A newly unemployed cellist takes a job preparing the dead for funerals.
If the subject matter were handled less reverently it could be disconcerting, and "Departures" is tender, loving, and absorbing. The symphonic soundtrack is moving, but it is the characters and their stories that will cause tears to gently spill. This film, centred on the rituals following death, is surprisingly life affirming. Reflecting Japanese sensibilities, it is contemplative and almost zen-like, avoiding melodrama while tackling some of life's most difficult passages. This departure is a welcome getaway from the everyday.
Julie & JuliaAnne Murphy
Julia Child's story of her start in the cooking profession is intertwined with blogger Julie Powell's 2002 challenge to cook all the recipes in Child's first book.
Two storylines are baked together, although about 50 years separate them, and the result is delicious. Scenes effortlessly transport the viewer in and out of the lives and kitchens of Julie and Julia, capturing a shared passion for cooking. The characters are wonderful, warm, and loving; their relationships golden roasted and close to perfect. This movie is appetizingly presented and readily devoured. As both Julie and Julia would have said... bon appetit!
Many Kisses LaterAnne Murphy
Follows the relationships of six couples between Christmas and Valentine's Day, exploring the various ways a former romantic partner or 'ex' can shape our lives.
"Many Kisses Later" is a capricious romantic comedy pastiche, more similar in style to English films of the genre than American offerings. The relationships are well observed, even if the ensemble of characters seems almost too congenial at times. As the storylines overlap and diverge, our attention is captivated, and laughter bellows forth with almost every scene. Effervescent and entertaining, don't wait until later, enjoy many kisses now.
Looking for EricAnne Murphy
Eric, a postman whose life is descending in to crisis, receives some life coaching from Eric Cantona.
For the most part, the tone of "Looking for Eric" has a steady down beat of realism as individuals within a loosely connected family tackle emotional issues including loss and depression. The cast extends beyond family to encompass important relationships with friends, heroes, and deadbeats. The plot is refreshingly unpredictable with a triumphant, if somewhat incongruent, conclusion tacked on. All is forgiven as the credits roll... the audience feels good and Eric may have found what he was looking for.
Giovanna's FatherAnne Murphy
A protective father stands by his misfit daughter after she commits a terrible crime.
Complex reactions to tragedy are explored in this story of obsession. With war as the backdrop, relationships are ravaged while Bologna is bombed. "Giovanna's Father" is not easy viewing and interest is held by the unconventional story-line. The soundtrack maintains a steady rhythm, and the use of sepia tones aids in recreating a past era of hardship. Superb performances by the lead actors are convincing and avoid being melodramatic, with the spotlight firmly on Giovanna's Father rather than the dastardly deeds of his daughter.
Imagine ThatAnne Murphy
A financial executive who can't stop his career downspiral is invited into his daughter's imaginary world, where solutions to his problems await.
"Imagine That" is a confused family offering, where on one hand the setting is an industry probably incomprehensible to children, and on the other is humour that is juvenile, unlikely to amuse older audience members. Mediocre on many fronts, yet incredible too, as no special effects are used in a film where an imaginary world is a major plot feature. Some movies made for the big screen go straight to a DVD release, imagine that.
Soula Ela XanaAnne Murphy
A teacher on the Greek island of Spetses receives four offers of marriage on her 30th birthday.
This cheeky Greek pantomime style comedy is like fairy floss for the audience; pretty, sweet and insubstantial fare. The characters romp around in an overly theatrical style that is faintly amusing and only mildly entertaining. It's certainly no aphrodisiac, and from the misleading title to the predictable ending the on-screen antics fail to excite the viewer. As a cinematic experience you are left hoping there is something better than S.E.X.
Anvil! The Story of AnvilAnne Murphy
At 14, best friends Robb Reiner and Lips made a pact to rock together forever.
This compelling rockumentary shows the travails of best friends still together in a heavy metal band after 30 years and 13 albums. "Anvil" infuses the reality of playing to empty stadiums with the dream of what might be possible with the right record label. At the start the audience can't help but laugh at these aging, bumbling, rock dudes living the ordinary life. However, as their story unfolds the central figures are revealed as funny, despairing, humble, passionate and dogged dreamers. The spirit triumphs and the sniggering stops.
The Young VictoriaAnne Murphy
A dramatization of the first years of Queen Victoria's rule, and her enduring romance with Prince Albert.
This film proceeds at a gentile and regal pace with sumptuous sets and lavish costuming as befits the era. It is to be enjoyed as a love story rather than for revealing any political machinations of the time. Romantic and majestic, "The Young Victoria" is restrained but entertaining, without indulging in any unnecessary frivolity of life at court. Perhaps a sequel with a middle-aged Victoria would deliver more intrigue and drama, or at least some hot flushes... a satisfying and elegant period piece.
The son of a courtesan retreats into a fantasy world after being forced to end his relationship with the older woman who educated him in the ways of love.
Visually impressive with sumptuous settings and costumes, this movie indulges with viewing pleasure. The characters are free of social mores in a gilded era. The central theme is love spanning a generational divide. A fading beauty contrasted with a beatified youth. Despite the setting and the situation, the pace is indolent, without the exuberance of emotional highs or troughs of despair. "Cheri" manages to be glorious, even if wistfully restrained.
The MaidAnne Murphy
A drama centred on a maid trying to hold on to her position after having served a family for 21 years.
At times, the long-suffering maid has the dead-pan intensity of a zombie as she mercilessly deals with more junior help and other annoyances. Quite menacing in tone, this film is an intriguing social commentary on the lot of a live-in domestic. The film-maker provides the servant with little identity beyond the family she works for, and almost no voice, yet with extensive power that she wields with an unrepentant wilfulness. "The Maid" serves as an intimate, neurotic and original movie.
Seven lost children wander the night streets while their mothers await their return home.
"Blessed" pulls no punches as it explores a day in several corrugated relationships between mothers and their children. Melbourne is the gritty urban setting, effectively underscored by a pulsing soundtrack. For a film so set on portraying realism, it is surprising that some of the intertwined storylines stretch credibility beyond the boundary of believable. This is counterbalanced by a couple of stand-out performances that could wrench a still-beating heart right of your chest. Dead-beat, down-beat, cursed, cursing and blessed.
A controlling sadistic man and his wife keep their three teenage children locked away from the world.
"Dogtooth" is disturbing viewing, as the stunted emotional development of the family becomes apparent. The mood is restrained as day after languid day of simple games are played out with the violent elements gradually emerging and escalating. The infantile mind games endured by the children are harrowing to watch. Their seclusion is not explained but the anguish and increasing desperation of the characters is readily understood. Distressing for audiences, and certainly not recommended for dentists.
Paper SoldierAnne Murphy
A Soviet medical officer is conflicted about his position overseeing the health of future cosmonauts.
Perhaps it was the Russian storytelling style, or the poor subtitles, but this film was mostly unintelligible; as inaccessible as the vast barren plains on which it was set. The problem may have been situational - something to do with the futility of training cosmonauts in a desolate sodden Kazakhstan campsite. Was that the point this surreal viewing experience, complete with camels, was making? If the space race was anything like this, it must have been incomprehensible and doomed for gloom.
Winged CreaturesAnne Murphy
A group of strangers form a unique relationship with each other after surviving a random shooting.
Normality is shattered by a horrific event and the characters fall apart in ways that beggar belief. Truth is reportedly stranger than fiction, and in this instance the clumsy storylines drawn out of the central trauma have little semblance to possible truth. PTSD reactions should be left to psychologists not scriptwriters. This is as downbeat a movie as you're ever likely to see, and all the more irksome for the condescending portrayals of the working class characters. Fly away.
Every Little StepAnne Murphy
Follows the plight of real-life dancers as they struggle through auditions for the Broadway revival of "A Chorus Line".
This documentary is eminently worthy of a big screen season. Dancers take centre stage and give their all to showcase their talents, competing for an elusive 'call-back'. Their performances are determined and gritty. The audience can't forget the production is real, with dreams, tears and joy laid bare as auditions progress. "Every Little Step" is exhilarating to watch with life imitating art imitating life. Broadway that's better than Broadway.
The ProposalAnne Murphy
A pushy boss forces her young assistant to marry her in order to keep her Visa status in the U.S. and avoid deportation to Canada.
In the tradition of romantic comedies "The Proposal" is improbable and implausible and its salvation is that it is delightful from start to finish. A little formulaic perhaps, and that's easily forgiven as this movie delivers on charm and mirth. As the genre demands, the lovable characters are caught up in a silly situation but there's enough honesty in some very touching moments to connect and maintain audience empathy. A beguiling proposal, so say "I do...".
Coco avant ChanelAnne Murphy
The story of Coco Chanel's rise from obscure beginnings to the heights of the fashion world.
"Coco avant Chanel" is an elaborate, elegant production with stylish backdrops and sweeping scenes of the French countryside. The trouble is the movie doesn't have depth beyond the pleasing visual ambiance. In fact it is a little unforgivable that this bio-pic is uninteresting enough to bore in parts, given the allure and achievements of the central character. Lacking 'oh-la-la' this coco is served unfashionably lukewarm.
Two LoversAnne Murphy
A Brooklyn-set romantic drama about a bachelor torn between the family friend his parents wish he would marry and his beautiful but volatile new neighbour.
This is an impressive movie, with compelling portrayals of fragile, damaged personalities that draw the viewer into the vortex of their various relationship complexities. The film maker is a deft story teller, balancing hope with hopelessness while casting a compassionate eye over the foibles, the addictions and the all too human yearnings of the characters. Moody night time NYC landscapes are traversed as assuredly as the turmoils of the lovers. Love to love.
Sunshine CleaningAnne Murphy
In order to raise the tuition to send her young son to private school, a mum starts an unusual business, a biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service, with her unreliable sister.
This is an endearing movie in a low key 'indie' style. A beguiling cast portray a dysfunctional family facing their everyday relationship challenges. The comedy is so heartfelt that laughs catch on the way up, almost mutating into sobs, before rising as smiles. The tone is as mirthful as it is melancholic, despite the dark storylines. "Sunshine Cleaning" is the perfect antidote for messy everyday lives.
Is Anybody There?Anne Murphy
Set in 1980s seaside England, this is the story of Edward, an unusual ten year old boy growing up in an old people's home run by his parents.
The movie is charming in a traditionally British way and disappoints for not being more than a quaint period piece, albeit a recent period. A tinkly slow soundtrack accompanies a tinkly slow story. The themes of aging and death don't offer the audience more than creeping rigor mortis as the story fails to engross. See it only for the fine performance of the lead actor and be warned that nobody else is there.
Quiet ChaosAnne Murphy
A look at the strange bereavement behavior of an Italian executive.
The portrayal of loss in this film evokes W.H. Auden's poem that opens with the line "Stop all the clocks...". Everything is changed and pared back to essentials by an unexpected death. The everyday world continues on around the slowing of the central characters, drawing empathetic viewers into this well told tale. The movie is a subdued but sure-footed meditation on grieving as lives and priorities are reassessed. More contemplative than chaotic, and recommended for its heartfelt quiet.
The WindowAnne Murphy
An ill and aged author has his housekeeper preparing for the visit of his estranged son.
Related as a simple tale, this film is a gently paced contemplation of life and death. Scenes are deftly painted with an aesthetic eye. The cinema screen becomes an artist's canvas coloured with the haze of summer and reminiscences. It is a rare pleasure for the audience to be credited with the intelligence to sketch sub-plots, rather than having it all spelled out. A melancholic but unsentimental study of mortality; pausing for a view through this window is recommended.
Insignificant ThingsAnne Murphy
Esmeralda is a teenager who collects little objects she finds, creating a box of insignificant treasures.
The movie unfolds through four vignettes tenderly woven together with the shared threads of lives that intersect. "Insignificant Things" explores important relationships that are undervalued and it does so with a deft touch. This is a finely tuned and detailed piece that is incisive and affecting without becoming despairing. A film so well crafted that it mesmerises is a very significant thing indeed.
A couple are considering sending back a difficult adopted child.
The plot outline suggests that this should be a tense and emotional film, as a pair grapples with their situation and subsequent decision. The expected intensity, given the subject of the souring reality of a long-held dream, is not realised. Along with a failure to deliver an emotional punch, there are other difficulties: the real time pace drags, use of symbolism is too overt, and an unlikely sub-plot that detracts from the main story complicates the film. All in all it is a shame.