Snowpiercer (MA15+, 126 mins; ★★★★) Read Philippa Hawker’s full review
Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is a dense, strange journey: it’s dystopia on rails, the end of humanity on ice, a spectacular, visceral yet thoughtful vision of a future almost at hand. Bong, a Korean director with a gift for genre surprises and emotional directness, makes his English-language debut in this, the biggest-budget feature he has directed, with an international cast that includes Chris Evans, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton and Song Kang-ho. It’s a science fiction epic based on a French graphic novel he read nearly 10 years ago, and its premise is briskly established during the opening credits: in the early 21st century, a quick fix to combat global warming has gone horribly wrong, and the world has been plunged into a new Ice Age that has destroyed life on the planet. The only survivors are passengers on a huge train, Snowpiercer, that perpetually circles the Earth.
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A failed climate-change experiment has killed all life on the planet except for the lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe.
Charlie’s Country (M, 108 mins; ★★★★☆) Read Paul Byrnes’ full review
In years to come, the work that Rolf de Heer and David Gulpilil have done together in the past dozen years will take an exalted place in the history of Australian film. There is no partnership like it in our cinema. Through The Tracker (2002), Ten Canoes (2006) and now this beautiful, culminating film, Gulpilil and de Heer have created a patchwork of Aboriginal stories, both spiritual and temporal. The Tracker was history, Ten Canoes was pre-history and Charlie’s Country is about the present and it is much more brutal and possibly the best film of the three. When it premiered in Cannes, the screening I saw received a seven-minute standing ovation. Gulpilil picked up a prize for best actor. It is a majestic performance.
Venus In Fur (R18+, 94 mins; ★★★★) Read Jake Wilson’s full review
A man and a woman meet for the first time in a darkened theatre on a rainy night. Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) is author and director of a stage adaptation of the erotic classic Venus In Furs; Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) wants to audition for the lead role. Vanda initially registers as a brassy guttersnipe, but it's not long before she reveals herself as the dominant woman of Thomas' dreams. Likewise, Thomas identifies closely with the play's masochistic hero, though he denies any personal connection with the material. These denials carry an odd additional meaning in the context of the new film by Roman Polanski, but this can hardly be the whole truth, considering Polanski is married to Seigner and that Amalric is a dead ringer for his younger self. But do these facts hint at a confessional subtext, or simply show that he remains an incorrigible tease?
The French Minister (M, 109 mins; ★★★★) Read Philippa Hawker’s full review
Bertrand Tavernier’s screwball comedy is set in the heart of French political life. Its central character is the incorrigible, indefatigable and utterly self-absorbed Foreign Minister (a bravura turn from Thierry L’Hermitte). He hires a hapless young man called Arthur (Raphael Personnaz), an anxious academic, to be his speechwriter, and we follow Arthur’s initiation into the jargon, eccentricities, rituals and realities of foreign affairs. The film is an adaptation by Tavernier of a graphic novel written by an insider who worked as a speechwriter for diplomat turned politician Dominique de Villepin, and it hums with authenticity and energy. Some of its references might be arcane but most are not, and its sly, satirical depiction of power has universal appeal.
Sex Tape (MA15+, 94 mins; ★☆) Read Jake Wilson’s full review
The lure of a nude Cameron Diaz – even discreetly framed – may seem like a sure-fire way to sell tickets. But if the challenge of making a successful adult comedy lies in combining the right proportions of raunch and sentiment, then Sex Tape – directed by Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard) from a script by Kate Angelo, Nicholas Stoller and co-star Jason Segel – shows how that balancing act can go wrong. The problem is that for a supposedly outrageous farce Sex Tape plays things extremely safe. Kasdan may not be a puritan in the usual sense, but he's too temperamentally cautious to make the film openly an exercise in titillation, or to risk pointed satire of either wholesome family values or the porn industry itself.
Words and Pictures (M, 111 mins; ★★★☆) Read Jake Wilson’s full review
Fred Schepisi remains one of Australia's very few world-class filmmakers, and Words and Pictures can be understood as a distillation of his ideas about cinema, his leads representing the two traditions that have most influenced him: Clive Owen as (playing an English teacher and alcoholic failed novelist) an actor in the classical, text-oriented British mould, and Juliette Binoche (as an artist who has turned to teaching because of a debilitating illness) as an emissary from a European art cinema that's both more sensual and more intellectual. The gesture of bringing the pair together suggests words and pictures should be valued equally: while this is a talky film, it's also filled with visual surprises and unobtrusive pleasure in colour and light. It's old-fashioned, but no less stirring for that – especially as Schepisi has spent a lifetime practising what he preaches.
Reaching For the Moon (M, 114 mins; ★★★☆) Read Philippa Hawker’s full review
In the 1950s, American poet Elizabeth Bishop (played by Australian Miranda Otto) left the US for Brazil for what was intended to be a short time; she ended up spending almost 15 years there in a relationship with Lota de Macedo Soares (Gloria Pires). Soares was her opposite in so many ways – a charismatic architect and designer, and a mover and shaker with a monopoly on self-belief. Bishop is one of the key poets of the 20th century, elegant, spare, and devastating, but she struggled for most of her life with alcoholism, and with uncertainty about her work; she was private and self-contained. The strength of Barreto’s film is in its beautifully observed performances. Otto is restrained, self-deprecating, sharply intelligent, while Pires has an extrovert immediacy, clarity and avidity. Reaching For The Moon tells an often painful story, but there is something invigorating about its focus on these singular women.