The Front Runner ***
The Front Runner starts strong but runs out of steam before reaching the finish line.
The film tells the true story of former United States senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) as he made a bid to become the democratic candidate for the presidency, and the events in his personal life which led to him dropping out of the race.
Beginning with a clever, snappy montage of political reporters and the news cycle in action, The Front Runner gets off to a pacey, attention grabbing start, but it fails to hold that vigour.
It’s unusual to see Jackman in an unlikable role, and at times he’s excellent as the politician, but there’s something missing from his performance, and the film throughout, that stops it from ever becoming more than just watchable. Read our full review here.
Stan & Ollie *****
If January feels like pushing a piano up a stairs, don't fret: help is on the way.
In roles that have the whiff of destiny amidst the greasepaint, Steve Coogan and John C Reilly have proven themselves to be the only double act to play the greatest of double acts. This beautiful story about friendship, forgiveness and why the show must go on turns out to be the best film Laurel and Hardy never made.
Set in 1953, it follows them as hard-up household names, lugging a trunk around the music halls of the UK and Ireland as they wait for a big screen comeback to take shape. Stan (Coogan) is fooling himself about what's left of his showbiz clout. Ollie's (Reilly) health is failing. The venues are half empty on a good night. Backstage, there are old wounds that have yet to be acknowledged, never mind heal. Somehow, between Carlisle and Cobh, they manage to turn disaster into triumph. Love 'em and weep indeed. Read our full review here.
That old saying about how easy reading is damn hard writing comes to mind watching Colette, as Keira Knightley's trailblazing author stays shtum while her rogue of a husband takes all the credit for putting pen to paper.
The wait to see how she'll finally get her due provides all of the suspense in this episodic film - a decent biopic with an excellent performance by its star.
The long and winding road to emancipation depicted by director Wash Westmoreland takes in the penny dropping about one's own worth, sexual politics and technological and societal change. As a force of nature, it's a mystery as to why there hasn't been more of Colette on screens. Read our full review here.
The Upside **1/2
Having dealt with plenty of drama off-screen in recent weeks, Kevin Hart is out to show he can handle the serious stuff just as well as co-star Bryan Cranston in The Upside - a remake of the French box office phenomenon Les Intouchables. In this case, the Oscars-host-who-might-have-been gets the job done.
Following his parole, hustler Dell (Hart) is on a box-ticking exercise with prospective employers when a mix-up sees him sitting with a roomful of over-qualified candidates in a Manhattan penthouse, and not interviewing for the caretaker job below.
The client is Phillip (Cranston), a multi-millionaire entrepreneur and author who is quadriplegic following a paragliding accident. His compulsion to push everyone away sees him meet his match in Dell - a tough talker with basement level empathy. For devilment and a darker motive, Phillip offers Dell the job. Read our full review here.
An Impossible Love ****
Un Amour Impossible (An Impossible Love) is a brave, tough film with a strange lyrical beauty and a difficult premise at its core.
It's the 1950s and Rachel (Virginie Efira) is living in the small French town of Châteauroux, where she works as a secretary. At weekends she goes dancing to a band which plays the latest American and French hits. At one of these affairs, she falls for the slick, Nietzsche-reading Parisian Philippe (Niels Schneider), an opinionated young translator. Rachel, a somewhat sheltered girl, is conscious that she does not have the street-wise outlook of her lover, but he sweeps her away with charm.
Being a persuasive sort, Philippe opens a hitherto locked world of sensuality for her delectation. The torrid love scenes and the intense physical love between the pair are brilliantly depicted in the early part of the film. The summer setting, the ripeness and colour reminded your reviewer of the films of Éric Rohmer, but you sense trouble ahead in stray opinions voiced by Philippe. The tetchy intellectual does not want to marry Rachel; he wants to keep her as his lover. Read our full review here.
Welcome to Marwen ****
The truly remarkable thing about this film is that it's based on a true story.
New Yorker Mark Hogancamp was the victim of a savage hate crime, when he was attacked and severely beaten by a gang of thugs. Naturally, it left a lot of emotional scars and he was left traumatised by the incident, which wiped out almost all of his memory.
As a form of therapy, Hogancamp (portrayed by Steve Carell) creates an imaginary Belgian town called Marwen, populated by dolls and set during World War Two. Amongst the dolls is his alter ego, an American fighter pilot, while the town's population consists of women - all strong characters inspired by real-life acquaintances of Hogancamp - who combine to repel a variety of attacks by Nazis. Read our full review here.
The Favourite ****1/2
If you've had enough of this goodwill lark for another 12 months and want to start the year in the snarkiest way possible, then this is the film to see. You'll laugh, gloat and head into January with no tolerance for anyone's guff - and in the mood to share a bit of your own.
Reuniting with his Lobster stars Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz, and getting Emma Stone in on the act, director Yorgos Lanthimos runs riot in the 18th century with this period romp. It's his most accessible film to date, but the acidity levels are off the charts.
In the court of the mad-as-a-ha'penny-watch Queen Anne (Colman), Lady Sarah (Weisz) is pulling all the strings - until her riches-to-rags cousin Abigail (Stone) arrives to teach her a thing or two. Wholesomeness proves to have a very short shelf-life above stairs as Abigail and those around her discover that she is "capable of much unpleasantness". And then some. Read our full review here.