Weekly Round-up: 'Mockingjay' & 'Winter Sleep'

Welcome to new weekly round-ups of the best DVD, Blu-ray and cinema releases over the past seven days in the UK. We'll also strive to keep you updated on upcoming festivals, interesting events and the latest trailers from across the web. Come back each Friday to see what our talented team of writers are recommending and catch up on all the week's new releases. As an independent film site, our aim is to reach out to the largest audience possible, whilst also highlighting and championing some of the more diverse and less known new releases from the world of cinema. We can only do this with your help and support, so please feel free to add your comments and let us know what films and events you'd like to hear more about. For regular updates, or to continue the conversation, be sure to follow us on Twitter.

Film Review: 'Winter Sleep'

★★★★★
A sprawling, almost empty hotel ensconced in the Anatolian steppes plays host to inhibited and isolated souls in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's captivating, slow burner, Winter Sleep (2014). A deserved winner of this year's Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Ceylan's latest is a claustrophobic chamber piece spun out into a vast, rich and beautifully intricate tapestry. Woven at its centre is Aydin (Haluk Bilginer); a grey, bearded, landowner who dispenses hortatory with relish, but whose own moral authority may be somewhat questionable. Driven by discourse on conduct and self-deception, a series of conversations form the narrative, resulting in a majestic and subtly rendered multi-character study.

Film Review: 'What We Do in the Shadows'

★★★★☆
Given the countless iterations of the vampire mythology in popular culture over the last few years, you'd be forgiven in thinking that a stake had been driven through the heart of originality when it comes to the cinematic exploits of the toothy undead. Thankfully, What We Do in the Shadows (2014) proves that not every last drop of blood has been drained. Akin to Edgar Wright's 2004 zom-rom-com Shaun of the Dead, this is a film that doesn't set out to outwardly parody the genre, instead using those long-established vampire tropes as a hook for the humour, flipping them for comedic effect in a whole variety of imaginative ways.

Film Review: 'My Old Lady'

★★☆☆☆
At the age of 75, and with over 70 plays under his belt, prolific theatre director Israel Horovitz makes his cinematic debut, adapting his 2002 stage play of the same name, My Old Lady (2014). Given Horovitz’s proven track record of crafting critically successful and award-winning narratives for theatre, one would be forgiven for thinking that a transition into film would be a smooth one. However the journey has proven to be bumpier than first thought, with this first feature failing to break free from the shackles of its theatre beginnings. My Old Lady centres upon three characters played by Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristen Scott-Thomas.

Film Review: 'Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy'

★★☆☆☆
The internet use to be a place to hide, a refuge in which online gamers, chat room enthusiasts and message board trolls could cultivate a new identity. As the years have passed and the popularity of social media has risen Internet culture has evolved so that our online identities now pertain to mirror our offline personas. However, as we all know these identities remain a romanticised reconstruction of our lives and rarely does the virtual personality correlate to the real. In Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's playfully meta-fictional Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy (2013) this disconnect is explored by representing the parallel between our passive physical form and the idealised image of ourselves we construct online.

DocHouse: 'Maidan' review

★★★★☆
In his fantastic new documentary, Maidan (2014), revered Belarusian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa presents the public protest that eventually led to the toppling of the Ukranian premiere, Viktor Yanukovych, through a number of dichotomies. It is rigorous but unhurried; cool but compelling; faceless but personal; old-fashioned reportage and formally challenging modern cinema. Kiev's Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) was the venue for demonstrations in late 2013 that concluded in brutal clashes with the police and played a key role in the president’s impeachment. Loznitsa's unblinking camera observes this tumultuous period.

Film Review: 'Inherent Vice'

★★★★★
There Will be Blood (2007) gave us the birth of American capitalism, The Master (2012) doused us in the uncertainty of post-war malaise and now Inherent Vice (2014) takes us to the crossroads of the modern Californian ethos. This is Paul Thomas Anderson's American history trilogy - how the West was won, bought and sold. Gore Vidal called his own series of historical novels the Narratives of Empire; it would be an apt title for PTA's trilogy, which serves as a document of the 20th century incarnation of that pioneer spirit. Daniel Plainview, Freddie Quell and Doc Sportello may initially seem like a disparate group of characters, but that spirit connects them. Each one is a pilgrim staking his place in the New World.

Film Review: 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay'

★★★☆☆
The Hunger Games has become a cultural phenomenon over the past seven years with Suzanne Collins' alternative visions of gender and class inspiring audiences both young and old. Some fans can even be seen adorned in 'Down with the Capitol' t-shirts. However, with the franchise's penultimate instalment, Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 (2014), Collins' revolutionary-lite rhetoric has become unravelled by the commercially driven decision to split the final novel into two films - ultimately lessening the satirical bite and reverting to the gender archetypes it originally sought to challenge. Francis Lawrence's second foray into Panem initially attempts to dissect the manipulative influence of the media.

Film Review: 'The Homesman'

★★★★☆
Tommy Lee Jones' second directorial effort following the underrated The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (which played at Cannes in 2005), The Homesman (2014) is something of a reverse western, with homesteader Mary Bee Cuddy (a sterling turn from Hilary Swank) and amoral old-timer George Briggs (Jones) heading from west to east with a cargo of three mentally-ill women, played by Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto and Sonja Richter. The characters have been variously defeated by the brutal reality of frontier life, with loneliness, diphtheria, child mortality and marital abuse having driven these women to the point of desperation and beyond into the realms of madness.

Film Review: 'Get On Up'

★★★★☆
Chadwick Boseman's portrayal of James Brown, in Tate Taylor’s candid biopic, Get On Up (2014), is a bold, brash and innovative rendition of a man who was often perceived as all ego. He was a market-machine of tremendous talent at the forefront of music, making you love him with the fury of a hellfire preacher trying to convert a sinner. He was also a man who never really confronted the horrors of his upbringing, preferring to perpetuate and live by his own myth, remaining a childish, though never innocent, man, who wanted the love of everyone without being capable of giving it back. We meet Brown in 1988, hunched shoulders and showing signs of age.

DVD Review: 'Transformers: Age of Extinction'

★★☆☆☆
One can only hope that the subtitle appended to the latest instalment of Michael Bay's colossal computer-generated Rock' Em Sock 'Em franchise actually heralds its true ending. With Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) Michael Bay has delivered another deafeningly loud and schlocky picture, full of the explosions and glib dialogue that have bonded him and his audience in a sort of love-hate relationship for almost twenty years. The film delivers on its promises of high-energy action sequences and the return of some of the most popular Transformers, but are those things enough to push this episode, or the wider series to new heights?

Blu-ray Review: 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre'

★★★★★
Four decades after its release, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) still justifies its place in the pantheon of all-time horror greats. Fully ingrained in the psyche of genre fans via the many manifestations of real world-inspired horror directly indebted to it, the film's influence still ripples through pop culture to this day (see the putrid domicile of Rust and Marty's nemeses in True Detective). It remains a gruelling and unrelenting slice of shocking vérité terror, its power to disturb not diluted one bit (even director Tobe Hooper was fully cognisant of the challenges in trying to replicate the lighting in a bottle greatness of the original, altering the tone considerably with his 1986 follow-up).

DVD Review: 'How to Train Your Dragon 2'

★★★☆☆
After 2010's How to Train Your Dragon proved to be one of the more entertaining entries in the previous decade's proliferation of animated features - as well as arguably one of the few genuinely decent DreamWorks Animation products - its inevitable sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) sees the company exploring the universe it so successfully created first time round. Continuing to be loosely based on the book series of the same name by Cressida Cowell, this second instalment in a planned trilogy sees director Dean DeBlois going solo this time round, proving to be a filmmaker worthy of crafting engaging narratives wrapped around pertinent and universal themes.

DVD Review: 'Grand Central'

★★★☆☆
Both the romance and the electrons are charged in Rebecca Zlotowski's Grand Central (2013), a French melodrama about illicit love in the shadow of a nuclear power plant. Tahar Rahim is Gary, a working class nomad who finds a job decontaminating aging cores at a rural power station. It’s better paid than normal, but that's because of the danger of radioactive contamination, which reveals itself to be less a threat than an everyday occurrence. He bonds with a local downtrodden traveller community with his boss, Toni (Denis Menochet), and Toni's fiancée Karole, played by Léa Seydoux, more guarded but just as sultry as she was in Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013).

Blu-ray Review: 'The Day the Earth Caught Fire'

★★★☆☆
It's amazing how in the space of fifty odd years public taste and opinions have changed. Take for instance the classic Science Fiction thriller The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) - newly restored and released on DVD and Blu-ray to coincide with the BFI's Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder season (running from October through to December). Directed by Val Guest, the filmmaker responsible for Hammer's groundbreaking 1950s Quatermass films, and starring Edward Judd and Janet Munro, The Day the Earth Caught Fire brings a gritty tabloid realism to a terrifying subject that was very much in the public consciousness at the time of its release.

DVD Review: '22 Jump Street'

★★★★☆
That 21 Jump Street (2012) - a cinematic reboot of a vaguely remembered, Johnny Depp-starring eighties TV crime show - was met with the amount of praise that it was is testament to directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. It cannily mixed their particularly madcap sense of humour with a wealth of successful ingredients, not least a knowing wink. Fresh off the back of their critically and financially adored animation spectacular The Lego Movie (2014), the duo return for 22 Jump Street (2014), which picks up exactly where the original film finished and goes bigger, brasher, and delivers a hilarious and entirely satisfying follow-up.

Special Feature: Comic-Con's cosplayed cars

The word cosplay derives from two words - 'costume' and 'play' - and it's a word that is uttered around the world by every geek worth his salt (or perhaps, melange) when the annual San Diego Comic-Con begins. It's a light-hearted way to meet people with similar interests and sporting a cosplay costume can give a shy individual an excited confidence that is undeniably contagious. The lengths that some people have historically gone to has been quite something to behold, with the planning required, and the exacting attention to detail. Some costumes, such as this Blood Angel Space Marine, require serious commitment. As well as putting on superhero costumes or dressing up like a supernatural being, getting ready for cosplay can also include using props such as cars.

Weekly Round-up: 'The Imitation Game'

Welcome to our weekly round-up of the best DVD, Blu-ray and cinema releases over the past seven days in the UK. We'll strive to keep you updated on upcoming festivals, interesting events and the latest trailers from across the web. Come back each Friday to see what our talented team of writers are recommending and catch up on all the week's new releases. As an independent film site, our aim is to reach out to the largest audience possible, whilst also highlighting and championing some of the more diverse and less known new releases from the world of cinema. We can only do this with your help and support, so please feel free to add your comments and let us know what films and events you'd like to hear more about. For regular updates, or to continue the conversation, be sure to follow us on Twitter.

Film Review: 'We Are the Giant'

★★☆☆☆
There has been an influx of documentaries recently that have focused on the so called "Arab Spring". Some, like Wiam Bedirxan & Ossama Mohammed's Silvered Water, Syria Self­-Portrait (2014), Jehane Noujaim's The Square (2013) and Talal Derki's The Return To Homs (2013), offer no niceties or homilies. Rather, they are a constantly evolving narrative with itself that does not exclude but immerses the audience into for what for many is a unknown political reality, and for others a nightmare from which they seek escape. The latest documentary to join these fantastic cinematic milestones is Greg Barker's We Are the Giant (2014), and it is a strange kettle of fish indeed.

Film Review: 'Life Itself'

★★★☆☆
When Gene Siskel - Roger Ebert's partner on the pioneering movie review show Siskel & Ebert at the Movies - was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour in 1998, he decided to only tell his close family, keeping his friends and colleagues in the dark as to the severity of the illness. When Siskel died in 1999, Ebert vowed to live in the open and, when he himself became seriously ill, he reached outward, sharing his thoughts, hopes and fears with his readership in great detail. For Ebert, life itself took on a new meaning under the encroaching shadow of death. While Steve James' Life Itself (2014) is ostensibly a documentary about Ebert's life, it ultimately becomes a film about what we live for.

Film Review: 'The Imitation Game'

★★★☆☆
The decision to cast Benedict Cumberbatch as unsung war hero Alan Turing in Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game (2014) was a canny, albeit obvious move. No doubt Cumberbatch's performance as the shrewd and logical detective in BBC's Sherlock was a deciding factor. Within Cumberbatch's performance, he presents Turing as if his mind never became comfortable with the fact it had to be confined to a body, all awkward shuffles and ticks. It's this career-best turn from Cumberbatch which helps to raise the game of this highly entertaining but technically functional British biopic. The story, based on Andrew Hodges' comprehensive biography, darts across three distinct periods in Turing's life.

DocHouse: 'Emptying the Skies' review

★★★☆☆
Gabriela Cowperthwaite's expose of Orca captivity, Blackfish (2013), enjoyed enormous success, rallying people to its cause. Though pitched on a comparatively tiny scale, Douglas and Roger Kass' Emptying the Skies (2013), which DocHouse are screening tonight at Rich Mix Cinema, deals with similar subject matter. Based on novelist Jonathan Franzen's eponymous article of for The New Yorker, the film brings to light the mass killing of migratory birds as they traverse the Mediterranean on their unavoidable annual flightpath. Whilst lacking the polish and punch of its illustrious forbears, Emptying the Skies manages to presents cruelty in black and white, whilst illuminating the grey areas of activism.

Film Review: 'The Drop'

★★★☆☆
The Drop (2014), Michael R. Roskam’s respectable follow-up to 2011’s Bullhead, finds the Belgian director on different shores, working from a Dennis Lehane script and aiming to recreate the dramatic richness of James Gray’s auteurist Brooklyn crime dramas. A familiar story of families, criminality and blue collar angst, it’s a meaty, entertaining work featuring fine performances from its talented cast, including the final screen bow of the late James Gandolfini. For cinephiles however, the real interest lies in the questions it inadvertently raises about the increasing influence of the heavyweight crime-writers in the new century; their creative dominance in certain pictures becoming akin to its own form of auteurism.

LKFF 2014: 'Poetry' review

★★★★☆
The intensity of language and the beauty it conveys are visually explored in Chang-dong Lee's Poetry (2010), a film which manages to fashion the vividly imaginative nature of a poem, against a narrative saturated with themes of human misery and which includes a breathtaking performance from one of South Korea's most revered actresses – Jeong-hie Yun. Mija (Jeong-hie Yun) is an elderly lady with an infectiously joyful energy that negates the climate of misery which currently dictates her life. She cares for a disabled older man in order to cobble together enough money to sustain herself and her dim witted grandson (whom she is the sole guardian of).

LKFF 2014: 'Pieta' review

★★★★☆
Set in the Cheonggyecheon district of Seoul City, acclaimed South Korean director Kim Ki-duk's 18th film, Pieta (2012), tells the story of Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin), a loan shark debt collector, who - when his clients can't or won't pay - resorts to crippling them in one way or another and cashing the insurance claims they've already signed up to ("Death messes up the claim", he tells a man). He's a pitiless, towering figure, who doesn't even have enough humanity to be properly sadistic, remaining coldly unsympathetic throughout. Yet, Kang-do's own private life is as blank, cold and tragically empty as his facial expression.

LKFF 2014: 'One on One' review

★★☆☆☆
Kim Ki-duk has long been considered by Western audiences as l'enfant terrible of Korean cinema, poetically plumbing the depths of human nature's darkest recesses throughout his career. His films have often been built on contorted foundations of sex and violence and, in recent output such as his Golden Lion-winning Pieta (2012), allegorically imbued with wider discourse. One on One (2014), is the centrepiece of the London Korean Film Festival's  director's strand and sees Kim forgo subtly in favour of explicit engagement with his country's social dynamics. However, despite boasting some intriguing ideas this is far from the Korean provocateur at the height of his gruesome powers.

LKFF 2014: 'Moebius' review

★★★★☆
There aren't many filmmakers who would want - let alone have the capacity - to make audiences gag and guffaw in equal measure. Even fewer would attempt to elicit such reactions simultaneously. A smaller number still would envisage doing so with a blackly comic tale of castration, cannibalism, masturbation and incest. Fortunately, for those that way inclined, there is always Korea's inimitable Kim Ki-duk, one of arthouse cinema's most gloriously twisted provocateurs. Amongst the preoccupations that have filled his oeuvre, the duality of sex and violence has been a central one, and it rears its head in typically excruciating fashion in his latest nightmare, Moebius (2013), in cinemas this week.

LKFF 2014: 'Kundo: The Age of Rampant' review

★★★☆☆
The ninth edition of the London Korean Film Festival launched on Thursday to a packed house at the Odeon West End with a gala screening of Yun Jing-bin's spirited period romp, Kundo: The Age of Rampant (2014). Best known for his viscous crime thrillers, the director's foray into historical action epic calls to mind the energy of Quentin Tarantino, streaking this Korean Robin Hood-esque fable with the essence, style, and many of the genre conventions of a spaghetti western. The results are varied, yet Yun's forth feature has stormed the Korean box office and thanks to some enjoyable lead performances and a healthy dose of of high-octane combat it makes for diverting fun.

LKFF 2014: 'Hill of Freedom' review

★★★☆☆
At just over an hour in length, the compunction to describe Hong Sang-soo's latest offering as slight would be understandable, but for those that have seen Hill of Freedom (Jayuui Eondeok, 2014) it's also an accurate one-word review. Hong is known for his light, whimsical, and meandering narratives, but even in comparison to other such films this one feels especially fluffy. That is not to say that it is bad, however, as while the direction is fairly casual, there are a lot of laughs to be had during this gently awkward romantic quest of a Japanese teacher to seek out his lost love in Korea. That teacher is Mori (Ryô Kase) who arrives back in the country two years after a spell working at a foreign language institute.

LKFF 2014: 'A Hard Day' review

★★★☆☆
Some guys just can't catch a break. Homicide detective Ko Gun-soo (Lee Sun-kyun) is the man having a run of luck usually reserved for the likes of 24's Jack Bauer in Kim Seong-hun's sophomore feature, A Hard Day (2014). Having played at Cannes, Toronto and London earlier in the year, this genre flick is a perfectly enjoyable, if ultimately unremarkable, entry in the London Korean Film Festival's line-up. After the slapstick of his debut, 2006's How the Lack of Love Affects Two Men, Kim once again injects his movie with absurd humour, this time strewn throughout a cop drama brimming with crunching action. Ko is a few tipples over the limit when he gets a message calling him away from his mother's funeral.

LKFF 2014: 'Haemoo' review

★★★☆☆
Not content with dominating the rails with his recently lauded ferroquine sci-fi allegory Snowpiercer (2013), Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho has also sets his sights on the high-seas with nautical adventure Haemoo (2014). Co-written by Bong and director Shim Sung-bo, it showcases precisely why certain Korean directors are currently the toast of Hollywood, playfully lacing a sombre trawler-set stage play adaptation with social context, interesting characters and that off-kilter humour so redolent in the country's genre fare. Whilst not uniformly successful in its execution, it provides ample excitement and never fails to keep the audience off balance with unexpected plot lurches amidst perilous sea fog.

LKFF 2014: 'A Girl At My Door' review

★★★★☆
In July Jung’s impressive directorial debut, produced by critically acclaimed film-maker Lee Chang-dong, a city cop relocated to the sticks befriends a moppet with a crummy home life. Starring Bae Doo-na and Kim Sae-ron, A Girl at My Door (2014) is at once a plangent character study and transgressive drama. For the child at the centre of the narrative exhibits manipulative tendencies of a sociopathic leaning. There’s been a scandal. Only, we don’t quite know what’s gone on. Some might well accuse the writer-director of obfuscation or lacking clarity in the storytelling. However, seen as a bold creative choice, it has thematic weight and a significant bearing on how you read the ending.

Special Feature: 'Croupier' and gambling on film

Lots of moviegoers have soft spots for cinematic scuzz. Perhaps it's the inertia felt by some audience members when confronted by modern Hollywood and its sea of green-screen, but many are willing to overlook myriad flaws in exchange for a touch of grime. In the case of casino flicks, there seems to be a paucity of pulpy filth. Where, in the modern gambling movie, is the sweaty desperation of James Caan in The Gambler (1974) or the tobacco-drenched intensity of The Cincinnati Kid? The spotlessness of the Monte Carlo poker tournament in Casino Royale (2006) seems to have set the benchmark in recent years and there's the potential that it will be a fair while before grunge manages to find its way back into the casino picture.
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