With Storm Rachel brewing outside it's definitely a weekend for the cinema - but before you buy your tickets check out our reviews.
Director: Damien Chazelle Starring: Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Jayson Blair. 15A
We are spoilt. Two weeks into the New Year and we've already had two of the films of 2015 opening in consecutive weeks: Birdman and Foxcatcher. Now they have company, and for some nothing else they see in the next 12 months will come close to the thrills of Whiplash, a dazzling and breathless exploration of male ego, the creative process and just how far you should push someone to get the best out of them. Whatever the genre, if you love music and movies you need to be in the cinema for this.
Andrew Neyman (Teller) is a gifted jazz drummer enrolled as a first-year student at America's premier music school, the Shaffer Conservatory. Bright eyed and Buddy Rich-obsessed, Andrew is desperate for validation as a player and gets his chance when legendary teacher Terence Fletcher (Simmons) hears him practising. Their first encounter sees.......
American Sniper ****
Director: Clint Eastwood Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Kevin Lacz, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Kyle Gallner, Keir O'Donnell, Sammy Sheik. 15A
Form, as they say, is temporary, class is permanent. After Hereafter, J Edgar and Jersey Boys, there was the feeling in some quarters that Clint Eastwood's powers as a director were in decline and that the chances of him making a must-see film were diminishing with each release. Not a bit of it. This troubling true story of war, male identity and patriotism deserves your custom, and is powered by a pent-up Bradley Cooper whose work here is right up there with Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.
Cooper portrays Chris Kyle, a hot-headed rodeo rider whose love of his country and desire to protect it made him enlist in the US Armed Forces. Kyle joined the elite Navy SEALs and at the age of 30 - ancient by SEAL standards - came through the merciless basic training and showed the seen-it-all instructors just what he had to offer: a frightening gift for marksmanship. First deployed to Iraq in 2003, Kyle was to return for..........
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Keene McRae, Thomas Sadowski, Gaby Hoffmann. 15A
Have you ever walked a mile someone else's shoes? How about 1,100 miles?
Based on Cheryl Strayed's 2012 bestselling memoir (which was heavily endorsed by Oprah), Wild tells the powerful story of a woman's solo trek across Western wilderness, as she attempts to regain control of her life and seek redemption from her inner demons, by walking the Pacific Crest Trail – think of Eat, Pray, Love, minus the good food, and you'll get the idea.
In director Jean-Marc Vallée's movie adaptation, Reese Witherspoon takes on the role of the hiking novice, who sets out on the gruelling trek from Mexico to Canada.
Armed with a gigantic backpack, nicknamed Monster, by fellow hikers, Cheryl tries to come to terms with the untimely death of her mother Bobbi (Dern), which resulted in her looking for solace in all the wrong places.........
Apples of the Golan *****
Director: Keith Walsh, Jill Beardsworth
Two Irish film-makers, Keith Walsh and Jill Beardsworth, spent five years among the people of the village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied, Syrian Golan Heights to make their powerful film.
Majdal Shams is situated close to the so-called ceasefire line between Syria and Israel. It is one of five remaining Arab villages, a leafy, quiet place, with a history of invasion going back centuries. It is largely reliant on its apple farms for its economy.
Before the Israeli occupation which occurred during the Six Day War of 1967, there were 139 such Arab villages. These villages are now mostly destroyed. 22,000 Arabs of the Druze sect remain under Israeli control. There are also 41 Israeli settlements, containing some 19,000 inhabitants.
In 1982, in violation of a UN resolution, Israel annexed the Golan, forcing Israeli citizenship on the.........
Into the Woods
Director: Rob Marshall Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp. PG
Take the director of Chicago, an all-star cast, a Broadway hit musical and a whole heap of fairytales and you've got Into the Woods in a nutshell.
While Cinderella, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood all make appearances in the story, the main focus is a tale we haven't heard before; that of a baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt) who are cursed and unable to have children.
When their next-door neighbour The Witch (Streep) calls around and tells them that there might be a way to lift said curse, the pair embark on a mission into the woods to gather the items she requires – a golden slipper, hair as yellow as corn, a cow as white as milk and a red cloak – which leads them to cross paths with a number of other fairytale characters, good and bad.
From the opening number I was...........
Director: Bennett Miller Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller. 15A
Based on true events, Foxcatcher will engage you from the get-go. Powerfully moving and cinematographically beautiful, it is an American morality tale of fallen glory, incorporating muddled notions of patriotism and the tarnished ethics of sportsmanship.
John du Pont (Steve Carell) is scion of one of the wealthiest family in America, a deeply sad individual, who has been isolated by his wealth and pampered status all his life. Emotionally stunted and unable to relate to people with much more than a cold aloofness, he craves the clubbability that his supreme indulgence, his wrestling team, Team Foxcatcher, affords him.
He plays vainly at being a wrestling coach and is a somewhat senior (in age only) wrestler himself who funds wrestling events, within which he is allowed to win the odd pathetic trophy. He is proud of the book he wrote on...........
Taken 3 **
Director: Olivier Megaton Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Forest Whitaker, Dougray Scott, Jon Gries, Johnny Weston. 12A
Global earnings for Taken 2 amounted to $376m - out-grossing the first film - despite a cool reception from the critics. Don't be surprised if the third in the franchise will similarly surpass its predecessor commercially, even if the thing is frankly running out of steam.
Liam Neeson returns as general weapons and gadgets handyman Bryan Mills - a Houdini for our times in short - and the result is passably entertaining. But somehow the constant violence and the - let's face it - ludicrously unfeasible set-ups tend to swamp the human story that reverberated strongly through the first Taken.
That film played powerfully, and adroitly, with the viewer's sympathies, and the murky world of sex trafficking was a good place to posit a very sinister - and, indeed.......
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Lindsay Duncan. 15A
I have to admit that the title almost put me off. Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a pretty pretentious name for what is a matt-black satire about fame and celebrity, so I went to the cinema unburdened by any great expectations. It's the only way to travel, really.
Turns out, Birdman is the best film I've seen in ages, and the finest Broadway-based slice of cinema since Mel Brooks' marvellous The Producers, made all the way back in 1968. That film famously parodied the then trend of hippie-infused pop musicals, while Birdman is very much in the here and now as it deals with Riggan Thomson, a fading superhero film star, played by Michael Keaton, who's trying to resurrect his career and gain some credence as a serious thespian.
As is the nature of these things, life is having a corrosive effect on Thomson, whose.......