Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, who gave us oil-rush epic There Will Be Blood, conjures up another superb American period drama.
Postwar optimism and material upswing in the early 1950s have bypassed demobbed, mentally damaged sailor Freddie Quell (Phoenix).
After a chance meeting on a yacht, he’s taken under the wing of Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), the persuasive leader of psychobabbling self-help organisation The Cause.
Phoenix is spellbinding as the tongue-tied, short-fused alcoholic who still has enough charisma to explain the mentor-pupil relationship that drives the story and causes friction with Dodd’s strait-laced wife (Adams).
The Scientology-style movement develops into a cult and questions are asked of the self-righteous Dood by sceptics, the police and even his own son.
Despite the final act being rather unsatisfying, it remains an important character-driven piece of film-making.
> Hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Rises and Looper, Joseph Gordon-Levitt cements his star credentials in PREMIUM RUSH (12: Sony), a fresh, fast-paced and relatively special effects-free thriller.
He shows you don’t have to be crazy to be one of New York’s 1,500 bicycle messengers, although it helps.
His super-cyclist Wilee needs nerves of steel as he delivers packages around the city while dodging cars and irate drivers. But a cop needing cash for a gambling debt will stop at nothing to nobble Wilee and get his hands on the valuable parcel the daredevil has been assigned to deliver.
Fun and believable, the film boasts danger, a terrific bad guy and a solid cast, with Gordon-Levitt doing many of his own stunts. In fact, he suffered an injury needing 31 stitches in the process (check out the end credits).
> Also stick with the closing credits for THE SAPPHIRES (PG: Entertainment One), which include a moving tribute to the real-life ‘dream girls’ featured in this engaging comedy drama.
Four Aboriginal women overcome major obstacles in 1968 to pursue their ambitions. The quartet are spotted in a dust bowl Australian town by talent show compere and chancer Dave (Chris O’Dowd), who agrees to be their manager and take them on a tour of Vietnam to entertain US marines with classic soul music.
Matters of racism and social revolution are navigated to provide a feel-good movie that sparkles with heartfelt humour, memorable stage turns and a hit-packed Stax/Motown soundtrack, all anchored by a sarcastic O’Dowd.
The film is inspired by a 2005 play that author Tony Briggs wrote about his mother and three aunts.
> Precocious six-year-old Hushpuppy lives in a New Orleans swamp called The Bathtub with her alcoholic dad and a group of drunks and drop-outs in BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (12: Studio Canal). When a storm threatens, she must steer Pop to safety in a boat made from the back of a pick-up truck.