VIDEO: This week’s new films reviewed

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The story behind the rise of website WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

THE FIFTH ESTATE (15)

Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange and Daniel Bruhl as Daniel Berg

Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange and Daniel Bruhl as Daniel Berg

During a pivotal speech in Bill Condon’s contentious film about the rise of WikiLeaks, founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) paraphrases the words of Oscar Wilde as justification for using whistleblowers to shame governments into transparency.

“Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth,” drawls Assange to a hall of potential acolytes.

Whether there is absolute truth in The Fifth Estate is debatable.

Based in part on Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s unflattering book Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange At The World’s Most Dangerous Website, Condon’s film has been denounced by the website, which insists “most of the events depicted never happened”.

There are certainly elements of The Fifth Estate that beggar belief, including the central relationship between Assange and Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl).

On screen, the white-haired Australian founder is depicted as manipulative, self-serving and bullying. He treats everyone, particularly nice guy Daniel, with lip-curling disdain which forces us to question why the two men would continue to work together when one is painted as a monster.

“Remember Daniel, courage is contagious,” Julian instructs his awe-struck protege, who learns to make calls on disposal mobile phones and to always look over his shoulder in case he is being followed.

Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Assange is mesmerising.

The vocal patterns and mannerisms all seem polished to perfection but the cold blackness in his eyes refuses to let us in, even for a second.

The film opens in London, July 2010, in the offices of The Guardian.

Editor Alan Rusbridger (Peter Capaldi), deputy Ian Katz (Dan Stevens) and reporter Nick Davies (David Thewlis) are poised to publish their front page story about the Bradley Manning leaks in tandem with The New York Times and Der Spiegel.

The film rewinds two years to sketch the relationship between Julian and Daniel, who meet at a conference and embark on their quest to expose corruption within the upper echelons of power. Julian demands absolutely loyalty, which puts intolerable strain on Daniel’s relationship with his girlfriend, Birgitta (Carice van Houten).

Meanwhile, Deputy Undersecretary Of State, Sarah Shaw (Laura Linney), becomes increasingly concerned by the power wielded by WikiLeaks.

The Fifth Estate repeatedly sticks the knife into Assange, like when one character tartly quips: “Only someone so obsessed with his own secrets could have come up with a way to publish everyone else’s.”

Cumberbatch’s theatrics are bolstered with solid support and Condon demonstrates directorial brio to realise the virtual world for the cinematic medium.

Every character except for Assange abides by a moral compass through thick and thin, including the British media, painting the world as black and white.

We don’t need WikiLeaks to tell us that’s an illusion.

RATING: 5/10

MACHETE KILLS (15)

Lady Gaga makes her big screen acting debut in Machete Kills and the chameleonic pop vixen is a perfect fit for Robert Rodriguez’s blood-soaked sequel.

Not only is the film festooned with scantily clad femmes in revealing costumes but Kyle Ward’s script repeatedly looks for shock value in every outlandish set-up.

Consequently, one henchman is sucked into the blades of a helicopter by his own intestines and another group of underlings is eviscerated into glistening entrails by the outboard motor of an airborne speedboat.

Anything can, and does, happen in Rodriguez’s anarchic caper, including a ludicrous sci-fi finale recycled from late 1970s James Bond.

Unfortunately, all of the gratuitous bloodshed and high-velocity hijinks are dull and repetitive.

Machete Kills puts the tat in Mex-ploitation, the frankenword coined by writer-director Rodriguez to encapsulate his Latin-flavoured homage to exploitation films of the 1970s and 1980s.

US President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen) grants Mexican superspy Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) citizenship in exchange for hunting down an emotionally unstable terrorist called Marcos Mendez (Demian Bichir), who intends to launch a stolen nuclear missile into the beating heart of Washington DC.

Machete’s assigned handler is a sassy undercover agent, who passes herself off as a busty beauty queen called Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard).

“Try not to be distracted by the cleavage and hairspray. It’s part of the cover,” she coos.

Machete wields his namesake without mercy as he cuts a swathe through Mendez’s henchmen, unmasking the mastermind of the diabolical plot: an arms manufacturer called Luther Voz (Mel Gibson), who has a compelling reason for unleashing “gargantuan, irrevocable anarchy”.

Thankfully, Machete can always rely on his feisty sidekick with an eye patch, Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), and her underground band of brothers for back-up.

Complicating matters, an elusive assassin called La Camaleon (Lady Gaga) and a vengeful brothel madam (Sofia Vergara) are also on Machete’s trail, both intent on disproving the myth that the superspy is impervious to bullets and blades.

Bookended by previews of a third chapter entitled Machete Kills Again... In Space!, Rodriguez’s film outstays its welcome well before Gibson enters the fray as a deranged Blofeld-style villain intent on establishing a new world order.

Trejo barely registers emotion, even rage, as he slices, dices and decapitates the supporting cast while Antonio Banderas and Cuba Gooding Jr enjoy brief cameos.

Jokes fall flat apart from one throwaway flourish: obscuring a sex scene with 3D blurring and asking the audience to Put On Your Glasses via a flashing onscreen caption, even though no one has a pair of plastic specs.

The second hour of Machete Kills also passes in a blur but that’s a result of the audience drifting in and out of bored consciousness rather than visual trickery.

RATING: 4/10

ROMEO AND JULIET (PG)

The big screen swoons to a classic adaptation of Romeo And Juliet for the first time in over 40 years.

Like Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film, Carlo Carlei’s version features actors similar in age to the teenage star-crossed lovers depicted in Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Hailee Steinfeld, who was Oscar nominated in 2011 for True Grit, was 15 when she made the movie, while Douglas Booth was 19.

There’s no denying the beautiful Booth is physically perfect for the role of romantic hero Romeo but he seems a little out of depth.

The facial expression he makes upon spying Juliet for the first time is am-dram territory.

Steinfeld, on the other hand, seems at ease with the dialogue and brings strength to a complex role.

Undoubtedly there will be an outcry from purists regarding Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’s screenplay.

In Booth’s own words: “Eighty per cent of it is the real Shakespeare, and 20 per cent is Julian’s adaptation.”

In the writer’s defence, this is born of practical necessity (else the movie would be over three hours long) as well as a desire to appeal to younger audiences.

You have to wonder if teenage audiences will be moved though.

Romeo (Booth) and Juliet (Steinfeld) are the youngest children of the Montague and Capulet clans, who are sworn enemies. Despite the rivalry, the teenagers fall madly in love.

Their happiness is cut short when Juliet’s brother Tybalt (Gossip Girl’s ever-pouting Ed Westwick) fatally wounds Romeo’s loyal servant, Mercutio (Christian Cooke).

In retaliation, Romeo kills the murderous Capulet and re-ignites the bitter war of words between the two dynasties.

Romeo is banished to Mantua for his actions and Juliet is told that she will marry a respectable young suitor, Paris (Tom Wisdom).

Plunged into despair, Juliet seeks advice from Friar Laurence (Paul Giamatti) so that she and Romeo might be reunited despite the bad blood that flows between their two clans.

As sumptuous as the traditional setting and costumes are, this Romeo & Juliet looks a little quaint in comparison to Baz Luhrmann’s visceral 1996 adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.

The sword fight between Romeo and Tybalt lacks tension or drama, a feeling that runs throughout the entire film and leaves you emotionally indifferent.

Tears should be shed at the climactic moment the two lovers perish, but as stunning as it looks, their farewell is a damp squib.

Gung-ho performances from veteran actors including Giamatti, Damian Lewis as Lord Capulet and Lesley Manville as Nurse sadly can’t spark the film back to life.

Romeo And Juliet is supposedly one of Shakespeare’s “black” plays which always turns a profit, but on this occasion, that remains to be seen.

RATING: 5/10