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Focus (Will Smith/Margot Robbie) - DVD Review

Focus

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

IF YOU’RE smart, it’s the chemistry between Will Smith and Margot Robbie that you’ll focus on in this romantic thriller rather than the intricacies of some of the cons.

For while Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s film undoubtedly thrives on the interplay between its two central protagonists, the two big cons themselves struggle to hold up to much scrutiny. But it’s a measure of how good Smith and Robbie are that this doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment.

Smith stars as Nicky, a seasoned conman who, against his own advice, becomes romantically involved with novice con artist Jess (Robbie), while teaching her the tricks of the trade in New Orleans.

Upon realising that she is getting too close for comfort, he abruptly breaks it off, prompting the film to jump forward three years as Nicky is setting up another high stakes con, only to find the scheme undermined by the return of his former flame, now an accomplished femme fatale, who could also be working her own scam on the Buenos Aires-based racecar owner that Nicky has targeted.

The big hook of Focus is trying to decipher the truth from the various lies and mis-directions the central characters employ to get the job done. Hence, there are persistent doubts over the validity of their apparent feelings for each other, which lends each encounter an extra edge. Who will be screwing who in the psychological sense?

This one upmanship, in turn, helps to draw some great performances from the main two. Smith, who fired up his career playing a conman in Six Degrees of Separation as he was starting out, trades on some familiar traits here (confidence, charisma, etc) but slowly starts to unravel amid the confusion caused by his feelings for Jess. Or is he simply playing a game? No matter, it’s fun seeing Smith explore a range of emotions and exhibiting some hitherto untapped vulnerability for a change.

Similarly, Robbie infuses her Jess with the same raw sex appeal she brought to Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street while also combining elements of innocence and naivety. She is a mesmerising presence: not just breathtakingly attractive, but a worthy sparring partner for Smith. The two are great together.

And just as they did with Crazy Stupid Love writer-directors Ficarra and Requa show themselves to be really adept at juggling complex emotions with comedy and drama. Focus has enough smarts to make you laugh and care in all the right places.

Where it falls down slightly is in the nature of the cons themselves. For while flashy and suitably slick, they rely on a huge suspension of disbelief and actually place an unnecessary strain on credibility. It’s almost as if the film is trying to dupe audiences into thinking it’s being more clever than it really is, which feels like a con in itself.

But if you can forgive the film its indiscretions, there’s still more than enough to enjoy and Focus is still smart and stylish enough to capture the attention of both sexes – which is no mean feat in itself.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 104mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: July 6, 2015

Win a copy of The Dead 2 on DVD

The Dead 2

Preview by Jack Foley

The Ford Brothers’ return with their eagerly anticipated follow-up to The Dead.

Take to the road in this beautifully shot, zombie action-horror that will fill you with dread, right from the opening scene.

An American engineer teams up with a surviving orphan street kid to trek 300 miles across stunning but deadly rural Indian landscapes to the now infested slums of Mumbai to try and save his pregnant girlfriend.

The first ever international zombie movie shot in Incredible India, The Dead 2, puts the Ford Brothers unique vision on a far bigger canvas, with breath-taking scope, thrilling action and emotional resonance…

Buy it

The Dead 2 is out to own on DVD from July 13, 2015.

Win The Dead 2 on DVD

To celebrate the release of The Dead 2 on DVD on Monday, July 13, IndieLondon is offering readers the chance to win a copy of the film. Simply answer the following question…

Q. Who directs The Dead 2?

Simply send the answer to The Dead 2 competition and include your name, address, telephone number and email

Still Alice - Preview

Still Alice

Preview by Jack Foley

AT age fifty, Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) has it all: a Columbia University linguistics professorship, a devoted husband, and three loving children. Her life is a whirlwind of work and family, and she thrives on it.

But, while lecturing at UCLA, something unexpected happens: mid-sentence, she struggles to find a word.

Though a seemingly innocuous relapse, the incident leads to a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a stunning realisation that sees the bonds between Alice and her family thoroughly tested.

Based on Lisa Genova’s 2009 novel of the same name, Still Alice is a frightening, heart-breaking but ultimately inspiring drama featuring an astonishing Oscar and BAFTA-winning performance from Julianne Moore.

Certificate: 12
Running time: 101mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: July 6, 2015

Second Coming - Preview

Second Coming

Preview by Jack Foley

A directorial feature debut from the acclaimed playwright Debbie Tucker Green, Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment is pleased to announce the UK release of Second Coming, available digitally now and on DVD from July 6, 2015. To celebrate its release, we are offering 3 readers the chance to take home a copy of the film on DVD!

Jackie (Nadine Marshall) is expecting her second child but the maths doesn’t quite add up. It’s been months since she last slept with her husband Mark (Idris Elba), so she knows it can’t be his. But she also knows she hasn’t slept with anybody else.

Prior to Jackie’s discovery, she, Mark and son JJ (Kai Francis-Lewis) are a close-knit family living in London. Then comes Jackie’s seemingly Immaculate Conception.

Unable to explain her pregnancy she says nothing but knows it’s only a matter of time before questions are asked and accusations will start to fly.

As the child inside her starts to grow, so does everyone’s concern for her state of mind, until it’s not only the father of the child that is in question but Jackie’s sanity as well.

To be in with a chance of winning, just answer this question…

Q. Which TV series is Idris Elba best known for?

A) Downton Abbey
B) Broadchurch
C) Luther

Simply send the answer to Second Coming competition and include your name, address, telephone number and email

Second Coming is available digitally now and on DVD from July 6, 2015.

Lauda: The Untold Story - Preview

Lauda: The Untold Story

Preview by Jack Foley

Bulldog Film Distribution is pleased to announce the UK release of Lauda: The Untold Story, available on DVD and On Demand from July 6, 2015. To celebrate its release, we have 3 x DVDs to give away!

In 1976 Niki Lauda survived one of the most famous crashes in Formula One history. Using previously unseen footage, Lauda: The Untold Story explains what happened on that fateful, and near fatal day at the Nürburgring, then follows Lauda’s courageous journey to recovery culminating in a miraculous comeback in Monza just weeks later.

The film also investigates the impact that his crash had not just on his own life but on the sport as a whole, looking at the safety developments from the 1900s to the present day.

The film features exclusive access to Mercedes HQ and interviews with Lauda, his family, and motorsports legends past and present including Sir Jackie Stewart, David Coulthard, Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Hans-Joachim Stuck and Jochen Mass and many more.

To be in with a chance of winning, just answer this question…

Q. How many times was Niki Lauda crowned F1 World Champion?

A) 1
B) 2
C) 3

Simply send the answer to Lauda: The Untold Story competition and include your name, address, telephone number and email

Lauda: The Untold Story is available on DVD and On Demand from July 6, 2015.

Two Men in Town - Preview & trailer

Two Men in Town

Preview by Jack Foley

Two of Hollywood’s finest go head to head in the ultimate battle for redemption as Two Men In Town arrives on DVD and digital platforms from July 6, 2015, courtesy of Signature Entertainment.

Starring Forest Whitaker (Phone Booth, Taken 3) and Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs, The Grand Budapest Hotel), this gritty, no-holds barred psychological thriller tells the story of troubled youth Will Garnett (Whitaker) who is finally being released after an 18-year long stretch in prison.

With the help of an idealistic parole agent (Brenda Blethyn – Dead Man Running, Atonement) and his new-found Islamic faith, Garnett struggles to rebuild his life and overcome the violent impulses which torture and possess him.

However, Bill Agati (Keitel), the vengeful Sheriff of the small New Mexico border county where Garnett is released, has other ideas.

Convinced that Garnett is irredeemable and major a threat to the security of his county, Agati launches a vicious, sustained campaign to return Garnett to prison for life. The question is, how far will he go?

Featuring an outstanding supporting cast that includes Ellen Burstyn (Interstellar, The Calling) and Luis Guzman (The Last Stand, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3), Two Men in Town is a brilliantly understated revenge drama which asks the question: can we ever truly leave a dark past behind and start again?

Win Two Men in Town on DVD

To celebrate the release of Two Men in Town on DVD on July 6, 2015, IndieLondon is offering readers the chance to win 1 of 3 copies. Simply answer the following question…

Q. What is the name of Harvey Keitel’s character in Two Men in Town?

Simply send the answer to Two Men in Town competition and include your name, address, telephone number and email

Watch the trailer

Fifty Shades of Grey - DVD Review

Fifty Shades of Grey

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

FOR an ‘event’ movie, Fifty Shades of Grey is curiously uneventful… a slick but muddled affair that’s high on romance but low on anything really edgy. If anything, it’s audiences who may feel violated.

Sam Taylor-Johnson directs with a softly, softly touch that negates any of the air of anticipation surrounding this big screen adaptation of EL James’ S&M-laced romance novel.

Admittedly, the decision to focus on the ‘relationship’ rather than the sex proves wise but as a film, this is all build up and no climax. Just when things start to get interesting on a cerebral level, Taylor-Johnson pulls the plug.

But then Fifty Shades of Grey was largely doomed to fail from the outset. Ardent fans of the books harder, more graphic elements were always going to cry foul of the film’s failure to put them all on screen… but then who would want to see endless scenes of spanking and domination anyway? Surely, that would just be exploitative, or even pornographic.

Rather than go there, Taylor-Wood’s film opts to explore the characters more, if not their motivations.

Hence, Dakota Johnson plays the virginal college student Anastasia Steele who begins to fall under the spell of ‘enigmatic’ billionaire businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), only to discover that beneath the charming veneer is a troubled soul who gets his kicks from sado-masochism.

But rather than opting for anything too dark, the film seems more interested in the romantic elements and lacks the edge to prevent it from feeling dull. Early on, the romance feels like something that might belong in a teen romance mixed with the wish fulfilment of a Pretty Woman or the high-end sophistication of a Thomas Crown Affair (as evidenced by two ‘seduction’ scenes involving flying in high priced toys).

The S&M element is only ever in the background… a place where Grey would like Steele to go – but something she, in turn, keeps him [and us] waiting for. Once there, it’s more gentle heavy petting than anything really eye-opening, until Steele asks for Grey to do his worst in a bid to understand him more.

It’s here that the fractured psychology of the Grey character threatens to become exposed and yet it’s also here that the film suddenly ends. Audiences are left dangling yet, ironically, not really wanting to see more. If anything, there’s a sense of relief that it’s over.

And then comes the realisation that – like a bad relationship – you’ve been used and maybe even abused. This is, after all, a big Hollywood blockbuster that’s looking to kick-start a franchise. As such, there’s no attempt to finish the story or offer any closure. It’s an opening chapter and not a very compelling one at that.

It’s also a film that keeps its eye firmly on the cash potential, as further evidenced by the high profile pop songs that accompany every sex scene (including the two scenes of S&M). And it’s here that the superficiality of the whole endeavour really becomes exposed, with serious issues such as sexual power and control, the debilitating effects of child abuse and even the degradation of women (perhaps unsurprisingly we see more of Johnson than we do of Dornan) flung by the wayside; glossed over with soft-core lighting and mood music to make us feel titillated rather than absorbed or even part of a worthwhile debate.

The only real surprises come in the form of Taylor-Johnson as director (she at least makes the film look attractive) and the quality of the performances from both Johnson and Dornan, the former of whom really makes a strong impression with her handling of the limited material. She has range and her talents will hopefully be more gainfully employed in better films than this.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 2hrs 5mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: June 22, 2015

Force Majeure - Preview

Force Majeure

Preview by Jack Foley

A MODEL Swedish family – handsome businessman Tomas, his wife Ebba and their two beautiful children – are on a skiing holiday at a high-end resort in the French Alps.

The sun is shining and the slopes are spectacular, but during lunch at a mountainside restaurant, an avalanche suddenly bears down on the happy diners.

With people fleeing in all directions and his wife and children in a state of panic, Tomas makes a decision that will shake his marriage to its core and leave him struggling to reclaim his role as family patriarch.

A critical favourite at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, where it took the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard category, Force Majeure is a wickedly funny and precisely-observed black comedy that marks Ruben Östlund as one of Europe’s most piercingly intelligent filmmakers.

Force Majeure is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, June 29, 2015.

Win Force Majeure on DVD

To celebrate the release of Force Majeure on Blu-ray and DVD on June 29, 2015, IndieLondon is offering readers the chance to win 1 of 3 copies on DVD. Simply answer the following question…

Q. Who directs Force Majeure?

Simply send the answer to Force Majeure competition and include your name, address, telephone number and email

Appropriate Behaviour - Preview

Appropriate Behaviour

Preview by Jack Foley

FOR Shirin (Desiree Akhavan), being part of a perfect family isn’t easy. Acceptance eludes her from all sides: her family doesn’t know she’s bisexual, and her ex-girlfriend, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), can’t understand why she doesn’t tell them. Even the six-year-old boys in her moviemaking class are too ADD to focus on her for more than a second.

Following a family announcement of her brother’s betrothal to a parentally approved Iranian prize catch, Shirin embarks on a private rebellion involving a series of escapades, while trying to decipher what went wrong with Maxine.

Writer/director Desiree Akhavan, best known for her cult web series The Slope, stars in this story of a bisexual Iranian-American woman trying to find her way in modern-day Brooklyn. Appropriate Behaviour is an intelligent, engaging comedy that heralds an exciting new voice in indie cinema

Appropriate Behaviour is released on DVD and On-Demand from June 29, 2015, from Peccadillo Pictures. You can order from Amazon, Peccadillo Pictures, iTunes and all good retailers.

Win Appropriate Behaviour on DVD

To celebrate the release of Appropriate Behaviour on Blu-ray and DVD on June 29, 2015, IndieLondon is offering readers the chance to win 1 of 3 copies on DVD. Simply answer the following question…

Q. Who wrote and directed Appropriate Behaviour?

Simply send the answer to Appropriate Behaviour competition and include your name, address, telephone number and email

Cake (Jennifer Aniston) - DVD Review

Cake

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

JENNIFER Aniston finally delivers a dramatic performance of note in Daniel Barnz’s Cake, a so-so examination of grief, addiction and pain that sometimes feels like it’s trying too hard to manipulate your emotions.

Aniston plays Claire Simmons, a grieving mother who lost her child in a car crash that has also left her suffering with chronic back pain. After becoming obsessed by the suicide of a woman named Nina (Anna Kendrick) in her pain support group, Claire then starts to hallucinate seeing Nina’s ghost and embarks upon a quest to find Nina’s husband (Sam Worthington) so that she can start to make sense of her own life once again.

Barnz’s film starts out as a black comedy that puts Simmons’ acerbic wit front and centre and, early on, drags its central character into some very dark places as she struggles to cope with both the pain that impedes her everyday life (and sleep) as well as the sustained grief of losing a child.

But once Claire is invited to start turning things around for herself, the film begins to feel a lot less interesting and a lot more clichéd. The various relationships that form in the movie too often feel like plot devices, while the sentiment begins to feel contrived.

Aniston remains terrific throughout, however, even when being difficult to like. Physically, she expertly projects the debilitating effect of her condition on both her body and her mind, while she wears her sorrow and her anger in equally impressive fashion. It’s a committed performance that was certainly more deserving of awards recognition than it got.

Worthington, too, is good value as Nina’s grieving husband, even if his character feels poorly written, while there’s eye-catching support from Adriana Barraza as Claire’s long-suffering maid and carer (the true heart of the movie).

But too often Patrick Tobin’s script struggles to convince as being emotionally authentic and pales by comparison to other grief-based films such as Rabbit Hole, which earned your tears much more effectively. It also fails to make the most of some of its more promising scenes, such as the arrival of William H Macy’s forgiveness seeker.

Hence, while Cake is definitely worth seeing for the strength of Aniston’s performance (and the support of Barraza), it lacks the staying power of some of the better movies of its type. The hope is that Aniston won’t be deterred from doing more of this kind of thing.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 102mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: June 29, 2015