A closer look at… Inherent Vice

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California, 1970. Beach hippy and private eye Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) receives an unexpected visit from his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston). She has been seeing wealthy, married property developer Micky Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), and suspects that his wife is plotting to have him kidnapped and committed to an insane asylum. Despite Doc’s lingering feelings for her, Shasta wants him to investigate the case.

It turns out that the next two cases Doc is asked to take on both have a connection to Wolfmann. In fact it seems that everyone he stumbles across – from saxophonist Coy Harlington (Owen Wilson) to brothel worker Jade (Hong Chau) to bull-headed police detective ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) – is somehow tangled in the web of conspiracy. Cults, communists, street gangs, white supremacists, the FBI, an international heroin smuggling operation, politicians, pirates (possibly) and a syndicate of dentists are all involved. None of it really seems to make a lot of sense; but Doc, shambling from clue to clue in a dope-induced stupor, is quite used to that.

Continue reading A closer look at… Inherent Vice

A closer look at… Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Note: Guides from our archive are in a slightly different format and have been edited here to make them more user-friendly.

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Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is rated 15 for brief strong violence. The film is available on DVD.

The Scoop

Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) are young and in love. They’re also criminals who, after committing an armed robbery, end up in over their heads. During a shootout with the police force, Ruth puts a bullet in Sherriff Wheeler (Ben Foster), and Bob agrees to take the rap. He goes to begin a twenty five-year stretch in prison, while Ruth gives birth to their baby daughter.

Four years and five escape attempts later, Bob finally breaks out and writes to tell Ruth that he’s coming for her. But things have changed since the lovers were parted. Ruth is doing her best to raise little Sylvie (Kennadie and Jacklynn Smith), under the watchful eye of Bob’s adoptive father Skerritt (Keith Carradine), and the kindly Wheeler, who has fallen in love with her. Will she take off with Bob to live the outlaw life they’d always planned? Or are other priorities now guiding her choices?

Continue reading A closer look at… Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

A closer look at… A Most Violent Year

Note: Guides from our archive are in a slightly different format and have been edited here to make them more user-friendly.

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A Most Violent Year is rated 15 for very strong language, strong violence. The film is available on DVD.

The Scoop

New York, 1981 – the most violent year in the city’s history. Immigrant businessman Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) are trying to expand their heating oil company, but a DA agent (David Oyelowo) is investigating their dealings. To add to their troubles, the Morales’ trucks keep being hijacked at gunpoint by anonymous goons. Not only is the company losing money, but the drivers – including Julian (Elyes Gabel), who lands in hospital after a savage beating – are becoming too afraid to work.

Though Abel suspects that one of his competitors is behind the attacks, he’s determined to behave honourably, and not resort to violent tactics in return. Anna, whose father and brother are in the mob, has other ideas. How far will each of them go in order to protect what they’ve built?

Continue reading A closer look at… A Most Violent Year

A closer look at… Ida

Note: Guides from our archive are in a slightly different format and have been edited here to make them more user-friendly.

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Ida is rated 12, contains suicide scene. The film is available on DVD.

Poland, the 1960s. Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young nun who has grown up within the sheltered confines of the convent. Before she takes her vows, her superiors decree that she must meet her only living relative – her aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza).

Anna travels to stay with Wanda in her city home, and meets a woman about as different from herself as she could have imagined. A heavy-drinking court judge who loves dancing, jazz music and men, Wanda’s carefree persona hides a painful past. She quickly reveals to Ida that the family is, in fact, Jewish: Anna’s real name is Ida, and her parents were murdered during the anti-Semitic purges of the Second World War.

Together, the mismatched pair set off to find where Anna’s parents are buried. But digging up the past, it soon becomes clear, will change the direction of both of their futures.

Continue reading A closer look at… Ida

A closer look at… Nightcrawler

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Nightcrawler is rated 15 for strong bloody crime scene detail, strong language. The film is available on DVD.

The Scoop

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is ready to try his hand at anything. Full of self-improvement aphorisms and entirely empty of scruples, he stumbles across the Los Angeles underworld of ‘nightcrawling’: following police-radio tipoffs to incident sites, and filming the grim aftermath. The resulting footage can be sold to cable news stations, who have no qualms about broadcasting images of car wrecks or bleeding shootout victims. If it pulls in viewers, it runs – or as Lou’s fellow nightcrawler Joe (Bill Paxton) puts it, ‘if it bleeds, it leads.’

As Lou’s fledgling business grows, he develops a symbiotic relationship with news director Nina (Rene Russo), who’s every bit as ruthless as he is, and an uneven partnership with ‘intern’ Rick (Riz Ahmed), a young man too desperate for money to say no. Just how far is Lou willing to go in pursuit of the success he craves? And who will end up paying the price?

Continue reading A closer look at… Nightcrawler

A closer look at… Anna Karenina

Note: Guides from our archive are in a slightly different format and have been edited here to make them more user-friendly.

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Russia, the late nineteenth century, and one of the best-known tragedies in literature is about to unfold. We meet Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) as she prepares to rescue her boisterous brother Stiva (Matthew Macfadyen) from a marital crisis, brought on by his infidelity to wife Dolly (Kelly McDonald). Anna bids farewell to her mild-mannered husband Alexei (Jude Law) and beloved young son Serhoza (Oscar McNamara), and embarks upon a fateful train journey to Moscow.

Having talked Stiva and Dolly into a reconciliation, Anna is persuaded to attend a ball with Dolly’s sister Kitty (Alicia Vikander), who is innocently infatuated with the dashing Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). She is expecting a proposal at any minute – but to her dismay, Vronsky suddenly has eyes for nobody but Anna. His gaze is reciprocated. Having been in a passionless marriage since the age of eighteen, Anna is completely swept off her feet, and it isn’t long before the two have plunged headlong into an affair.

Continue reading A closer look at… Anna Karenina

A closer look at… Love & Friendship

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© Curzon Artificial Eye, 2016

Love & Friendship is rated U – no material likely to offend or harm.

The Scoop – A razor-shape take on a little-known Austen story

Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) – beautiful, widowed and wickedly witty – arrives to stay with her in-laws amid a cloud of society gossip. While Catherine DeCourcy Vernon (Emma Greenwell), her deceased husband’s sister, regards Susan with suspicion, Catherine’s handsome brother Reginald (Xavier Samuel) is soon smitten, much to the horror of his family.

When Susan’s daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) runs away from school, she too comes to stay with the DeCourcys – and idiotic suitor Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) soon follows. With steely resolve, and with her friend Mrs Johnson (Chloe Sevigny) at her side, Susan sets about securing a future for herself and her daughter.

Continue reading A closer look at… Love & Friendship

A closer look at… The Big Short

© Paramount, 2016.
© Paramount, 2016.

The Big Short is rated 15 for strong language, sexualised nudity

The ScoopA mixed bag of a film which nevertheless acts as an effective primer on the financial crash.

It’s 2005, and socially inept hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) thinks he’s spotted something huge. The housing market, long considered to be the foundation of the American economy, is far less stable than everybody believes. In fact, Burry predicts, a huge and catastrophic crash is on its way. If he plays his cards right, he can benefit from it.

Paying visits to numerous incredulous banks, Burry ‘shorts’ the housing market, effectively placing bets against it. When trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) hears about what Burry is doing he accidentally alerts another hedge fund manager, the cynical Mike Baum (Steve Carrell), and they team up to short the market themselves. Meanwhile, another team – young investors Charlie (John Magaro) and Jamie (Finn Whittrock), and their older mentor Ben (Brad Pitt) – have also stumbled on Burry’s prediction and are doing the same.

As Baum and his colleagues dig deeper into what is causing the market collapse, they discover a financial system riddled with more fraud, corruption and stupidity than they could have imagined. The party will soon be over – and it won’t be the banks who have to pay.

Continue reading A closer look at… The Big Short

A closer look at… Bridge of Spies

© 20th Century Fox, 2016.
© 20th Century Fox, 2016.

Bridge of Spies is rated 12A for infrequent strong language, moderate threat, violence

The Scoop –  Gripping, humane and good-humoured, Bridge of Spies is a superior thriller.

It’s 1957, and in the midst of escalating tensions between America and the Soviet Union, a nondescript Brooklyn artist is arrested as a Russian spy. Since Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) refuses to cooperate with the US government, he faces either thirty years in prison or the electric chair.

Enter insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who has been asked to represent Abel in court. Donovan’s superiors expect him to do little more than show up: but he isn’t that kind of man.  Against the objections of his wife Mary (Amy Ryan), his colleagues and the American public, Donovan sets about fighting Abel’s corner. His principles will lead him on a cloak-and-dagger trip to East Berlin, and into an unlikely friendship with the mercurial spy.

Continue reading A closer look at… Bridge of Spies

A closer look at… The Revenant

© 20th Century Fox, 2016.
© 20th Century Fox, 2016.

The Revenant is rated 15 for strong violence, bloody injury detail, strong language

Warning: Contains plot spoilers

The Scoop – Bleak, brutal and often beautiful, The Revenant makes for a gruelling cinema experience.

In the wilderness of nineteenth century America, fur-trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) ekes out a living for himself and his half-Pawnee son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). While their hunting party is on the run from hostile natives, Glass is badly wounded in a bear attack. Though Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) attempts to save him, unscrupulous Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) believes it’s best to just let Glass die.

As Glass teeters on the boundary between life and death, Fitzgerald does something unforgivable. And Glass will get revenge, even if it means clawing his way out of his own grave.

Continue reading A closer look at… The Revenant