Happy Christmas to all our readers and welcome to our Christmas Bumper, combining weekly editions Nos: 876, 877, 878, 879. Thursday December 19, 2013. Our next edition (No 880): Thursday, January 16, 2014.

Our Top Dozen Films of 2013: Andrew & Louise list their favourites.

The Railway Man - behind the scenes:
It's hard to make any film but The Railway Man was particularly hard, writes Frank Cottrell Boyce, who co-wrote the screenplay with Andy Paterson (from Eric Lomax's memoir). It was hard to write the script - to find the balance between the darkness of its heart and the light of its conclusion. This UK/Australian co-production, directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, is a film of lasting value - and a great exploration of the human condition at its worst and also at its best.

NEWS: Gossip-free zone
* Byron Kennedy Award to Cinematographers Society;
* Peter O'Toole dies aged 81 - Andrew L. Urban pays tribute;

BOX OFFICE: Reports & charts every Monday & Thursday (after 4pm)

Win one of 25 double inseason passes to Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Chris Pine, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner, courtesy Paramount Pictures. ©2013 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved. In cinemas January 19.

Win one of 10 DVD prize packs comprising Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, starring Lily Collins, Gambit, starring Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, The English Teacher, starring Julianne Moore, Greg Kinnear and Imogene, starring Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Matt Dillon, courtesy Roadshow Entertainment. Available to rent and own on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download between December 4 and December 18.

Movies opening December 19:
(US, 2013) Dir: Adam McKay. Stars Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate. "... this Anchorman sequel gift wraps plenty of crazy ideas, slapstick and occasional hilarity. It soars when it's hot and bums out when it's not," says Louise. "It's not really my kind of comedy, but I do admire the risky inventions and daring ideas - even if they don't all work," says Andrew.

Movies opening December 26:
(UK/Aust, 2013) Dir: Jonathan Teplitzky. Stars Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgaard, Hiroyuki Sanada. "Teplitzky gives us everything that cinema can deliver in telling [this story]: lights, camera, action - and music, indeed. David Hirschfelder's superb score is emotive, haunting and perfectly fitting, while Martin Connor's edit is remarkable for its strong storytelling in a non-linear fashion. We are always emotionally involved, but never feel manipulated," says Andrew. "... profoundly moving drama in which the unspeakable echoes of the past reverberate to such an extent they cannot help but impact on the present and the future," says Louise.

Movie reviews:
(NZ/US, 2013) Dir: Peter Jackson. Stars Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Bendict Cumberbatch, Andy Serkis. "With its breathtaking production design and astonishing reality, Peter Jackson's second in the Hobbit trilogy offers more ballast this time with spectacular highlights, namely the extended sequence featuring the gigantic fire-breathing dragon Smaug ... (but) the film feels like overkill - there is too much going on and too many characters vying for our attention all at once," says Louise; "The attention to detail is extraordinary, and the filmmaking techniques are all excellent, yet I find myself outside the picture looking in throughout the film, analysing it instead of believing it," says Andrew.

Movie reviews:
(UK, 2013) Dir: Stephen Frears. Stars Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Michelle Fairley. "Frears uses cinematic tools to convey emotions, memories and the past, with great skill. The screenplay takes us across hurdles and impassible walls, adding to the tension," says Andrew. "A substantial drama with comic elements that makes you cry when it counts and laugh when you least expect it," says Louise.

Movie reviews:
(US, 2013) Dir: Ben Stiller. Stars Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Patton Oswalt, Shirley MacLaine. "It's a shame the film isn't as inspired as the Sean Penn casting; it fizzles to a dull thud, with little to engage us except for the snazzy production design with its effective use of word-messages," says Louise. "... the harshest thing I can say about the film is that it's boring," says Andrew.

Movie review:
(US, 2013) Dir: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee. Voices of Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Ciaran Hinds. "Destined to be the family hit of the Christmas season, Frozen has all the elements to make it an outright winner. Visually gorgeous in 3D with its winter wonderland setting, ice palaces and trees dripping with crystal icicles ..." says Louise.

Movie reviews:
(US, 2013) Dir: Destin Cretton. Stars Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr, Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Stephanie Beatriz. "While the topics are serious and the film heartfelt as it provides a genuine insight into troubled lives, there is a surprising lightness about much of the experience, making the bitter-sweet journey all the more rewarding," says Louise. "It's often heartbreaking, but ultimately the film takes us to a truthful yet positive conclusion," says Andrew.

Movie opening January 2, 2014:
(US, 2013) Dir: John Wells. Stars Meryl Streep, Dermot Mulroney, Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis. " ..an emotional blockbuster in which characters are assassinated, homes destroyed and (personal) demons run rampant, breathing fire. Of course, in the wrong hands, the material would be rather soapy and the lather would be all we saw . Our first sight of [Streep] is shocking, but then her behaviour catches up," says Andrew. "Drug and alcohol addiction, infidelity, incest and a never-ending coil of recriminations are the triggers . we feel as though we are eavesdropping in what feels more like a battlefield than a family home," says Louise.

Movies opening January 9, 2014:
(US/UK/Australia, 2013) Dir: John Lee Hancock. Stars Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman. "Take a tissue and be prepared for a heartfelt experience; the true story of author P.L. Travers and the rocky road travelled for her famous character Mary Poppins to reach the screen is not only filled with surprises, but delivers an emotional tour de force . As for the winning combination of Emma Thompson as Mrs Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, nothing could be finer or more enjoyable," says Louise.

Movie reviews:
(US/Germany, 2013) Dir: Brian Percival. Stars Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson. :.. a masterful tale about life, made all the more effective by the fact that it is narrated by the supercilious voice of death," says Louise. "For all its splendid veracity to look at, authentically replicating wartime provincial Germany, The Book Thief struggles to find matching authenticity in the story and the characters," says Andrew.

AACTA International Awards:
They are called the International Awards, but AACTA's nominees for non-Australian films are all American - although a few of the actors and directors aren't.

[Coming in February, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, stars Idris Elba, Naomie Harris. "There are few true heroes in our lifetime and Nelson Mandela's name sits on the top of my list... It's a powerhouse of a film: informative, powerful, moving, involving and inspirational with Idris Elba outstanding in the title role," says Louise; "Nelson Mandela's status as a global hero, the most revered freedom fighter alive (at time of writing), is probably more suited to a mini series, where the filmmakers can do justice to this man, his story and the times. Even 145 minutes isn't enough," says Andrew.]
Calendar of films releasing in January 2014

Her, stars Joaquin Phonix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Scarlett Johansson;
Grudge Match, stars Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger
12 Years A Slave, stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt;
Nebraska, stars Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb;
Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit, stars Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley;
The Wolf of Wall Street, stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConnaughey;

At a glance:
TOP 20
Short and sweet (or not) opinions on the most popular current releases. An easy reference for choosing which movie to see tonight or tomorrow or right now! (Occasionally we also slip in a few of the editors' favourites if they don't make the top 20)

Stars Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder. "There is a vision behind the film and while it isn't escapism in any ordinary sense, it is a lurching ride into the dark place of the human condition, executed with verve," says Andrew.

Stars Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård, Steve Coogan, Joanna Vanderham, Onata Aprile. "An involving work and one that makes us care selectively about its characters," says Louise.

Stars Amy Semietz, Shane Carruth. "While there are many memorable moments, in the end the vague nature of the exposition and lack of resolution frustrated me," says Louise.

Stars Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Lena Heady. "Grand scale fantasy whose theatrical spectacle, yearning romance and tongue-in-cheek sense of humour make it a winner," says Louise.

Stars Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Liam Hemsworth, Amber Heard, Embeth Davidtz. "Aussie director Robert Luketic's clever fingerprints are all over the film, with its dictating pace, well maintained tension - but above all, his flair for casting," says Andrew.

Stars Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich. "The basic formula of the freefall of action, laughs and casting class of the 2010 first film is the same, but everything is less spontaneous, a little more forced and a tad overcooked," says Louise.

Stars Cameron Wallaby, Joseph Pedley, David Gulpilil, Rohanna Angus, Dean Daly-Jones. "The film's visuals are considerably more effective than its narrative," says Louise.

Stars Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Ed Helms, Jason Sudeikis. "The irony of this low-brow comedy is that it is not the intended crude jokes and bad language for easy laughs that works best in its favour, but the against-type casting," says Louise.

Competition winners:
To win a copy courtesy Universal Sony Home Entertainment, we asked: With whom would you choose to live on Elysium to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle and why? George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and spouses rated highly. Phil Burns (VIC) says: I love my wife so much I can't imagine being with anyone else. She deserves a luxurious lifestyle that I have been unable to provide her with.

Every Australian film we have ever reviewed (film / DVD / video release), or have reported from the set, or featured in any way, is listed here, going back to films made even before the launch of Urban Cinefile, such as The Piano, Romper Stomper, Muriel's Wedding, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Davida Allen's Feeling Sexy (pic) and dozens more. Over 500 films.

Shortly after its first anniversary, the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, welcomed Andrew L. Urban and Louise Keller for 24 hours of indulgence. Unlike others in the famous chain, with their English gentleman's club ambiance, this one is ultra modern and ultra high... the highest hotel in the world.

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