Best of the box office

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NEW BRAD'S STATUS
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(102 minutes) M

By most standards, Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller), the hero of Brad's Status, has little to complain about. Everything sours when Brad considers the success of his old college buddies. Privately, Brad (Ben Stiller) is consumed by a sense of failure and when he accompanies his son, Troy (Austin Abrams), on a trip to check out prospective colleges, his resentment comes to a head. JW
Selected release

BRIGSBY BEAR
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(97 minutes) M

A first feature by Saturday Night Live director Dave McCary, Brigsby Bear is the story of a man-child named James (Kyle Mooney, who also co-wrote) who's kidnapped as a baby and held prisoner in an underground bunker by his supposed parents Ted and April (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). Finally, in his mid-twenties, James is rescued and restored to his real family. But there are aspects of his old life he can't let go - especially his fascination with the educational TV show Brigsby Bear. James is bewildered to learn that no one but him has seen the show, filmed in secret by Ted as a means of indoctrinating his captive. Despite this, Brigsby remains James' hero - and so he finds a way to continue the story. It's a funny idea with multiple levels of potential meaning. JW
Selected release

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE
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(89 minutes) G

David Soren's computer-animated adaptation of Dav Pilkey's children's books avoids the pitfalls with enough success to amuse all ages. George and Harold (voiced respectively by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) are best friends and budding comic-book artists. The film is presented as one of their fantasies, pushing cartoonish exaggeration as far as it will go. JW
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FINAL PORTRAIT
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(90 minutes) M

Turns out watching paint dry can be fun. In 1964, in Paris, the American writer James Lord sat for a portrait by Alberto Giacometti, the Swiss-Italian artist who was by then world famous, and two years away from his death. Lord wrote a book about the experience of sitting for Giacometti and we can enter Final Portraitthrough his narration. Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) is stooped, his wiry grey hair a bit like one of his own scribbly portraits. The lines in his face make him seem ancient and sad. Do we penetrate Giacometti's greatness? Maybe. Almost. We learn a lot about his process and frustrations, his perfectionism, ambition and egotism; we understand his need for chaos and obliteration, both of himself and the work. Director Stanley Tucci takes us through what is knowable and doesn't pretend to offer more. But that's honest, and the film is rich with humanity, humour and a deep sense of why art is important. PB
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NEW DETROIT
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(143 minutes) MA

Mixing in news footage of the 1967 riots, director Kathryn bigelow's Detroit begins in semi-documentary style with a police raid on a Detroit speakeasy. The club's black patrons are roughly bundled into wagons, outrage mounts and the street demonstrations and looting that which follow leave the neighbourhood devastated. A curfew is imposed and the focus of the action shifts to the downmarket Algiers Motel, where a group of residents, mostly black, are sitting out the curfew. SH
General release

HOME AGAIN
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(97 minutes) M

Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon), 40, is the recently divorced daughter of a famous film director. She moves back into his modestly luxurious bungalow in Hollywood, bringing her two daughters. They'll be closer to their grandmother, the famous actress Lilian Stewart (Candice Bergen), and everything will be great, Alice tells herself. Focusing a comedy on age is tricky, but it's more or less the point here. Hallie Meyers-Shyer gives us three likeable young men vying for Kinney's affections and pretty soon all three are in love with Alice and she loves them. The movie does suffer from self-satisfied cuteness syndrome. Witherspoon still has great comic timing but she seems to sleepwalk here - unlike Candice Bergen, who steals every scene in which she appears. PB
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THE MIDWIFE
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(117 minutes) PG

Claire Breton (Catherine Frot) is an experienced midwife in a unit that is closing down, somewhere outside Paris. Two babies are born in the first scene and it looks like the real thing, which is a quick way to bring us closer to raw emotion. Claire does not wish to sign the new deal that would transfer her to a soulless high-tech big hospital. Her life changes with the unwelcome return of Beatrice Sobolevski (Catherine Deneuve), who was once her stepmother. Beatrice left when Claire was about 14 - and Claire's enmity has only grown since. Writer/director Martin Provost is interested in how a woman with foreshortened expectations and a battered heart might react to a woman who has regrets but a huge gusto for life and limited time. Apart from the superbly controlled performances, the quiet humour and the lovely sense of wisdom that underlies the writing, what I loved about this film was the way Provost draws his characters into moments of transcendence. He creates a moving, grown-up story from the small moments in life. PB
Selected release

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US
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(111 minutes) M

A flimsy romance posing as a survival story, Hany Abu-Assad's The Mountain between Us stars Kate Winslet and Idris Elba as Alex and Ben, strangers who meet at an Idaho airport en route to Denver. She's a photojournalist racing to her own wedding; he's a surgeon needed for an urgent operation. With commercial flights grounded by a storm, they book a charter plane. But it crashes, killing the pilot (Beau Bridges) and leaving them stranded in the snowy Rockies with a golden retriever. That it works to any degree is down to Elba, a rarity in his ability to embody straightforward masculinity. Abu-Assad shows little interest in any kind of realism. The special effects are sometimes poor, especially in a scene involving a computer-animated cougar. JW
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SUBURBICON
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(104 minutes) MA

Suburbicon is a mid-20th-century housing development intended for World War II veterans, modelled after the real-life Levittown, whose racist founder William Levitt made the news recently when he was name-checked admiringly by Donald Trump. When a black family moves into the neighbourhood, outrage ensues. Meanwhile next door, company man Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) plots to murder his wife (Julianne Moore) and replace her with her twin sister (Moore again), all under the nose of his innocent young son (Noah Jupe). What follows is the fusion of farce and film noir you'd expect from the Coen Brothers, with many details bearing their unmistakable stamp: the brutal violence against a pristine backdrop, the talk of assets and liabilities - as storytellers, the Coens always balance the books - and the assumption you can wring multiple laughs from the word "Episcopalian". On the other hand, it's safe to assume the pointed depiction of racism belongs to director George Clooney rather than the Coens, who may well be more progressive than their habitual mockery of leftism would suggest, but who wouldn't be caught dead releasing a "message movie" without veiling the message in several layers of irony. JW
General release

THOR: RAGNAROK
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(130 minutes) PG

In this latest Marvel film, the 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 unscrupulous younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Once we're past the disjointed early scenes, the plot is straightforward. Thor's home planet of Asgard is menaced by the death goddess Hela (Cate Blanchett). Meanwhile, Thor is trapped on the planet Sakaar, where he's forced into gladatorial combat. Waititi has had little chance of shaping an eclectic international cast into the kind of cohesive comic ensemble he typically has at home. JW
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This story Best of the box office first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.