The New Year is getting off to a fine start with new releases from some of the biggest directors working today. Fittingly in today’s world of dodgy banking and crumbling economies, crime and corruption is on the menu courtesy of Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell and Nicholas Winding-Refn. If you’re in the need for a bit of escapism after the New Year’s excess there’s always old Sly Stallone and Arnie saving the day as only they know how.
By Christopher O’Keeffe
Ender’s Game—out January 18
At first sight Ender’s Game appears something of a throwback to the kind of kid-saves-the-world space flicks that took off in the 80s in the wake of Star Wars (The Last Starfighter, anyone?). Based on the Orson Scott Card novel of the same name, this is a much more serious affair with militarism, survival-of-the-fittest Darwinism, and a strand of right-wing politics that got the film into some controversy ahead of its US release. Young “Ender” Wiggin is plucked out of school where he excels at simulated war games and is enrolled in Battle School to learn how to lead an attack on an alien race, the Formics, who attacked the Earth some fifty years earlier. Much of the action of the movie hinges on Battle School students’ mastery of the “mind game,” a series of simulations that look like they might be next-next-gen video games, but are in fact sophisticated tests of emotional strength. And, as we see, they can sometimes even be more than that. Ender is played by Asa Butterfield, a promising young actor who made a big impression in Martin Scorcese’s Hugo last year. Constantly monitoring the young mind soldier is Colonel Hyrum Graff—Star Wars alumnus Harrison Ford. While older children should enjoy the space action and flashy effects, the darker subject matter gives this an interesting edge over similar sci-fi fare. Keep an eye out for the mercurial Ben Kingsley in excellent form.
Escape Plan—out January 10
Back in their heyday a movie featuring pumped-up action heroes Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone would have been big news, but times have changed and even Rocky and the Terminator are struggling to pull in the crowds. Having already appeared together in The Expendables franchise, some of the shine has been taken off this legendary pairing but still these two tough guys have bags of charisma and there aren’t many better at this kind of brainless escapism. In Escape Plan, Stallone plays an expert in breaking out of the world’s highest security prisons but when he is framed and thrown into the slammer for real he must team up with fellow inmate Arnie to break out. Rapper 50 Cent and tough guy Vinnie Jones also star.
American Hustle—out January 31
Director David O. Russell had a phenomenal year last year, which saw his film Silver Linings Playbook rack up Academy Awards nominations in all the major categories. With American Hustle, the director has returned to the same principal cast of Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, while also throwing Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner into the mix. Set in the seventies and early eighties, this comedy drama focuses on con man Irving Rosenfeld, played by Bale, and his lover Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), as they are forced to work for the FBI to rope in four more con artists among the the dangerous world of Jersey powerbrokers and the Mafia. American Hustle opened abroad to widespread critical acclaim and is hotly tipped for success in the upcoming awards season.
Au revoir l’été—out January 31
Au revoir l’été, despite the title, is actually a Japanese film, and one of the better ones from last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. The director of the film, Koji Fukada, is a great fan of the work of the late Eric Rohmer. The French director’s influence is visible all throughout Fukuda’s second release as we take a leisurely stroll through the lives of a young girl’s family, friends and acquaintances as she accompanies her aunt on a trip to a seaside town to get away from it all during the month of August. There’s a bit of romance for niece and aunt, and the likeable characters who drop by to visit the family all have their own problems, flaws and pasts, which are quietly revealed in this well-balanced and enjoyably languid film.
The Wolf of Wall Street—out January 31
Since starring in 2002’s Gangs of New York, Leonardo DiCaprio has become Martin Scorsese’s go-to actor, having appearing in The Aviator, The Departed, and Shutter Island. This latest, The Wolf of Wall Street, is a black comedy based on the memoir of Jordan Belfort, a fast-living stockbroker who made millions swindling unwitting investors. DiCaprio goes all out, with some truly incredible physical performances, depicting the hard-partying and hard-selling Belfort as he makes—and spends—vast sums of money. But with any rise, there must come a fall: in this case, an FBI fraud investigation that Belfort refuses to bow down to. The film also stars Matthew McConaughy as an eccentric senior broker who helps young Jordan learn the ropes and perfect his chest-thumping on his arrival, and and Jonah Hill is Jordan’s partner in crime. Scorsese has made a career of making films about criminals and gangsters and nobody does it better, marking this out as a must see for fans of the director’s work.
Only God Forgives—out January 25
Anyone who saw the outstanding Drive would be waiting with bated breath for this follow-up from director and star team Nicholas Winding-Refn and Ryan Gosling. Drive impressed with its slick, stylish visuals, cool electro score and great performances, and Only God Forgives offers more of the same in a new, but no less seedy setting. (Interestingly enough, both films are dedicated to the visionary Chilean director, Alejandro Jodorowsky.) Ryan Gosling, who appeared in one of last year’s better films—The Palace Beyond the Pines—plays Julian, an American who runs a Bangkok Muay Thai kickboxing club that is really a front for a drug smuggling operation. Julian is thriving in the criminal underworld until trouble comes to his door when his brother kills an underage prostitute and is murdered for his crime. When Julian’s mother arrives (Kristin Scott Thomas in terrifying form), she instructs her son to avenge his brother’s death and “raise hell” in Thailand’s capital. One piece of advice for moviegoers: count how many lines Julian delivers. You might be surprised.