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BRIDGE OF SPIES | 2015 | US | Historical Drama-Thriller Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan. 142 min. Rated 12A.

***Preceded by AGM at 7pm.***

Bridge of Spies is a glorious, glossy, impeccably produced, dialogue-driven espionage drama that spins a complex story of political intrigue and patriotism into timeless Hollywood entertainment, and reunites iconic director Steven Spielberg with contemporary cinema's favourite everyman, Tom Hanks. Most enticingly, though, it represents the big-screen breakthrough of acclaimed British stage actor and star of TV's Wolf Hall, Mark Rylance, and his deeply affecting, award-winning performance (both Oscar and Bafta) as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. Rylance adroitly yet collegially steals the movie from Hanks through his compelling, Zen-like composure in the face of a possible death penalty.

Inspired by real events and beginning in 1957 during the height of the Cold War, the movie focuses on James B Donovan (Hanks), an esteemed insurance lawyer who was part of the prosecution team during the Nuremberg trials. To the dismay of his family, colleagues and many fellow citizens, this man of formidable principle and idealistic American values agrees to legally represent Abel after he’s arrested at the film's outset in a tense but one-sided game of cat and mouse. Later, after protracted negotiations, Abel is offered up as an exchange for a downed American U2 spy-plane pilot captured by the Soviets.

Great entertainment, with a screenplay by British playwright Matt Charman later polished by the Coen Brothers.

"With terrific craftsmanship, pure storytelling gusto and that Midas-touch ability to find grounds for optimism everywhere, Steven Spielberg has dramatised a true-life Cold War spy-swap drama . . . and uncovers decency and moral courage amidst all the Realpolitik."

– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian *****

"Bridge of Spies is, like most of Mr. Spielberg’s films, a consummate entertainment that sweeps you up with pure cinema."

– Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

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RSDAY 26 MAY, 7.30PM

THEEB | 2014 | UAE/Qatar/Jordan | Adventure-Drama | Directed by Naji Abu Nowar. Starring Jacir Eid al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh al-Sweilhiyeen, Hassan Mutlag al-Maraiyeh, Jack Fox. 100 min. Rated 15. In Arabic, with English subtitles.

N ominated earlier this year for a Bafta for Best Foreign Language Film and directed by Oxford-born, Jordanian-bred filmmaker Naji Abu Nowar, Theeb tells an intimate story of betrayal and survival in a wide-open space, while rewriting an especially contentious chapter of movie history.

During World War I, Theeb (Jacir Eid), a young boy in a Bedouin encampment who has had no contact with the outside world, grows curious about the blond-haired, blue-eyed Englishman(Jack Fox) who’s appeared from nowhere with a trunkful of gold.

The story evolves into a spellbinding adventure tale of a young boy forced to grow up and survive in a desert full of bandits and untrustworthy adults. Telling the story entirely from Theeb's point of view, our curiosity matches his, as he heads out to follow his brother and the mysterious British officer. Along the way the film explores the clashes between modernity and decay, brotherhood and legacy, innocence and survival. Events are surprising and gripping , aided by stunning scenery and cinematography and a heart-stopping score. A superb and unusual film.

"The largely non-professional cast are as authentic as the craggy, unforgiving surroundings, and the way the film balances the simplicity of its central rite of passage with a broader outlook on a people caught in the shifting sands of time is a tribute to the filmmakers’ clarity of vision. A truly memorable first feature."

– Trevor Johnston, Time Out London ****

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THE DRESSMAKER | 2015 | Australia | Drama | Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse.  Starring Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Judy Davis. 118 min. Rated 12A.

A glamorous woman returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong. In Andrew Urban’s view from DownUnder:

“It is quickly apparent that this black farce is every bit as scathing and tragic as Muriel's Wedding, whose author and director J. P. Hogan (director Jocelyn Moorhouse's partner) helped write the screenplay based on Rosalie Ham's best-selling book. It's a story of small town hates, lies and betrayals whose victims are many but none so wronged as is Tilly. It's her story: she has a score to settle, and being a clever fashion designer these days, she does it in true female style – with a warring wardrobe. You could say she came (back), she sewed, she conquered. The Dressmaker might have been made by Pedro Almodovar, both for its melodramatic story complete with family secrets and for its wicked tone – as well as some notable excesses (eg Hugo Weaving's fetishist local cop). It is as risky, too, with deaths and disabilities crowding the frame.

"The aforementioned cast as well as the remainder have given their all in weird and wonderful ways, sometimes defying us to even recognise them at first, eg Judy Davis as Tilly's wheelchair-bound mother. Liam Hemsworth himself has the hard task of playing a normal, handsome young man without notable flaws, always a challenge for actors to make a mark, while Kate Winslet has just the right mix of chutzpah and vulnerability to make her Tilly a credible and dynamic character.”

Sew come along and join in the fun.

"The filmmaker’s adaptation of author Rosalie Ham’s much-loved debut novel of the same name embraces its dark humour and runs with it all the way to the morgue."

– Luke Buckmaster, The Guardian ***

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SPOTLIGHT | 2015 | US | Historical Drama | Directed by Tom McCarthy. Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, Billy Crudup. 128 min. Rated 15.

Spotlight is the well-deserved winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Film as well as an Oscar and Bafta for Best Original Screenplay. Director Tom McCarthy wrote the original screenplay along with Josh Singer, uncovering fresh facts in the process. By now the film has won 109 awards out of 125 nominations.

It's 2001, and you won't find a premature tweet or an unsubstantiated blog post in this patiently paced yet thrilling story, when the Boston Globe published a story about a local priest accused of sexually abusing a child. The newspaper’s investigative team, called Spotlight, soon uncovered a number of similar stories, discovering evidence that implicated at least 87 paedophile priests in the Boston area alone. Worse still, their investigation proved that these scandals had been deceitfully covered up by high-ranking members of the Catholic Church. This extraordinary story is dramatised here in a riveting, quietly intelligent way, sticking to the facts and depicting real events and real people, detailing how a small, four-person team managed to expose a major, systemic scandal.

Spotlight is a remarkable, powerful film, utterly engrossing from start to finish, with terrific, nominated performances from the ensemble, including the main cast of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James, as well as understated turns from the supporting cast, particularly Liev Schreiber as the Globe’s new editor, Marty Baron, who as an outsider encouraged the team to dig deeper into the story and created a domino effect around the world.  

"Spotlight’s great strength is in the way it defies being chopped up into component parts – to its core this is an ensemble movie, with characters who harmonise like the ingredients in a satisfying meal . . . . It leaves your skin prickling – both at the despicable business of secret-keeping, and the courage and resourcefulness that rivetingly overturns it."

– Robbie Collin, The Telegraph*****

Spotlight is a gripping detective story and a superlative newsroom drama, a solid procedural that tries to confront evil without sensationalism.”

– A.O. Scott, The New York Times

A NYT Critics’ Pick

"The film has real insights to offer: the cast powerfully convey the journalists’ horror at realising the abuse stretches back decades or even centuries and also how abuse is as much about power as sex and that homosexuality is beside the point: the abusers have evolved the choice of boy victims because boys are reticent, more likely to swallow their shame and not speak out. A powerful story."

– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian****

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SON OF SAUL (Saul Fia) | 2015 | Hungary | Holocaust Drama | Directed by László Nemes. Starring Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn. 107 min. Rated 15. In Hungarian, with English subtitles.

Winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film as well as 46 other awards worldwide, including the Grand Prix at Cannes last year, Son of Saul is a searing story of survival amid the brutality of the Auschwitz concentration camp, told in a unique manner – a disturbing film and an astonishing debut for both the director, László Nemes, and his lead actor, Géza Röhrig.

Saul Ausländer is one of the Sonderkommandos, Jews forced to work in the death camps. He becomes determined to rescue the body of a boy he takes to be his son (he cannot be sure) and give it a proper burial from a rabbi. We see Saul in tight close-up for most of the film – the camera is either locked on his strong features and expressionless face or shows what he sees around him. Although most of the action takes places out of frame, there is no doubt as to what horrors are transpiring. They may be out of focus, but the images of naked bodies unceremoniously dragged across the gas chamber floors or the prisoners shot at point-blank range clearly scream their dread. We get a sense of the hopelessness, brutality, inhumane treatment and cruelty as the 'pieces' (faceless bodies) are removed after execution. There is no camaraderie, no civil exchanges. The pungent smell of death is ever present.

Astonishing and unforgettable, this unflinching film reminds us that war is a theatre of horrors. And yet, when Nemes accepted his Oscar earlier this year, he said, “Even in the darkest hours, there might be a voice within us that allows us to remain human.”

"It has sometimes been suggested that there’s little more to be said, in cinematic terms, about the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, that it has been churned over too often. The single-minded power and visceral immediacy of Nemes’s achievement, rightly acclaimed and awarded, prove otherwise."

– Philip Kemp, Sight & Sound

"Nemes’s film has found a way to create a fictional drama with a gaunt, fierce kind of courage – the kind of courage, perhaps, that it takes to watch it."

– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian*****

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HAIL, CAESAR! | 2016 | US | Comedy | Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. Starring Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenreich, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes. 106 min. Rated 12A

A valentine to movie-making, the latest film from the inimitable Coen Brothers is set in 1950s Hollywood, in a studio very obviously based on MGM. The studio is sent into disarray when the hapless lead actor (Clooney) is kidnapped in the middle of filming its latest epic. Josh Brolin excels as the studio head, Tilda Swinton is a vicious Hedda Hopper-like journalist, Frances McDormand (wife of Joel Coen) steals the picture as a knowing film editor, and Scarlett Johanssen plays a wonderfully lower-class Esther Williams look-alike.

According to Sight & Sound (April 2016): “The Coens’ love of classical Hollywood has always been clear in their genre-hopping career path but here they run the gamut within a single movie, taking in Technicolor epic, aquatic spectacular, knockabout western, shore-leave musical and more,all with jauntily askew titles such as Lazy Ol’ Man, Merrily We Dance and indeed Hail, Caesar! But one needn’t know Hollywood lore inside out to enjoy the gags or the bravura set pieces, which range from theological and dialectical roundtables to high-diving and spaghetti westerns. Unlike the Coens’ last picture, Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), or their previous pass at the classical studio system, Barton Fink (1991), the tone here is predominantly warm-hearted, offering perhaps their most gentle ribbings since Raising Arizona (1987).”

A MUST for anyone who loves movies. And don't we all?

"For all its knockabout silliness, the film is a love letter to the movies – or rather, to a dream of the movies."

– Mark Kermode, The Observer ****

"It’s not encumbered with significance, but richly affectionate and very entertaining. Hail, Caesar! is something to be greeted as a gorgeous exercise in style."

– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian****

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