Shortcuts: the latest movie reviews

(132 minutes) MA

You have to hand it to Ridley Scott, knight of the realm and master of his craft. And with J. Paul Getty, he has a suitably complex character to dissect - oil-rich miser and art-lover, the ageing emperor. His grandson, Paul, was 16 when abducted in Italy and the old man (Christopher Plummer) famously refused to pay the $17million ransom. The movie is about how Paul's mother Abigail Harris (played by the excellent Michelle Williams) conspires to force the old man to pay up. Mark Wahlberg is Fletcher Chase, an ex-CIA fixer sent by J. Paul to find out if the kidnapping is genuine. General release


Words, words, words. The observation that friends and enemies alike made about Winston Churchill. This Churchill (played by Gary Oldman) is a farting, tipsy human: full of self-doubt in private with Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas, drawn tight as a drum) but raging with belligerent confidence in the House of Commons. He knows he has become prime minister because no one else wants the job and, true to his assessment that fascism is worse than communism, knows any peace with Hitler won't be worth a fig. Winston believes in war, even though he's not always very good at it. General release


Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) has a thick Eastern European accent that he pretends is from New Orleans and his hold on reality is precarious. But Tommy's determination to succeed in Hollywood is kind of loveable. He will do anything to get noticed, which is why he ends up shouting Hamlet's soliloquy at an increasingly steamed Judd Apatow (the reigning king of comedy in Hollywood) in a restaurant. At the end we meet the real Wiseau, whose 2003 film The Room has become a cult hit and a by-word for terrible. General release


From Blue Sky Studios, the in-house animation unit at 20th Century Fox, Ferdinand is a nod towards the Disney classic, but everything is bigger, brighter, louder and faster. Voiced by John Cena, Ferdinand the bull prefers to smell the flowers rather than run around butting heads with the other young bulls. None of the story is surprising, but it has charm and humour and lots of colour and movement for the tots. General release

(103 minutes) PG

The first feature released under the new Studio Ponoc banner, animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi's Mary and the Witch's Flower is very much the kind of project Hayao Miyazaki and the famous Studio Ghibli is known for. The plot is derived from a British children's book, The Little Broomstick, first published in 1971. Mary chases a cat into the nearby woods, where she stumbles upon the magical blue flower of the title - which somehow leads to her being whisked away on a flying broomstick to Endor College, a school for witches that's also a scientific laboratory. None of this makes much rational sense, but Yonebayashi's willingness to leave questions unanswered is a strength rather than a flaw. Selected release

The Killing of a Sacred Deer


Steven Spielberg's film concentrates on one of The Washington Post's owner and publisher Katharine Graham's most courageous acts. Played by Meryl Streep, above, Graham backs editor Ben Bradlee in his determination to publish excerpts from the Pentagon Papers. What happens next is a rehearsal for The Post's Watergate expose and it's all the more tantalising because we have the advantage of hindsight - unlike the main players. As Bradlee, we have Tom Hanks, a safe if unimaginative choice. The typical Hanks hero is decent, competent, wise and reluctant. Bradlee, on the other hand, is said to have loved the limelight, treating his newsroom as both audience and orchestra. Hanks just about gets there. General release


While The Last Jedi might not receive top marks for originality, the eighth official entry in the Star Wars saga is still one of the most entertaining blockbusters of the year. Most central is the long-delayed encounter between Luke, now living as a hermit, and the young heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley), who sees herself as his potential successor. Not far from the surface are writer-director Rian Johnson's own anxieties about stepping into series creator George Lucas' shoes, yet he can boast certain talents Lucas has always lacked, including a flair for language. General release

(96 minutes) M

Swinging Safari, starring Guy Pearce and Kylie Minogue, is an autobiographical effort set during director Stephen Elliott's (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) 1970s childhood. His alter ego, 14 year-old Jeff Marsh (Atticus Robb) lives in a sleepy Gold Coast town, where his possession of a movie camera ensures his popularity with the other kids. The trouble starts when things get half-serious. The half bit is the problem. Because Elliott isn't remotely interested in the concept of subtlety, he lacks control over the film's tone and things frequently switch all too suddenly from merely cynical to the totally cringe-worthy. General release


In this latest Marvel film, New Zealand director Taika Waititi succeeds in putting his stamp on the material about half the time. The film chronicles the adventures of Chris Hemsworth's Thor, who is locked in perpetual rivalry with his younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). General release


The Irish writer Martin McDonagh is best-known for his blackly comic plays, but for a while he's been pursuing a parallel career as a filmmaker. The billboards in his latest film are on a remote road near the home of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), whose teenage daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton) was murdered seven months before the story starts. Mildred rents the billboards for a year, using them to spell out a blunt message about her desire to see the killer hunted down. The premise sets the tone for a series of confrontations between the implacable Mildred and the generally disapproving townsfolk, including her volatile ex-husband (John Hawkes), the weary town sheriff (Woody Harrelson) and the slow-witted, racist sheriff's deputy Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell). General release

This story Shortcuts: the latest movie reviews first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.