor' Chris Hemsworth's James Hunt nemesis Niki Lauda in Ron Howard's Formula 1 'Rush'. This recognisable face grows a terrible third reich 'tache and brutually buries any characterized confliction with conviction. It takes a truly remarkable actor to play someone so far gone evil, but Bruhl does it brilliantly with every emotion and doesn't play into the hands of uniformed cliche character fodder. On the right side of a revolt however we can't talk about 'The Zookeepers Wife' without honouring the husband himself. And 'Moscow, Belgium' actor Johan Heldenbergh plays Jan Zabinski with understated brilliance. Fighting for freedom and family in the forlorn face of unspeakable, insurmountable odds. One scene where he rescues a innocent child from the most horrific experience tears at every heartstring and remains the rawest emotional scene of a film full of tragedy at every turn (from brutal bombings to the subtely of the mistaken beauty of ash falling like snow). All until he helps arms open children onto a train, offering them some semblance of hope so they won't know the horrific end to the line that's coming. It almost sounds and seems crazy but it's all the man that did everything to save could do to ease a pain he couldn't protect. Now tell me that isn't a hero! Just like every common man and woman that strived and survived this war. Like the zoo worker that 'Game Of Thrones' actor Michael McElhatton captures with the genuine spirit of a sweet soul. Everyone from page to screen here is note perfect in retelling this story again and again with every moment of horror and heart unturned. It's the nature of nurturing the nicer stories of inspiration and humanity that came from a raw war utterly devoid of such. And in a year where best of British director Christopher Nolan is going to take us right into the sand of the beaches of 'Dunkirk' with Tom Hardy, his 'Interstellar' actress and the aformentioned actors 'Lawless' co-star shows us wars aren't just won by our best and brave soldiers...but everyday heroes that extend an unclenched hand too. And the actor that played the women that lead the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden and her help here may just be our leads leading picture in a formidable filmography.When it comes to Jessica Chastain's character chasing away Nazis she brings so much to this revolutionary role. And with Diane Ackerman's novel idea in mind, it's Antonia Zabinski's incredible, inspiring true story and legacy that will always keep. TIM DAVID HARVEY.

See This If You Liked: 'The Help', 'We Brought A Zoo', 'Monuments Men'.

Friday, 14 April 2017

#SilverLiningsColumn THE HOLLYWOOD 'LIFE' OF HIROYUKI SANADA

A Hiro's Journey. 

Australian actor and Hollywood star Hugh Jackman is currently cutting his claws one last time as the X-Men mutant Wolverine in the legendary, legacy making 'Logan'. Arguably both the most successful and popular movie for not only his character, but the 17 year strong Marvel mutant franchise as a whole...including Ryan Reynolds' 'Deadpool'.

Yet this isn't the first time Jackman and reuniting Johnny Cash biopic 'Walk The Line' director James Mangold have impressed the superhero genre. Back in 2013 Logan's run as 'The Wolverine' saw him lost in translation in Tokyo, Japan. Mixed up with all sorts of characters and assassins, from the neon night noir to bullet-train shot set pieces that streaked and illuminated. But one climatic fight scene resonated even more than all the high-wire action, especially on the deeper cutting R-rated edition of this movie.

And it was legendary Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada who played the opposing part perfectly as a villanious, but conflicted character who embraced the dark side for his final black rain at night temple showdown with the wolf. Combatting Wolverines claws with two samurai swords, dressed up like a traditional warrior and fighting to the death. Yet what was most impressive in this grotesque choreographed battle royale was his emotionally aggravated, but amazed acting in raw reaction to the Wolverine's renewed healing factor that really struck a far deeper cord.

This acting facet has been the 56 year old Sanada's Hollywood calling card for decades. From finding himself on the mysterious island series 'Lost', to 'Slumdog Millionaire' director Danny Boyle's stunning 'Sunshine'. But next week Hiroyuki goes up against Logan again with his 'Life'. Not a film to be confused with the 2015 magazine biopic of James Dean starring Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson. But an 'Alien' like, mars attacks, spaceship submerged sci-fi thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson. Now that's quite a cast, but it's Sanada's opening moments of the international trailer that see him proudly show his fellow astronauts a video sonogram back on earth of his pregnant wife that brings real heart to this horror. "Hey guys...it's a girl" he beams like the sun, before jokingly telling Ryan Reynolds to "shut up" after he quips and asks who the father is. All in good nature.

'Life' should find its line in this pre-summer season of blockbusters that the post-apocalypse 'Logan' started. Even in the year of 'Alien: Covenant'. And it won't be down to just the A-listers. But the Japanese megastar and Hollywood household name Hiroyuki too. The Tokyo born actor currently staring in the T.V. series 'The Last Ship', who trained as an actor with martial arts legend Sonny Chiba and got his first real serious big break with the movie 'Mahjong Hourouki'.

A man who has also conquered the British Isles, earning himself an M.B.E. from the Queen in the process for his performance in 'King Lear' for the Royal Shakespeare Company. An actor who continues to capture the heart of Great Britain. From starring alongside national treasure Colin Firth in the revelatory, hard-hitting prison of war drama 'The Railway Man', to aiding an ageing, sage Sherlock in Ian McKellen's incarnation of 'Mr. Holmes'. You'll know this actor through plenty a filmography. Whether putting Tom Cruise through his paces in 'The Last Samurai'. Or a sword similiar, Keanu Reeves '47 Ronin' update, albeit in a much more modern, supernatural form. And who could forget his terrific turn alongside great friend and Chinese legend Jackie Chan in 'Rush Hour 3'? Playing Detective Lee's bad guy brother as Jackie and motormouth Chris Tucker chased him to Paris, France.

This mans even been a voice to millions in 'Minions'. But with a new 'Despicable Me' out this year and the world gone yellow C.G. crazy you can find new 'Life' this month with one of the greatest actors of our generation.

Just don't tell Hugh.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

REVIEW: THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS

3.5/5

The Fast & The Fury Road.

136 Mins. Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwyane 'The Rock' Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Scott Eastwood, Kurt Russell & Helen Mirren. Director F. Gary Gray.

Straight outta petrol? Nah! Not with this gear shift. There's a new type of Diesel in the tank and this New York state of drive is not running on fumes or drifting like Tokyo. Changing lanes from L.A. to the Big Apple, the 'Fast and the Furious' franchise pole position driver is about to go all Mad Max with Furiosa by his furious side. All before turning into a baby tree with returning co-star Kurt Russell's Ego for Volume 2 of 'Guardians Of The Galaxy'. He is Groot. And this is Vin Diesel's month. If not the 'Return Of Xander Cage's' year he began with 'xXx' for his triple-threat. Now we don't know 'The Fate Of The Furious' in this eighth wonder of another 'Fast and Furious' installment, as modern day action hero Vin Diesel turns into this movie big bad and even has some candy a## beef with The Rock. But apparantly it's all 'F8' and in the wake of Paul Walker's tragic death and the beautiful tribute paid to him by his crew and real family brothers in 'Fast and Furious 7' this team just want to keep driving in his name until they see him again. And they'll sure have a lot to tell him all about after this long time as this formidable franchise with more track for the insane record than Usain Bolt hits the nitrus of the nitrus and lightning injects even more insulin into this cereal box, car candy, popcorn cinema sugar rush. Busting the blocks of the second chapter of 'John Wick', the last one of 'Logan' the 'Kong: Skull Island' reboot and the 'Ghost In The Shell' movie manga anime adaptation summer starters. All whilst veering off the road any hot season movies trying to take their turn whether monkey, 'Mummy' or Marvel. Ladies and gentelmen...restart your engines.

Wonder how this super 8 episode doesn't run out of tarmac on this long and winding road, whilst fans keep lapping it all up? It's automoblie B movie beauty in this age of Keanu Reeves new Neo cult characters. And taking the wheel from 'Star Trek-Beyond' Justin Lin successor James Wan ('Insidious'), it's 'Straight Outta Compton' and 'Law Abiding Citizen' actioneer director F. Gary Gray's-breaking all king of traffic violations-lane now. And the great Gary Gray-who once drove Minis through subways-drops Miley Cyrus' wrecking balls and das boot kicking submarines out of submersion like F bombs. Riding Mustang Sally shotgun to literal car jacks and pile up set pieces like the holy essence of the original street race wars. Reuniting with all kinds of 'Baby Boy' and 'Italian Job', street slick, car carnage actors and actresses aswell as Vin. Who truly becomes 'A Man Apart' here like the directing/acting dynamic duos most dynamite dual-picture pairing. Setting it off as always, Diesel is the pure petroleum powerhouse and the key to this ignition. This time going against his preached notion of familia and showing us that this modern day Stallone can play bad just as good as when he's on the right(ish) side of the law too like a Travolta/Cage unlocked 'Face/Off'. Fitting this costume change out as well as his Bruce Willis 'Die Hard' string vest complete with the silver cross he bears across his chest. Riding Clyde to Charlize Theron's 'Atomic Blonde' Bonnie. The dreaded, locked down hostage taking villain of this picture whose about to become the female 'John Wick' in her forthcoming flick. But behind a console more than a wheel we would love to see the ever thorough Theron with more 'Atomic' peroxide, showing the full fury of her 'Mad Max' Furiosa character. Especially as fellow shaved head Jason Statham has gone full 'Transporter' and changed 'Civil War' teams to the side of the road as his former 'Death Race' co-star Tyrese (I guess turning 'Tokyo Drift' star Sung Kang (we hope the rumors of this favourites return are true, because he's as missed as his former on screen love, 'Wonder Woman' Gal Gadot) into a spoiler alert is all forgiven). Becoming an 'Expendable' villain and teaming up with Dwyane 'Orange Is The New Rock' Johnson after a concrete hard prison breaking riot that ups the ante on the 'Daredevil' Punisher's cell block and counters. Action-hero Stath is as fun as he scene stealingly surprisingly was in 'Spy' as he and action Johnson turn this battle of the balds into some of the best dome shots and tank top one-liners you've seen since the baby oil and forehead back and forths. And even if The Rock and his almost milk carton screen-time with Diesel really is in a hard place the former wrestler turned Schwarzenegger shows that this isn't just his film but his franchise too. As the 'Baywatch' block stands guard on what might be his superhero becoming career year, going even 'Faster' than before, coast to coast. Berlin to Russia. A world as wide as his forearms.

Yet there's still so much more in the tank for this pure American muscle, epic, entertainment ensemble. Just like '2 Fast, 2 Furious' singing/rapping acting duo Tyrese Gibson and Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges making the 'Bad Boys' action/comedy in this rush hour looking all too easy. Black-Ty, the new punchline king here on his finest, formidable funny form...his best 'Fast' times since he siphoned the unleaded sequel loss of Diesel by stepping in and stepping up to the pedal. Whilst disturbing the online peace, Luda and returning 'Game Of Thrones' Fitz/Simmons 'Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.' like love interest Nathalie Emmanuel (car-pooling with Braveheart bearded, fellow 'G.O.T' star Kristofer Hivju) hack into Theron's 'Net' like cyber-bully Chiper. Whilst Diesel's co-original star and on-screen love Michelle Rodriguez is beautifully trying to bring her beau back, just like he did to her for all these amnesic years and films. Making up for the loss of Jordana Brewster (that comes with the Paul Walker's absent character territory) and the Eva Mendes 'Fast Five' cameo which looks like it will never come to full film fruition like '2 Fast' too. But there's a lot of famous faces, familiar too that bridge all these gaps like 'Thor' Chris Hemsworth's wife Elsa Patkay. But to reveal more would ruin all the sweetest surprises. 'The Hateful 8' star and 'Escape From New York' legend Kurt Russell rejoins this G.T.A. N.Y.C. (with even more bails) of 'Death Proof' American muscle in what between the rig of 'Deepwater Horizon' and his little big planet turn in 'Guardians of The Galaxy' sequel looks to be the second volume of his cult/action hero classic career, honed down to a science fiction. His Nobody character really is something. All God's eyes where on this 'Bone Tomahawk' wild west great in the last 'Furious' turn and this time he's bringing another legend in Clint's legacy making son Scott Eastwood along for the ride. And boy does the 'Suicide Squad', 'Gran Torino' star, young Eastwood have it down. But for all the parts under the hood its great Brit national treasure and 'RED' action O.A.P. heroine Helen Mirren that's truly the jewel in this crown or chrome spoiler. And after pulling off getting the biggest name of royalty guess whose mother she plays? 'Fast 8' really goes pedal to metal in a Universal franchise that according to wild speculation once tried to include Matt Damon's 'Jason Bourne' and even a Terminator to the engines machinery like a 'Men In Black' crossover off 'Jump Street'. Stranger things have happened in this 'Rogue Dom-A Fast and Furious Story' for a franchise that has now escaped the chase of 'Police Academy' number sequels. Now this raging series that keeps going like NASCAR is gunning all the way for a 10th lap, can we suggest the name 'F9' for the next go-round? If 'Fat8' will have it. TIM DAVID HARVEY.

See This If You Liked: 'Furious 7', 'Death Race', 'The Italian Job (2003)'.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

REVIEW: GHOST IN THE SHELL

4/5

Lucy In Translation.

106 Mins. Starring: Scarlett Johansson, 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano, Chin Han, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbaek, & Juliette Binoche. Director: Rupert Sanders.

She is Major. Scarlett Johansson. She's on site. Whether Avenging heroine, or 'Iron Fist' whitewash. 'Ghost In The Shell'. 'Lucy' in a futuristic Tokyo meets Osaka and Kyoto like skyline, shining like neon diamonds. This is Black Widow's peak, ever since she was last 'Lost In Translation' in Japan. And no one complained about her opening shot in Sofia Coppola's classic when she was still a teenager. Or her on-screen coupling with a middle-aged Bill Murray in the offbeat romantic tour de force, from the lights of Shinjuku to the crossing of the Times Square like Shibuya. But now this Hollywood actress is portraying a character from a cult Asian anime for cinema? It's all Matt Damon in 'The Great Wall' again. Do you remember anyone saying anything about Tom Cruise in 'The Last Samurai'? Or Keanu Reeves in '47 Ronin'? Difference is Matt Damon's 'Wall' hit critical concrete, whereas this 'Ghost' is no shell. It's a haunting, visual spectacle of future 'Blade Runner' stakes in the 2017 year of '2049'. Sci-fi forefather Phillip K. Dick and creator of all things 'Total Recall' and 'Minority Report' would be as proud as his popping pupils for this reload on 'The Matrix' cult sci-fi, real-life like avatar plug-in revolution. Sure, yes all you need to do is look to 'Pacific Rim' to find an Asian actress more suited to major. Or even the Marvel show 'Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.' for an Asian/American one. But Scarlett's action heroism honed in this continents 'Limitless' lengths of 'Lucy' is to the letter here. Sure there's an 'Iron Fist' race issue here, but just like that Marvel/Netflix show that shouldn't be confused for how actually good this is as a piece of entertainment. Even if a more fitting picture would make for this industries art. Either way this three dimensonal, block busting IMAX dream will leave you shell shocked.

Cultural appropriation may be the issue here, but this ghost in the machines shell suit raises a question of whether this cult adaptation is appropriate as Johansson basically looks naked in her Major get-up, like the time she truly got 'Under The Skin'. But the actress who argues that her skimpy Black Widow outfits are the same as her Thor and Captain America muscled and honed suit ups, is paying homage to the original 'Ghost In The Shell' source material look, all whilst affording more respect to the age appropriate crowds this movie hopes to please. And it makes for some cloaked and dagger, morphing action sequences that range with real power. Forget those Saben Iron Men looking "mighty" heroes and their fried chicken looking villains. Take the towering, formidable, first five minutes that debuted online to outstanding actioneering hits. 'Ghost In The Shell' has haunting, inspired imagery you couldn't design better. Spider crawling up the walls robot Geisha's and life like neon advertisings that are landamarks in their own right and light line the glass shattering towers of Tokyo that will make you spill your Sake. And for Major's sake, Scarlett Johansson gives maximum effort and in turn maximum output as this assimilating android, free falling from scraping skies as iconic as the Manga in cinema. She kicks ass in this video game dream as 'Lucy' or Widow per, but also brings a strength of soul of character in what serves as the actresses spiritual sequel to 'Lost In Translation' further East and into the future. After all this time translated you will find Scarlett's star power is still red hot in the land of the rising sun.

'Shell' holds plenty more users in 'Snow White and The Huntsman' director Rupert Sanders upgrade that gives this mesmerizing Manga and atmospheric anime the 'Tron: Legacy' polish and shine treatment. Fighting for this one and it's origins is Tokyo's own Takeshi Kitano. The Japanese acting, screenwriting and directing legend who usually goes to war with yakuza dramas is armed with a six-shooter and a car door here to the opening delight of all the true fans. He can't be beat. Whilst Chinese star Chin Han (you know the guy from 'The Dark Knight' whose "good with calculation") adds more to this set. Yet it's Danish 'Game Of Thrones' actor Pilou Asbaek (who is one for whitewashing controversy movies having just starred in 'The Great Wall') who makes a perfect Batou, going to battle and trust with Major. Speaking of robotics, 'Boardwalk Empire' star and Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike with Hollywood royalty as a surname Michael Pitt also computes, even if he too might be appropriating a little too. Still with more of a shell of a spindly frame this android counts his electric sheep too. Any legacy needing certification is confirmed by the presence of 'Chocolat' and 'The English Patient' legend Juliette Binoche. The actress who once turned down Steven Speilberg for 'Jurassic Park' has warmed to the idea of Summer blockbuster, monster movies having starred in 2014's 'Godzilla'. And even if this King Kong battling kaiju isn't as big in Japan as the one with a 'Shin' it's clear Binoche believes in blockbusters...at least smart ones. And this is exactly what this hardwired one is. So before you think this is built to self-destruct, it's time for a critical reprogramming. When it comes to reboots this 'Ghost In The Shell' has more power than those trying to take away from it. Whichever way you look at it. Even if a new anime has been excitingly announced by the original animators. This cyberpunk rocks. Shining like a neon night in the futuristic city of what we call 'Tokyosaka', this Ghost still keeps its soul and spirit. All whilst breaking free of its shell. TIM DAVID HARVEY.

See This If You Liked: 'Lucy', 'Lost In Translation', 'Blade Runner'.