Film reviews: While We’re Young | The Duff | Altman

OUR film critic Alistair Harkness reviews the latest releases

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star in While We're Young. Picture: Contributed
Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star in While We're Young. Picture: Contributed

While We’re Young (15)

Star rating: ****

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Frances Ha director Noah Baumbach’s latest comedy casts Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as a middle-aged couple who find themselves alternately energised and terrified by a new friendship with a hipster 20-something couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Sey). The film slyly skewers both generations, and even though its sympathies clearly lie with Stiller and Watts, charges of finger-wagging generational bias are offset by Stiller’s innate unlikeability. Even when he’s right, he makes it hard to be on his side, something the acute and extremely witty script has a lot of fun playing around with.

The Duff (12A)

Star rating: ***

Taking playful aim at John Hughes’ classics The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink, this high school teen comedy mashes up the plots of both, but reconfigures the details to avoid completely betraying its female protagonist. Mae Whitman (below, with Bella Thorne) takes the lead as Bianca, the titular acronym-inspiring Designated Ugly Fat Friend, whose realisation that people think of her as the gateway to her supposedly hotter pals leads to a cautious deal with her jock neighbour Wesley (Robbie Amell): she’ll help him get his grades up in return for helping her get her social life back on track. Much funnier and more enlightened than it sounds.

The Water Diviner (15)

Star rating: ***

Russell Crowe stars in and directs this First World War-era drama about an Outback farmer and water diviner who travels to Gallipoli in the aftermath of the Great War to find the bodies of his three sons who never came home. A subplot in which Crowe’s character falls for an Istanbul widow (played by former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko) ensures the film is a curious mix of slushy romance and war-is-hell realism, but Crowe’s efforts to put across the Turkish perspective on Gallipoli are welcome, and he’s also good at conveying the silent shame of a father who betrayed his own instincts and let his sons go off to war.

The Dark Horse (15)

Star rating: ****

A hard-hitting New Zealand drama about a bi-polar former chess prodigy (Cliff Curtis) who becomes an inspiration for at-risk youth by teaching them how to play chess. Based on a real-life story, the film recalls Once Were Warriors in its willingness to explore the damaging gang culture that exists on the fringes of Maori culture.

Altman (15)

Star rating: **

This documentary about the director of M*A*S*H*, Nashville and Short Cuts is a depressingly conventional exploration of American cinema’s most fearless rebel. His most famous collaborators are all on hand to offer insipid sound-bite definitions of the adjectival meaning of “Altmanesque” – a term that, ironically, could never be applied to this film.

Blind (15)

Star rating: ***

Intriguing Oslo-set drama starring Ellen Dorrit Petersen as a newly blind novelist who projects her frustrations, fears and sexual desires on to the characters of a quasi-autobiographical novel she’s writing in order to process what she’s going through. The film dramatises the writing of her novel as she’s actually creating it, blurring the line between fiction and reality in sometimes confusingly comic ways to better illustrate the disorientation she now feels.